“There are those whose own vulgar normality is so apparent and stultifying that they strive to escape it. They affect flamboyant behaviour and claim originality according to the fashionable eccentricities of their time. They claim brains or talent or indifference to mores in desperate attempts to deny their own mediocrity.” —Katherine Dunn, Geek Love
Will Graham knows exactly where to find Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal wanted it this way. Hannibal and Will have become two halves of one mentally unstable whole, each unable to exist without the other, not unlike Xander being split in two in the Buffy season-five episode “The Replacement.” Will may have a happy life with his family while Hannibal spends his remaining days locked up in a bell-jar-ish cell, but Will is living a lie. He’s only truly himself when he’s with Hannibal, and it’s that true self that he rejects. Hannibal’s been denied his freedom, and by proxy has denied Will of his freedom. Yet Hannibal’s isn’t a malicious denial — selfish, maybe, as he’s spreading his misery to thin it out, but he explicitly told Will not to step back into the darkness. That letter Will hid in the trunk, it sounds like the warning of a caring friend, not a manipulative monster … though with Hannibal, that line has blurred beyond recognition.
Uttering the now-famous line “That’s the same atrocious aftershave you wore in court,” Hannibal greets Will. Riffing on Jonathan Demme’s impeccable use of shot-reverse-shot in The Silence of the Lambs, director John Dahl casts Will’s ghostly reflection on the glass when we’re looking at Hannibal, and Hannibal’s when we’re looking at Will. (The temptation to meld them à la Bergman must’ve been painfully tempting.)
The music undulates calmly, a placid sea on which Will and Hannibal drift toward each other.
“Did you read the note?” Hannibal asks. “Or did you just burn it?”
“I read it. And then I burned it.”
Hannibal ascertains that Will has a child now, that distinctive scent of dogs and pine and oil giving him away. “I gave you a child, if you recall,” Hannibal says.
The scene, though brief, is rife with tension as Hannibal, standing so still, so stoic, picks through Will’s brain, looking for sore spots he can tap, old ghosts he can exhume. This is how Hannibal shows his love.
Will calls him Dr. Lecter, and Hannibal asks if they’re no longer on a first-name basis. He seems hurt.
“I’m more comfortable the less personal we are,” Will elucidates.
Dr. Lecter sees him, raises the bet:
“You came here to have a look at me, to get that old scent again. Why don’t you just smell yourself?”
As Will turns to depart, Dr. Lecter says, “You’re family.” Despite everything — the attempted murders, the lies, the betrayals, the manipulation — Will is all Hannibal has.
Back at the Hobbs house, all those years ago, when Abigail finally realized what Hannibal is, and Hannibal apologized for not being able to protect her. We see how Hannibal treats family. Hannibal has to kill Abigail — a symbolic death, a blood ritual, so she can be reborn, as his daughter. He must take a pound of her flesh, but not her finger: He wants to teach her to play harpsichord one day.
“How would you have killed me?” she asks.
“I would have cut your throat. Like your father did.”
Abigail speaks in the hushed undertones of Bedelia. Hannibal has this effect on women, purging them of their inflection.
Hannibal sticks a needle and tube in Abigail’s neck. She has to bleed. A lot. Blood leaves the human neck in a geyser before slowing, so they have to do this carefully and quickly.
“Are you ready to die, Abigail?”
“Can I push the button?” Abigail asks.
And a stream of blood rushes out of Abigail’s neck, Hannibal aiming her like a hose, spraying her essence all over the room. The blood washes down the walls in waves.
Back in the present, Will reunites with Alana. He looks well, but Alana doesn’t seem overly concerned with his wellness. Word of his collaboration with Dr. Lecter has Will’s old galère irate. Will isn’t the only one Dr. Lecter hurt, Alana reminds him, and she now has a baby, a Verger baby, whom she birthed. She has a lot to lose. Will likens the sensation of seeing Dr. Lecter again to having the doctor looking into the back of his skull, peering through a secret window.
“I felt like a fly flitting around in there.”
Will has, in a way, relapsed. He didn’t leave Dr. Lecter behind in his cell: He took Dr. Lecter with him. They’ve circled back to the beginning, their relationship reborn. The pivotal motif of the Red Dragon arc is the Sisyphean desperation of existence. Life is an ouroboros, always sucking on its own tail.
“And the Woman Clothed With the Sun,” written by Jeff Vlaming, Helen Shang, Bryan Fueller, and Steve Lightfoot, has a low-key yet eloquent look, courtesy of director John Dahl. Dahl, whose dialogue-centric neo-noirs skulk in seedy underworlds, knows how to visualize the essence of dialogue while keeping twisty, turn-y plots in check. This episode finds sensuality in sinister acts, not unlike Dahl’s sultry The Last Seduction. Here, he likes to end scenes by separating the characters from the backgrounds, dissolving the scenery into oblivion while the character lingers for a prolonged moment, an echo of life.
