Robert Tiemstra ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“They are identically different, Hannibal and Will.”
When you take into account Hannibal’s impending cancellation, the decision of Bryan Fuller and his writing staff to devote half of season 3 to Red Dragon seems all the more fortuitous. In what appears to be this series’ last season, we have the benefit of not one, but two season finales to munch on while savoring the last morsels of this feast. “Digestivo” is nothing if not relentless—throwing Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) into the horrifying pigpen that is Muskrat Farms, owned, of course, by faceless psychotic Mason Verger (Joe Anderson).
Mason Verger’s plan is one that only the world of Hannibal can talk about with a straight face – He wants to eat Dr. Lecter piece by piece, after his all-purpose attendant/chef/surgeon/murderer Cornell (Glenn Fleshler) removes Will Graham’s face and grafts it onto Verger’s skull Face/Off-style. One wonders where Verger found such a multitalented assistant in this serial killer abundant vision of America (the job posting must have required some extremely delicate wording). “Digestivo” makes excellent use of farm and animal imagery as both Will Graham and Dr. Lecter are caged up in pens right next to Mason’s carnivorous hogs, making a return appearance since their first meal last season.
We open back in Florence, where Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Will Graham are being subjected to one of the silliest scenes from Hannibal the book, in which Dr. Lecter scalps and live-cooks a man’s brain in front of him. In this particular instance, he doesn’t get that far, and is saved by freelancers working for Verger, following up on the lead Inspector Pazzi established. Combined with last episode’s startlingly sudden cliffhanger, this opening continues to remind us of Hannibal’s unique facility with nonlinear storytelling, which allows for twice the suspense—both of the cliffhanger, last week, and the possibility of Jack’s death this week.
Thanks to a trailer unveiled at San Diego Comic Con and the novels Red Dragon and Hannibal, there are a few things we know for certain: Hannibal Lecter will escape, Will Graham will survive, and Dr. Lecter will find himself caught by the FBI and placed in prison for the events of the Red Dragon plotline to take place. The key players in making this happen are also, by design, where it gets interesting. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) and Margot Verger (Katharine Isabelle) have been scheming to abduct Mason Verger’s sperm and use it to create a “Verger Baby” who can inherit the estate. They have a thorny moral dilemma to face: essentially, which monster should they trust? One of the episode’s best (and most understated) moments comes when Alana Bloom makes Hannibal promise to rescue Will from Cornell’s surgery, and his response cuts like a double-edged sword: “I always keep my promises, Alana.”
Once Hannibal is freed, much of the carnage he causes happens off-screen, and true to Silence of the Lambs fashion, that only makes it more effective. The most effective damage this character causes is all in the head of his victims, and that includes letting his enemies see the carnage he has wrought and letting their imaginations run wild with how it happened. Also, this spares the audience from having to watch some biological tinkering performed on the unconscious Mason, which would certainly have put Hannibal into exploitation movie territory. Mason’s downfall is brutal, yet strangely satisfying because of how he has lorded over Alana and Margot throughout most of the season. Hannibal is a show that has had difficulty bringing its female characters to the center stage, not for lack of trying—Alana Bloon and Freddy Lounds were both men in Red Dragon—but because it is a story that is fundamentally about how two men (Hannibal and Will) change each other in profoundly disturbing ways. Having Margot and Alana feed Mason to his own eel might be a bit over the top (the eel itself was startlingly eager to tunnel down Mason’s throat), but as a more restrained version of a similarly insane scene in the book, it packs quite a cathartic punch as this disfigured man sinks to the bottom of his own fish tank.
As adaptations go, this episode is a little bit nutty. So far, Hannibal has been exploring the time period before Red Dragon took place, essentially giving the writers free reign on what they wanted to do with the characters before they were bound down by what happened in the novels. But this episode starts to rearrange the book timeline in ways that very few televised literary adaptations dare. The fall of Mason Verger is something that took place in the novel Hannibal, which took place several years after The Silence of the Lambs. At this point, Fuller and company have dispensed with everything they can get from that novel that does not involve Clarice Starling, continuing to take everything from the novels they can work with, and scrapping the rest. With the conclusion of the Red Dragon plotline and Fuller’s team unable to acquire the rights to Agent Starling, the show will have effectively run out of source material by the time the finale airs in six weeks. And though Fuller has stated repeatedly that he has a plan for season 4, perhaps this is a nice place to leave the series, after it has dissected and devoured all the meat off of the novels and left the bones and fat to the buzzards.
In the Hannibal Lecter Franchise (still desperately in need of a better title), everything always boils down to two people talking in a room about their various psychological hold-ups. As ridiculous as the novels got, their heart was always in the hidden desires and fears Dr. Lecter could bring out from the more human characters. It’s a series that puts its main characters through withering psychoanalysis just by inserting them in the same story with this monster. Bryan Fuller realizes more than anyone else who has handled this material (except perhaps Jonathan Demme and Ted Tally, the director and writer of Silence of the Lambs) that Dr. Lecter is a civilized monster who exploits the most human parts of people by getting inside their heads. It is his design.It was previously mentioned that this episode is packed with carnage, but that is not entirely the case, otherwise it would not make quite as good television as it does. “Digestivo” also excels in its quieter character scenes, giving every major character a moment to stare into Hannibal’s eyes and see their own reflection through him. There are some very melancholic moments of introspection in this episode, concluding with Will and Hannibal sitting together in Will’s old house after Chiyo (Tao Okamoto) has had her moment of confrontation about the Doctor’s past. This is where the episode feels most like a season finale, because Will Graham’s character arc has reached its conclusion. He wants to move on from Hannibal, finally overcoming his obsession. But will Lecter let him?
“When it comes to you and me, there can be no decisive victory.”
Episode Grade: B+