Wednesday, August 26, 2015

HANNIBAL Ep. 38: "The Number of the Beast is 666..."

In which this is a child of a nightmare.

“Fate has the habit of not letting us choose our own endings, Frederick.”
(Hannibal, to Chilton)

We’re in the end times, we are. This televisual, cinematic tale of a man cursed with hyper-empathic visions and his doppleganger/partner in crime/soulmate, a charming empathic vacuum, is about to shuffle off this mortal coil. Possibly to be reborn anew in another venue, in another format. In its wake, it leaves a sprawling fever dream fugue state of a narrative, one which gradually abandoned the strictures of its procedural roots to delve into the farthest corners of consciousness, of moral and ethical ambiguity, of the great question of humanity itself. Yet for as far afield as Hannibal trod during this version of its existence, for the ecstatic stylistic heights to which it soared (particularly in the more experimental passages of Season 2 and the first half of Season 3), it has returned to more earthly trappings for its climactic exploration of the Red Dragon’s Becoming. But as easily recognizable as this milieu might be, it has been irrevocably been altered by the channeling of what lies beyond consciousness, in those outer limits of the psyche and the soul. As the Red Dragon takes his inspiration from the Book of Revelation which spawned him, so too have these final episodes built toward the arrival of divine retribution.

And for the arrival of the Lamb of God, in the character of Will Graham. But even as he may bring divine wrath upon the wicked, this Lamb emerges from a realm in which God is not such an easily quantifiable entity. From the beginning, Bryan Fuller has used Hannibal as venue for examining the very concept of God and the God impulse. Season 1 mined a rich vein of commentary on irresponsible father figures, cod-manipulators whose biological and spiritual children were left to suffer as a result of neglect. Hannibal’s affinity with the Old Testament God, the God of theodicy, the one who impartially metes out suffering (or impartially allows it) has allowed him to view the world from a distant, godlike perspective (see his first view of the corpse spiral tableau in Season 2, or his reaching for the circle of light above in him in last week’s episode.) Jack Crawford might call him “the devil himself, bound in the pit” (another quote from Revelation, and more credence to the theory that while Francis Dolarhyde believes himself to be the Great Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter is the one and only original version), but Hannibal’s response (“Then that makes you God, Jack…all gods demand sacrifices”) casts the purity of the deity from whence came the Lamb in terms most unflattering.

For in this world of moral ambiguity, the godlike figures of authority continually fail those held in their thrall. They’re wildly different shows, but this thematic angle recalls David Simon’s critique of modern institutions in The Wire. Like Fuller, Simon told his tales in a recognizable idiom, but took his inspiration from much more classical sources, notably the tropes of Greek tragedy (but with the failed institutions of Western Civilization, modern America, and the social strata of Baltimore standing in for the vengeful, often petty gods of yore.) And like those Greek myths, mere humans were often the hapless puppets of those deities, cast about by whims they often didn’t understand until death. (Quoth D’Angelo Barksdale “The king stay the king.” Attempt ascendance to the throne at thine own peril.)

“The Number of the Beast is 666…” revisits the puppet-like state of those underneath the gods one last time in capsule form. Its narrative arc is almost exclusively preoccupied with the price of manipulation. Once again, the generally moral Jack stands tall as a manipulator par excellence. His first appearance, in conference with Will and Alana, is centered upon tricking the Tooth Fairy into giving himself up. The scene even opens with Will saying “Got me on the hook, Jack. Now you’re dangling me to catch a bigger fish.” Christ instructed his followers to be fishers of men, but this is taking things to the extreme. For as fond of the straight and narrow as he is, Jack shares Hannibal’s penchant for the zero sum game, for justifying any actions as necessary for a goal’s attainment (see the overlapping of Hannibal’s reflection onto Jack during his visit to his cell.) Thus his drawing back of Will into the sick and sordid world that almost proved to be his undoing once before, but this time with the collateral damage of a wife and child hanging in the balance. As Alana reprimands both he and Will “You once fooled yourselves to believe that you were in control of what was happening. Are you still under that delusion?”