Hannibal Lecter is like the Babadook: You can’t let him in or you’ll never get him out. He pries open Will’s skull and peruses at his leisure. The Tooth Fairy, he says, is a “shy boy,” who, like Will, “needs a family to escape what’s inside him.”
As they saunter through the myriad rooms of his memory palace, Dr. Lecter opines that Will is using his family to feign a sense of normality. Will, like Hannibal, like the Tooth Fairy, is a freak. Having a stepson absolves him of any hereditary flaws.
“You know better than to breed, Will.”
Hannibal, we learn, was raising the new Abigail, training her, molding her. He props up her father’s corpse in his office, the same chair in which Will sits during their sessions. He instructs Abigail to cut his throat. She slides the knife through his flesh and formaldehyde flows out.
In a different kind of prison cell, a dinner table in a gangrene-colored room, Francis Dolarhyde watches home movies. Dolarhyde wears the show’s son et lumière aesthetic the way Blake’s woman wears the sun. His room looks like an unsettled id that’s exploded.
Later, in the darkroom of the photo lab where he works, Dolarhyde speaks for the first time:
“I’m Francis … Dolarhyde.”
The young girl working there, Reba (Rutina Wesley), is unperturbed by his presence.
“Do you think … I can have a plum?” he asks her. The words tumble out of his mouth. This is the first time we’ve seen him as anything but a monster. He’s … apprehensive? Nervous? He’d be pathetic if we didn’t know what he really is, what he’s becoming.
“Of course,” she tells him.
Francis needs help finding infrared film to record nocturnal animals. He doesn’t like the digital format. (Fueller et al really know how to make us suddenly feel sympathetic for the guy.) Reba offers to develop his footage for him, since even the slightest bit of light would destroy it. You need all-consuming darkness, which doesn’t affect her: She’s blind. “Privacy guaranteed,” she quips.
Francis offers to give her a ride home. “For my pleasure,” he says, sucking on the word as if he’s never tasted it before.
Richard Armitage’s Dolarhyde displays none of the Wellesian ham of the character’s previous incarnations. Notice how he jitters, how he can’t sustain eye contact. He’s twitchy yet sensitive, menacing because we know what he can do, though nothing in his scenes with Reba convey malice. His face contorts, unsure how to express emotion. He eats as though he’s afraid someone might take away his food — the way a stray dog eats.
Reba likes Francis because he doesn’t pity her. He feels no sympathy for her. She puts her hand up to his face, to see if he’s smiling. He grabs her hand:
“Trust me, I’m smiling.”
The saddest part is he may actually think he is smiling.
Green, the color of arsenic, of gas chamber doors and decay and rot, saturates the whole episode: Francis’s askew walls, the light spilling in his windows, the hue of the home movies, the formaldehyde filling Garrett Jacob Hobbs, Francis’s shirt, Will’s sweater, the foliage enveloping the houses of the Tooth Fairy’s victims. The world of the Red Dragon is evergreen, perennially reborn. It lives, it dies, it lives again. The traits of characters are fluid, flowing from Hannibal to Will to Francis. They all have “complicated arrangements,” Will and Hannibal, Hannibal and Alana, Alana and Will, Abigail and Hannibal, Francis and Reba. These are people who can’t be with other people, but can’t live alone.
This season we’ve seen how Hannibal needs Will, but whether Will needs Hannibal has been ambiguous. But it was Will who called Hannibal, just like Hannibal called Garrett Jacobs Hobbs, and said, “They know.” Hannibal and Abigail were cutting up vegetables, waiting for Will to arrive that night, before the events of “Mizumono” transpired. They were going to eat together, have a family meal.
Now: Francis calls Hannibal. He tells Hannibal that he’s the only one who understand what Francis is becoming.
“What are you becoming?” Hannibal asks.
In a throaty roar, Francis says, “The Great. Red. Dragon.”
We’ve had ersatz Red Dragons before. Season two’s Randall Tier, a former patient of Dr. Lecter’s, expressed his inner animal by donning a mechanized suit he cobbled together out of a saber-toothed skeleton and metal rods. Hannibal manipulated Randall, sending him to Will’s house on a mission of murder. Will broke his neck.
“A true freak cannot be made,” Katherine Dunn says in her masterful novel Geek Love. “A true freak must be born.” Francis Dolarhyde is a true freak. He is being born again: Plagued by normalcy, engulfed by ordinariness, Francis is burning alive from the inside-out.