“What have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed.”
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
A heap of broken images. This is Hannibal’s design:
“Do you know where you are in the room?” Francis asks Reba. She does. “Then you know where you are in the house.” She does. “Then you know where the front door is, don’t you?”
He instructs her to feel his chest — no, not what she’s thinking, just touch it. Put her hands up to his throat (“Careful”) and take the key dangling around him. He needs to know if he can trust her. He sends her to the front door, advising her not to run. “I can catch you.”
She makes her way downstairs, to the door. She pauses, wraps her fingers around the knob and pushes the door open, where Francis is waiting for her.
Upstairs, he holds up the barrel of a shotgun, says, “I wish I could have trusted you. You felt so good.”
He picks up a can of gasoline, dousing the room. He tells her, “I can’t give you to him … he will bite you.”
He strikes the match, caught in close-up so it resembles a burning baton, tumbling toward the floor. As the fire envelopes them, Francis says, “I can’t bear to watch you burn.”
And he turns the shotgun upward and sprays his face all over Reba.
The clock ticks, the second hand chugging along undeterred, as Reba crawls through the burning house. The last thing we see is a stag’s head engulfed.
Now. Reba, sucking on an ice cube.
“He shot himself,” she tells Will from a hospital bed.
She blames herself for drawing a monster, a freak, the way people blame themselves for being abused by a partner. Will assures her she didn’t draw a freak: “You drew a man with a freak on his back.”
Reba doesn’t know that she’s talking to a freak. A real genuine freak with a monster on his back. Reba warns Will, “Be wary of people who foster dependency, feed on it.”
In the church in Hannibal’s memory palace, bedecked with candles and tasteful tapestries, where Hannibal wears a three-piece plaid suit, a crisp purple shirt, a full-Windsor knot. He mourns not Francis’s death, but the way in which he died.
“I was rooting for you, Will,” he says. “It’s a shame: You came all this way and you didn’t get to kill anybody.”
Life, he says, won’t be the same for Will. After everything Will has seen, Will has done, since stepping back into the darkness, he’s relapsed. These experiences will linger with him like an unwanted passenger, cling to him and corrode his family.
“When life becomes maddeningly polite, think about me, Will. Think about me. Don’t worry about me.”
Will presses a hand to Dr. Lecter’s glass cell. He tells him Hannibal allowed himself to be caught so Will can always find him. He only did this because Will rejected him. As Will turns to depart, Hannibal asks, “Was it good to see me, Will?”
In a seedy motel, the kind with a neon sign burning a hellish red against the nighttime sky, Francis pounces. He ties Will to a chair, tells him, “I wanted to share with Dr. Lecter … Dr. Lector betrayed me.”
Dr. Lector has betrayed them both.
“You can’t understand,” he says.
But Will understands. “If I can see you,” he says, “you can see me.”
Francis leans closer. “I would like to share.”
He didn’t change Reba, Will notes. “I didn’t change her,” Francis says. “I am stronger than the Dragon.”
Now Francis wants to change Dr. Lecter. Will wants to help.
Special agents Jimmy and Brian show up to explain to Jack Crawford that Francis isn’t dead, but faked his own death. (Also, so we can see them one last time before the show ends.) In quintessential Hannibal fashion, the opening scene adhered not to reality, or to dream logic, but to Hannibal logic, depicting the world not as it exists but as its inhabitants see it. The details of Francis’s feigned death aren’t important: What’s important is that Francis has defeated the Great Red Dragon, burned down his shrine, his ossuary, and left it all smoldering in a heap. In defeating the Dragon, Francis has become the monster in charge. Anything and everything that Francis does from here on out is Francis, not the Dragon.
Will wants to use Hannibal as bait. Bedelia finds this idea grotesque, not because she cares for Hannibal or his well-being, but because in his inevitable freedom, he will inevitably end up knocking on her door. She assures Will that if he thinks he can manipulate this situation to his advantage, he’s wrong.
“There is no advantage,” he retorts, “just degrees of disadvantage.”
This is Will’s Becoming. Cruelty requires empathy, and Will has both in spades. Will advises Bedelia to pack her bags: Her meat is back on the menu.
“Ready or not, here he comes.”
