In Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter’s feelings toward Will Graham don’t seem particularly complex. It is true that he finds the man who captured him fascinating, and statements like “You caught me because we’re just alike” imply some degree of kinship. But I also never got the idea that Hannibal liked Will very much, or considered him an equal. Later in the story, Lecter manipulates events against Will, apparently for his own entertainment more than anything else.

From the earliest days of Hannibal, Bryan Fuller indicated a desire to adapt Red Dragon. Since the series departs from Thomas Harris by its very premise–nothing in the novels indicates Will and Lecter knew each other before Will’s assignment to the Chesapeake Ripper case–it was clear that if and when Fuller got his chance, his version of the story would be predicated on a much different emotional dynamic between the two characters.

This fact made me leery about the prospect of season three’s final six episodes, along with the shift in the characters’ importance. Remember, in Red Dragon (as with Silence of the Lambs), Hannibal Lecter is a supporting character. He serves as a thematic mirror of its hero, and later as a complicating factor, but the story is about Will Graham and Francis Dolarhyde and how the former defeats the latter. Dolarhyde is a guest on the series’ adaptation of a story that is no longer about him. Instead, he will reflect on the protagonists and their relationship, and complicate matters between them.

On the other hand, Hannibal has overcome bigger obstacles in the past. So let’s sit down, get comfortable and dig into what will likely be the final case for this incarnation of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham.

Richard Armitage stars in "The Great Red Dragon..."

Season 3, episode 8: “The Great Red Dragon…” (July 25, 2015)

The Great Red Dragon Paintings are a series of watercolour paintings by the English poet and painter William Blake, painted between 1805 and 1810…These paintings depict ‘The Great Red Dragon’ in various scenes from the Book of Revelation.”Wikipedia

“And there appeared another wonder in Heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” —Revelation 12:3 (KJV)

Guest stars: Aaron Abrams, Scott Thompson, Richard Armitage, Raúl Esparza, Nina Arianda.

Three years have passed since the events of “Digestivo.” An insanity plea, backed up by Frederick Chilton and Alana Bloom, saved Hannibal Lecter from the needle. Now he resides at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Though his quarters are luxurious in comparison to the cells Will Graham and Abel Gideon occupied, he spends much of his time in his “mind palace.”

Alana now occupies the administrator’s office at the Baltimore State Hospital, Dr. Chilton having stepped down, something apparently having more to do with his success as a writer than his incompetence as a therapist (not that his book on Lecter isn’t a steaming pile of utter bullshit). He’s started planning his next project: another book about a serial killer. This one has struck on the last two full moons, killing entire families in their homes in Buffalo and Chicago. The media dubbed him the “Tooth Fairy” due to the distinctive bite marks he left at the crime scenes.

The show doesn’t tell us much about the Tooth Fairy in this episode.  All we can say with certainty at this point: His his name is Dolarhyde, and apart from the drive to kill, two strong obsessions motivate him. First, William Blake’s “Great Red Dragon” paintings–to the point where he has Blake’s Dragon tattooed across his back. Second, Hannibal Lecter: he keeps a scrapbook combining clippings of the good doctor’s exploits with those of his own. Beyond that, he doesn’t like mirrors, he works out a lot, and he seems to experience delusions or hallucinations. He doesn’t talk much and his distinctive bites come from a set of custom-made dentures.

The Tooth Fairy is what brings Jack Crawford to Will Graham’s doorstep on a bitter winter day. Will retired after Hannibal’s capture, married a woman named Molly, adopted her son. He’s been out of the game so long, he doesn’t think he could help Jack even if he wanted to. He has a family now, a new life.

It doesn’t take him long to change his mind.

An analysis of the most recent crime scene gives him little enough to go on. He’s can’t do this on his own–he will need help. Hannibal’s help. Lecter foresaw this, of course; before Jack came calling, Hannibal wrote a note to Will, along with a clipping of a newspaper report on one of the murders, imploring him not to get involved. This could be reverse psychology, or it just could be Lecter’s idea of a joke. The last think he would want was for Will to remain retired.