But Alana’s protestations also ring hollow, as she readily throws the Red Dragon’s target onto Frederick Chilton’s back in order to save herself. I’ve discussed this before, but as Chilton, Raul Esparza has taken a character who was a stock villain in previous incarnations and turned him into a smarmy, cynical, hilarious, and often completely sympathetic human being. When he confesses his true fear of Hannibal to Alana in Season 2 (right before being plugged in the eye by Miriam Lass), it’s a moment of raw emotional vulnerability. And he really excels in this episode during his captivity in Francis’s house, glued to a chair and forced to recount the sins that landed him in this spot. Several times, DP James Hawkinson lets the camera linger on Esparza’s face for long, uninterrupted takes, and he really sells the complex mixture of loathing, fear, and panic that is coursing through Chilton’s head. Resident punching bad that he is, he’s finally burned alive in the famous wheelchair sentence that destroyed Freddie Lounds in previous incarnations of this story (and which served as the basis for the faking of Freddie’s death in this one.) But death will not come easily for Frederick Chilton, as he’s left alive as a burnt, blackened husk of a person, his lipless mouth left to wail in agony as he throws responsibility for his state back at Will.

Such responsibility is well-warranted for our intrepid FBI profiler. James Hawkinson’s cinematography has provided a gorgeous, often surreal sheen to Hannibal’s visual palate. but one of the most underrated aspects of it has been his mastery of framing, and the power dynamics expressed therein. And so it’s no surprise that when Freddie interviews Chilton for the Tattlecrime bait piece, Will is pictured directly behind him from a low angle, shaping his words for maximum shock effect, the puppetmaster through and through (note the dragon or snakelike rattling that Brain Reitzell utilizes on the soundtrack as Will pushes his vision of the diagnosis…and that Jack literally directs Freddie on how to shoot the two men by standing behind her.) This same blocking is repeated when Francis holds Chilton in captivity, albeit from an even more extreme low angle. Will and Francis become mirror images once again, the men with the vision looking to turn a mere mortal into the vessel for their message. And at the conclusion of the episode, after Chilton’s purpose has been achieved, Francis enlists Reba to be the new vessel for his gospel, the witness for the final act of his Becoming.

Before his untimely flaming wheelchair ride, Chilton does provide Will with one last, haunting bit of insight, as amidst his taunting of the Tooth Fairy to Freddie he plants the idea that opens this essay: that this homicidal monster is the child of a nightmare. The stunned look on Will’s face clearly shows that this concept hits home. Later on with Bedelia, he might slightly revel in his lack of surprise at Chilton’s fate, but these words from his old sparring partner/caretaker are a concise, perfect summary of the central fears that have plagued Will since we first encountered his tortured visage at the Marlow house in the series’ first episode. And if Bryan Fuller’s thoughts are anything to go on (he’s often stated that the Marlows are intended to be Francis Dolarhyde’s first victims), Chilton’s nightmare child observation, like many other plot threads throughout the show’s history, once again brings everything back full circle. Abigail Hobbs might have walked the line between sinner and saint in her role as Will’s surrogate child, and her death might have irrevocably scarred him, but Francis Dolarhyde is the true child of his subconscious, and (following the line of last week’s Fight Club self-flagellation reference) his own twisted version of Tyler Durden, a hulking beast of an introvert who allows himself to be fully subsumed by his darkest impulses.

So it is that all around him, Will sees his nearest and dearest murdered in the signature Red Dragon style, their eyes the mirrors that reflect back his sin. As Will puts it to Bedelia “The divine punishment of a sinner mirrors the sin being punished.” And as she advises him “We are all making our way through the Inferno.” Call it the Last Temptation of Will Graham. If he is to be the Lamb of God, if only his hand can unlock the seven seals and banish Satan to the pit for a thousand years, then he must first suffer for the sins of the many. He must first take his three day tour of Hell before his return to life. Gaining almost superhuman empathy with Hannibal warped his psyche, but there was something almost transcendentally romantic about their coupling. His identification with Francis Dolarhyde bears none of that romanticism, only the intoxication of power, and, just as Satan tempted Christ to use his divine power to leave the cross and smite his enemies, the prospect of becoming his own worst nightmare. (Note how his first two appearances in this episode are reveals from the rear right of his head, Hawkinson’s framing suggesting the darkness within him that he must now constantly draw himself out of.)

