(S P O I L E R S)
In which the way I am isn’t compatible with…
…the way I am.
“Sorbet” and “Fromage” form a musical duet of sorts, the former reveling in operatic excess, the latter offering a finely tuned examination of the way that musicality is intertwined in our lives. As Hannibal so eloquently puts it “Every life is a piece of music. Like music, we are finite events, unique arrangements. Sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonant.” That philosophy plays out in all aspects of this episode, as the power of music profoundly affects the main characters’ lives. But ironically, even as almost everyone seeks some kind of greater connection and fulfillment with another person, their attempts at dueting only end with a collection of lost individuals soloing away into the darkness.
More than almost any other episode of Hannibal so far, the psychiatrist/patient dynamic is at the forefront of “Fromage.” Franklin once again seeks companionship in Hannibal, going so far as to tell him about his diagnosis of Tobias’s latent psychopathy (which he envisions to be a point of connection with his doctor), but Lecter still maintains their distant professional relationship. Besides, he finds the intestine harvesting Tobias a much more interesting subject, especially when he realizes that his theatrical murder of Baltimore Symphony trombonist Douglas Wilson is meant as a serenade from one psychopathic murderer to another. Aside from the slight homoerotic undercurrents between Hannibal and Will, this is the first time that the show has dealt with latent homosexuality in such a manner. It’s implied that Franklin and Tobias are more than (ahem) friends (Hannibal notes to his patient “You’re not a psychopath, although you might be attracted to them”, a bone dry bit of double-edged humor), and the attachment that both men project onto Hannibal is obviously more than platonic. Mads Mikkelsen’s slightly effete, pansexual demeanor in the role provides ample space on which to project such affections, so for them to finally skew in this direction is only logical.
But these aren’t the only characters who, inadvertently or not, play out the psychiatric relationship in “Fromage.” For the second episode in a row, Hannibal seeks the same connection with Bedelia that Franklin seeks with him, even as she keeps him at a remove (for now.) For the first time, he explicitly states his desire to make Will his friend, and the end of the episode hints at a greater bond between them. As usual, the tightrope that Bryan Fuller has these characters walk is what drives the narrative tension of the show. Hannibal is simultaneously a twisted psychopath manipulating Will, and a lonely emotional vacuum in desperate need of his friendship. And despite his aversion to human connection and increasing leeriness of Lecter’s intentions, Will still finds solace in his labyrinthine mind and status as a fellow outsider at play in the fields of the insiders.
Hannibal isn’t the primary source of solace in this episode for Will, although that psychiatrist’s dynamic still dictates the rules of relational engagement. After hints and intimations throughout the first seven installments, he finally makes a move on Alana after she comes to check on him (and his increasingly damaged psyche.) There’s a natural sweetness between these two characters, a duo that has long placed the solitary nature of their careers over any aspirations of romance. Will’s subsequent confession of their kiss to Hannibal (“I wanted to kiss her since I met her. She’s very kissable”) is such a light and goofy moment for a man already deep in the throes of a breakdown (and a reminder that Hugh Dancy is very suave and charming.) Alana constantly refers to how she thinks too much to date anyone, mirroring Will’s early season declaration that his empathic powers are the product of “an active imagination.” But in this moment, it’s Will who implores her to stop thinking so much, ultimately to no avail. Her training as a psychiatrist trumps the seemingly genuine affection she has for him, forcing her to leave him alone, a self-created hole in his chimney the dark abyss left to beckon to him.
The universal longing for human connection is obviously at the heart of these character arcs, but there also seems to be an implied questioning of the fundamental divide between logic and emotion. In each pairing, the person playing the role of the psychiatrist/sounding board usually has some justifiable reason to keep their counterpart at an emotional remove. And yet, the emotional and psychological consequences of such distancing can’t be ignored. In one of her sessions with Hannibal, Bedelia posits that “Every person has an intrinsic responsibility for their own life.” But this ignores the responsibility that we have for each other, something that these characters’ logical decisions abdicate (although you could argue that Hannibal’s rejection of Franklin makes sense on a lot of levels; he does snap his neck at episode’s end.) Once again, Fuller presents a complex portrait of this subject, one without many easy answers. After all, the most empathic character on the show (Will) is also the one headed for a nervous breakdown.
And even in this cavalcade of disconnected characters, there’s at least one shining example of a deeper connection between two people. Although one of them is a dead man. As Will enters the mind of Douglas Wilson’s murderer, playing his cello corpse on the Symphony stage, the sole, applauding member of his audience is none other than Garret Jacob Hobbs. The grand arc of Will’s psychological disintegration has followed a gradual path, but it’s in this episode that we see the major cracks forming. When Hannibal asks him what he sees behind the closed eyes of his visions, Will’s POV invokes the image of Hobbs in the dream audience. His answer (“I see myself”) encapsulates the tortured duality that’s ripping him apart, even as he tells Jack earlier in the episode that he’s starting to distance himself from the emotional grind of his hyper-empathy. During Wilson’s autopsy, he’s clearly in character when he offers a guttural “I had to open you up to get a decent sound”, the realization of which shakes him to his core. And his auditory hallucinations now reach a fever pitch, as he constantly hears the sounds of animals in some sort of pain or suffering.
It’s appropriate that what Will hears is such a tipping point for his strife, as music plays such a major role in this show (and specifically in this episode.) I’ve previously lauded Brian Reitzell’s phenomenal scoring, but he really outdoes himself in this episode, using extended string passages as both commentary on the main plot and unnerving white noise. The skittering percussion and ambient drones of Will’s visions are always unsettling, but here Reitzell adds dissonant, chime-based percussive sounds that lend a sense of relentless forward momentum to his mindset. As Hannibal notes when he visits Tobias’s home “(You) can’t impose traditional composition on an instrument that’s inherently freeform.”
He’s literally referring to his Theremin, and figuratively to Tobias and himself. But this quote also applies to Will’s non-traditional crime-solving methods (and general philosophy), and to the show’s general stylistic approach, a freeform excursion within the traditional confines of network television. The universal connection that music provides is often most powerful when it strives for moments of ecstasy and transcendence, and Hannibal reflects this power in its avant-garde flights of excessive fancy, which ask the viewer to give themselves up to the uneasy pleasures of a nightmare landscape.
And now for the leftovers:
*In a great example of Chekhov’s Gun, Hannibal kills Tobias with the black stag statuette that has so often accompanied him in the frame during his office scenes. If there’s was any doubt about the source of Will’s stag visions, well…
*Also of note in the office scenes is the forboding lighting. Up to this point, the majority of those scenes have been set at night, when the rich, warm colors of the set can really pop out. But as the show’s tone further darkens in this episode, there are more daytime office scenes, the almost chiaroscuro lighting creating a harsh, striking visual scheme across the characters’ faces.
*”I didn’t poison you Tobias. I wouldn’t do that to the food.” (Hannibal, once again bringing the funny via his own twisted ethics.)