The penultimate episode of the third season of Hannibal, “The Number of the Beast Is 666”, likely the penultimate episode of the show, perfectly sets the show for the season’s endgame. It’s too soon for this show to leave us, but if we have to part ways it looks like these last episodes will serve as a powerful ending. If only Hannibal was more present in these final episodes. The Great Red Dragon is a frightening image, but this show’s ending really could only be between Will and Hannibal. Still, there’s a whole episode before I have to talk about this series’ finale.
This episode focuses on the fall-out from the Dragon’s attempt to murder Will Graham’s family. Will’s mental state is deteriorating, a fact revealed through repeated therapy sessions with Bedelia, of all people. I suppose she’s specially equipped to relate to Will’s experiences, vis a vis Hannibal Lecter. He talks about his current brand of trauma, which is actually an old one. He’s beginning to over empathize with Francis Dolarhyde. When Will imagines his family dead, or Alana, in one striking scene, he’s not imagining Francis Dolarhyde as the culprit, he’s imagining himself.
In this episode Jack and Hannibal have a private conversation, laden with the biblical references befitting the killer they’re chasing. Hannibal talks at length about sacrifices and the wrath of the Lamb. Jack quickly identifies the Lamb as Will Graham. Jack accuses Hannibal of being the real Dragon, the Devil confined to his pit. Hannibal smiles and points out that if he’s the Devil then Jack must be God. Jack doesn’t dispute this label, which seems rather ominous.
This episode’s must stunning moments stem from the plan Will, Jack, and Alana form. They know the Great Red Dragon is strangely fascinated by Will Graham, so they decide to set a trap. The call on the tabloid journalism of Freddie Lounds and decide to have Will insult the Dragon in an interview. Worrying it will smell like a trap they decide they need to legitimize the interview by including a psychological professional. Alana refuses, saying that only a fool would accept. At which point the show cuts to Frederic Chilton. The two give an interview to Tattle Crime in which Will Graham accuses the Dragon of being sexually frustrated, ugly, impotent, and the result of an incestuous home. They pose for a photo with visible landmarks in the back and send Chilton off with armed guards.
The guards are promptly shot and Chilton is abducted. He’s taken to learn the truth of the Great Red Dragon. Francis Dolarhyde gags and blinds Chilton and glues him to a wheelchair. He wakes the man up and begins to torment and interrogate him. Chilton is immediately terrified. He snivels and tries not to cry and desperately bargains, pleas, and flatters his captor. Everything Dolarhyde says prompts Chilton’s agreement. Chilton is even careful to put himself down and come across as slightly more truthful in his newfound love of the Dragon. Francis Dolarhyde, dressed in a robe and his black mask, towers over Chilton and menaces him. It’s grim and intense. Francis pontificates for sometime before being interrupted by Reba.
Reba heard Francis was at home sick and wanted to use the pretext of bringing him over soup to discuss the state of their relationship. Dolarhyde once again exploits Reba’s disability and forces Frederic Chilton to sit in the wheelchair silently while he interacts with Reba. Francis just growls and drives the woman who loves him away, before turning back to his captor.
He forces Chilton to watch some of his footage. It’s mainly a slideshow of photos of families, one image when they’re alive and one when they’re dead. It ends with the photo of Chilton and Will standing side by side, Will’s hand resting on Chilton’s shoulder. Chilton whimpers. Frederic removes his robe and poses his tattoo in front of a projection of the Great Red Dragon. He demands that Chilton understand what he’s witnessing. Then he tells Chilton he’ll let him go, after they shoot some video. “Repeat after me…” When the video is done the Great Red Dragon leaps and uses his teeth to tear Chilton’s lips off. It’s one of Hannibal’s more graphic moments ever, in an episode with a few contenders for that title.
After this act Hannibal gets a package in the mail. Two greying chunks of lip. Jack is called in to investigate. “Where’s the other lip?” Then there’s a sudden cut to Hannibal snapping it up like a lizard. It’s one of my favourite moments in the episode. They watch Dolarhyde’s tape. It doesn’t provide any answers, just threats and abstractions befitting the Great Red Dragon. Will watches it in fear, blaming himself for what happened to Chilton.
Then Chilton turns up, arranged in the same manner the fictitious murder of Freddie Lounds was. The Great Red Dragon seems to be deliberately harkening back to the last time Will tried to set a trap. This time it’s not fake however, and Chilton’s flaming body is rolled, wheelchair-bound, down the road. But more horrifying than Chilton’s apparent death is the reveal that he’s survived. One doesn’t get burned alive without consequences however; the actions of the Great Red Dragon have left Chilton a disfigured and pained burn victim, sitting in his hospital bed and brooding.
Will Graham visits Frederic Chilton in the hospital, where he is forced to confront his involvement in what happened. “You put your hand on me like a pet.” Frederic Chilton blames Will, and Will calmly translates his growled accusations for the sake of Jack Crawford. It’s a skin-crawling scene, especially given how grim Chilton’s prosthetic is. It’s not the last surprising horror of the episode however – that would come when Francis Dolarhyde, assuming the role of the Great Red Dragon, kidnaps Reba. He reveals his true form to her in a massive spreading of wings that blacks out the screen and sets the stage for Hannibal’s series finale.