Robert Tiemstra ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“What Hannibal does is not coersion. It is persuasion.”
Hannibal is unique amongst television dramas for how it balances opposing flavors with grace and skill. The show is one of the most densely plotted series on television, accomplishing in a handful of episodes what an average show would take whole seasons to develop, and yet it seems to have such a leisurely pace. Similarly, it is the most gruesome show airing on a primetime network, and yet often can leave the viewer craving succulent meats. However, this penultimate episode is an outlier amongst the rest of the season, for it takes a quick and brutal knife to all its subplots, effectively clearing the plate for the finale.
This is an exceptionally violent episode, and not for the usual reasons. Mutilation, cannibalism, and countless rivulets of blood abound throughout this intense hour of television. The violence shouldn’t come as a surprise at this point, but it does, because all of the violence in this episode (save one crucial dream sequence) is rendered with some semblance of stark realism that until this point the show has refrained from using. Never has Hannibal seen more like Sweeney Todd with all its fountains of blood. The way series veteran Michael Rymer frames the action makes it elusive, and freshly disturbing in a way it hasn’t been since season one. There is a particular scene toward the end that is sure to turn stomachs across the country.
Despite the Grand Guignol approach, this episode is very much about the underlying psychological tension between Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a psychological battle with increasingly brutal collateral damage. Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) is riding Will’s case about capturing Dr. Lecter, and at times seems a normal man thrust between these warring madmen. At dinner with Hannibal Lecter, who serves Kholodets, an odd meat jelly dish, he sets Lecter up for one of his most inspired lines this entire season by comparing the dish to the tableaux of a chase. “Whoever is pursuing whom in this very moment, I intend to eat them,” comes Hannibal’s chilling reply.
The FBI is gaining marginally more traction in their investigation, however, once they track down Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), Hannibal Lecter’s psychiatrist. It is with her information that they confront the true monster they are dealing with: not just a cannibal, or a murderer, but a manipulator of the highest order. Bedelia finally answers the question audience members have been asking all season, since that flash-forward tantalizing knife fight in episode one: “How will we catch Hannibal Lecter?”
Her answer is simple, and makes all too much sense, “Whimsy.” Hannibal Lecter’s high self-esteem is a key character flaw, but one that they had not tried to exploit yet. With it, Will Graham finally gets the first leg up in his battle of wits with Doctor Lecter by convincing him to come clean to Jack Crawford. While this means nothing good for Jack’s safety – Lecter may be proud, but it is heavily established that he is no idiot – the chinks in Hannibal Lecter’s armor are beginning to show. How do you beat a master manipulator? By making him think he’s manipulating you.
As always, there is so much going on with the psychological interplay between Hannibal & Will that there seems very little time for the Vergers and their Ghoulish antics. But the show, in yet another seamless master class of television pacing, manages to find time. Mason Verger briefly abducts Hannibal Lecter, and suspends him in a straightjacket over his carnivorous pigs (Does anyone really know why people like to string Hannibal up after capturing him?), and he attempts to make a banquet out of the master chef. The version of Lecter glimpsed in these scenes is much closer to the Lecter of Silence of the Lambs than the Lecter of Hannibal, his cuttingly sharp remarks emphasizing his superiority over his captors. His escape, as aided by a conflicted Will Graham, is offscreen, and quite rightly so – while showing Mads Mikkelsen in action is always a welcome sight, Hannibal retains much of his menace by working in the shadows, creating grisly results.
This all leads us to the penultimate scene of the episode, a direct adaptation of a scene only mentioned in the book Hannibal (and alluded to in flashback by the film of the same name). It is one of the most gruesome things you will see on television this year, period. Heavily drugged (by a smartly unnamed hallucinogen), Mason cuts his face off piece by piece and feeds it to Will Graham’s dogs. If rumor is to be believed, Thomas Harris was inspired to write this scene by a real life story of a man who did the same thing while high on PCP. The sequence itself is one of the most bizarrely surreal the show has yet to offer, viewed mostly from Mason’s point of view as he descends through what can only be described as the most dangerous trip he has ever experienced. The editing of this horrific scene is crisp and effective, emphasized by some of the most didactic scoring choices the show has ever used (composer Brian Reitzell abandons the normal ominous tones for discordant percussion and even the occasional piano note – which is effectively jarring in and of itself).
“Tome-wan” accomplishes a lot. Not only does this penultimate episode wrap up the Verger plotline in the most grimly efficient way possible, but it provides crucial setup for the final showdown between Doctor Lecter, Will Graham, and Jack Crawford. Hannibal remains a master class in plotting, atmosphere, grim violence, and character drama – of special note here are Michael Pitt and Mads Mikkelsen, two psychopaths of vastly different kinds. Any flaws to be found in this episode are as swiftly eradicated as Mason’s bodyguards, bleeding out and left dangling from the ceiling in pieces. Say what you will about Hannibal’s taste, but he’s a fine butcher.
Overall Episode Grade: A