Ah, but there’s the tricky role of the Great Tempter once again. The Devil tricking the world into believing that he doesn’t exist. After all, that sly smirk that Will flashes to Bedelia upon admitting his lack of surprise at Chilton’s fate looks suspiciously like Hannibal’s grin after he learns of the same event. She opens the episode by brazenly intimating Hannibal’s love for Will (surely the most direct statement of the show’s massive elephant in the room), but she closes their second meeting at episode’s end with an even more chilling statement: “Hannibal Lecter does have agency in the world. He has you.” She also notes that he "may have well have struck the match" that burned Chilton, and that "That's participation" (a direct callback to Hannibal's retort to her in Florence from earlier in the season, when she was still trying to beg mere observation.) It’s the second time in this haunting hour that Will is struck dumb by a simple, yet profoundly unsettling insight. And it reminds the viewer that above all this episode’s arch manipulative forces, it’s the one who has the least physical power and presence, who’s been trapped in a room for three years, who is shot as a lone figure isolated inside an empty glass cage….he’s the one with the most power. Witness Satan tempting Christ during his forty days in the desert, almost exclusively using nothing but his words. And so too does Hannibal wreak so much havoc and bring about such apocalyptic fury only through the seductive, dulcet tones of his voice. Will has felt so much guilt for so many years over the collateral damage of his work, of his visions, but lately he has tread through the Valley of the Shadow of Death unscathed. Because he has unwittingly become Hannibal’s surrogate in this world. It’s the ultimate blow, the greatest temptation to a savior figure filled with righteous anger. And at episode’s end, Will is left to contemplate how exactly he can finish his season in Hell. And how he might once and for all emerge from the pit of darkness that has nearly enveloped everything about him.

And now for some penultimate leftovers:

*Kudos again to Richard Armitage for his phenomenal of Francis as the Red Dragon incarnate. Now fully immersed in his alter ego, he’s gained a newfound eloquence in his speech, and a stark mastery of his physical brutality. But the vulnerability he displays when Reba visits with soup remind us all that this is a sad, broken man, consumed by his worst instincts and fears of mortality.

*Note too how immediately after Hannibal tells Jack that gods demand sacrifices, the scene cuts to Francis in his attack raking his back with his fingernails, spreading the blood sacrifice down his copy of Blake’s Red Dragon painting.

*“You’re not a straight newspaper. You sell t-shirts that say ‘The Tooth Fairy is a one night stand’ “ (Will, to Freddie.)

*“I have seen a lot of hostility. But this was quantifiably bitchy!” (Chilton, to Hannibal, in response to his magazine article debunking the former’s book length defense of the latter’s insanity.)

*“That would have been your lip I was tasting. Again.” (Hannibal, to Alana, theorizing what would’ve happened if she had filled Chilton’s role. I think this qualifies as being quantifiably bitchy. Or, at the very least, funny.)

Monday, August 17, 2015

HANNIBAL Ep. 37: "...And the Beast from the Sea."

In which then you realized what I realized, which is that I can’t go home.

“Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast, and one is striving to forsake its brother.”
-Hannibal, channeling Goethe

Hannibal Lecter may be the most impactful, cross-cultural icon of the Thomas Harris literary/cinematic universe, his debonair charisma and sensual, predatory nature offering a pleasurable gateway into a world where finely cultivated depravity can be vicariously appreciated. Will Graham may be the archetypically stoic noir detective who serves as the emotional anchor for the audience. And in the hands of Hugh Dancy (via the words and vision of Bryan Fuller), he threatens to eclipse the beloved Clarice Starling as the primary force for good in this Lecterverse. But throughout all three adaptations of Harris’s second novel, one character has stood as the unsung backbone of the story, the impetus for dramatic progression who is too often forgotten in the ongoing discussions of this work. So as he has descended upon the narrative of what might be the final act of Hannibal, an all too fitting bringer of death to the proceedings, it’s well worth once again examining the Great Red Dragon himself, Francis Dolarhyde.

Hannibal has gained so much of its charm and lasting power from the psychological pyrotechnics between Hannibal and Will that even at this late stage, it can be easy to sideline Francis to a secondary focus.  It’s understandable from a practical standpoint, as he spends much of the story isolated from the two main characters whose lives he most deeply affects (although Fuller slyly connects Hannibal and Francis via the former’s theraputical fantasies, a nice counterpoint to the now formal, clinical meetings between Hannibal and Will…and a pleasant excuse to return Mads Mikkelsen to the womblike surroundings of his ornate office.) And by nature, Francis’s charisma is an often oblique matter at best. He displays none of Hannibal’s urbanity or Will’s smoldering sex appeal, relegated instead to evincing the pent-up frustrations of a man child tormented by his inner demons.

