Alanna: Would you have told me the truth?

Hannibal: In my own way, I always have.

There’s the rub, really. Hannibal very rarely lies. In fact, I’d almost be willing to say he never lies outright, because to do so would be rude; and, worse, it would be tacitly admitting inferiority, or at least equality. A large part of Hannibal Lecter’s appeal in any incarnation has always been his arrogance, his persistent assumption that he is a higher sort of species than the rest of us naked apes. The other part of the appeal is that, intentionally or not, the stories surrounding him tend to confirm this assumption. You only lie to someone you believe capable of understanding the truth. Instead of falsehoods, Hannibal plays word games. He distracts with philosophy, when his listeners should be searching for more immediate relevance.

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“…And The Beast From The Sea” shows the latest consequences of this distraction: Molly and Walter stalked in their home after Hannibal gives Francis Dolarhyde Will’s home address. (Side note: I’ve read the novel Red Dragon and watched the two film adaptations, and out of all of them, this version of the story is the most palpably disinterested in the various stratagems and trickery Hannibal and Francis use to stay in contact. The scene last week of Hannibal futzing with his phone to call Chilton’s office was as close as the series gets to a shrug, and this week, Hannibal even makes a joke out of the ways Francis and he communicated in the original book: “How do you imagine he’s contacted me? Personal ads? …notes on toilet paper?” Which makes sense, really. This show has never been particularly interested in procedural elements, often to the point of absurdity.) Hannibal gives Will his usual oblique clues in the days leading up to the attack, clues which Will misses, and which then reinforce Hannibal’s own sense of superiority. It’s a bit like making a game, telling no one the rules, and patting yourself on the back every time you win like it’s a genuine achievement. Or at least it would be if the fools around him weren’t such obvious gluttons for punishment.

Putting aside psychology for a moment, the Red Dragon’s assault on Will’s family is a terrifically tense set-piece, made even more impressive by how fundamentally familiar it is in basics to the sort of scene that’s long been a staple of the thriller genre. An innocent, vulnerable (Molly’s no dope, but she buys into the “I accidentally poisoned the dogs” line of reasoning awfully quickly) woman and child are set on in the dark of night by a psychotic, armed stranger. Whackiness ensues. I’m not sure I could point to any one specific element that made this sequence so effective; there’s the fact that, given everything else we’ve seen on the show, it seemed entirely possible that Molly and/or Walter could die. There was the gorgeous use of darkness throughout, some scenes almost seeming to be just a visible vertical oval of movement in a sea of black; there was the look of Francis, hooded and lethal; and there was Molly’s resourcefulness, which always makes this sort of conflict more engaging while no less nerve-wracking.

Still, it’s the emotional damage that lingers. Will’s homelife seemed a tenuous bond from the start (it’s curious how little time the show has spent trying to establish the importance of his connection to these people; the Will/Hannibal relationship has always been the main focus, to the extent that any other romantic relationship Will might manage was always going to struggle, but here, in comparison to the grand guignol horrors which surround them, Molly and Walter’s normalcy is, well, nice, but not exactly gripping), and now he has to live with the knowledge that his actions inadvertently put them in harm’s way. His anger, to Jack and at Hannibal, is sincere, but maybe also his way of distracting himself from the fact that he, and he alone, brought Lecter back into his life. No one forced him to go to the asylum.

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But then, that’s how abusive relationships work, really. The abuser does horrible things, but then demonstrates some kind of kindness or special intimacy that allows the abused to fool themselves into thinking that this time, things will be different. This time, promises will be kept, trust will remain unbroken, footballs will be kicked, etc. Will’s not the only one to suffer this delusion. Even Jack and Alanna make the mistake of believing that they can control Hannibal, that his unflappable calm and apparent openness will translate into a rationality they can manipulate. And then he gives them something of what they want, because it interests him, before he ends their charade. The assumption is always that Hannibal will operate under the strictures of their conception of decency and common sense. No matter how many times he demonstrates his willingness to burn, people will continue to give him matches.

The contrast between his oddly honorably single-mindedness and Francis’s struggle against himself helps bring out some of the tragedy in the latter. The relationship with Reba was never going to go well, given that Francis was already a multiple murderer when they met, but their connection at least suggested more to the man than his delusions. There are all sorts of refracting parallels in the pairings here, in the way Reba’s perspective on Francis is doomed to conform to her own needs (a bit like how Will’s idea of Hannibal keeps shifting but never quite coming into proper focus), or Francis’s efforts to protect Reba from his “Dragon,” the sort of behavior that Hannibal could never conceive of, or that Will, seeing what his choices have done to the healthiest, sanest part of his life, might have to eventually consider himself.

That last is a connection Hannibal draws attention to at the end of the episode: Will, furious, but still unable to stay away, confronts Hannibal in is now dignities-free cell, and they discuss Francis’s psychology, how his murders have been about “change.” Hannibal’s final line, “Don’t you crave change, Will?”, works to recontextualize the Red Dragon narrative into yet another version of the show’s long obsession with the battle for Will’s soul. Francis is just a darker version of that conflict, a man who, though already doomed, is still struggling to salvage one last piece of his soul before the fires consume him. He might be able to save Reba, but the Dragon will find him regardless. The surface question then becomes if Will can somehow solve the mystery before more have to die, and if he and Jack can capture Francis peacefully. But the question underneath that is: can Will accomplish this and somehow save his own family before his dragon, the Great Red Lecter, devours them all?

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Stray observations

  • Big thank you to Molly for letting me sub in this week.
  • Something that came into focus for me watch this version of Red Dragon is that in the original novel, Thomas Harris essentially took a werewolf story and stripped it of its supernatural trappings. There’s the same personality split, the same brief respite when he finds love in the arms of a caring woman, the same terror that his affliction will end up forcing him to hurt her; hell, there’s even a full moon. But by making the transformation psychological and not physical (and, in the novel, adding in a complicated backstory of abuse), Harris helps put lie to the illusion that there ever truly was a split between the man and the monster. It’s still tragic, but in a more complicated, adult sort of way.
  • Okay, how upset were you when you heard that Francis had poisoned the dogs? Very glad they’re okay.
  • I like how no one mentions the guy driving the car Molly waves (well, forces) down. Y’know, the one who got shot and killed. What a weird night that must’ve been for him.
  • Hannibal makes sure to point out to Francis that if it wasn’t for the Red Dragon, and the confidence his “becoming” has given him, he never would’ve had a chance with Reba. Hannibal is such a nice man.
  • “Will Graham interests me.” Get in line, pal.

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