“Digestivo” is an ellipsis of an episode, the transitional, and transitory, chapter that skulks between the season’s two halves. It begins with Hannibal Lecter sawing into Will Graham’s skull; it ends with Will Graham saying good-bye to Hannibal Lecter. In the 45-minute interval between those two moments, life is engendered and life is ended and Will and Hannibal’s relationship reaches its inevitable conclusion. It’s an appropriate first episode in the wake of NBC’s unceremonious dumping of Hannibal into the Saturday night graveyard slot, where they hope the show will die out of sight.
Without remorse or consolation, director Adam Kane tosses us into the thralls of the episode: A storm of polizia boots ascend stairs as music culled from the nightmares of freak-show performers plays. The police smash into the room where Hannibal is cutting into Will’s head, where Jack sits and watches. They’re not here to make any arrests, Jack knows. These are men bought and paid for by Mason Verger, picking up where the disemboweled Renaldo Pazzi left off. They take Hannibal and Will away — Mason will pay double for the pair (or rather the two halves of the whole?). Hannibal got away, they say, but he left one last victim, his old friend Jack Crawford. They prepare to cut Jack open, all the way open, just how Hannibal would do it.
Chiyoh doesn’t want this to happen. She still has questions. From her perch across the street, she puts a bullet through each polizia, leaving Jack sitting alone for a long moment to gather his thoughts. She appears in the room soon thereafter and asks Jack if he knows Hannibal and Will, since he’s sitting at Hannibal’s dinner table, alive (a rare privilege).
“I know both of them.” Then, almost as an aside, “Could you take this needle out of my neck?”
“Where did they bring Hannibal?” Chiyoh asks.
“I can tell you the exact address … once you pull this needle out of my neck.”
She obliges him.
“Muskrat Farm, in Maryland, near the Susquehanna River.”
That kind of sense of humor, delivered in apt deadpan by all the key players, suffuses the entire episode. Writers Steve Lightfoot and Bryan Fuller leave little breathing room in the episode’s effervescent first half, as Kane’s fast, efficient camerawork acts as a nice foil to Vincenzo Natali’s pensive style. (Great as his episodes are, there’s no way Natali could turn this script into a 45-minute episode — there’d be snails crawling around and viscous fluids dripping on everything.)
Hannibal and Will are delivered to Mason. Cordell, a man of many talents, will prepare the pair for Mason, lopping off Hannibal’s appendages (saving a particularly cherished part for last) while keeping him alive in prolonged agony. Mason sticks a knife in Hannibal’s back to check his fat levels. He’s lean. They’ll fatten him up.
Alana and Margot have no qualms with seeing Hannibal dead, even if they can barely stomach Mason. Their main quibble with the plan is Mason’s insistence on torturing Hannibal: Playing with your food gives it the opportunity to bite back, Alana points out.
Hannibal, Will, and Mason gather around a table, all of them garbed in exquisite suits. The lens work and rack focusing blur the three men, insinuating a sort of group symbiosis, or a commingling of qualities evident in the grotesque smear on screen. Cordell proceeds to explain how he plans to prepare and cook Hannibal for Mason. Mason dabbles in cannibalism, even if he hasn’t quite reached Hannibal’s rarefied level yet:
” … the tragedy being his penis was overcooked. I ate it anyway.”
Carve that on Mason’s tombstone. He’ll need one soon enough.
Joe Anderson gets so much sumptuous dialogue in “Digestivo” but doesn’t have time to over-chew or choke, as he did a couple of weeks ago, thanks to Kane’s quickened pacing and the juicy stream of surreal quips. Compare Anderson’s terse diction here to his achingly over-done delivery from “Apervito” or “Contorno,” episodes that almost feel like conscious efforts to win back fans who lack the palette for the denser, more difficult Natali episodes (ugh, art is so boring, guys). For a show rife with histrionics, Hannibal is undone by overacting. As Mikkelsen and Gillian Anderson have shown us over and over, the show works best when the actors let the aesthetics do the shouting.
Mason, fun guy that he is, has even more planned for Will and Hannibal. He wants to pull a Face/Off and don Will’s face. Will reacts to the news appropriately:
“You’re going to eat him … with my face?”
What else do you say to that? Cordell, serving the guests their supper, bends over Will, and Will cranes his neck up and bites a chunk out of Cordell’s face, à la Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.
“No pajama party for you, Mr. Graham,” Mason scolds him.
