With episode eight of Hannibal’s third season, The Great Red Dragon, we’ve jumped ahead three years in time to the events of the first Hannibal novel, Red Dragon. It’s a dramatic jump, one that fundamentally changes the fabric of the show. Even the naming convention of the titles has changed. Gone are the names of dishes, a format the show has been using since its creation.
Of course that’s not the biggest of changes. With the events of Red Dragon, the show is seemingly settling back into a pretty typical investigative drama. Hopefully some of the show’s unpredictable twists and turns will be brought into what currently seems almost humdrum when compared to Hannibal’s past content. When Dr. Chilton talks to Hannibal about this half of this season’s big bad, the Tooth Fairy, he talks about the differences between the Tooth Fairy and Hannibal. At first glance it almost seems like the show pointing out the change in pace. The Tooth Fairy has none of Hannibal’s predilection for aesthetics, he’s less “niche” than Hannibal. More direct and “universal.”
This show skewing more typical would be too little too late, and while I doubt we would suffer through any major drop in quality I liked Hannibal’s niche. I liked the macabre and artistic murders, luxurious food photography, pretentious dialogue, and savagely unexpected turns. I hope the show doesn’t wander too far from these early defining traits. There are some signs it might not get too typical. There’s a nice conversation between Chilton and Hannibal over some blood-based pudding, and there’s some nice visuals worked into the scenes of the Tooth Fairy, like a scene where the sounds of a botched audio visual presentation comprised of a record and old school film projector drives him into a fit. Despite the more direct visuals of this episode, it’s still very well directed by The Descent’s Neil Marshall, returning to the show.
It’s not just the look of the show that’s changed, the show’s characters are all in new positions. Or rather many of them have reverted to their original circumstances. Jack Crawford is back hunting serial killers for the FBI. He’s even got his old forensics team back. Dr. Chilton wrote a successful book on Hannibal, who he still visits in prison, but is hunting his next big break by starting a book on the Tooth Fairy. Alana seems to be back in the psychiatric business. She talks with both Hannibal and Chilton this episode. She warns Chilton that Hannibal is writing what basically amounts to a refutation of Chilton’s book. Chilton laughs it off at first, asking what weight the word of a convicted serial murderer could possibly carry in the psychiatric community. “It’ll carry weight,” is all Alana replies. Her warnings start to throw Chilton off guard.
Hannibal is, of course, in prison. He seems to enjoy his visits with both Chilton and Alana, and seems to take particular note of the talk of the Tooth Fairy. But other than the words said about his writing projects, he’s at his most passive in a long time. I suppose prison will do that to you.
The biggest changes in the last three years have been Will Graham’s. When we see Jack visit Will the once devotee of Hannibal is in incredibly unfamiliar circumstances. He seems happy. He’s living with a woman and her son. She shares Will’s love of stray dogs; their house is full of them. It’s weird seeing Will having a family. However we don’t really get to see how he’s been living these past few years, because he’s immediately thrust back into darker circumstances when Jack Crawford shows up at his door. Jack wants Will’s help tracking down the Tooth Fairy. What I particularly liked about this exchange is that everyone involved seems sure Will can be convinced to return. Jack barely needs to make an argument, and even Will’s partner quickly gets a hold of the situation. It’s nice that the show doesn’t try to drag any kind of tension or mystery out of this; it simply resigns itself to the inevitability of Will’s choice. Even Hannibal seems aware of what’s happening when he sends Will a letter warning him against following Jack back into the darkness and madness.
The darkness and madness comes in the form of the Tooth Fairy. The deranged man is shown exercising and readying himself for his crimes. He gets a tattoo of William Blake’s Red Dragon on his back and incorporates it into a sort of obsessive ritualistic display. He purchases what look like real teeth? Fake teeth? Casts of real teeth? He buys some sort of sketchy tooth thing from a shop in Chinatown and wears it over his own teeth, thereby leaving misleading dental evidence at his crime scenes. And Chilton’s right about his crime scenes, they are much more direct than the elegant presentations Hannibal assembled. The Tooth Fairy basically barrels into his victim’s home and kills everyone in there. It’s inelegant and brutal. He favours slaughtering whole nuclear families. Other than those choice details at this point we don’t know much about his motivations or desires. (Again I’ve made a deliberate choice to avoid other adaptations of Red Dragon, and the original novel, so this stuff feels new to me.)
So Will takes a look at the Tooth Fairy’s most recent crime scene. He stands by the murdered family and summons his natural gift for empathy. The swinging yellow pendulum that marks Will’s investigatory nature makes its appearance. Will relives the murderers actions, experiencing, at least mentally, what he experienced. For the first time this season Will adopts someone else’s designs. It’s the first time in a long time Will hasn’t been completely over-shadowed by Hannibal’s mindset. Instead he’s reverted back to his original role as investigator.
But something’s not right, and Will knows it. As the episode winds to a close he calmly announces he needs to see Hannibal again to get back in the right mindset. The episode ends as the two greet each other.