One of the narrative devices I’ve discussed in previous Hannibal reviews is one common to series that combine serialized and procedural elements: using the procedural elements (the case-of-the-week) to reflect or comment upon the serialized elements (character development or subplots). For example, the writers chose to develop Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter’s relationship with Abigail Hobbs in an episode about a woman who kidnaps children and brainwashes them into murdering their families (“Œuf”). The circumstances and motives may have been different, but Will and Lecter destroyed Abigail’s family as surely as Molly Shannon’s character did her victims’.
The next trio of season-one episodes use this narrative device to comment on the character of Will Graham. The last few installments made it very clear that something is wrong with Will beyond the peculiar combination of “mental disorders” that make him so damn good at his job, and the characters of Larry Wells, Georgia Madchen and Abel Gideon each reflect the progression of Will’s malady. Like Wells, he has a complicated relationship with his family (Will, Lecter, Alana and Abigail making up a surrogate family). Like Georgia, he believes something about his nature which turns out to be false. And like Dr. Gideon, he’s been manipulated to serve the selfish ends of those who were engaged to treat him, and suffers a crisis of identity as a result.
Of course, we all know how things are going to turn out: Will realizes that Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper. He captures Lecter and retires from the FBI. Red Dragon happens (and then The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal). It’s more about the journey than the destination, of course, but who cares when the journey is this exciting?
“Trou Normand” (Episode 9; May 23, 2014)
A small drink of brandy taken between courses (literally, “the Norman hole”)
This week on Hannibal: The BAU team investigates a totem pole made of human body parts on a beach in West Virginia, but Will’s instability escalates as he begins suffering from blackouts. Someone digs up Nicholas Boyle’s body, and when it’s found, Jack becomes even more suspicious of Abigail Hobbs’s behavior and pushes her to confess to complicity in her father’s murders.
We’ve reached a point in the season where just about every episode is a masterstroke. The human totem pole is the most memorable piece of staging we’ve seen so far and, indeed, will see this season. Everyone’s in top form here, the highlights being Will’s reaction to his blackout and Jack showing Boyle’s body to Abigail. (Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas and Kacey Rohl are all electric in this sequence.) Lance Henriksen turns his single scene into the episode’s emotional centerpiece. The way he slaps his chair when he realizes the mistake he made is just as memorable as any of the episode’s instances of grue (and this is a particularly gruesome episode).
There are only a couple of blemishes on what is otherwise a sterling piece of work. Abigail Hobbs sneaked out of the hospital on several nights, but this hasn’t caused a lot of consternation and, indeed, very few seem to know about it. This is just a bit weird, considering that during one of her nocturnal adventures was to dig up Nicholas Boyle’s corpse. Must have been a busy night for her, considering the hospital is in (I think) Baltimore and Boyle died at the Hobbs’ cabin in Minnesota.
Also, I’m not sure that Henriksen would have the physical strength necessary to assemble and erect the human totem pole all on his own. Having met him at a convention, I have to say that he was a bit shorter, and slighter of build, than I’d expected him.
But that’s the level of quality we’re dealing with here, where explaining why, say, episode nine isn’t as good as episode ten comes down, essentially, to nitpicking. And, honestly, I’m not sure that the finished product would be much improved if Bryan Fuller corrected these inconsistencies. The series’ most memorable scenes often invoke a sense of a waking dream–or nightmare–and, perhaps, that feeling would be lost if the pieces all fit together better.
“Buffet Froid” (Episode 10; May 20, 2013)
This week on Hannibal: A woman is found murdered in her home, a grisly Glasgow smile carved into her face; the killer suffers from a number of physical and psychological maladies, including the inability to see faces. Will’s blackouts and hallucinations are getting worse, and he submits to an MRI to determine if there might be a physical cause. But Lecter lies to Will about the test’s results.
There’s a mistake in my review of “Sorbet.” When I wrote “…only season two’s ‘Takiawase’ is a realistic rival for the mantle of best episode so far,” I’d forgotten about “Buffet Froid.” I’d still give advantage to “Sorbet,” because of its definitiveness–it’s everything that makes the first season of Hannibal its own unique self–but “Buffet Froid” is still a top-drawer episode in every way, a prime example of how awesome this show is when it’s firing on all cylinders.
