What is our true nature as human beings, and how are we different from and akin to animals? What makes us human? This ninth Hannibal episode shined light on every aspect of such philosophical questions, and in its central relationships, bounced the queries off each person. As we wandered purposely through the minds of psychiatrist and patients alike, the divide became less and less clear. Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter are both beast and prey, mirroring each other’s every move. Like a game of chess between equal opponents, we can never be quite sure who is ahead. At the end of “Shiizakana” Will declares they are “Even Steven,” but this particular game allows no stalemate.
In his dreams, Will suffers the same word games and homoerotic subtext he does while awake, so it’s no surprise to hear Hannibal waxing over love’s effect even as Will tries to torture Lecter’s admissions to no avail. Like some dark sonneteer, Hannibal emotionlessly explains, “We can never be fully aware of another human being unless we love them.” Indeed, Lecter does seem to adore every person he comes in contact with; his sick and demented children, and even those he must kill. Coaching his subjects to their own fruition brings Hannibal an undeniable pride and sense of accomplishment. There is nothing wrong with Lecter helping a human find his full potential; in his own mind, it’s what he’s meant for. For every negative someone might see in himself, Hannibal finds its truth, and a step toward evolution. Jack’s faded memory promotes a healthy mind. Life without regret is no life at all. Adapt. Evolve. Become.
After a trucker is ripped to shreds by some bear, or a pair (of animal friends), the FBI gang all heads out for a chilly morning of blood and guts. Interestingly, Jack’s the one who first realizes it wasn’t just animals; are Will and Hannibal are too focused on each other right now? Graham consults with his new animal expert pal Peter Bernardone, who reminds Will man is the only creature who kills to kill. Though we thought we were meeting Mason Verger this week, turns out it’s just another of Hannibal’s proteges gone wrong…both Margot and Will are noticing the patient pattern. Of the warped minds we’ve met thus far, Randall Tier (Mark O’Brien) was one of the most truly terrifying (aside from Hannibal, of course). His desire to maul fulfills his basest need to kill intimately…viscerally. Tier’s appearance at this particular time in Will and Hannibal’s history almost felt planned—could it have been? Did Lecter (Fuller) trot out his prize beast in a move to manipulate Will? (Hannibal knew right away who’d done the deed—and where to find him.) We’re seeing Will reclaim control over himself. He certainly appears to know what he’s doing, with no fear, Will calls out Hannibal directly during their sessions; asks leading questions, pretending to allow Lecter’s manipulations. Hannibal: “Close your eyes, imagine a version of events you wouldn’t have regretted.” Will plays along, tells Hannibal he sees a missed opportunity (by not killing Clark Ingram in the barn) to feel what he felt killing Garrett Jacob Hobbes—that quiet sense of power (Will’s transformative antlers emerged again). Heck, even the difference in Will’s hair—since he was released from Baltimore Hospital—betrays his restored control. But how much in the dark is Hannibal really?
Lecter leads Jack and Will directly to his former patient Tier, who’s conveniently working in a museum with access to the extinct cave bear skulls he needs to create his alternate self. But of course Hannibal already coached Tier through the proper responses, and then tempts him off to Will’s home for one last kill. Thing is, there’s more to the game here—we already know he doesn’t want Will dead. Hannibal loves Will; wants Will to reach his full potential. And so he gives Graham the chance to exercise that power again, and in the process gets rid of yet another problem pet. Watching Hannibal is a little like playing that three cups game. We’re trying to follow, but Fuller is moving the pieces so fast, we lose track of the ball. We’re watching Graham because he’s caught on to Dr. Lecter; he’s taking back his power and leading Hannibal to the trip up. It’s time for Hannibal to make a mistake. Did you catch that bristle when Will told Hannibal Dr. Du Maurier had visited him before the trial and said she believed Will? Of course you did. But Will’s assertion that Hannibal sent Tier to kill Will was wrong. Lecter led his little lamb to slaughter, and in that truly scary final quarter hour, Will aptly obliged. When Hannibal arrived at his office to find Will waiting, trophy proudly displayed on the table, Lecter didn’t looked surprised. He barely suppressed a lovingly proud expression, and then gave Will a little nod of respect.
As we build toward the finale, head back around to the beginning (eat our own tail?) and that fight, maybe we were expecting season 2 to culminate with Hannibal being bested or captured—after all, we know Will and Jack are onto him. We’ve been thinking Will might even have had a leg up on Hannibal, this episode or that. But what we don’t exactly know is what Hannibal realizes; as much as we believe Will is playing along with Hannibal’s games, how much is Hannibal playing along with Will? Even Steven? Somehow, I doubt it.
Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. I wanted to copy down every word between Hannibal and anyone this episode.
Again, the killer of the week mirrors the boys’ relationship. Both Hannibal and Will are trying to goad each other into acting on instinct. Hannibal wants Will to evolve into the killer inside him, and Will wants Hannibal to be reduced to instinct so Lecter’s intellect will be set aside—and he’ll make a mistake.
That pulley scene look familiar? It’s directly from Hannibal Rising.
It’s interesting that Margot is disturbed by Hannibal’s patient commonalities; good that she notices. Dr. Lecter chooses carefully, cultivates and molds them. He is, in his own mind, a god. (Will: “What do you think about when you think about killing?” Hannibal: “I think about god…he just loves them.”)
Please keep Jeremy Davies forever and ever. He can just do a little scene every episode.
Shiizakana = a substantial dish. Indeed.