Hannibal season 3 episode 9 review: And The Woman Clothed With The Sun

Hannibal takes a rare step this week, by methodically reintroducing us to its cast of characters this close to the end...

This review contains spoilers.

3.9 And The Woman Clothed With The Sun

I review a handful of shows for Den of Geek. This year, I did Hannibal, Vikings, and Castle. I try to only write about shows that I really enjoy (despite reviews that might make it appear otherwise) because I’ve found that if there’s anything worse than hating on something for six or ten or twenty-three weeks, it’s making other people watch you do it.

But just because you enjoy a series doesn’t mean you don’t see the flaws. As with old friends, some flaws you accept with a quiet resignation, like the fact that Vikings will never really have the budget for the epic story it tells. Some are instead minor irritations which you more actively put up with, such as Castle’s ridiculously large plot holes.  But like old friends, they are largely comfortable: we know what we are going to get most of the time.

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Hannibal has never been that kind of friend.

Which is why, whenever I see the show doing something that is “normal,” I tend to feel more nervous than any of Will’s Vincenzo-Natali-created hallucinations ever could make me. This week was very normal and I am very nervous.

What And The Woman Clothed With The Sun did was reintroduce us to our characters. Which is only odd in that we needed it. Last week, we flashed forward three years, something most series never do. This made The Great Red Dragon more akin to a franchise sequel than a succeeding episode. And while we got some sense of where our characters are geographically and professionally (just enough to jump-start this new storyline) in that episode, the real ‘where’ that has mattered on this show—where the characters are in relation to each other—has been laid out in this week. Such character assessments are de rigueur in sequels.

Most of this reintroduction takes place in the present day, now three years after the events at the Muskrat Farm, and a good deal of it focuses on the relationships between first-string characters and the title one.

Will and Hannibal come face to face again, and the fact that there aren’t more fireworks after everything that’s happened says a great deal. Physical separation from Lecter has indeed brought Graham some mental breathing room. Enough so that it’s the very fact that he’s out of touch with the psychopathic mindset that drives him back to Hannibal: he knows that Hannibal can flip a certain switch in him and he’s banking on the chance that he can see what he needs to see and flip it back off before those images are seared again on his retinas and his psyche.

The chemistry between the two is as palpable as ever, but it’s different. It’s not just the setting of the scene between the two that makes us think of that between the later Lecter and Clarice Starling. There are other things at play. When Hannibal and Will last worked together, it was against Graham’s wishes, long before he knew Lecter’s true nature. Now, like Starling, he appears as a supplicant outside the cannibal’s cell. He needs the serial killer’s help. And like Clarice, he knows a good deal of the danger that Hannibal poses, although her later knowledge with be based on documentation of what we are watching happen now. So to the best of their abilities, neither plays the game that Lecter wants to play a jot more than is absolutely necessary to unlock his cooperation.

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What is interesting about the exchange though is less Will’s behaviour than Hannibal’s. One of the things that has, I think, been largely assumed, is that by casting Mads Mikkelsen in the role and then writing him as he did for the first two seasons, Fuller was never entirely going to bridge the gap between his conception of the cannibal and Demme/Hopkins’ conception of him. But what we saw in And The Woman Clothed With The Sun suggests otherwise, because there are definite nods to Hopkins here. The way Mikkelsen holds himself and paces with Will, the Sherlockian “reads” of his opponent, even the overt snideness of his reference to “banal psychiatrists and grasping second-raters… pencil lickers” who come to see him sounds more like Hopkins’ Lecter describing Dr. Chilton than the Hannibal we have known. It’s an interesting choice, and perhaps a clever one considering the most Fuller can really hope for at this point is a film to cap off his Thomas Harris-based project. Morphing his Lecter into Demme’s extends his own mythology in a way.

Also familiar is the exchange between Hannibal and Alana although not in those bodies. Alana is still expressing concern for Will Graham, despite no longer being interested in him personally or professionally, and warns Lecter that he had better play nice. “I’ve been courteous,” she tells him, but “these niceties are conditional,” threatening him with the one thing she is sure he would most hate: a loss of his dignity should he get too far out of line. In this way, Alana acts as the later Chilton acts in Silence Of The Lambs, establishing that she doesn’t fully appreciate that Hannibal is only confined because he wishes it to be so, and she is only alive for the same reason. Her smugness as she walks about the same room as an unshackled Lecter (who has promised to kill her) as she levels her ultimatum reminds us of what we have seen in Demme’s film: how quickly he can turn the tables even in a high-security situation.

She’s courting her own demise.

