(S P O I L E R S)
In which I am who I’ve always been. The scales have just fallen from my eyes. I can see you now.
“Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I'm in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste”
(“Sympathy for the Devil”/The Rolling Stones)
In the essays for Mad Men that I’ve written for this blog, I’ve dealt extensively with the narrative long game that Matt Weiner so deftly employs in his storytelling, in which he and his writing team let character tension both interior and exterior develop in such a measure way that the payoffs never seem to be coming. So when they do arrive, their impact is like a bomb going off (even if the actual mechanics of the payoffs involve fairly quotidian matters.) On the surface, Bryan Fuller’s narrative strategy with Hannibal seems to stand in stark opposition to the one Weiner uses. The first season revolves around an emotional cipher, but it’s also filled with moments of grotesque and operatic violence and conflict. And most of the audience’s perspective is focused through that of a man cursed with hyper-empathic tendencies, whose mental and emotional breakdown becomes more pronounced as the season progresses. If Mad Men is Michelangelo Antonioni, Hannibal is Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini locked in a passionate love affair (which would make their child…Dario Argento?)
Which makes the emotional impact of “Savoureux”, the shattering finale of Hannibal’s first season, such a surprising experience. For despite the Grand Guignol nature of what’s come before, this episode reveals the very authentic and long-building emotional connections that Fuller has established with these characters. There’s a natural audience empathy for Will throughout Season 1, but the slow build of his collapse isn’t fully paid off until he’s finally arrested and wrongly accused of the copycat killings that he’s been investigating. His interrogation scenes are wrenching experiences, especially with Alana, who’s haunted by the guilt of her complicity in his disintegration and by her conflicted romantic feelings for him.
Part of the emotional heft that this episode packs (at least for me) can be attributed to those long aforementioned preexisting expectations. After all, we know that Hannibal Lecter must eventually end up in the basement of the Baltimore State Psychiatric Hospital, and that Will must go on to hunt the Tooth Fairy. So to see the roles reversed in “Savoureux”’s final moments is a real gut punch. But even the second time through this episode, I was still very moved by Will’s plight. Credit Hugh Dancy with really selling the hurt, anger, and confusion that course through Will’s veins as his world dissolves around him. This role requires him to chew quite a bit of scenery (especially to contrast it with Mads Mikkelsen’s icy restraint), but he’s always tapped into the emotional honesty of the character, especially when he’s going completely off the rails.
And once again, the formalist aspects of the show place the viewer squarely in his damaged psyche. The opening scene of this episode is a masterwork of technical excess, James Hawkinson’s off-kilter camerawork capturing Will’s shattered perceptions, and Brian Reitzell’s ambient sound design reaching new heights of chaotic overload. Significantly, that skittering soundscape continues to pulsate in Will’s head after his opening dream, echoing throughout the rest of the episode. It’s the realization of one of his greatest fears: that the nightmare world of his empathic visions will irretrievably leak into the real world. Will in the throes of an encephalitis attack can be a frightening proposition, but even then the clarity he exhibits while in this state (especially in this episode) is tragic in its futility. He’s God’s Lonely Man, the archetypical Cassandra figure, the prophet ridiculed in his own time.
That clarity comes into its fullest focus in “Savoureux”, when Will’s visions of the mutant stag finally transform into what will become his psychological obsession from here on out: the Wendigo. He’s only glimpsed in snatches here, but even then it’s readily obvious that he (it?) is Hannibal, in what seems to be his real form: a half-man, half-animal avatar of pure darkness, the force of which spreads like an oil slick onto Will’s visions of his copycat victims. As Will says to Hannibal when they return to the Hobbs house:
“I stared at Hobbs, and the space opposite me assumed the shape of a man filled with dark and swarming flies. And then I scattered them.”
All this season, he’s been both chasing and running from the ghost of Garret Jacob Hobbs, and yet in his recollection of this vision he perfectly describes the man he’s really been chasing. Or, rather, the darkness that has assumed the shape of a man. As a wounded Will admonished Jack to “See! See!”, he finally fully assumes the role of Hobbs for a moment, his POV filled with Hannibal as the Wendigo, the darkness now out in the open…but only for him.
And so the twist ending of this final episode, in which Hannibal enters the basement wing/torture dungeon of Baltimore Psych, taking in a whiff of the air around him (as Anthony Hopkins does when he first meets Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs). And in which Will Graham, the heroic seer/quester, is now the incarcerated psychopath. The cop is a criminal, and the sinner a saint, all to the strains of “Vide Cor Meum”, an operatic selection based on Dante’s “La Vita Nuova” (The New Life). It’s fitting , for as Hannibal tells Jack in Will’s hospital room “No one in this room will be the same.” As these two men who have faced off in therapy so many times this season do so once again (in Will’s own Dante-esque ninth circle of Hell), the dynamic between them is now charged with an added frisson of tension. And as Season 2 will show, their battle of wills/love affair will change everything for everyone else.
To the leftovers we go:
*I’ve cited her fine work before, but Caroline Dhavernas really pulls out all the stops with her performance in “Savoureux”. The nature of her role requires her to be somewhat of a conscience/protector figure for Will, preaching restraint to Jack while looking aghast at the screw-ups along the way. But the real sense of hurt she projects after Will’s arrest is very moving…which makes her romantic allegiance with Hannibal in the season to come all the more infuriating.
*Another stellar moment for Mads Mikkelsen, as for the first time he sheds tears during his initial session with Bedelia. It’s a great, classic Hannibal story beat: he claims to be mourning the loss of Abigail, but you’re never quite sure how much of this reaction is authentic, how much is manufactured, or if it’s a combination of both that makes utter sense in his moral blank slate of a mind.
*As a friend of mine pointed out, the police work in this episode (and in large chunks of Season 1) is not exactly what you’d call the most professionally competent. I still maintain that Bryan Fuller is commenting on the misplaced trust we all place in corrupt or ineffective authority figures. Or maybe it really is just Hannibal’s world, and everyone’s just living in it.