Hannibal is unlike anything being produced in US TV right now. That’s not the elitist hipster nonsense that leads to statements like ‘Everything else is just TV’ either, it’s the truth. A show that’s black comedy, tragedy, the world’s most dysfunctional bromance and skin-crawlingly horrific can’t really be filed next to anything else. It’s also, increasingly, managing needlepoint subtlety and facebreaking bluntness, often in the same scene. Here, with both spoilers galore and the profoundly unsettling still from the episode hidden behind the cut, are three reasons why;
1.Bedelia Du Maurier
Hannibal’s psychiatrist has the same glacial calm and distance from humanity as he does. Unfortunately for her, she also has that distance from Hannibal. It’s a unique relationship, intimate even as it’s at arms length and this is the episode where Bedelia finally breaks. You can see her thought processes in every scene she’s in, from the panicked, tension-wracked confrontation with Hannibal to her final, almost serene conversation with Will. She’s playing Chess with a monster and, unlike Will, seems to be sensible enough to concede the game and leave the city.
Look at everything she says and how she says it. Look at what she doesn’t say too, it’s even more important. Bedelia isn’t guilty about her role in Hannibal’s life and she certainly isn’t angry at him. In fact, the closing scene, where Hannibal comes to her house to kill her shows genuine affection. That’s where the true horror in the show lies; it’s understanding of character. The episode may open with a terrified, mutilated man ripping himself out of a mural made of corpses but it’s Hannibal finding Bedelia has left her perfume for him that’s truly chilling. The final shot, Hannibal dressed in his murder suit, smiling slightly as he smells it is gentle, affectionate and completely inhuman.
Bedelia occupies a fascinating position in the series and one I hope she gets to keep. She’s the one who got away, Irene Adler to Hannibal’s Holmes. They share a profession, an intellect and an at least tacit acknowledgement of Hannibal’s nature. There’s affection there too but it’s as cold and precise as they are. His closing smile is both nostalgic and pleasantly surprised; a salute to a worthy opponent even as she denies him what he truly wants. Games within games, and all of it written in the micro-expressions of two actors at the absolute peak of their abilities.
2. Hannibal’s People
The show is really starting to have fun now. The sequence with Hannibal strolling along all jaunty and happy in his murder suit was as absurd as it was nightmarish. It also led to something extraordinary; genuine compassion from him. The conversation between him and the killer who built the eye is one of the gentlest moments in the show to date. There’s no violence, that we see, just two people recognizing kindred spirits and discussing the art of their work as opposed to the raw materials. The scene is the aesthetic twin of Hannibal’s talk with Du Maurier but with a positive spin instead of a negative one. There’s something compassionate, even complimentary in how Hannibal places the killer in his own work. An artist helping another, an intellectual exercise rendered in cat gut, resin and human.
Yet for all that, Hannibal still has two complementary agendas besides helping a fellow ‘artist’. He knows Will is consulting on this case and, as a result, also suspects Will may not be the broken wreck he’s presenting as. So the entire scene with the Eye Killer is a piece of architectural Judo, a trap set in Will’s mind by a man who’s lived there rent free for a year now.
It’s sprung when Will uses the pictures he’s brought to write himself into the murder. We see him standing in the middle of the eye, immediately drawn to the killer and his position of honor at the center. Even the dialogue spoken ‘This is not my design’ is a break, a twist in the straight lines and precise horror of what’s being built. Then he looks up and sees the Hannibal avatar, the Wendigo, staring down at the design.
Staring down at him.
It’s an immaculately tailored psychological assault. Hannibal is watching. Will is trapped in someone else’s design. It’s season 1 in under a minute of screen time.
And it doesn’t take for two reasons. Firstly, Will is finally well enough to think for himself. It’s not perfect, but the metaphor of his mind as a river is, ironically, giving him solid ground to stand on. What’s fascinating about that is that it can be assailed. The presence of the Wendigo last week and the corpses floating down river this week both speak to the fragility of Will’s mindset.
More importantly, it doesn’t take because Will gets the one thing no one who knows him has the courage to provide; external validation. Bedelia Du Maurier, sweeping in with the serene terror of a dead woman walking, says three words ‘I believe you’ and Will crumbles. The sustained assault of a psychopathic genius is something he can withstand. Someone telling him they believe him takes his legs out and, in a visual masterstroke, moves him out of focus. Hannibal may have dominance, but it’s Bedelia who leaves the episode and perhaps, the series in control.
Hannibal Season 2 is currently showing in the UK on Tuesday nights at 10pm. Strangely, eating chicken salad whilst watching this episode proved…problematic.