Which is what makes Richard Armitage’s turn as the would-be Red Dragon so fascinating, especially in comparison with the character’s previous screen incarnations. In Michael Mann’s Manhunter, character actor extraordinaire Tom Noonan ably captures the wounded outsider’s mien that so defines Francis.  Yet at times he seems to do so almost too effectively, interiorizing his existential conflict so much that the character comes across as somewhat of a cipher. And although Harris envisioned him as peaking 40, his transformation partially sparked by the specter of aging, Noonan’s already graying visage (he was only 35 at the time of the film’s release) subdues his essential childish bent. Bret Ratner’s glossy remake, Red Dragon, cast Ralph Fiennes as Francis, and he definitely embodies the more physically imposing presence that is an integral part of this lost soul. Fiennes’s crystal blue eyes also allow him to oscillate his gaze between childlike vulnerability and steely menace, a trait which defines much of Francis’s bifurcated psyche. But he’s also very much leading man material, and as compelling as he can be in the role, the viewer often gets the impression that this is a genuinely good looking man dressing up as a fractured pseudo-psychopath, blunting some of the impact of his character arc.

In splitting the difference between these two previous screen versions of the character, Armitage captures the essence of what makes him so frightening and tragic, crafting what has become the definitive filmed version of Francis Dolarhyde. In many ways he’s definitely as leading man handsome as Fiennes, but the subtle lengths to which he goes in portraying Francis appropriately dull much of that alluring façade. With his hair shorn into a tight buzz cut, he gains a militaristic loner’s edge, and his bulked up physique embodies Francis’s classic weightlifter’s presence while also adding enough weight to give him an almost babyfaced blankness in his features. The childlike, wounded nature at the center of his soul then comes through from a physical standpoint and through Armitage’s finely crafted mannerisms, the soulful hurt in his expressions and the often skittish leanings of his reactions.  But so much of the credit for his uncanny conveyance lies in the physical mastery he displays in the role. The actor has spoken about his discovery of the Japanese performance art Butoh (or The Dance of Death) as a key motivator for the controlled, conflicted movement he enacts as Francis; from week to week, it’s often a delight just to watch this man veer from economical prowling (anyone else think of Blade Runner’s Roy Batty when he searched the house for Reba in last week’s episode?) to wild, almost mechanical gesticulations. One such example comes in this week’s entry, in which he beats himself mercilessly for his perceived failings, all the while imagining the Red Dragon pummeling away at him. In his total physical commitment to the scene, he recalls Edward Norton’s smirking revenge on his boss in Fight Club, that great statement of modern male malaise and impotence. To believe that Francis truly feels possessed by the Dragon, it’s necessary to buy into the private war that tears him apart, and Armitage’s convulsions make the viewer believe that this is a man not entirely in control of himself.

Just who is in control stands as the central question of his arc, and of “..And the Beast from the Sea” itself. Following in the footsteps of the previous two week’s episodes, Bryan Fuller has once again named this entry after one of William Blake’s Red Dragon paintings, this one depicting the Dragon summoning the Beast from the Sea, a torch in one hand, a sword in the other. The Satanic Dragon’s purpose is to recruit the Beast into his war against the righteous. The previous two episodes (and Harris’s source material) have drawn parallels between Francis as the Dragon and Reba as the Woman Clothed in Sun, but the matter of the Beast complicates things somewhat. Indeed, the chief recruiter and seducer in this episode is clearly Hannibal, who advances his vengeance against Will by advising Francis to “Save yourself. Kill them all.”  He may assure him that “From the beginning, you and the Dragon have been one”, but in matters most Mephistophelian, the not so good doctor is the true great tempter (as Fuller has often said, he envisions Hannibal as a fallen angel.)

And this leads us back to the beginning of this essay…and to the end of the episode, specifically Hannibal’s quoting of Goethe’s Faust in his climactic confrontation with Will. As with most of his literary taunts, it’s mutable enough to cover several points of view. Of course, Hannibal has played Mephistopheles with Will all along, tempting him to the dark side (although there are deeper shades of grey inherent in that coupling than just good and evil.) And throughout this story arc, he’s goaded Francis into embracing the Red Dragon persona while also using him as his vessel for havoc. But the Faust quote emanates from the mouth of the titular character, deep amidst the interior conflict between his earthly genius and divine aspirations. By tossing this back to Will, Hannibal reinforces the warring factions within his onetime friend through the fractured lens of his new would-be protégé. Both blessed and cursed by visions reaching beyond the pale of the mortal veil, both men face the enduring temptation of transcending the mundane aspects of their lives. Will has tried to embrace the more stable aspects of his humanity through the family structure, but the frisson he experienced during his deepest immersion in Hannibal’s psychological hall of mirrors can’t be easily forgotten. After all, this is perhaps the only person who’s ever accepted his darkest impulses as an essential part of him, as a facet that can elevate him above humanity. As he tells Will in this scene “The essence of the worst in the human spirit is not found in the crazy sons of bitches. Ugliness is found in the faces of the crowd.”