Alana denies this more overtly in her conversation with Will, suggesting that she’s guarding Hannibal precisely because she understands how dangerous he is, but her actions speak louder. Still, we learn along with Will that she and Margot have successfully had Mason’s baby and are raising him together and that, as always, she’s worried about Graham. It becomes harder not to see her as a functional object, reduced to the womanly narrative functions of childbearing, waiting for the great hero to return, and eventual sacrifice ensuring his future happiness.

Not that I’m bitter about Dr. Bloom…

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We also learn that she’s not the only one being sacrificed. When Jack and Hannibal discuss Will’s visit, Lecter calls Crawford on his callousness—the cannibal knows better than anyone what the agent’s asking Graham to risk. And when Hannibal Lecter all but suggests that you’re a manipulative bastard, you probably are. We knew at the beginning of the series that Jack really didn’t feel he had any choice but to bring Will back in the field and was actually concerned for his mental health. It appears now that Jack has made his peace with asking someone else to take a bullet if it means catching the current serial killer.

And on the subject of future victims, Freddie Lounds makes a reappearance and we find that absolutely nothing about her has changed. She is still a thorn in Will’s side and an unpredictable factor. Unless you read the books, in which case it seems that her fate was all but telegraphed in her few seconds on screen… by her asking for it. She is counterbalanced by Molly who appears only long enough to reassure us that, if left to his own devices, Will would be a normal guy in a normal relationship with a normal girl. Which, considering what we seen him capable of, may be the most terrifying idea on the show thus far: that nice guy down the street? He really is nice… so long as he never meets the right shrink.

While most of these character recalibrations are shown in the present, one takes us into the past, and here, Kacey Rohl is the gift that keeps on giving. From the first episode, she stood out as more than your typical teen actress, and as we watch Hannibal’s construction of Abigail not just as a killer (which she already was) but an eager accomplice, Rohl hits all the right notes—never too quick to say yes, nor too wide-eyed in her strange innocence. It’s a difficult line to walk—a girl steeped in serial killing who nonetheless wants the sweet security of someone to care for her—but watching her do it is one of the greater pleasures of an already well-acted show.

Finally, back in the present, there is the budding relationship between Francis and Reba McClane, and this is the one place that the episode stalled.

We have to believe several things about this relationship: Francis sees himself as a freak, except around Reba. Reba accepts some of Francis’s oddities because she “sees” differently. Francis’s need for acceptance is great enough that he’s able to leash the dragon to some extent in exchange for Reba’s love.

The problem is that there just wasn’t a lot of that coming through. Armitage has done a great job thus far of giving us both the nervous film processor and the Dragon-in-process. However, we have to believe that Francis is strange enough for Reba to see him as out-of-the ordinary enough to be interesting to someone of her experience without being so strange that he gives her the heebie-jeebies. The script tries to explain this away by telling us that she’s worked as a speech therapist before so she’s comfortable with Dolarhyde’s own disability.

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But surely her blindness would make her more sensitive (and not less) than a sighted person to certain behaviour cues. Francis isn’t behaving like a shy guy so much as a stalker. She should accept a ride in his van for his “pleasure” when he just happens to be hanging around her work until after she’s closed up shop and appears serendipitously at the bus stop? All because this man she just met doesn’t give off a sorry-for-you vibe? And she then invites him in for pie? She says she is interested in what he has to say and yet he’s effectively said nothing of consequence or interest. Given her background, that seems to suggest that she feels sorry for him in his situation and is doing what she’s doing for his benefit rather than hers… which is odd considering what she’s said about self-pity and the pity of others. Thus far, the relationship which needs to be pivotal in Dolarhyde’s journey is largely coming off as artificial and forced.

Which adds to my original nervousness about this episode.

But that initial feeling comes from how Screenwriting 101 this episode is, in form and function if not actual content. We’ve learned who all our characters are (again). Sure, their reasons for being where they are emotionally have long back-stories at this point (most of them anyway), but the entire episode reads like a lot of character-based exposition, and that’s never been Fuller’s style—we’re never simply shown who people are.

So the fact that the writers—he & Steve Lightfoot and Jeff Vlaming & Helen Sheng (that they are listed in the credits as pairs suggests why the Francis/Reba & Hannibal/Abigail scenes feel so different from all the rest)—do exactly what the series never does is probably a good reason to be nervous. It reminds me of the feeling you get when you sit down at a chessboard with someone you know is far better than you. You know it’s going to be a rout, that you’ll never see the net before it closes around you, that there will be no escape when it does. But the desire to see how it will play out, even at your own expense, produces its own special kind of adrenalin.

We’re in the home stretch now. The only way out is through. So hold on tight. Here we go

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