This review contains spoilers.
3.12 The Number Of The Beast Is 666
This week’s episode, The Number of the Beast Is 666, is a tragedy. But I mean that generically, not emotionally.
Let’s face it. Dr. Frederick Chilton is a classical tragic figure. That is, he meets all the characteristics of Aristotle’s description of that character. The purported father of tragedy described the tragic hero as being defined by five things: a tragic flaw (or error in judgement), a reversal of fortune caused by that flaw, recognition that his own actions led to his fall, excessive pride or hubris, and a fate out of proportion with the error committed.
Dr. Chilton’s flaw, of course, is that, despite the fact that he is essentially the greatest of second-rate minds, Hannibal has him operating in an intellectually rarified environment where he is simply outclassed. But he will not give up. Normally, this is a good thing. We tell our children to get back on the horse, and to try-try-again. But the nature of the tragic flaw is not that it’s so terribly bad on its own—it is the coming together of that trait with a situation that amplifies it perfectly that makes it tragic. Hamlet’s hemming and hawing would be perfectly fine in most situations, for instance. It’s the fact that he does it in the precise circumstances that he does that’s a problem.
That Chilton has experienced a reversal of fortune is an understatement; he has not merely been forced to take his turn at the bottom of the wheel’s arc, but indeed every time he seems about to ascend, fate rolls back over top of him, grinding him back down. Disemboweled, shot, krazy-glued, and tasted before being flambéed? It would be overkill if, in fact, any of these terrible events had actually managed to end his life rather than prolong it in an almost farcical manner at this point. But it is absolutely out of all proportion to his fairly common sin.
What seems to have kept him alive is that determination to prove himself—his hubris that he can and will. After so much, it takes more than simple ambition to keep someone in a game with these stakes, and it is his pride that goads him on to thinking that, in the end, he will eventually triumph over Lecter’s intellect, Graham’s insight, and, likely, Bloom’s professional status. Instead it brings him to his moment of clarity at the hands of the Dragon (a set of scenes played exceedingly well by Raul Esparza in this week’s outing).
Which is all very fascinating to students of drama. But for those less interested in the theory, Chilton’s position as such a figure is also remarkable in a couple of other ways.
The first is just how far away Fuller’s Chilton has taken us from Jonathan Demme’s in The Silence Of The Lambs. Anthony Heald’s character in that movie (and later in Red Dragon) was, well, a petty, self-important weasel. One of the early pleasures of Hannibal was the way Fuller and Esparza remade the character, gave him depth, a sliver of a soul, and made you feel sorry for him—not as you do someone you despise but rather someone you see making the same mistake over and over, seemingly oblivious to the damage he’s doing himself. They did so good a job that it was hard to imagine him ever becoming Heald’s Chilton. But after this week, it’s hard to believe little more than that small and petulant man could survive such an ordeal, knowing what Will did to him. If he survives at all. Somehow, Fuller and Esparza have taken this character on a long and circuitous route right back to where we knew he ought to end.
But what is more interesting is what Chilton, the tragic figure, highlights in those around him in this episode.
After all, it’s easy to see Frederick’s missteps, both when it comes to his aims and his actions. He is wholly outclassed, and yet seems pathologically unable to admit defeat and walk away. In fact, he seems unaware even that he is in danger until it is too late. In this way, he is a bit like Alana. After being playing by Hannibal at what is arguably the most emotionally point-blank range possible, nearly killed by his proxy, and promised eventual death at his own hands, it takes a certain amount of hubris (and the self-delusion that generally goes with it) to not only work to keep the man alive but, with Margot’s vast wealth likely at her disposal (and therefore the chance to escape to somewhere exceedingly remote and well-guarded), to choose to serve as Lecter’s jailer. Her belief that she can keep herself and the rest of the world safe is almost certainly going to lead, in perfect tragic fashion, to her fate.
The same thing is true of Bedelia although it is far less obvious. If her return and psychiatric dalliance with Will weren’t enough evidence of her confidence that Lecter is currently powerless to harm her, this week’s episode has her addressing it directly. She tells Graham that Hannibal will only kill her with his own hands and then only if he can eat her; since, she implies, he cannot eat her, she is safe. But like the metaphorical blindness that Oedipus suffered before putting his own eyes out, Bedelia seems not to see that the greatest danger that Hannibal poses is not always the product of his hands-on violence. After all, we know that he set both her and Neil up in terms preparing Neil and then bringing them together. But considering the brainwashing he’s done on Graham, I think there is still some doubt as to how much of Dr. du Maurier’s attack on her patient was her own native psychopathy and how much was something carefully cultivated by the cannibal.
Similarly, Jack seems incapable of considering either his own safety or caring for anyone else’s and makes no effort to hide the fact that he is treating Lecter as a tool, knowing that Hannibal has killed for far less.
And certainly, there is reason to believe that we are supposed to see echoes of Chilton in Will as well. After all, Graham has made the similar mistakes not only of thinking he could defeat Hannibal but of maintaining that belief while taking body blow after blow (physically and metaphorically). His only sin, really, is the hubris of believing (along with most of the main characters) that he is the only one capable of bringing Lecter (or those he mentors) down, despite his clear understanding that this is precisely the problem: the cannibal’s power over him lies primarily in Graham’s continued willingness to believe that he alone can do what no one else can.
Of course, this does not mean that I think that Will is about to meet Frederick’s fate next week (after all, after this week’s substitution of Harris’s Lounds for Fuller’s Chilton to serve as Dolarhyde’s messenger back to Graham and Crawford, we cannot really take anything for granted based on what we think we know of this story). And this is precisely because he more clearly sees something that the others do not but which he expresses to Bedelia: Hannibal may be incarcerated, but he still has agency in the outside world.
What makes this lead-in to next week so exciting is precisely the thing that Bedelia seems to miss about this. When Bedelia asks Will if he wants to see Hannibal take something from her–and I’m not going to get into the whole love triangle part of the conversation since it’s one of the least interesting (predictable) aspects of their conversation and the most disappointing (seeing queerness tied again to dysfunction)—and he responds by pointing out that their mutual “lover” has agency, she seems quick to assume that he’s talking about the Dragon coming after her.
But over and over again, Hannibal has been about Lecter’s ability to remake people according to his whim. Hannibal’s agency lives in everyone he has had a chance to work on, and if we look at the people in this episode, we see those changed by his invisible hand. Chilton may be the most obvious example, but it is just as apparent in Alana’s mimicry of Hannibal’s detachment and clothing choices or Jack’s lack of traditional ethics. These people have all been changed by the agency Lecter wields—not all of it in his own hands—and most of them have served as his weapons against the other. He does not have to be free to continue to amuse himself.
Tragically, going into the last episode, so few of the characters really seem to understand that, even despite Hannibal’s warning to Jack that his greatest triumph and failure—Will Graham—the Lamb of God, is building toward a righteous climax. What they understand even less is that they are still little more than instruments and potentially weapons in the hands of the man behind the glass wall.
And there’s nothing to stop him from pointing them at each other and setting them off. I think we have to wonder if last season’s bloody finale was only a warm up to this season’s.
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