(S P O I L E R S)
In which I took your life and tried to give it back to you.
Hannibal’s mixture of the sacred and the profane, the stunning and the mundane, the phantasmagorical and the standard has always been one of its greatest assets. As I’ve mentioned before in this essay series, this uneasy balance has served as large scale symbol of Will’s precarious grasp on reality, and of his gnawing fear that the nightmarescape of his empathic visions will invade his waking hours. It’s also, to paraphrase Will, served as the lure on the hook for viewers potentially on the fence about the prospect of spending extended time in this twisted universe. A serial killer of the week here, a stock plotline there: sometimes those are all it takes to make the more extreme material more palatable (although these moments of sanity recede more and more as Season 2 progresses.)
“Su-Zakana” is almost a prototype for this narrative formula. The killer of the week hook involves the disturbed Peter Bernardone and his social worker Clark Ingram, a pair of dead horses, and an extended metaphor about rebirth (including a bird flying out of a corpse’s body.) It’s surely outre fare for network television; you don’t often see bodies being pulled out of horse stomachs in prime time. But the central conceit of the story is to offer a fairly obvious parallel between these two men and Will and Hannibal. Clark is the smooth talking psychopath, hiding in plain sight in a position of benevolent authority. And Peter’s halting demeanor, inability to look people in the eye, and dark complexion and beard make him an alternate version of Will gone completely to seed, consumed by his own worst instincts. Will obviously sees this parallel; his dialogue with Peter is peppered with oblique references to Hannibal’s manipulation of him. And it’s no coincidence that the horse killer story appears in the episode wherein Will returns to therapy with Hannibal.
But then there’s the rest of the narrative. And boy, does it embody everything that’s great about Hannibal when it lets its freak flag fly. Appropriately enough, this vein of madness is first tapped with the debuting Margot Verger. Katharine Isabelle has always possessed a striking, feral beauty (which she used to great effect in Ginger Snaps), so she’s a perfect fit as one half of quite possibly the most dysfunctional of all the show’s duos. Immediately following Hannibal’s discussion of the horse as Sarah Craber’s cocoon, the scene cuts to a disturbing montage of exotic fish in an ornate oval tank, Margot’s head being slammed down onto it, her tears being soaked up in a gauze square (by what will turn out to be brother Mason), and another one of Season 2’s close up shots of an eye. When narrative logic resumes, it’s tempered by her discussion of killing her monstrous brother in Hannibal’s office.
But that vein of madness is ripped wide, and what ushers forth from the Verger storyline spills directly into the next scene, a surreal montage of Hannibal and Alana mid-coitus. Their romance already has disturbing enough implications, so to follow the incest inferences of Margot’s abuse with this scene makes things even more queasy…yet still darkly erotic. Unless I’m forgetting something, it’s also the show’s first sex scene, and it’s fully in keeping with Hannibal’s Svengali influence on the tone of the narrative. Alan ends their pillow talk by worrying that Will will open a door inside himself from which he might not emerge, just as the scene cuts from Hannibal rolling over on her to the unveiling of Sarah Craber’s corpse in the autopsy room. Eros and Thanatos have now run rampant over three key scenes in a row, to increasingly grotesque effect.
Such a stark dichotomy in storytelling makes this episode a surreal experience, both propulsive in its story and completely off the rails in its excesses. And it lends it an economy that makes writing about it a fairly compact endeavor. But in the context of the remainder of Season 2, it’s only a preamble to the swirling madness that will engulf all of the characters. Especially once Mason Verger arrives in full. But more on him soon…
There’s no Hannibal without the leftovers:
*“Peter, is your social worker in that horse?” (Will, injecting humor into a scene that seemingly has none.)
*With Jeremey Davies’s appearance as Peter, this season can now boast quite the extensive roster of eccentric character actors, including Amanda Plummer and the soon-to-debut Michael Pitt (who is really a character actor in a leading man’s body.)
*Will’s near murder of Clark, followed by Hannibal’s loving embrace of his pupil? Awwww…..