Hannibal is frequently a praise worthy show. It must be said, however, I found myself especially impressed by its latest episode. It’s not a particularly eventful episode, by Hannibal’s standards. There are no murders, no unanticipated reveals or developments, no particularly shocking visuals. Instead it is a quiet episode filled with character development, new and old character interaction, and a handful of flashbacks detailing events glossed over last season. However in the wake of last week’s good but surprisingly typical episode this somehow felt like a return to form. Maybe it’s an older form though. As much as I adored the first half of this season I’ve always liked the show, and this second half of the third season feels more like the early days of Hannibal. It’s a crime show again, although not a case of the week affair, which is probably a wise decision.
This episode picks up immediately after the last one, with Will Graham descending upon Hannibal Lecter’s lavish prison. The two talk, and at first they’re tentative with one another. “Are we no longer on a first name basis?” Hannibal asks. Will is trying to hold Hannibal at bay, to remind himself of the life he left behind without getting drawn back into Hannibal’s maze. Will gives his Nakama the case files and leaves. Then we get the episode’s first flashback, a scene between Hannibal and the shattered teacup that is Abigail. At the end of the second season, it was a shocking reveal that Abigail was still alive and, before any time could pass, Hannibal killed her, for real. This flashback shows Abigail and Hannibal at the scene of her first, fake, murder. He discusses which body part of hers he could take, drawing the hair away from her ear as an allusion to the scene in seasons past that culminated with Will puking up a chunk of Abigail’s ear. Hannibal then draws blood from Abigail, and she and he enact a little fake murder, holding the spurting blood to Abigail’s neck and turning her to-and-fro to create a realistic patina of blood spatter.
After the opening credits Will meets with Alana. They talk briefly about her Verger baby and the situation with Hannibal. Will is vehement that he won’t let Hannibal get close to him. Following this conversation he goes back to see Hannibal and appears to get all too close to him. He imagines himself in the tableaus the two discuss as part of their investigation into Francis Dolarhyde, who they still only know as “the Tooth Fairy.” Hannibal suggests the Tooth Fairy might be disfigured, or believe himself to be (he has a fairly minor scar above his lip). Will had already interpreted the smashed mirrors at the crime scene in this way, and it isn’t till later in the conversation that Hannibal offers something of use. He asks about the yards of the murdered families’ homes. He points out that if Dolarhyde is syncing his crimes to the moon he might need a big yard to go look at it and commune with it. If he were, say, nude, he would need a big and private yard. “Have you ever seen blood in the moonlight?” Hannibal asks Will. “It’s quite dark, almost black.” Will begins to see himself as Dolarhyde in that moment, a haunting occurrence that will repeat throughout the episode.
Later in the episode Hannibal plays host to a series of visitors. Alana Bloom, the warden of his private prison, comes to threaten him. Mads Mikkelson’s face stays still and unchanging through this interrogation, as Alana suggests he might be hoping to manipulate Will again. She threatens him, effectively narrowing in on what matters to Hannibal. She knows physical and psychological threats will have no effect on the killer, so instead she threatens to strip him of his dignity. “I’ll take your books, I’ll take your drawings, I’ll take your toilet. I’ll leave only indignity.” Three years have been kind to Alana, or the Verger fortune has. She seems more confident than ever before, certainly less distraught, and certainly more powerful. The time also seems to have been kind to Jack Crawford, who pays Hannibal a visit later in the episode. He reveals that his department vetted Hannibal’s letter to Will and forwarded it on. Hannibal tries to crack Jack’s exterior calm, needling him about (maybe) having a new romantic interest, and cruelly referencing Bella. However Hannibal’s attempts come across as petty and unsuccessful. Even when Will was communing with Hannibal earlier he seemed unaffected by Lecter’s more personal barbs and taunts. The Hannibal in this episode is both affecting everyone, and remarkably lacking in power.
