This review contains spoilers.
When we started this Hannibal journey, it was as if most of us were caught in a strange trap. It’s probably fair to say that most people who tuned in knew at least some of the story of Hannibal Lecter, either from the books by Thomas Harris or the movies based upon those novels. But certainly much of the audience came in with the understanding that what made Lecter so dangerous was not an indiscriminate penchant for violence, but his razor-sharp mind which decided when and how that violence was unleashed, and upon whom.
And yet, we also knew one other important thing: that Lecter gets caught. No matter how smart he is, someone manages to outsmart him and he ends up subject to imprisonment and the not-so-tender mercies of Dr. Chilton. So we had to assume that the man who put him there – FBI profiler Will Graham – was not just Lecter’s equal, but his superior intellectually.
So it was more than a little confusing when it turned out that, for all of Graham’s much touted empathy, the character portrayed by Hugh Dancy initially seemed entirely incapable of the kind of cleverness necessary to bring about the feat we already knew he must. Feeling what another person feels and basing one’s conclusions on that shared emotion is not the same as having a precise and calculating mind capable of dissecting someone’s psyche (or body, really). And Graham’s inability, during that first season, to see the true nature and psychotic mind of the man standing next to him, while it fleshed out the storyline, seemed to undermine the possibility that he ever could see it, let alone outsmart the man himself. Either this was bad writing (which seemed impossible given how well done everything else was) or something else was going on.
Of course it was the latter. Will was not, at that point, operating at his full capacity, suffering from Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis at the time, a condition which Hannibal knew about and exploited as part of his attempt to brainwash the profiler. The second season gave us a more medically sound but still-hampered Graham in that, while he now knew his enemy, he could not engage him directly, lest he tip the doctor off to his ruse. It was clear that Will was now closer to Hannibal’s league of cleverness. After all, he did manage to trick him for quite some time, and Lecter’s devolution into larger-scale slaughter, rather than the more surgical murders he usually performed, at least partly assures us that Will and Hannibal are opponents worthy of each other. And Lecter’s retreat from the field began to show us that Graham was indeed the man who could take him down, despite almost being disemboweled for his trouble.
But it is only the third season – the one we are currently enjoying – that we begin to see how Graham will win, and Secondo lays some groundwork. Because it’s all fine and good for Will to follow the breadcrumbs that Hannibal (certainly consciously) dropped. In doing so, he is merely doing as Hannibal wishes. But in this week’s episode, we see something new in Will.
When the cannibal clearly fails to respond to Will’s own invitation in the catacombs, rather than wait for Lecter to return or make the next move – or even deduce what city he’s hiding in as Inspector Pazzo or a very alive much Jack Crawford do – Will does what his opponent would do, and has been doing all along. He digs into the psyche of the man and, like a good psychologist, sets out to uncover the cannibal’s genesis, the trauma that lies at the heart of the monster.
His journey to Lithuania gives cinematographer James Hawkinson yet another landscape on which to work his magic, and he delivers brilliantly. His framing of the Baltic country – the tall and distant castle, the cemetery and other grounds surrounded with scrolling metalwork, the thick fog – all evoke a more mythical land: Dracula’s Transylvanian home. Quite fitting considering that both feed on the living. So it is not surprising (yet still shockingly gorgeous and gothic) when Graham discovers on those grounds not only a virtually undead wife, but also a crypt-like dungeon with an imprisoned and mad Renfield of sorts (supplementing his diet with an entirely different kind of invertebrate).
Chiyo (played adequately, but not yet competitively by Tao Okamoto) reveals not only why Hannibal is the way he is, but how that barbarity has enslaved her. Indeed it, would seem that Lecter decided early upon his favorite game (“Create a Killer” – in stores now!). He has made Chiyo the keeper of that particular monster, solely to see if she will kill in order to gain her freedom. After Graham loses the man, we learn that she will, but only when provoked by a more immediate need for self-preservation.
It is not the outcome Hannibal hoped for, nor does he foresee, at this point, how clever Will is in not only developing a greater understanding (we know that Hannibal has a hard time forgiving Will for seeing even as little of him as the profiler has already) but in acquiring an ally who knows even more.
And he leaves his nakama a gift… or a warning. It’s unclear which. It’s probably both, to be honest.
But while all this moves the plot forward, it is not nearly as revealing as the parallel storyline where Hannibal is busy exposing even more to his [we still don’t know what: accomplice? psychiatrist? hostage? lunch?]. Bedelia calls attention to the fact that Lecter is acting in a way that endangers himself, that his attraction to Will and the lack of self-control when it comes to the profiler means that he will eventually be caught. But he seems unconcerned.
He seems equally unconcerned that his former therapist seems interested in recreating that relationship: Would he like to talk about his first spring lamb? What can’t he go home? How did his sister taste? He appears fairly comfortable answering her questions, though we must suppose that, like everything else about him, his answers are multi-layered and essentially only the truth when refracted through his own consciousness. Again, the cinematography earlier in the episode, during a similar therapy session between Hannibal and Will, silently but strongly reinforces the narrative, as we see Hannibal himself refracted through, and eventually shattered like, glass.
But like Graham’s more corporeal exploration of the cannibal’s roots, all of this is less about discovery of Hannibal’s history than it is his present and future. The real question both former shrink and former patient are trying to get at is: what does Hannibal feel for his would-be protégé? Is it love? Betrayal? Forgiveness? Like with Will’s gift, the answer is most probably all in some measure, but as far as Hannibal is concerned, it all ends the same way between he and Graham: he will eat him.
Which leads us to the most intriguing line of the episode. Bedelia, alerted to the nature of her own diet, continues to dine on foods that will make her more pleasurable to Lecter’s palate. This seems odd since they both know it’s no longer a secret. Is it a sign of faith on her part? Defiance? Or just a way to keep him entertained, since boredom seems to be one of his triggers for murder? Faith seems to be too naïve an answer, and her assurance earlier that “we can all betray – sometimes, we have no other choice,” reads a lot like a warning.
Certainly, it seems that some sort of betrayal is in the works between the two of them, but it’s doubtful that it will be quick, and even more doubtful that it will be simple. But the lovely thing about Bedelia is that she is fighting in her own weight class. So when she tells him “I know exactly how I will navigate out of whatever it is I’ve gotten myself into,” I think we have to believe it.
So, here’s looking forward to learning precisely how she will manage it.
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