An overview of Episodes 9-13 (SPOILERS)
1.9 Trou Normand
What looks initially as if it could be the silliest murderer plot yet (17 bodies arranged as a totem pole) finishes up as one of the best episodes of the season. The serial-killer-of-the-week is very much a background element, with just one scene devoted to him and his unveiling; there’s almost no detective work involved in finding him, because he wants to be caught. Lance Henrikson makes the most of his cameo; it’s disappointing if this is all we’ll get of him.
The meat of the episode is Will’s escalating fugue state, as he finds himself disassociating with no recollection of where has been and what he has done. These weird-outs lend an added claustrophobia to an already oppressive series (especially memorable is the scene where he’s addressing an empty lecture theatre).
The return of Abigail Hobbs and Freddie Lounds sees the arching story of the season gain necessary momentum; Will’s realisation that Abigail killed Nicholas Boyle is highly effective, where his gift reveals something the audience already knows. And Hannibal’s calm response to being accused of complicity (“Do I need to call my lawyer, Will?”) is only undermined slightly by the unlikelihood of Will being persuaded not to report all this to Jack. Yes, the justification is that he isn’t thinking straight but it still seems like a stretch.
Best of all is Abigail’s admission of involvement in her father’s murders; Jack was right all along, and everyone else was wrong. Except Hannibal, who knew (“I wondered when you would tell me”).
Jack’s a bit too much on the fringes, always poking around but never really doing anything effective. Additionally, it’s increasingly implausible that Will would be oblivious to Hannibal for much longer; I suspect they’ll stretch him being free for another year, but it would be better for credibility to have him apprehended at the end of this season.
1.10 Buffet Froid
The weirdness factor is only compounded in this episode, with more time-shifts and some strong brainmelt ideas (the clock face Lecter asks Will to draw, and the difference between what he thinks he sees and what he actually renders).
But the whole “Will thinks he may be a murderer” idea is over-familiar, and the killer is very X-Files-lite. Hugh Dancy earnestly conveys a man losing his mind, but Fuller and his co-writers are really pushing it with the encephalitis plotline. Admittedly, it’s a surprise that Will actually has a neurological condition but the unethical agreement between Lecter and Dr. Sutcliffe to tell Will he’s fine so that he can be studied is highly convenient and unbelievable. Lecter on the one hand sees Will as a threat now, but on the other he’s still telling Dr. Gillian Anderson he wants him as a friend in the next episode.
John Benjamin Hickey is strong as Sutcliffe, so it’s a shame he’s only in the one episode. I didn’t see the twist of Hannibal being his murderer coming, and having Georgia unable to make out Lecter’s face is a nice touch (Dead Like Me’s Ellen Muth is unrecognisable as Georgia – much less so in the twelfth).
If Hannibal Lecter is really as careless as he appears to be, it’s a wonder he could spend so long at large. Will’s seizures have quickly drifted into the territory of implausible; Jack can see something wrong but won’t do anything, neither will Bloom.
Finally, we get to the point where he brings Abel Gideon round to see Lecter at gunpoint and Lecter is able to convince him there’s no one there. Partly, it’s a dicey move to make your hero incapable for any length of time. More than that, there’s a point where, if everyone always has their heads in the sand about everything Lecter conceals and that concealment has no craft or intricacy, it becomes silly. The series has reached the point where, as entertaining as it continues to be, I’m having difficulty with everyone being so unperceptive.
That said, Eddie Izzard makes a welcome return as Gideon and he’s clearly relishing it. His bafflement over his condition is designed to mirror Will’s (“I may be crazy, but you look ill”), although it never quite works. Gideon is so indebted to Hopkins’ Lecter he never takes on a life of his own; the Colombian necktie is suitable grim but the extraction of Chilton’s organs while he watches is derivative of something else I’ve seen or read (I’m not sure what).
I may not have picked up on some of the finer points of the plotting; how did Lecter know where Gideon would be? And the ellipsis between Lecter telling Gideon where Bloom lives and Will turning up at her house is lurching and awkward.
The gradual stirrings of concern over Lecter’s methods, from Jack in particular, continue to be offset by the general cluelessness at the activities of this arch-manipulator in the FBI’s midst.
For all the flak aimed at recent seasons of Dexter, it gets a free pass in comparison to Hannibal. You can believe that Dexter’s cunning and savvy enables him to outwit the best efforts of the police because most of them just aren’t that good at their jobs. In contrast, here we’re presented with the best-of-the-best yet their continued blinkeredness asks the viewer to accept that, whether on the criminal or behavioural psychology end, they’re borderline inept.