The show manages a typically deft piece of visual motif during the series of interviews with Hannibal, taking care to keep his face visible at all times, whether filming him, or showing it reflecting in the glass while filming someone else. It casts Hannibal as a ghostly spirit haunting those who come to talk to him.
There are a few more flashbacks showing Hannibal and Abigail throughout the show. One shows Hannibal forcing Abigail to come to terms with her father. He covers her eyes and gives her her father’s deer-antler knife. She sniffs it and holds it and talks about hunting with her father. When she’s given the opportunity to look across the room she comes face to face with the no longer interred corpse of her father. He’s grey and mummified from the preservatives pumped into his corpse. Hannibal asks Abigail to love her father the way he loved her. So she returns her father’s final loving gesture and cuts his throat. Yellow embalming fluid comes gushing out. The last flashback is the briefest. It shows Hannibal getting the phone call from Will warning him about the FBI. After getting the call Hannibal explains to Abigail that they won’t run, because it’s important Will sees her, and the three become a family. He ushers her upstairs in preparation.
Will is having a hard time as he slips back into old patterns and begins to become obsessed with the criminal he’s chasing. At this point however it’s hard to believe any impending obsession of Will’s won’t eventually come back to his relationship with Hannibal. Hannibal said it earlier in the episode, they’re family now. Besides, Francis Dolarhyde, when compared to the eldritch complexities of Hannibal’s mind, seems decidedly typical. It’s hard to see Will developing the same kind of deep tissue bond with Dolarhyde. The episode’s brief glimpse of the Deer Man would seem to suggest something similar. The path Will’s taking may be marked Dolarhyde, but when he gets to the end and rounds the turn he’ll only be forced to confront Hannibal Lecter.
Will takes a walk through one of the crime scene’s yards, eventually stumbling across a place he assumes Dolarhyde surveyed the family from. Carved on a nearby tree is the red symbol from the dragon suite of mahjong tiles, effectively symbolic shorthand for Red Dragon, clearly Dolarhyde’s pseudo-signature. The lowest common denominator crime reporter that is Freddie corners Will when he leaves the crime scene, threatening to write a piece revealing Will’s meeting with Hannibal and its relationship to the hunt for the Tooth Fairy. Will ignores her and she carries out her threat. Her reappearance, coupled with a scene with the forensic investigators, goes a long way towards making this feel like a season one episode of Hannibal.
The forensic investigators get their moment in the spotlight when it’s discovered that the pets of the murdered families were all killed a few days before the crime. It seems symbolic, but may just be Dolarhyde eliminating an early warning system. One of the families’ dogs survived however, so Will adopts him. Surely that’ll provide him with some comfort between disturbing visions of Dolarhyde’s murders.
Dolarhyde meanwhile appears to be fixated with film cameras. He visits a blind developer of film and stumblingly talks to her about getting some highly infrared sensitive film. She explains how hard it would be to develop and offers to do the job. Shortly thereafter Dolarhyde pulls his sketchy van up to the bus stop she’s seated at and offers to drive her home. Surprisingly enough he actually follows through on that offer, and eats some pie while the two talk. However things take a turn when she mentions speech therapy and asks to touch Francis’ face. Francis, with his crippling psychopathic behaviour tied to visions of deformity, is a little uncomfortable with both topics. However it’s tensely unclear if he’s murderously uncomfortable, or if he actually has some sort of bond with the woman. Either way it’s interesting to see Francis in a context with less seizure inducing film footage, spasms, and hallucinated tails.
The episode ends with Hannibal in his prison cell, receiving a call from his lawyer. When he answers the phone, Francis’ gravelly and choked out voice replies. He’s seen Freddie’s article and is excited Hannibal is taking an interest in him. He’s confident Hannibal wouldn’t tell them even if he knew his identity. He’s also convinced Hannibal will be interested in what “he’s becoming.” Hannibal asks him for further details, then smiles ever so slightly at the gutturally roared response:
“The Great, Red, Dragon.”