(S P O I L E R S)
In which this isn’t a delusion. I’m not hallucinating. I haven’t lost time. I am awake and this is real.
“Sometimes you think you've lived before
All that you live today
Things you do come back to you
As though they knew the way
Oh, the tricks your mind can play!”
(“Where or When”/Rodgers and Hart)
Yesterday’s monumental news that David Lynch and Showtime have finally reached an agreement which ensures he will direct the entirety of the third season of Twin Peaks was a great moment for fans of quality, quirky, challenging television and art. So influential has Twin Peaks been on the so-called New Golden Age of Television, that its re-emergence in the domain it helped to spawn (and specifically in a pay cable landscape free of advertiser-driven restrictions) is potentially groundbreaking stuff. If the dalliances in the avant-garde that Bryan Fuller has accomplished in a network setting with Hannibal (granted, with foreign financing) are any indication, Lynch should be able to plumb the depths of his artistic muse to great effect on Showtime.
I was thinking a lot about Twin Peaks while I rewatched “Releves”, the penultimate episode of Hannibal’s first season. More specifically, it was its originally much-reviled prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me that came to mind. In the extended prologue to that wild ride into the darkest recesses of the Peaks universe, beloved FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is largely sidelined in favor of Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) and the Teresa Banks murder that would prefigure the death of Laura Palmer. When Desmond disappears, Cooper is sent to Deer Meadow, WA to investigate his whereabouts. Hitting dead end after dead end, his final scene in real time finds him narrating his situation to the eternally unseen Diane. He opines that this case “gives me the feeling that the killer will strike again. But like the song goes, ‘who knows where, or when?’ (a reference to the song quoted at the beginning of this essay.)
That line has always struck me as a perfect and haunting evocation for a lot of what made Twin Peaks so compelling. Fire Walk with Me ultimately succeeds as a great work of art because it transcends the quirky humor and fetishistic cultural preoccupations of the series to focus on the elegiac sense of dread that hangs over so many of its characters, and the cycle of violence that they seem doomed to halt. As the Giant says during a pivotal, shattering Season 2 scene “It is happening again.” The paralysis that Cooper feels in that moment sticks with him long after the resolution of the Laura Palmer storyline.
A similar sense of cyclical dread also hangs over this episode of Hannibal. In a season (and a series) that often acts as a giant psychological echo chamber, this part of its story is when those echoes become deafening. And they seem to extend far beyond Will Graham’s battered psyche. When Georgia Madchen is incinerated in her incubator, it recalls Dr. Sutcliffe’s line to Hannibal in “Buffet Froid” about him setting Will’s mind on fire (and, of course, it’s Hannibal who is ultimately revealed to the audience as the provider of the comb that strikes Georgia’s deathly blaze.) Later in the episode, as he guides Jack to suspect Will of the copycat murders, the flame of his fireplace peeks just above his head in the frame, a devilish halo of culpability that only the audience can see.
Earlier, when he visits Will in the hospital, the meal that Lecter shares with him is framed and blocked almost exactly like their similar introductory meal in “Apertif.” And when Hannibal once again consults Bedelia about his relationship with Will, the resurrection of the specter of her would be attacker and Hannibal’s role in killing him summons up the possibility of a reoccurrence in the now. It also offers a future echo in Lecter’s ability to force a man to swallow his own tongue, something that Multiple Miggs will learn in The Silence of the Lambs.
The most significant return in this cycle of dread is that which Will undertakes. Finally momentarily clear of the encephalitis-fuelled fever that has so distorted his thinking, he’s able to begin putting all of the pieces together in the Minnesota Shrike’s copycat killer case. In a season in which so many characters have relied on a flawed sense of logic, “Releves” finds Will, Jack and company at the peak of assembling, to paraphrase the old Holmesian edict, the seemingly improbably remains of the available evidence. The displacement of their feelings for the quantifiable finally leads Jack, Zeller, and Price to strengthen the gut instinct they have for Abigail’s guilt. And Will’s clarity of mind motivates him to take her back to her father’s murder cabin for clues on the copycat, back to the beginning of his involvement with her, back to attempt to reclaim what he views as his original and pure sense of purpose.
But even that clarity and focus are sadly short-lived. For as Will returns to a place that he thinks will offer him redemption, he’s also thrust back to the trauma he suffered at the beginning of this cycle of violence. His earlier nightmare vision of Georgia repeating Garret Jacob Hobbs’s final words to him (“See? See?”) before being gored by the stag antlers, bursting into flames, and transforming into the mutant black stag seems to offer a final amalgamation of the ghosts that have haunted him (and a subconscious confirmation of Hannibal’s involvement.) It also prefigures the recurrence of his worst afflictions when he connects Abigail to the Hobbs murders while they’re in the kill room. His killing of her father was far removed from any pain he felt before, so realizing that the young woman he’s striven to protect is partially culpable for all of those murders sends him back over the edge, jump cutting him to the return flight landing at Dulles International. The final repeating of this cycle of violence takes place in the Hobbs home that Abigail has so longed to return to, where she finds Hannibal once again. But instead of helping her cover her tracks (as he did with Nicholas Boyle), his intentions this time are to rid himself of the problem she presents (although, as Season 2 would reveal, murder isn’t his solution.)
The plot moves pretty fast this time around, so we’re on to the leftovers now:
*Freddie Lounds returns to continue prodding Abigail about their book, but she also reveals a key bit of info to Jack when she talks about her young charge not realizing that smart girls grow up to be smart women who can suss out the amateur deceptions of their cultural offspring.
*This episode provides the most concrete evidence yet of Bedelia’s complicated relationship with Hannibal, as she withholds key information about her former client’s death from Jack, while still trying to dissuade Lecter from continuing his twisted relationship with Will. Her flight from her colleague’s murder attempt in the season finale will give her a temporary reprieve, but the seeds have been planted for her eventual return to his side.
*In another interesting blocking scheme, Hannibal is usually framed on the right hand side of the frame in his one on one meetings early on in the episode. It’s only when Jack starts pressing his case that this blocking starts to change.
*”You cannot function as an agent of friendship for a man who is disconnected from the concept, as a man who is disconnected from the concept.” (Bedelia, to Hannibal)