In which the dead…the dead at least have the luxury of being done with what they lost.
“Not all our choices are consciously calculated.” (Will)
Four episodes into Hannibal’s third season, it’s become readily obvious that there’s no escaping the events of Season 2’s final salvo, “Mizumono”, no healing from the Lecter House Massacre aside from the various layers of psychological scar tissue that each victim has formed (the physical manifestation of which Cordell so delights in describing to Mason.) In total, those first two seasons formed a closed circle of trauma and violence, the apocalypse at Garret Jacob Hobbs’s residence looping back on itself in the final confrontation between Will and Hannibal. And with that circle closed, its main actor abandoned the hermetically sealed murderworld that he created, leaving his victims trapped within, gazing out toward him while choking on the fetid air on which they were left to subsist.
Or maybe that closed circle actually formed around the glass ceiling of sanity under which Will, Jack, Alana, etc. precipitously hovered, its pressure finally shattering that barrier into a million pieces and sending the players crashing back down to the bottom. Shattered glass, shatterings of all sorts are a prominent motif in “Mizumono”, and they’ve continued to recur in Season 3, especially in “Apertivo”, which beckons the plot back in time to fill in the blanks between the events of last season and Will’s search for Hannibal in Italy. The opening flashback to Frederick Chilton’s near assassination by Miriam Lass features not only the shattering of the interrogation room window by her bullet, but the grotesque rupturing of the back of his head, the blood spatter from which drenches the screen before subsiding to reveal the reconstructed, yet still fundamentally broken, Chilton of today. The flashback to Hannibal’s gutting of Will (which is becoming the central and defining trauma of his life, replacing that of his murder of Garret Hobbs) includes an interior close up(!) of the rupturing of his stomach. Of course, Alana’s iconic plunge in “Mizumono”, seen here again, sent her crashing through the second story window of Casa de Lecter, her prone and broken body left to absorb a cascade of glass and rain. Jack’s flirtation with death comes courtesy of a shard of glass embedded in his neck and Mason Verger’s fate is sealed by his drug-induced rupturing of his face and Hannibal’s shattering of his spine.
It’s a great indicator of the chaotic, deformed world of this season that the returning Chilton serves as the guide who attempts to bring these characters back from their state of spiritual disembodiment. But, well….Humpty Dumpty and all. There’s no real returning to the land of the living for these members of the walking dead. As Chilton tells Will “The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears this is true. This is your best possible world, Will. Not getting a better one.” Like Hannibal’s other victims, his motivations are driven by revenge most personal, an inversion of Lecter’s methodology of elevating his victims into transcendence via his murder tableaus. Chilton’s desire is to drag Hannibal back down into his torture dungeon, to exert command over him once and for all. Alana, with bone marrow in her blood, transforms herself from the show’s beacon on optimistic goodness into a femme fatale, her dark sexuality seemingly a weapon at the service of punishing Hannibal for his sexual manipulation of her, a means, as she notes to Mason, to “get him to the stage” of the Verger-designed theatre of his death. Jack’s drive to abandon the pain of his FBI life following Bella’s death is derailed by Hannibal’s conciliatory note, which draws him to once again serve as protector to Will, to see their original mission completed this time.
“Oh wrangling schools, that search what fire
Shall burn this world, had none the wit
Unto this knowledge to aspire,
That this her fever might be it ?”
(“A Fever”/John Donne)
This excerpt from Donne’s poem about a long lost love serves as Hannibal’s elegy to Bella in his card. It also encapsulates so much of the tone of this season, as characters are driven by a fever of madness and despair for the death of their former lives. Nowhere is this stronger than in Will’s vision quest toward…what? As he notes in the quotation that opens this essay, logic and reason went out the window a long time ago. In a week in which Hannibal was felled by the low ratings-driven axe wielded by NBC (alternate destinations for a prospective Season 4 remain), this quote also encapsulates so much of what is inscrutably sticky and phenomenal about this show. Its distortion of temporal solidity and its willingness to wade into moral and ethical ambiguity (especially in relation to its ostensible protagonist) take it to places that most televisual works dare not tread. And its desire to trace the outer limits of free associative psychology, both in its characters and its formal style, presents often daunting challenge to the viewer. A network horror drama gains much of its allure from the hero’s search for order amidst the chaos; when that hero slowly begins to embrace the chaos, to enter a dark romance with it, where does that leave the viewer? Bryan Fuller would likely argue that this is the whole point, that falling into the chaos can be a liberating experience for the audience. But the discomfort that results from a viewership weaned on plot-driven narratives probably prevents much of that from happening on a mass scale.
Will’s long-standing fear of plunging into these liminal depths was what drove him to near-madness in the first two seasons. But his passage through Hannibal’s underworld, and his passionate embrace of death, has left him without the restrictions of that thought process. He appears to be psychologically freestyling through his days, moving inextricably towards a return cycle in Hannibal’s orbit (as Chilton so succinctly puts it). And it’s this sense of freedom, this exploration of the Freudian death wish, that makes him just as much of an unwitting pawn as he was at his Encephalitis-plagued nadir. The revenge-driven quartet of Chilton, Alana, Mason, and Jack all seem to be pushing Will back out into the stream of life, bait once again for the big catch that is Hannibal Lecter. What they might not fully realize is the extent to which they might follow him out into that stream, and maybe how far they’ve already drifted away from the shore of reality and sanity. After all, Hannibal was the one who left Will just whole enough to live another day….
Leftovers aplenty this week:
*Will’s fantasy vision of he and Hannibal garroting Jack at the dinner table is scored to Edward Grieg’s The Death of Ase, from his suite to Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. It’s stirring material, but there’s also a bit of Peer Gynt’s vagabond ways about both Hannibal and Will. Act One of the play sets up Peer’s story, and much like Hannibal’s second season, Act Two features the main character descending into a fantasy world, before becoming an outcast/outlaw in Act Three.
*Joe Anderson takes over for Michael Pitt as Mason Verger…which is probably the best timed actor transition in recent history, the latex skin-grafted face he now wears erasing most obvious demarcations of such a change. Mason’s quasi-religious conversion is fascinating stuff. His view of himself as being in league with Christ, especially in the context of Hannibal as fallen angel (which Bryan Fuller has remarked upon in the past), forms a world in which the Verger estate becomes the Heaven to which this seraphim must be drawn back into. Talk about every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints…
*Glenn Fleshler debuts here as Cordell. In an amusing twist, he also played George Remus across several seasons of Boardwalk Empire, including a stint in Season 2 in which he did business with Jimmy Darmody…who was played by former Mason Michael Pitt.
*It’s great to see Raul Esparza back as Chilton, his perpetual smarminess tamed here by an obsession with payback for the deformation of his body and soul. The moment of unmasking that he and Mason share (“You show me yours, I’ll show you mine”) is, in keeping with the show’s twisted tone, both grotesque and mildly kinky.
*Once again, DP James Hawkinson creates a stunning visual landscape for this episode. He continues to use rack focus to separate characters in the frame’s field of depth, but here he also utilizes several crossfades between the profiles of several actors. The effect is once again to simultaneously unite these visages in the frame, while showing how truly, figuratively distant they are from each other.
*“The riot of lilacs in the wind smells nothing at all like the stockyards and slaughterhouses one usually associates with the Verger name.” (Margot, to Alana)
*”You see, I’m free Dr. Bloom. I’m right with the Risen Jesus, and it’s all okay now. And nobody beats the Riz. He will rise me up and smite mine enemies and I shall hear the lamentations of their women.” (Mason, paraphrasing his lines to Clarice Starling from Thomas Harris’s Hannibal)