Cordell brands Hannibal, the sizzling poker burning the Muskrat Farm logo onto the psychiatrist’s back. Mason, Cordell opines, is “truly visionary” for what he’s done with the pigs. (The show has always slyly commented on its own finite existence.)
Mason reminds Margot that he wants to have a family with her — a Verger baby, even if it’s more hers than his. Margot reminds Mason that he cut out her uterus, and Mason tells her that, why yes, he did, but he didn’t throw away her eggs: He put them in a new basket. (“I didn’t Humpy Dumpty them,” he says, recalling the shattered teacup.) That basket is here on the farm and incubating in that basket is a Verger baby. Margot wants to meet the surrogate mother of her child, but Mason tells her not yet.
Margot subsequently visits Hannibal, who is tied up in the barn. She tells him about the baby, and he tells her to kill Mason. “It would be more therapeutic if you kill him yourself.” Plus, she can always blame Hannibal, anyway.
Alana shows up and disposes of the guard. She takes his knife, approaching Hannibal: “Could I have ever understood you?”
She sets Hannibal free.
Alana and Margot find the surrogate mother into whom Mason has inserted their child. It is, of course, a pig. Notice the piggy mobile slowly revolving about the bed. The fetus has no heartbeat, so they cut it out. At the same time, Mason goes under the knife, as Cordell cuts and peels off Will’s face and prepares to stitch it onto Mason’s skull. Mason wakes up and looks in the mirror, only to see the fleshy mask slip off, leaving behind a bloody mess.
“Cordell’s dead,” Alana says, sauntering into the room. “They’re all dead.”
Alana and Margot have, with Dr. Lecter’s assistance, used a cattle prod to extract Mason’s tainted semen so they can have their Verger baby, even if it’s more his than hers. Mason raises his gun, only to shoot out the glass aquarium below him, in which his eels eddy with anticipation. Mason falls into the water, and, with a little assistance from Alana and Margot, is eaten from the inside out as the eel squirms and writhes its way into his open mouth.
Outside, Hannibal flees with Will cradled in his arms. Chiyoh picks off Mason’s men as Hannibal makes his escape. At Will’s house, Chiyoh asks Hannibal if he ate his sister.
“Yes,” he finally confirms. “But I didn’t kill her.”
“Will you go home?” he asks her. “Can you go home?”
“No more than you can,” she responds. “Some beasts cannot be caged.”
Inside, Will awakes. Hannibal enters, sits on the bed like an old friend.
“Did we talk about teacups and time and the rules of disorder?” Hannibal asks.
The teacup is broken, and it will never find the pieces to gather itself together again. Will and Hannibal have reached a point of no return; they can never repair their relationship. To continue is to err in vain.
“We are a zero-sum game,” Hannibal says.
Will, opening up, confides: “I miss my dogs. I’m not gonna miss you. I’m not going to find you, I’m not gonna look for you. I don’t wanna know where you are, or what you do; I don’t want to think about you anymore. Good-bye, Hannibal.”
Hannibal, accepting his rejection with characteristic grace, departs into the wintry abyss that spills from outside Will’s door.
With “Digestivo,” the Hannibal/Hannibal Rising story arc reaches its inevitable conclusion, but the episode doesn’t so much leave questions unanswered as it finally answers the last lingering quandary that has pervaded Hannibal since its advent. The relationship between Will and Hannibal has been the palpitating heart and pulsating soul of the show; it’s the reason why the show transcends its source material’s pulpy appeal. While it’s always been there, a memory you can’t quite recall, the question has been, until now, difficult to articulate, more of a vague feeling than a query proper. Does Will need Hannibal? Does Hannibal need Will? Can they survive a schism? The answer is as disquieting as it is quietly resounding.
Police lights flicker in the snow-strewn night, the evocative Americana of their colors burning hotly as they glide toward Will’s house. Jack steps out of an SUV, where he’s greeted by Will. They stand still as the snow gently falls, like the sheets of paper in Hannibal’s office, like the feathers Chioyh plucked from the bird, like Bella’s ashes spilling softly into the river.
Where is Hannibal? Jack asks, knowing that he’s gone. Hannibal will never be caught, his freedom never taken away from him, as he feared in “Mizumono.”
But he can still give his freedom away himself:
Here I am, a voice intones.
Hannibal walks out of the shadows, his arms raised. He drops calmly to his knees as Jack and Will watch, their eyes not quite as befuddled as you’d expect.
“I want you to know where I am,” Hannibal says comely, turning his gaze toward Will. “And where you can always find me.”
The teacup is whole again.