“Great Red Dragon” is mostly shoe-leather, compiling the plot beats required to put Will and Hannibal back together, and it does its job very well. Acclaimed director Neil Marshall (The Descent and a couple of installments of Game of Thrones) keeps tension and anticipation high. New cast members Richard Armitage (Dolarhyde) and Nina Arianda (Molly) do well. And it’s great to see Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams again.

Really, the only flaws come from the artiness, particularly a scene in which Dolarhyde envisions film coming to life and attacking him, a sequence which turns out about as cheesy as it sounds.

All in all, a good intro to the Red Dragon arc.

Rutina Wesley stars in "And the Woman Clothed with the Sun."

Season 3, episode 9: “…And the Woman Clothed with the Sun” (Aug. 1, 2015)

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” —Revelation 12:1 (KJV)

Guest stars: Aaron Abrams, Scott Thompson, Richard Armitage, Rutina Wesley, Nina Arianda, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Kacey Rohl.

“…And the Woman Clothed with the Sun” begins with Hannibal uttering my favorite line of dialog in the entire Lecter canon: “That’s the same atrocious aftershave you wore in court.” Not only does it sum up Hannibal’s character–the condescending, fussy aesthete–it clues the audience in to his powers of deduction. Reasoning that the lotion is “something a child would pick,” he correctly concludes that Will has acquired a family in the three years since the two last met.

In Red Dragon and its previous adaptations, Hannibal is content to merely use this information to manipulate Dolarhyde. But here, he almost seems jealous–which, in fact, he is. Will didn’t need to marry to get a family; Lecter offered him one in the series’ second season, and Abigail would have made three. The flashbacks, which fill in the Hannibal/Abigail gaps between “Relevés” and “Mizumono,” are its weakest moments; Kacey Rohl seems a bit too mature and self-assured, the Abigail of “Secondo” transplanted to a time before she existed.

The theme of family subtly recurs across the narrative. Alana and Margot are still together, and have a child, a Verger heir conceived from Mason’s sperm, carried by Alana. Hannibal mentions Bella Crawford twice in conversation with Jack when the latter visits the Baltimore State Hospital. When Brian Zeller calls Jimmy Price on the latter’s apathy towards Dolarhyde’s human victims and compassion towards the victims’ pets, Price simply replies, “I’m fond of cats. I’m not particularly fond of children.”

And of course, there’s the Tooth Fairy–whose name we now know to be Francis Dolarhyde. “Clothed with the Sun” introduces the final major player in Red Dragon, Reba McClane, played by Rutina Wesley. She plays the part of Dolarhyde’s love interest, a humanizing influence on him, the one thing that could halt his Great Becoming. They both live apart from mainstream society, Reba through her blindness, Dolarhyde through the scar and speech impediment left by the repair of his cleft lip and palate. If he could ever establish a family with anyone, it would be with her.

The episode features less plot and more theme and foreshadowing, giving most of the characters a moment or two of greatness. Molly tells Will how obscenely large their new dog’s balls are; later, Will dreams of killing his family using the Tooth Fairy’s M.O. Hannibal says “As I live and breathe, I never thought I would see you again,” in a tone indicating the exact opposite. Freddie Lounds suggests that Will “really should” use her to help catch the Tooth Fairy, something that will end very badly for someone down the road.

These moments strengthen an episode that doesn’t do much to move things forward. But then again, we’ve got four episodes to go, so we can afford to take our time.

HANNIBAL title screen.

Season 3 episode ranking

  1. “Digestivo” (3.07)
  2. “Dolce” (3.06)
  3. “Contorno” (3.05)
  4. “Antipasto” (3.01)
  5. “Aperitivo” (3.04)
  6. “…And the Woman Clothed with the Sun” (3.09)
  7. “The Great Red Dragon…” (3.08)
  8. “Secondo” (3.03)
  9. “Primavera” (3.02)

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