It’s such a deep divide that exists within Will, one that has only grown since the beginning of the series. His gravest fear, that the ghosts of his empathic visions might invade the physical world, has come true too often, costing him a friend in Beverly Katz and a surrogate daughter in Abigail Hobbs. Those losses packed the emotional heft of any well-sketched characters. And now, this Mark of Cain that deforms Will’s psyche has infected the lives of two people who have only received minimal screen time, but who carry with them a universal empathic weight. As he tries to explain Francis’s attack to his stepson Walter, Will can only inadvertently trap himself in an unwanted self-description: a killer who is caught and put in a mental hospital (Walter knows this truth all too well from Freddie Lounds’s Tattlecrime article.) Hugh Dancy is so affecting during his hospital scenes with Walter and Molly. There’s so much hurt in this man’s eyes, and so much added context for his angst from the two and a half seasons of context that Fuller and company have provided. Previous screen versions of Will have been tortured, but you really believe this incarnation’s lament that he will never escape his legacy and his awful empathic curse.  And yet, it’s instructive to note that after attempting to console Walter, he tells Jack Crawford “I had to justify myself to an 11-year old.”  It’s meant to be a statement of frustration, but there’s also a slight edge to Will’s voice, one laced with a hint of resentment for having to lower himself to the standards of a child…even if it’s his child. (Note how DP James Hawkinson physically isolates Will in the frame in the shot featured above, visually walling him off not only from his son, but from the intermittent confidante who has lured him away from his family.)

Does this make Will as much Hannibal’s prospective Beast from the Sea as Francis? Are Will and Francis the two souls dwelling in Hannibal’s breast? Or are all of these characters dealing with the Faustian bargains they’ve struck to reach this point? After all, Will’s soul has been sold as much to Jack as to Hannibal, who long ago sacrificed a key chunk of his humanity to his inner clinical darkness. What’s undeniable is the overwhelming darkness that’s taken over Hannibal in its possibly final days, an encroaching sense that there is truly no return to the lives that these characters formerly inhabited, and to the homes in which they found solace. What remains is only the change which Hannibal describes in his final lines, the evolution toward something beyond the previous strictures of existence. For at a certain point, flirtations with darkness cease to retain their relative safety, transforming into a full embrace. Into a becoming.

On to this week’s leftovers:

*As likeable as he may be, the opening meeting between he, Will, and Alana (in which forcing Francis into suicide is discussed) once again shows what a cold and calculating presence Jack can be, especially when driven to stop a serial killer. To quote Will “Jack Crawford, fisher of men, watching my cork move against the current. You got me again.”

*Walter’s desire to watch baseball seems a bit odd (especially since the current story arc seems to be set in mid-winter), until you remember that in Harris’s Red Dragon, his biological father received a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals before dying of throat cancer. It’s the fine line that Fuller often walks between reverence for the source material and translation for an audience unfamiliar with said source (which can make you think that Molly’s coma vision of a baseball being hit three times is a winking act of trolling the more analytical section of the audience.)

*Finally, thirty-seven episodes in, we get Hannibal Lecter in a version of his classic Silence of the Lambs mask. And in a neat twist on the comparable scene in that film, Alana is the one stripping his cell of comforting accoutrements instead of Chilton.

*“You have hubbed Hell, Dr. Lecter” (Jack) “I often do.” (Hannibal)
-Okay, two things here. First, how often do you hear someone use hub as a verb? Just another reason to love this show. It’s a direct quote from Jack in Harris’s novel, but in that work he’s directing it toward Freddie Lounds. And speaking of Freddie…with two episodes to go, have we seen the last of Lara Jean Chorostecki? I certainly hope not.

*“How do you imagine he’s contacted me? Personal ads? Writing notes of admiration on toilet paper?” (Hannibal, to Will, theorizing about Francis’s preferred mode of communication. It’s a wry bit of dialogue that pays tribute to the decidedly analog avenues by which he made contact with Hannibal in the previous versions of Red Dragon.)            