It’s certainly the scariest episode so far, not just because of the imagery, but because of how we relate to the imagery’s context. Beth LeBeau’s Glasgow smile is low-key, at least in comparison with the more flamboyant stagings seen in “Coquilles,” “Fromage” and “Trou Normand.” What makes it horrifying is how it’s introduced to us: Will imagining he’s cutting into LaBeau’s face like gutting a fish, and briefly believing he’s the murderer before realizing he’s coming out of another blackout.
Just as unsettling is a later scene in which the killer, Georgia Madchen (played ethereally by Dead Like Me’s Ellen Muth–in fact, I’ve heard that Madchen was devised as a sort of “bizarro-world” version of her character on that show) encounters Hannibal and perceives him as lacking a face. (That’s what’s up with all those dots on Mads Mikkelsen’s face in the promo photos.)
But the episode’s most terrifying moments don’t need effects sequences. One of Madchen’s afflictions–Cotard’s Delusion, in which the sufferer believes him- or herself to be dead–is plenty scary as an existential malady. Will’s inability to see that he can’t draw a simple clock face has as much impact as a bloody crime scene. But the biggest shock of all comes from Mikkelsen’s performance. When looking at the results of Will’s MRI, Mikkelsen can casually suggest to Will’s doctor (referred to him by Lecter) that maybe it would be better if they didn’t let Will know he’s suffering from encephalitis and allow him to believe that his blackouts and hallucinations the product of mental illness…and make it seem like the most reasonable thing in the world.
That’s what makes Hannibal so scary. Just as Will can’t see his clock face for what it really is, neither do our cast of characters realize that Hannibal Lecter is twisted and distorted. On the contrary, they trust him completely. “Dr. Lecter here is one of the sanest people I know,” Will’s doctor tells him. And he’s just sent Will down the rabbit-hole.
Help is not on the way.
“Rôti” (Episode 11; June 6, 2013)
This week on Hannibal: En route to a court hearing, Abel Gideon affects a violent escape from custody. Unsure of his own identity, he sets out to enact revenge upon the psychiatrists and experts he sees has having wronged him. Dr. Frederick Chilton is on that list, as is Alana. However, Will’s ever-worsening mental state–and Lecter’s manipulation of that state to fit his agenda–complicates the hunt for Gideon.
It’s a testament to Hannibal’s high standard of quality that they can bring back one of the weaker characters of the season (Eddie Izzard’s Dr. Abel Gideon) and still come up with a stellar episode.
In the first half of “Rôti,” the major problem with Gideon in “Entrée” persists: he still talks like a TV writer’s idea of a serial killer. “Word of advice,” he says to a guard he believes is contemplating divorce. “It’s easier just to kill them–kill everyone at the table. Less paperwork. Worked for me. I’m doing okay.” Of course, this could be the point of Dr. Gideon: he’s a pale imitation of the Chesapeake Ripper in a direct way, but he may also be one in a metatextual way, as well. (Again, we note that Izzard’s performance seems to deliberately reference Anthony Hopkins’s three outings as Hannibal Lecter.)
As with “Entrée,” I’m having a bit of difficulty buying into the “psychic driving” aspect of Gideon’s story–the idea that his psychological manhandling at the hands of Dr. Fredrick Chilton and other “experts” has resulted in him believing he is the Chesapeake Ripper. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’ve spent fifteen years or so believing in the idea of Chilton as an incompetent nincompoop. But anyway, it’s really just a means to an end, a method to get us to the concept of identity that’s one of the series’ cornerstones. And Izzard sells the whole thing beautifully, as always.
Things get better once familiar characters get involved, including a harrowing sequence in which Gideon, assisted by a press-ganged Freddie Lounds, performs some impromptu surgery on Chilton. But it’s the latter half of the episode that’s the most effective, with its centerpiece a brilliant sequence between Lecter and Gideon, with Will on the sidelines. It’s one of the most memorable scenes in the season.
While all of the regular and recurring cast shine in this one, it’s Izzard who steals the show by cutting open his character and revealing his pulsing, tragic heart. It’s a terrible thing to lack an identity…even if one is a remorseless serial killer who killed one’s wife to avoid the bureaucratic mess of a divorce.
Next time on Hannibal: The Minnesota Shrike’s copycat strikes again, Jack discovers the clue he needs to confirm that Abigail was complicit in her father’s murders, and Lecter and Dr. Du Maurier revisit their shared history in “Relevés.” And in the first season finale, “Savoureaux,” the BAU team finds evidence that points to the identity of the copycat killer: Will Graham.
Season 1 episode ranking: