This review contains spoilers.
3.10 And The Woman Clothed In Sun
Thomas Harris makes a fairly well known mistake in his Red Dragon novel. Throughout the book, the character of Francis Dolarhyde is obsessed with a work of art by William Blake which the author refers to as The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun. This also happened to be the work referenced in the title of last week’s episode of Hannibal: …And the Woman Clothed with the Sun. The true title of the piece at the heart of Dolarhyde’s mania is The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, and this week’s episode riffing off that title is intent on telling a few truths of its own.
Film has a way, and it’s utterly intentional, of confusing normal reactions. What I mean by this is that a camera forces us to look at scene in a particular way, and point of view is often everything (go rewatch how Holmes faked his death for Watson in Sherlock’s The Empty Hearse, if you don’t believe me). By limiting or focusing what we see and hear on one set of things in a scene (rather than pulling back and letting us see the whole thing and choose what to look at ourselves), a director can mould how we feel about people or ideas in that scene. If we get a close-up of a character expressing pain convincingly, for example, we tend to feel concern and compassion for that character. If the camera were to pull back and reveal that the character had suffered no more than a small cut to the knee, any sympathy for that character would suddenly seem ridiculous.
This is not a problem with the medium; it’s its strength, really. Using that power well is what raises film to an art form. But it also means that we can never entirely trust our eyes and judgement when we watch a film because it’s always an act of manipulation.
So when we see a beautiful man like Richard Armitage playing a character who is portrayed as a freak, there is always this weird cognitive dissonance: this is a gorgeous man who is hobbled by what appears to be a single, not particularly nasty scar on his face and a slight speech impediment. What am I missing here? As a viewer, you have to wonder: is this one of those cases where I’m seeing him—because the director intends me to—differently than those around him do; they see a monster while I see the man? Or is the damage really just in the mind of the character himself.
Writers Bryan Fuller and Don Mancini’s way of revealing the truth is clever: Dolarhyde is made to see himself through the eyes of his co-workers as related to him by his blind girlfriend. It’s not simply a matter of Reba accepting him because she doesn’t know the difference. And as we hear from her and see in the lack of reaction from those he interacts with in this episode (the first time he has really come and gone in the normal world in our experience), he looks and sounds precisely like Richard Armitage with a small scar and slight speech problem. His need for the Red Dragon, then, seems to stem from some other primary cause than disfigurement or disability; it’s a relief not to have those go hand-in-hand for once.
The more interesting truths revealed in the episode revolve around the returned Bedelia du Maurier.
For a long time, we have wondered how a successful and obviously skilled psychiatrist like her could ever get caught up in the clutches of Hannibal. Was she threatened? Blackmailed over the engineered death of her former patient? Genuinely brainwashed by a man who seems to enjoy exercising the skill for fun?
It would appear to be not so much a matter of her falling prey to Hannibal but rather of recognizing a kindred spirit of sorts. As I said, much of our perception can be carefully manipulated by a director (based on the initial work of a writer). We have been led to believe that at worst, Bedelia’s involvement in the death of her patient was the result of Hannibal setting her up to do something that, as with some of his other patients, there might have been a bit of fertile ground for but no more. There was, in fact, still no reason to cling to the possibility that she had been acting (or rather over-reacting) out of self-preservation when she killed Neil. But as Gillian Anderson’s scene—alternating cutting between one with Hugh Dancy’s Will and Zachary Quinto’s Neil—revealed, while Hannibal certainly sent Neil to her and likely engineered not only his extreme paranoia but also the fit he has in her office, his demise comes entirely at her hands. Literally.
The scene with the nervous but funny Quinto shows us something we have never seen before: Dr. du Maurier with what we must assume is an average patient. Her icy demeanor and lack of empathy for her patient is disturbing and quite familiar: we’ve seen it in Hannibal’s detached approach to most of his own patients. Because we know his fate, and we know Lecter’s true nature, we utterly believe everything coming out of his mouth—yet another case of our perception having been shaped in a particular way. Bedelia, on the other hand, has not had the benefit of our created experience. She brushes Neil’s claims aside as evidence of his paranoia and dismisses him as broken… or weak, as she puts it to Will.
Thus, when he begins to convulse in her office, she gives in to her initial response to weakness: she crushes it.
Were she perhaps a little more like Graham, we would sense remorse in her as she tells this story. And perhaps she is sorry in that this slip undoubtedly has left her at least at times at the mercy of Lecter’s whim to help her cover her crime. But what read, in her conversations with Hannibal, as a product of dealing with him particularly—her distant and cold demeanour reflecting his own—instead shows up in her discussion with Graham. This is not a put-on. This is closer to the real Bedelia than anything we’ve ever seen.
Which helps us to understand the last of the episode’s truths. Until now, we have believed that of all the people we have seen, it is Will who has really known gotten under Hannibal’s skin, who has known him the best. But while the first may be true, it’s no longer clear that the second is. Dr. du Maurier has never ceased, we now know, to be Lecter’s psychiatrist. She has not only seen behind the veil—she has lived there with him and we now understand that she did so entirely willingly. And perhaps for no more reason than Hannibal has for pushing some poor souls into mayhem: to see if she could.
All of this assumes one thing, of course. And that’s that these are “truths.” But the only thing that has consistently been true throughout the entire run of Hannibal is that, if anyone knows just how much you can mould the perception of an audience, how well you can make them believe something in one moment and then make them believe its opposite in the next, it’s Bryan Fuller and company.
And I doubt he’s done with us yet.
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