*When Hannibal asks Will what he sees when he closes his eyes (the implication being his family…and him murdering them) it recalls the moment in Season 2’s “Mizumono” when he advised him “You can make it all go away. Put your head back. Close your eyes. Wade quietly into the stream”. That entreaty came in the midst of stabbing Will in the stomach, but it also offers a neat parallel to the ocean imagery that haunts Francis in this episode. Will once found peace in the placidity of the stream, but it’s the tumultuous sea that threatens to engulf him (and potentially turn him into its Beast.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

HANNIBAL Ep. 36: "And the Woman Clothed in Sun"

In which my journey to damnation began when I was swallowed by the beast.

“I was walking among the fires of Hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity.”
― William Blake

“See how magnificent you are?  Did he who made the lamb make thee?”
---Hannibal via William Blake

As perhaps the most fine arts-obsessed narrative series on television, one in which minor characters have achieved transcendence though being transformed into death sculpture tableaus, in which avant-garde, often classically leaning soundscapes have scored crises both interior and existential, and in which the central character wields an aesthete’s sensibility both as sociological lens and weapon…it seems only fitting that the plot machinations would eventually circle back into the madness-dabbled fantasia of William Blake.  Touched by a Gothic sense of beauty, cross pollinated with competing strands of Impressionism and Romanticism, Blake’s best known paintings explored his preoccupation with the symbiotic relationship between the divine and the obscene (a fascination that also extended into his poetry and other writings.)  As Thomas Harris took inspiration from Blake’s Red Dragon paintings to fuel his story of the psychosexual havoc that Francis Dolarhyde wreaks on others, so too has Bryan Fuller carried on Blake’s musings on the split diopter of good and evil in crafting his extended tale of a hyper-empath and an empathy vacuum inevitably drawn into each other’s sphere of existence, both men striving to reach truths more seraphic than secular by forming a co-dependence that blurs the lines between malice and justice.

Aside from the Red Dragon paintings, one of Blake’s most well-known treatises on the interdependency of the sacred and the profane is his short poem “The Tyger”, which contemplates the titular animal’s sleek, predatorial nature and, in a greater sense, the authorship of this killing machine.  As he states in the fourth verse:

What the hammer? what the chain?   
In what furnace was thy brain?          
What the anvil? What dread grasp       
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

Blake’s companion piece to “The Tyger” was “The Lamb”, which mused on the delicate nature of that pastoral creature.  The hidden protagonist, again, is the creator of such an animal, one who is capable of birthing such beauty and terror.  While envisioning himself meeting with Hannibal in his office in the intro to “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”, Francis Dolarhyde indulges his hero worship of the cannibal while imagining the plaudit that is quoted at the beginning of this essay.  It’s a direct lift from “The Tyger”, well in keeping with Francis’s Blake-obsessed mind and the old-time religion that simultaneously haunts and heals him.

It’s also a precursor to what are perhaps the key scenes in this episode, on several fronts.  As I mentioned in last week’s essay, Blake’s Red Dragon paintings prominently feature the image of the Satanic beast lording over a woman who will give birth to a child that will bear the Gospel to the world.  There are two versions/paintings of this tableau: “And the Woman Clothed With the Sun…” and “And the Woman Clothed in Sun.”  They serve as mirror images, one with the mighty Dragon’s back all but obscuring the woman, the other with the woman’s divine presence front and center.  Bryan Fuller has paid tribute to this doppleganger effect by title the second and third episodes of Season 3 as such.  But he might also be stretching into a more far-reaching Blake reference in constructing this episode.

“The Tyger”’s opening verse features Blake opining “What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”  In 1986, Alan Moore used this couplet (and the poem’s larger philosophical thrust) as the template for “Fearful Symmetry”, the fifth chapter of his groundbreaking, revisionist, comic book saga Watchmen.  At heart the story of the capture of Rorschach, the series’ breakout, sub-psychopath anti-hero with a damaged child’s heart of gold, it’s also a point of marked escalation for several of the main characters on their path to the apocalyptic truth of the finale.  By this point in the construction of the tale, Moore and artist partner Dave Gibbons were fully exploring the creative possibilities inherent in the form.  So in a canny decision that gives it a haunting power that grows with each subsequent reading, they chose to structure this chapter as a mirror image unto itself, in which the middle of the issue forms the nexus point from which springs two strands that reflect each other.  From the shape and organization of panels to the blocking of the characters to the plot elements themselves, each strand serves as a near doppleganger of the other.  This structure also reflects the very nature of Rorschach himself, whose mask bears the iconic mirror-image blot from whence he takes his name, and whose concept of justice entails a highly refined sense of the morally trepidatious path he must trod to battle the weakness of the good and the tyranny of evil men.