But individual scenes remain very good. Jack’s scene with Du Maurier (“You have to admit, he’s had some pretty strange relationships with some of his patients”) gives Crawford some much-needed credibility, but then he goes off and has another conversation with Lecter. Likewise, Du Maurier and Will have further chats with him, ensuring Lecter is kept fully up-to-date. We’re far beyond the point where there should be delicious irony to this; it’s repetitive and dramatically distancing.
That Abigail realises Lecter’s game further underlines this (and that Freddie Lounds is ahead of the FBI in identifying Abigail as the murderer of Nick). Her final scene is a good one, as he informs her of his motive for warning her father (“I was curious what would happen”), but by this point Fuller has stuffed the plot with far too much unlikely obfuscation to enable Lecter to remain undetected.
Most problematic is the treatment of Will Graham. By this point he’s been turned into a near-zombie, with Jack belligerently disinterested in his theories. Maybe I’m too close to the source material, but I just don’t buy that he’d be seriously considered as a potential serial killer. There’s a sense of the writers labouring the idea, trying to push and shove it to make it fit, with the continuing convenient loses of time and Will’s colleagues’ inability to ensure he receives medical attention. The idea that he gets so close to his subjects that it might permanently scar him is the whole premise of Red Dragon, but I can’t believe Crawford, or Bloom or anyone else, would seriously swallow him going to that place (of which more in the following episode). It’s the stuff of half-baked filler episodes (you know the type, an X-Fileswhere Mulder is accused of murder).
The scene where the forensics guys correct Crawford on the definition of a theory (“more of a hypothesis”) is fun, and there’s a cute reference to Silence of the Lambs’ Multiple Miggs when we’re told a patient swallowed his own tongue while attacking Du Maurier. But, for all the attractiveness of the trappings (cinematography, art direction, score), the series has become borderline risible.
And so, the finale. It was sadly inevitable that they wouldn’t finish the first run with Hannibal under lock and key, but arresting him is the only thing that could have salvaged the season from charges of desperate attention-grabbing tactics. This is the most barefaced example of Fuller’s choices serving the need to sustain an over-extended premise rather than the integrity of the characters.
If Lecter had maintained a low-key presence, rather than intruding on nearly every major development, it would be a different matter. But we finish the season with Jack shooting Will, who has realised that Lecter is the bad guy (“You had no traceable motive, which is why you were so hard to see”). Finally, he’s got there. But this has none of the eeriness of Will’s discovery as described in Red Dragon; obviously, as Fuller already used that up in Entrée. None of this fits into the mythology of the character (or characters, including Crawford). Worse still, Fuller really seems to think it’s a clever reversal to have the final scene show Will incarcerated and Lecter visiting him. Presumably he awoke from a caffeine stupor and seized on it as a genius twist. But it’s the kind of low-rent inspiration that should have been dismissed out of hand.
There’s a vague hope that Bloom might latch onto Lecter’s behaviour when Will tells her about the clock drawings. But no, Lecter has a fake ready and she buys the lie. Everyone is far too willing to believe that the planted evidence of fly-fishing feathers (made up of trophies from the copycat victims) prove it was Will.
The only really worthy aspect of the finale is the discovery that Du Maurier is more than she seems, as she has obviously worked out what Lecter is up to (“You have to be careful, Hannibal. They’re starting to see your pattern”), and it is not something that he has forseen.
One wonders how they’re going to get round Will knowing Lecter’s identity next season. Well, a bit. Currently, I’m not sure I’m that interested. Any option seems like a bad one. Now he is cured of encephalitis they could give him miraculously convenient amnesia. Or they could have him trying to convince the increasingly moronic Crawford and Bloom of Hannibal’s culpability for half a season.
Maybe if Fuller was working with half the number of episodes, and on a much slower burning procedural template, the whole season might have been as satisfying as the couple of standout episodes. But it just doesn’t work for me conceptually.
Turning Graham into a hallucinating, gibbering man-wreck undermines him completely. Locking him up makes Will, the FBI and his other professional colleagues look incompetent. The other issue is the sheer amount of repetition. Every other scene has someone visiting Lecter and pouring out all the information he needs. It’s all so contrived that eventually it becomes ridiculous and, no matter how well scripted or acted individual scenes may be, not a little tiresome.
Hugh Dancy gives it his all as Graham, but he spends half the season out of his mind. Mikklesen’s reserved performance is an interesting take on Hannibal, but the character is diminished by over-exposure. The performances and production values are never less than top notch, but they’ll have to do something really clever with the storytelling to tempt me back for the second run.