Hannibal comes to its midseason point with this episode, “Digestivo.” Not only does it essentially dramatically conclude the current storylines (before a jump forward multiple years into the events of Red Dragon), it also provides some of the show’s most horrifying content yet. Something I literally did not believe was possible. It’s a striking bifurcation of what I suspect will almost feel like two different seasons, and probably one of the show’s best episodes ever. I’ve written more underneath, but really that should be all you need to know. Cancelled or no, start watching this show.
The episode starts exactly how I expected it would, with a little bit of catch-up. We skip a little backwards in time to watch the Italia police capture Will and Hannibal and send them to Mason. We also see them attempt to execute Jack Crawford, however Deus ex Chiyo saves the day with her sniper-rifle. If it wasn’t for the scene between her and Jack in the elevator last episode, this would feel really cheap. As it is, it just feels a little cheap. This little bit of establishing legwork does feel necessary after the sudden capture of our protagonists last episode.
After bringing us back to the point of last episode’s finale, the seventh episode begins proper, and a whole lot of completely nutty shit happens. Mason Verger’s horrifying pig fixation comes up big time with his treatment of Hannibal and Will. When Cordell brands Hannibal he explains that Mason wanted to brand Hannibal’s face. Apparently Mason fought hard to keep facial branding legal. Hannibal concisely sums up the subtext of this conversation, “It’s really important to Mason that I have the pig’s experience, isn’t it?” Indeed the first thing we see Mason do to his captives is use his father’s knife to test their fat. Apparently that’s what his father always used the knife for. The knife ends up pretty bloody, and Mason comments that they’re a little lean. And that’s not even the most upsetting moment of pig related obsession this episode. Somehow.
Mason dines with Hannibal and Will. He feeds them an elaborate meal (of oysters, improving their flesh the same way Hannibal was improving Bedelia’s flesh). It’s here that he and Cordell explain their plans. One expects those plans to be morbid, but the macabre plan is pretty extraordinary. Cordell is going to carefully remove Will Graham’s face, while he’s alive and transplant it onto Mason Verger’s half-face. After Mason can properly use his face again he will eat the living Hannibal Lecter while wearing Will Graham’s face. You have to give it to Mason Verger that it’s got a certain kind of poetry to it, especially given the relationship between Will and Hannibal. Of course they’ll be eating Hannibal in the way Cordell initially suggested, starting with the fingers and moving up. Cordell carefully explains the quality of the charcoal he’ll be using, and Hannibal seems wonderfully pleased. Will Graham less so, which he displays by biting out a chunk of Cordell’s ear.
Mason’s arch plan is coming together in more ways than just the impending feast. He confronts his sister Margot over her relationship with Alana, which he wasn’t meant to know about. You can practically hear Margot’s blood freeze when he first brings it up. Then he starts talking about their incest child again, and asks Margot if she’s had a chance to inspect Alana’s uterus. Then he sort of backtracks from his unpleasantness and explains to Margot that he has good news. He’s got a healthy host for his sperm. They’re going to have a baby.
Hannibal is still being kept chained near the pigs when he converses with both Alana and Margot. He basically does a little therapy session with Margot, trying to convince her to kill Mason Verger. She seems intrigued. Alana wants to know that Will is and will be safe, returning to her strange lost role of Will’s protector. These separate conversations both end with Hannibal explaining that, should Mason die, he’d be quite comfortable adding another murder charge to his roster. He even allows Alana to take a piece of his scalp and hair as plantable evidence. This she does with relish.
Then they let Hannibal go, and the bloodbath begins.
Before anyone can get anything done we see Mason sedated and Cordell wheel Will Graham to his operating table. Will is to be frozen in place, but not sedated, so he will feel the entire process. Then Cordell goes to work. There are a series of nauseating close-ups of the face being cut into and peeled off the skull. It seems like the show gets away with horrifying gore so long as it’s vaguely medical. These shots are actually intercut with something at least as, if not more, terrifying.
The now vengeful Margot and Alana go hunting for Mason Verger’s supposed surrogate, which they find, in an ominously lit red curtained room. They close in on a hidden shape, unveiling it. Remember when I said that Mason Verger’s pig obsession had returned? Well he apparently kept one of Margot eggs, fertilized it, and had the fetus implanted in a pig. Margot’s voice cracks as she demands that the fetus, which is showing no pulse, is removed from the pig. So the extreme close-ups of facial removal are intercut with Alana and Margot removing the fetus from the pig, examining it, and wiping it down.
Then commercial. The return reveals exactly what one would expect, that Will is actually fine. Mason Verger gets up, removes his face mask, and looks in the mirror. At Cordell’s face. Mason screams as his trusty co-conspirator’s face slides bloodily to the floor. Outside Mason’s manor, Hannibal walks through the snow carrying a limp but unharmed Will Graham to safety. Back inside Margot and Alana confront the essentially defeated Mason Verger. He starts trying to talk them down, and makes a big mistake when he brings up the surrogate.
When Margot reveals they saw the surrogate Mason switches tactics. He starts reminding Margot that if he dies the family fortune won’t go to her, it would only go to an heir, and there is no heir. Margot says he’s wrong about that, there is going to be an heir. Then Alana interjects, and everything is gross. “Do you know what happens if we stimulate your prostate gland with a cattle prod? Hannibal does. He helped us milk you.” Thank you Bryan Fuller, for that horrifying and I’m sure horribly permanent mental image.
Mason Verger’s dramatic peripeteia is completed when he pulls a gun and aims it at Alana. Margot leaps and basically murders Mason in all the ways. She smashes his face through his glass fish tank. The Margot starts choking Mason while she holds his head underwater. Then it gets worse as the denizen of Mason’s fish tank, a particularly aggressive eel, takes note of Mason’s face. And then his open mouth. Mason’s opening his mouth to scream, and the eel takes full advantage of the opportunity, gliding smoothly down his open throat. The look on Mason’s face as this happens is horrible. And so Mason Verger meets his demise, and in a most cathartic manner.
Chiyo watches over Hannibal and Will’s departure with her sniper rifle. She and Hannibal have a brief exchange, during which Hannibal clarifies what happened with his sister. He didn’t kill her, but he did eat her. The two part ways as Hannibal walks to Will’s house. When Will wakes up next to Hannibal, in his own home, they start to have an intense heart to heart. There’s a shot of the recurring teacup motif. That shattering piece of porcelain that represents Will and Hannibal’s relationship. The two face each other in the icy room.
Will explains that the teacup is broken, and truly cannot be put together. Then Will goes on. He says he lacks something that Hannibal has, and could never do what he does. That something seems to be the ability to kill. Or at least kill directly. Will lacks the utter lack of empathy Hannibal has, which was rather the whole point of the character when he was introduced. Will’s whole deal is hyper-empathy. There’s a palpable air of mutual hurt in the air when Will says he never wants to see Hannibal again. He doesn’t even want to think about his Nakama anymore.
So Hannibal leaves Will’s house, traversing the snow. Later Jack Crawford and the cavalry arrive, a veritable army coming through the woods. “He’s gone Jack.” Then there’s a crushing sense of defeat suddenly intercut by a voice. “I’m right here Jack.” Hannibal steps from the shadows and kneels down in front of Crawford. He looks over at Will as he does it, a look of triumph on his face. Will never wanted to see Hannibal again, so Hannibal let himself be captured so Will can always see him. Thus ends the first half of this season.