In a nod to the first episode (directed by David Slade, who was conspicuously absent from this season), we see the burning of Frederic Chilton in reverse, flaps of charred skin coming back together, the fire rushing back into the head of the match, the viscera of brain and skull converging. Chilton, lying supine in a burn container (à la season two), blames Alana and Will and Jack and Hannibal more than he blames Francis Dolarhyde. Between the four of them, they had just enough rope to hang Chilton.
Will goes back to Hannibal. He needs Hannibal’s help. “What was it you said?” Hannibal asks. “That you rejected me. I believe that’s what they call a ‘mic drop.’”
Now Will has come to pick the mike back up again. He’s doing exactly what Hannibal wanted. Hannibal only agrees to help Will when he finally says the magic word:
They strap Hannibal up and swaddle him with a fleet of FBI escorts. Doesn’t matter: Francis kills them all, leaving only Will and Hannibal alive. Hannibal gets into a police car, asking Will, “Going my way?”
Will goes with Hannibal. Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.
Hannibal’s bluff is eroding. Standing above the sea, as waves crash against the embankment below, Hannibal tells Will that there was more land when he was here with Abigail. More land still when he was here with Miriam. The bluff is still eroding, and soon they will all be consumed by the sea, a Melvillian divination:
“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.”
Inside, enfolded by night and glass, Hannibal peels the foil off of a bottle of wine.
“Do you intend to watch him kill me?” he asks Will.
“I intend to watch him change you.”
It’s a subtle difference, but at this point, Will is unable to kill Hannibal. Like Francis, like the Dragon, he wishes to give him new life. That new life is born from death, of course, but symbolically it’s pretty potent.
“My compassion towards you is inconvenient, Will.”
Hannibal ponders if Will can save himself, if any of them can save themselves, and something tears through Hannibal’s side, shattering the bottle of wine as the window comes crashing down in a wave behind him.
From the darkness emerges Francis.
“I’m glad to see you chose life, Francis,” Hannibal quips. “Suicide is the enemy.”
Hannibal’s blood mingles with the wine on the floor.
Francis sets up the camera, preparing to change Hannibal. Hannibal’s eye tilts toward Will, who reaches for his gun, and Francis pivots abruptly, jabbing a knife into Will’s face. He throws Will through the window and follows him outside, reaching down, and Will stabs Francis in the side. They exchange stabs, bleeding on each other, and Hannibal tackles Francis off of Will. They tumble like lovers across the patio. Francis approaches Hannibal, the Dragon’s wings sprouting from his back and arching in triumph, before Will grabs him, shoves a knife in his back again. Hannibal picks up a hatchet and together Will and Hannibal hack apart Francis, cutting his legs, his sides, his chest, his back. Hannibal tears out Francis’s throat with his teeth. Francis falls backward, blood cascading onto the ground as guitars and dreamy vocals fill the air. This is probably the first and only time the music on Hannibal can be described as “lovely.”
Will staggers toward Hannibal. They’re both mangled and pulped, their shirts saturated.
“This is all I ever wanted for you, Will,” Hannibal says, “for both of us.”
Will says, “It’s beautiful.”
A pair of broken bodies. This is Hannibal’s design. They fall, together, into the writhing sea below.
Far away, Bedelia sits at an exquisitely set dinner table, missing one of her legs, waiting for a guest who will never arrive. Her pain is ours, the ambiguity of uncertainty an ache we share. We’re all waiting for Hannibal to return.
Assuming “The Wrath of the Lamb” was the final episode of Hannibal, I guess this is my eulogy. This season was a milestone of network television, a great Becoming, in its own way. Thematically, aesthetically, it went places no show has gone before. Hannibal is a bacchanal of high- and low-brow influences, a Greek tragedy by way of Liquid Television drawing its wicked, moribund sense of humor from the same poisoned well as Edgar Allan Poe and Tod Browning; its baroque marriage of sound and vision channeling David Lynch and William Blake; its thematic obsession with duality and identity not far removed from Ingmar Bergman or Frederico Fellini. In its elegiac poetry, Hannibal harkened to Longinus, Ovid, Burke, Baudelaire, Eliot. I can name names of varying erudition all day.