Would it be going too far to suggest that “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”, an episode swarming with Blake references in the midst of a series swarming in cultural references, is Bryan Fuller’s sly nod to Alan Moore’s “Fearful Symmetry”?  Examined closely, the plot stretches across six main scenes, all of which seem to form a mirror that folds into itself (Hannibal’s manipulative phone call is more of a side tangent, although one with great significance….more on that in a bit.)  At the heart of the episode are those two aforementioned key scenes, in which Francis and Reba visit the zoo and then return to his house.  In an attempt to transfer his inner beastly feelings onto a more accessible form, Francis arranges for Reba to pet a sedated tiger.  As she caresses the powerful creature’s fur, Francis is taken aback by his identification with the beast, none more so than when she gently strokes the tiger’s massive canine tooth (which is on the same side of its face as Francis’s hairlip.)  The image of Reba’s dark skin against the near-fluorescent glow of the tiger’s pelt is somewhat reminiscent of Will’s painterly vision of Mrs. Leeds’s corpse from the previous episode, a reference that’s hammered home in the next scene, when a mid-coitus Francis envisions Reba as the divine manifestation of the Woman Clothed in Sun.  When she pets the tiger, Reba is moved to tears, and during his moment of sexual ecstasy with her, Francis also sheds tears.  Fuller has called this romantic entangling “one of the most beautifully tragic in modern literature, and the soul of Red Dragon”, as two wayward souls blessed (or cursed) with visions beyond their ostensible limits find solace and each other.  It’s a modern take on Beauty and the Beast, but one in which the monster lurks within the confines of a generally handsome man.

Francis Dolarhyde isn’t the only Hannibal character whose struggle with their inner beast is masked by an alluring veneer.  Indeed, the bifurcation of mannered civility and primal urges has formed the backbone for much of this show’s ongoing narrative, its most notorious monster also its most debonair bon vivant.  And the dual scenes that form the middle of this episode’s mirrored structure feature two of the most prominent symbols of the beauty/beast dichotomy.  Though he may be oft disheveled in appearance, Will Graham still carries Hugh Dancy’s Brit heartthrob allure with him wherever he goes.  It’s a huge part of what elicits such audience sympathy for his tortured psyche; he’s the archetypical dashing gentleman trapped by the curse of feeling too much.  In this regard, Gillian Anderson’s Bedelia DuMaurier is his twin, her refined porcelain beauty a cover for a moral and ethical philosophy that deals in ambiguous cruelty. 

Their initial standoff in this episode features some spectacular verbal parrying, as Will chides her for hiding behind the veneer of victimhood while she slyly refutes his tagging her as the Bride of Frankenstein by noting that “We’ve both been his bride” and that “I was with him behind the veil; you were always on the other side.”  In a show that has featured some of the most mature explorations of the intangibles of sexuality and moral intent, Bedelia has always stood out as both cipher and femme fatale.  Though she was not entirely complicit in her faux marriage to Hannibal, her explanation for how she came to be swallowed by the beast (“He never called me my name.  That was strange at first.  And then it wasn’t strange.  And then…I was Lydia Fell”) is just mannered enough, especially compared to what we’ve been privileged to witness, that her follow up to it (“What we take for granted about our sense of self, everything we see, everything we remember, is nothing more than a construct of the mind”) carries with it the distinct whiff of craven self-exoneration. 

That same lack of culpability comes to the forefront in this scene’s mirror image later in the episode, in which Will and Bedelia’s second confrontation (this time in her office) is deftly intercut with her sessions with Neal Frank (Zachary Quinto), whose corpse we briefly saw in a flashback in “Antipasto.”  When Will once again accuses her of lying about her time with Hannibal, she replies “I obfuscate”, a perfect description of the verbal slight of hand she pulls during the earlier lecture.  It’s intriguing to note how Hannibal’s two foremost psychiatrists utilize obfuscation with rapier precision, the irony of their treachery set in the world of the talking cure hanging heavy over the proceedings.  That irony is even heavier in the context of Neal’s revelations about his failed sessions with Hannibal, and his subsequent fate.  His tales of phototherapy and of being subjected to a flashing light that caused him to enter a fugue state are a direct parallel to the expert manipulation that led to Will’s framing as a murderer in Season 1.  Later in the scene, Bedelia tells Will that “One thing I learned from Hannibal is the alchemy of lies and truths.  It’s how he convinced you that you were a killer.”  And just as Hannibal used his mental and verbal dexterity to seduce Will (and, for that matter, everyone around him for a time) into his preferred version of reality, so too does he plant the seed in Neal’s mind to swallow his tongue.  Fuller has stated that this death is meant to give context to the final exit of Multiple Miggs in Silence of the Lambs.  It’s also a perfectly Lecterian bit of ironic wordplay made manifest in physical violence. 

