(S P O I L E R S)
In which he got inside my head. I remember a dream about drowning. And then being awake. And not awake. Being myself, and not myself.
One of the great pleasures of rewatching Hannibal in its entirety has been being able to dissect the hazy nightmare world that Bryan Fuller and his collaborators create, to savor the lush art direction and helter skelter soundwork without the primary plot-driven concerns of an initial viewing (even though the show’s labyrinthine plotting is still a part of this experience.) Giving myself over to some of the more outre moments, while also clinically studying all of the complex psychological undertones and power dynamics has revealed so many levels of richness in what on paper is a 43 minute per week, network remake of a cannibal film. And to revel once again in the darkest of dark humor in which the series trades? That’s almost a bonus.
But for all the discussion of how deliriously warped and decadent Hannibal is, the real human drama on display can sometimes be forgotten. I mentioned this in my essay about the death of Beverly Katz, and the profound emotional scars it leaves on Jack, Will, and the others. Watching “Yakimono” again, I was deeply struck by how very real and disturbing an episode it is. For beyond the plot’s acceleration of the hunt for Hannibal lies a raw examination of the horrifying aftermath of trauma.
In my essay for “Kaiseki”, I mentioned how Will’s flashback to Hannibal inserting Abigail’s ear into his stomach via feeding tube carried with it the queasy air of rape, especially in the often homoerotic context layered over the two men’s relationship. “Yakimono” picks up this implication and runs with it, reframing Hannibal as something more than just a empathy-free sociopath. What first summoned up such associations for me was the opening scene, in which the newly discovered Miriam Lass is medically evaluated by Zeller and Price. We’ve seen the standard medium shot of this process before, the featured character looking directly into the lens as their possessions and physical characteristics are read over the soundtrack. It’s always featured the same mugshot blank look on that character’s face. It’s not until Miriam is subjected to this process that it becomes truly uncomfortable.
Credit Anna Chlumsky with selling Miriam’s pain through the subtleties of her vacant stare. During her first conversation with Jack, James Hawkinson frames both characters in tight side profile, a choice he hasn’t often used in this series. It’s reminiscent of Tak Fujimoto’s extensive usage of first person POV close ups in The Silence of the Lambs, which simultaneously created a sense of intimacy and danger. Similarly here, the audience is forced to stare at long, unbroken takes of Miriam recounting the trauma of her imprisonment. Remove the fantastical serial killer aspects, and her words (part of which form the quote at the beginning of this essay) strikingly resemble those of a rape victim, or of someone finally exiting an abusive relationship. We know that the strobe-like flashbacks of her shadowy captor are Hannibal’s doing, but they also approximate the suppressed memories of an attacker often associated with this type of victimization. Granted, there’s no explicit implication that Hannibal’s imprisonment of her contained sexual assault. But when he attacks her in his office in the Season 1 flashback, the way his dominant physicality takes her from behind can’t be completely scrubbed of any latent sexuality.
And in this context, Will’s acquittal and subsequent return to the real world in “Yakimono” also hammers home his victim status. The clincher is his conversation with Miriam, as the two survivors of Hannibal’s schemes share their pain. Even though Will can now remember those nefarious machinations, he still bears the same emotional wounds that his youthful counterpart does. Framed this way, his time in the BSPH dungeon is doubly upsetting; it’s like the girl who’s been raped by the popular guy who no one would ever blame. As Abel Gideon muses to Alana before his death: “All the things that make us who we are. What has to happen to make those things change?” Will Graham doesn’t start out as a rock of stability, but when his breakdown is seen through the rape/assault lens that Fuller uses in this episode, the depths to which he sinks to deal with it are truly horrifying and heart-rending.
Even beyond Miriam and Will, there’s the trauma of victimhood to be had with Frederick Chilton, everyone’s favorite prick of a doctor. I’ve lauded Raul Esparza before for the delight he takes in hamming it up as Chilton. What’s remarkable in these last few episodes is how, much like Eddie Izzard did as Abel Gideon, he’s given the chance to reveal the sympathetic, human side of what could easily become a caricature. His very real fear of being the next course on Hannibal’s plate becomes distinctly palpable as the plot unfolds, especially when he awakens in his house after being drugged by his nemesis, covered in blood he didn’t shed, the ingenious frame job complete. Again, in the rape/assault context presented here, he’s another one of Hannibal’s victims who’s been drugged and left to awake to the aftermath of an unseen crime. When he eventually ends up in the interrogation room with Alana (whose wine, it’s implied, was drugged in the previous episode to make her complicit in Hannibal’s pursuit of Gideon…although that too takes on some unsavory implications as well), he’s a clearly broken man, the mask of smarm that he so expertly wears removed to show a despairing blank stare, the same one that’s featured in that recurring medical intake shot in which we saw Miriam earlier in the episode. So when driven by the implanted false memory of him as her captor, she shoots him in the face, it’s a disturbing conclusion to a cycle of trauma and violence in which the perpetrator’s final joke is to make his victims figuratively cannibalize each other.
None of this is to imply that Bryan Fuller’s grand narrative gambit is to cast Hannibal Lecter as a pseudo-rapist. That would profoundly alter the fabric of the show, and skew the moral and ethical complexity of his character towards something far more direct. But viewing the brutal impact of his actions through this lens, even if briefly, lends a devastating sense of gravitas and power to the series.
A few leftovers before we go:
*This episode marks the final Season 2 appearance of Raul Esparza as Chilton. Between having his kidney stolen and being shot in the face by Miriam, he became the punching bag of the show. And he’s returning in some role in Season 3, a survivor to the end!
*”I have to deal with you and my feelings about you” says Will to Hannibal at the end of the episode. In the show’s latent homoerotic context, it’s a humorous line. It also begins Will’s undercover descent into Hannibal’s psyche, and the deeper entrenchment of the ambiguity-laced romance between them.
*“I sowed the seeds and watched them grow.” (Will, deep in his empathic vision, at the Ripper’s hideaway/workshop.)
*“I would like to remain not dead for the forseeable future.” (Universal insight and humor from Chilton.)