I think of Hannibal as the geeky, overachieving cousin to American Horror Story’s lunk-head high-school jock. As weird as the weirdest network show ever got — Max Headroom, Twin Peaks, H.R. Pufnstuf — they look quaint compared to the avant-garde Grand Guignol of Bryan Fuller’s show. (Okay, maybe not H.R. Pufnstuf. That show is terrifying.) Hannibal ditched the monster-of-the-week format that had worked so well in season one and went for something more ambitious. Vincenzo Natali’s dive into pure phantasmagoria wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but few directors have brought such singular vision to a network television program. Even now, series opener “Antipasto” feels daring, refusing to answer any questions left by season two’s cadaverous closer, divulging details in hushes and whispers. It’s incredible that Hannibal ran on NBC, a network that’s been skulking in the doldrums for years and is subject to the restrictions of public TV. Maybe TV censors, like most of the world, didn’t even notice the show existed.
Also, I’ve never mentioned cinematographer James Hawkinson in my recaps, and I need to rectify that: He conjured images from unfathomable depths, submerging us in nightmarish mire. Whereas many cinematographers try to hide their digital photography, make it resemble film, Hawinkson embraced digital’s quirks and strengths. Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick, which sits at the opposite side of the stylistic spectrum, is the only current show that uses digital photography as well. Hawkinson helped give Hannibal its look, its flavor.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mads Mikkelsen once more. While Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham is the ostensible main character for most of the show, and his performance is really good, Mikkelsen operates on a different level. Inheriting a role considered by many to be one of American cinema’s most memorable, he created one of the most enigmatic characters on television, one who galvanizes even as he’s filleting people. It’s not that he bested Anthony Hopkins as much as he made keen alterations to the character: The subtle menace of Mikkelsen bears little resemblance to the lip-smacking histrionics of Hopkins, partially because Hopkins had 18 minutes of screen time to create a character, whereas Mikkelsen had three seasons, and yet they both make the same essential acting choice: They play against the aesthetic of their respective stories. Hopkins’s Hannibal exists in a world culled from the days of Hammer Horror, while Mikkelsen’s pervades a giallo-inspired art piece. Hopkins doesn’t chew scenery as much as he dines on it eloquently, with relish, which wouldn’t work in Hannibal. Had Mikkelsen gone all Shakespearean in a show of already exaggerated sensations, it would’ve been too much. The slight curl of a lip, the steady eyes, the deadpan delivery, the way his hair was parted (seriously, they use his hair as a reflection of his current state throughout the show) — Mikkelsen taps into the black heart of Hannibal’s humor. He’s an ominous presence, with impeccable taste and insatiable lust. He’s the voice in your head telling you to do bad things.
While the internet was busy getting all huffy and puffy over Game of Thrones or, for whatever reason, subjecting themselves to the awfulness of True Detective’s second season, Hannibal was moving further and further away from the accepted look of network television, bringing its vestige of remaining viewers along. As this season progressed, Hannibal transmogrified into a strange, self-aware monster and began to devour itself. The show became its title character, an erudite cannibal that doesn’t just eat its ilk, but seems to absorb them, turn them into art. I’ve used the metaphor of an ouroboros a couple of times in previous recaps, but it fits the show so well. Jokes veered closer and closer toward solipsism as Bryan Fuller, Steve Lightfoot, and their revolving coterie of co-writers (notably Jeff Vlaming, Nick Antosca, and Don Mancini) made wry observations on the show’s fleeting existence with increasing frequency. The show, like its viewers, was familiar with its source material and the various adaptations that preceded it. And it sought to not only best them, but to do so with a wink and a nod, a bit of theater of which Dr. Lecter would surely approve.
Hannibal is enamored with its own mythology, but also by the idea of mythology, the idea of monsters and men and gods and beings that transcend mortality, worlds defined not by reality but by the perceptions of their inhabitants. The show eventually jettisoned any hope for newcomers, appealing strictly to a niche sect of the fannibals, ones with unwavering patience, who could see the ontological beauty in bodily mutilation. It occasionally stumbled, particularly during the Verger arc, when Michael Pitt’s absence was palpable, but there are nine or ten masterful episodes this season that deserve to be held up with the best of Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Buffy and Angel, Kolchak, and all its monster-marred ancestors that are now considered classic.
Hannibal, you beautiful, bizarre, beguiling bastard, I’ll miss you. Good-bye, Doctor Lecter.