Such wordplay runs rampant throughout the show’s character progression; in an episode devoted so heavily to oral imagery (from the grotesque shot of Bedelia plunging her hand into Neal’s throat to the tiger’s mouth to Francis’s hairlip to all sorts of talk of being swallowed by a beast), it’s interesting to note how verbal diction serves as a sign of power.  Both Will and Bedelia speak in perfectly articulated tones (Anderson’s almost absurdly practiced diction is a hallmark of her portrayal), all the while hiding their tumultuous inner conflict behind this mask of respectability.  Despite being a handsome man, Francis sees his inarticulate nature as an irrevocable deformity; it’s only through intense rehearsal that he’s able to assume the polished diction of lawyer Byron Metcalf (the mantle of normalcy that gets him past the hospital security), before breaking down into mush mouthed adoration when speaking with Hannibal on the phone.  And what is Francis’s talisman of power but a set of malformed false teeth, an exaggeration of his speech defect as weapon against his perceived oppressors in the straight world.  Such aggression might be accurately assigned if Hannibal’s phone call to Chilton’s weekend secretary is any indication.  It’s a scene that both Bryan Cox and Anthony Hopkins also played well with their soothing British tones (the gold standard for authority for much of the Western world), but Mads Mikkelsen makes the interesting choice to hold the conversation completely in his native Danish lilt.  On one hand, it’s a wry bit of comedy, the most well-known Danish-inflected serial killer in the country fooling someone who should probably be well-acquainted with him.  But this might also be the point, a testament to Lecter’s skills as a smooth talker extraordinaire, and another bit of meta-commentary on the power of authoritative diction in normal society.    

When Bedelia asks Will if his wife knows how intimately he and Hannibal know each other, it’s a shot across the bow at his attempt to cloak his dark side behind the veil of a socially and sexually normal family unit.  Will’s response (“She’s aware enough”) is tenuous in the moment, and even shakier in the context of his brief meeting with Hannibal near episode’s end (during which Dancy and Mikkelsen are lit from below in expressionist chiaroscuro lighting that gives them the appearance, respectively, of a hollowed out ghost and darkness incarnate).  We’ve seen Will reveal his true self (or what he perceives to be true) several times before, but that looming aspect of the story is writ large in the two mirrored scenes that open and close this episode, in which Francis reveals himself to Hannibal and Will.  In the former case, his actual revelation is only by phone, his dream unveiling a phantasmagoric image of his full transfiguration as the mythical beast that is the Red Dragon.  At episode’s end, his revealing to Will is involuntary and much less grandiose.  But the subtle power of his devouring of Blake’s original painting is, in many ways, much more powerful.  We’ve seen Francis’s fantasies of power and heard the echoing sounds that haunt his psyche, but eating the painting is his final acceptance of the demons that plague him, a literal internalization of the beast.  And when he locks eyes with Will in the elevator (before brutally tossing him against the wall), it’s almost as if our empath in peril himself is looking in the mirror. Bedelia asked him if he was trying to save Francis, and there’s more than a hint of an alternate future for Will in the visage of this Blake fetishist.  The destroyer of the family unit has come face to face with the man who seeks refuge in it, and (unwittingly) with his rival for Hannibal’s acceptance and affection.  Truly, the center cannot hold.  The beast in all of these characters stalks around it, waiting for the collapse.

And now, for the leftovers:

*If we follow the Bride of Frankenstein motif to its logical extreme, does this mean that Francis is the inarticulate Monster in search of a mate, Will is Dr. Frankenstein, and Hannibal is Dr. Pretorius, the coded gay scientist who lures Henry Frankenstein into even greater danger?  I guess that Reba would be the Bride, but Bedelia strikes me as capturing much more of that character’s cold pragmatism (and Will does call her the Bride….even though that would make Hannibal the titular doctor…..yeah, this is getting confusing.)

*“Extreme acts of cruelty require a high level of empathy” (Bedelia)

*“Paula, I have another visitor for the Great Red Dragon” (A Brooklyn museum tour guide, pulling off one of the episode’s great dry humor lines.)

*“This is why Scientologists hate psychiatry!” (Neal, to Bedelia)