This review contains spoilers.
Each episode of Hannibal this season has been named after a dish in the Japanese banquet dinner Kaiseki. The meal overall is a tour of Japanese haute cuisines balancing taste, appearance, and colors to emphasize seasonal themes. Each dish is beautifully arranged and decorated with flowers and edible garnishes designed to resemble animals or plants.
Su-zakana is a traditional palate cleanser before moving into a second round of larger dishes, and episode eight, Su-zakana, serves that purpose exquisitely. With the cleansing of the palate comes a return to familiarity as well, with Will back consulting with Jack and in therapy with Hannibal. Structurally, Hannibal returns to the procedural format, providing the semblance of normalcy despite everyone involved knowing full well, nothing is really back to normal. Will is now playing a long game to rival Hannibal’s own, using himself as bait, enticing him to the hook, so Jack can reel him in.
This week’s case lacks some of the beauty and grace of the usual killers Will hunts, but more than makes up for that in poetry. The body of a strangled woman is discovered sewn into the womb of a dead horse. Inside the strangled woman is a live starling. As with most of the cases this season, there’s not a lot of dilly-dallying and Will leads Jack directly to the perpetrator, brain-damaged “healer” Peter Bernardone (played to perfection by Jeremy Davies).
The case serves to set up a surrogate Will/Hannibal relationship between Peter and his social worker Clark Ingram, through which Will can attempt some sort of real closure, as opposed to the performance of closure he’s putting on. Chris Diamantopulos is effective, if one-note, playing his own long game, positioning Peter as a patsy upon whom his crimes can be pinned. And Davies is magnificent here, if frighteningly skeletal. The physicality of his performance, combined with his unfiltered emotional responses allows Dancy to mirror his own reactions, exposing his hurt and opening up in a way that makes plain the depth of betrayal Will feels towards Hannibal.
In addition to Jeremy Davies, another familiar face debuts this week; Katharine Isabelle has been on a tear lately showing up in more films and television shows than any one person should be capable of. She kicked off 2012 by starring in the independent horror film American Mary and has worked non-stop since – most recently appearing as a semi-regular in the final season of the US iteration of Being Human. In Hannibal, she plays Margot Verger, a character that signals the imminent arrival of the despicable Mason Verger, one of Hannibal’s highest profile (and final) victims, who became the antagonist of both Thomas Harris’ novel Hannibal and Ridley Scott’s film of the same name.
Of course, that’s a very different Mason from the one Michael Pitt will be playing.
Margot is in therapy with Hannibal after trying to murder her brother, and in the process of their conversations, we get a glimpse of what may be Hannibal’s main motivation for everything he’s done so far. Friendship is what he has claimed to want from Will all along, but how does Hannibal define friendship? It’s a slippery question, but it hinges on this idea of doing bad things to bad people.
His influence over those around him is resolutely one of dominance. This we’ve seen as Will began recovering memories. People are things to be tinkered with, refined and developed. With Will he found a kindred spirit he could push and mold into a mirror image. Hannibal’s motivations for killing have always revolved around punishing those he considered rude or tasteless, feeling that godlike exhilaration of ending a life.
Through Will, Hannibal has been exposed to another level of guilt and innocence, one accompanied by a sense of righteousness and accomplishment that may be different from what he’s used to experiencing. This search for a friend (partner?) started small, assuming a mentor-type relationship with Abigail Hobbs, which unfortunately didn’t work out as planned. His experiments with Will also went off the rails, but was it because the relationship was still one of dominance and control?
Hannibal’s ultimate goal then became, getting Will to admit to and act upon the feelings of satisfaction that killing – punishing – someone brings; transforming Will his own reflection. That’s how Hannibal defines friendship. Having someone honestly understand and honestly share his motivations for doing the things he does.
Su-zakana is Vincenzo Natali’s directorial debut on Hannibal and he brings a suitably unnerving visual style to a show with an already impressive look. Natali broke onto the scene with 1997’s Cube, but really got everyone’s attention with Splice in 2009, so we know he’s adept at handling characters with bizarre psychosexual attractions. His visual flourishes work seamlessly with James Hawkinson’s cinematography as scenes flow into one another with a dreamlike fluidity.
The sex scene (a Hannibal first!) between Hannibal and Bloom is presented as a hallucinatory swirl of blurred slow motion, twisting sheets, and Brian Reitzell’s ambient noise soundscape creating a sense of unease more prevalent than in most of the show’s crime scenes. Margot’s flashback to whatever abuse she suffered at her brother’s hand also carries an erotic charge, but it’s an eroticism of brutality, as artistic as it is disturbing.
Whether that’s a good thing is something to be debated. We should feel uneasy whenever Bloom is alone and snuggling with Hannibal. But eroticizing Margot’s abuse, especially when we’re viewing the memories from her perspective, is problematic. It does create a kind of cognitive dissonance that puts the viewer into the uncomfortable position of both the attacker and the victim simultaneously, which may actually be the point, given that Margot then tried to murder Mason.
This same sort of creeping eroticism then slips into the final scene between Hannibal and Will, as the actors seem on the trembling verge of a passionate embrace. Hannibal is practically breathless with anticipation, seeing his caterpillar free of its chrysalis, ready to do bad things to bad people and feeling good about it. If this is Will’s long game, then he’s playing it to the hilt, and pulling that trigger may have been just what was needed to get Hannibal on the hook.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Yakimono, here.
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