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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Hannibal: “The Great Red Dragon”

Illustration for article titled Hannibal: “The Great Red Dragon”
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Well, hello Francis Dolarhyde.

The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage joins the likes of Tom Noonan and Ralph Fiennes who have brought the Tooth Fairy to life. Armitage’s performance is wordless in his first appearance, so at odds with the other majors villains — including Hannibal himself — who have enjoyed playing with rhetoric. Hannibal has largely dealt with clever killers who have a way with words, but Dolarhyde does not use words at all. In fact, he struggles with them. The Red Dragon, the figure with which he is so obsessed comes from the William Blake painting, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, illustrating the figure from the Book of Revelation. It’s one of a series of four paintings that in the end show the Red Dragon failing at his purpose to steal the newly born Redeemer, yet revealing that he is not the only threat.

The ultimate threat will always be Hannibal, as he makes quite clear to Alana.

There’s a three year time jump between Hannibal’s surrender — and it’s important to remember it was surrender — and when Francis Dolarhyde starts to kill whole families at the full moon. His arrival is apt. He kills families just as Will is introduced with one — a wife, Molly, and an 11-year-old stepson, Walter. It makes the idea of Will returning to a business that took him to the brink of sanity and threatened his life time and time again more palatable. Why else would he return if he did not see the deaths of the “perfect families” blared across newspaper headlines in his own domestic situation? Jack does well to show the pictures of these once-happy families to Molly (Nina Arianda, who worked with Hugh Dancy in a Broadway production of David Ives’ Venus in Fur, for which she won a Tony Award). Will may be a different person when he returns to her but at least she will be able to do the right thing.

So Will returns to the FBI — and Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams return to the cast! — to go after Dolarhyde. As he walks into the house of the Leeds, it’s almost as if Will struggles against entering Dolarhyde’s design, eventually relenting to its pull. As Thompson’s Agent Price goes over the forensics of the crime, he describes where mirrors were placed in Mrs. Leeds: the eyes, the mouth, her labia. While other shows would linger over the sexual nature of the crime, Hannibal does not. In the source material, Mrs. Leeds is sexually assaulted, but, once again, this is not a part of Hannibal’s story. Bryan Fuller talked about why he has avoided stories of rape before, telling Entertainment Weekly that the sexual assault will have to be gathered from reading between the lines. I’ve talked about this stance before because its one of the reasons I love Hannibal so much, but Fuller’s position is felt even more intrinsically as we enter the Red Dragon era of the show.

Hannibal’s allegiance to its female viewership is highlighted even more with “The Great Red Dragon.” Harris wrote Dolarhyde as a bodybuilder, and Armitage is clearly not, but the way he is shot take great pains to linger on his naked back. That is his canvas for helping his eventual transformation into the Red Dragon, his alter ego, by way of tattoo, but it also highlights how rarely Hannibal relies on the male gaze. Bodies are bodies and men are subject to the same lustful camerawork that women usually are. That’s partly due to the work of Neil Marshall, director of The Descent, who makes his debut directing with “The Great Red Dragon,” and it’s a welcome one. The visual flourishes were particularly nice, such as the blood-moon that marked the Leeds’ passing, and the film monster that Dolarhyde became at the sound of the scratching record.


Back to Hannibal, he is confined in his cell, yet he lives in his mind-palace, a place where he can still visualize drinking wine with Alana even though it’s only her with a glass and he’s behind it. He seems to have quite a bit a freedom for a man who has been deemed insane — even though he is not, something Alana knows all too well. He’s not crazy, he knows exactly what he does, he simply abides by another moral code. Hannibal is still allowed to cook gourmet desserts and have access to a newspaper and pencils, but he is confined. It’s a fun trick the show plays, starting each scene as if he is free. Hannibal is confined by choice, he is only imprisoned because he has chosen to be in that state. When he converses with Alana or Chilton, he might as well be in his old home, sitting across the table from him. But just as Hannibal made the choice to be imprisoned, Will Graham also made the choice to see him. He is not compelled to ask Hannibal for help. It his decision to. Will is no longer Hannibal’s other half. He is own person once again.

Stray observations

  • Recipe of the week: Sanguinaccio dolce
  • The failing newspaper industry will perhaps hit psychopaths the hardest. How else will they make scrapbooks of their successes?
  • It bears repeating: Yeah for Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams return! I love their weird interplay. It’s like slapstick in the middle of horror.
  • I love how honest Hannibal can be now with each person discussing how he screwed with them: “I stopped drinking been when I found out what you were putting in mine.” “Who.” “Who.” Or, while discussing the sanguinaccio dolce: “And when you last made it for me?” “The blood was from a cow only in the derogatory sense.”
  • “Snaggle-toothed son of a bitch.” “He bites. A lot.”