(S P O I L E R S)
In which we are her fathers now.
“Because any reservations I have about Abigail don’t extend to Hannibal. He has no reason to lie about any of this.” (Alana, to Jack.)
That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Alana’s assumption that Hannibal Lecter thinks like the rest of us. That, like any normal human being, his motivations lie in the pursuit of truth. So well has he worn his well-tailored person suit that no one would have any reason to see malice in his actions, or his philosophy. And even from the viewer’s perspective, Hannibal has no easily quantifiable reason for making the fateful call to Garret Jacob Hobbs, for playing the grand game of chess with Will, Jack, and Alana as the pieces, and for intervening when Abigail Hobbs kills Nicholas Boyle.
Well, maybe that last part is a bit more explicable. Or at least it is after the events of “Trou Normand.”
Hannibal actually has the perfect motivation for the sociopathic acts that propel so much of the show’s plot: he’s curious. About the results of his actions. About the way that the people around him react. About what drives men like Jack and Will, men who’ve given up their lives (and in Will’s case, his grip on reality) to correct the wrongs perpetrated by psychopaths. In this way, Hannibal embodies the logical extension of the psychiatrist’s imperative: to explore the psyches of his patients (whether they be officially under his care or not.) And like a child holding a magnifying glass over ants, he just wants to understand the mechanics of nature’s actions.
But as this episode shows (or perhaps reinforces), his attachment to Abigail fulfills a latent fatherly instinct in him. Or at least his vision of a fatherly instinct, and all the fulfillment that it might bring. Nothing in this area is too certain, though, as the question of fatherhood and its far-reaching impact is explored on several different fronts.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the criticisms that can be easily levied against Hannibal in Season 1 is its tendency to adopt a killer of the week approach to its storytelling. From a practical standpoint, this is understandable. A network show that dabbles in such avant-garde leanings (especially in its maiden voyage) needs some kind of hook with which to draw in uncommitted viewers. And as the season progresses, it seems as if Bryan Fuller uses this tactic more as a MacGuffin than as something to hang his hat on.
Take this episode’s portrayal of Lawrence Wells, the totem pole murderer. Played by the great Lance Henriksen, he’s an old man relegated to one climactic scene (in which he never leaves his Barcalounger.) As a resolution to the main investigation thread, it’s fairly pedestrian, and from a plotting standpoint it gives the whole storyline the appearance of being shoehorned in between the darker material between Will, Hannibal, and Alana. What Wells’s appearance does provide is a cementing of “Trou Normand”’s commentary on the often treacherous role of fatherhood. Will’s revelation to him, that he inadvertently killed his own son in an attempt to cement his legacy, clearly crushes a man who thought that he’d finally figured a way out of the loneliness and anonymity of retired life.
He’s not the only father figure who has to face the consequences of his parenting. Jack’s early episode meeting with Will once again takes on the air of a stern father and his son, even as Jack tries to be sympathetic to Will (in his own gruff manner.) When Will and Hannibal try to advise Abigail on the problematic nature of her budding partnership with Freddie Lounds, Abigail chastises Will by saying “Just because you killed my dad doesn’t mean you get to be him” (a line that both hurts Will and subconsciously reinforces his belief that Garret Jacob Hobbs is taking over his soul.) And in the end, it’s Hannibal who draws Will into a joint surrogate fatherhood of Abigail, but one which is based more in an abuser’s mentality (the secrets they all agree to keep between themselves) than anything else. Of course, for Hannibal, this is a perfectly natural combination of intentions; he sees himself as Abigail’s savior, while also damning her to even further retreat into crisis. But still, his embrace of her at episode’s end has some genuine emotion attached to it. The lead up to that embrace, in which she finally admits her complicity in her father’s crimes, is a real gut punch of a scene, and having it play out in a long single take allows Kacey Rohl to run the gamut of emotions, while Mads Mikkelsen once again subtly underplays his muted reaction (which, because of his mastery of the role, speaks volumes.)
There’s one other emotional embrace in this episode occurs between Alana and Will, at the climax of an unnerving scene in which she finds him alone in his classroom, hallucinating about a lecture on the totem pole killer. Her admittance of feelings for him is tempered by her concern for his sanity, and even though she tells him that she doesn’t want to mislead or lie to him, he’s so far gone down the path of his breakdown that the result is yet another knife in his side. The look on Hugh Dancy’s face as Caroline Dhavernas hugs him is heartbreaking. This lost man’s desperate attempt to connect with someone else can only be met by a show of platonic friendship. Alana’s intentions might be honorable, but she inadvertently sends Will even further into Hannibal’s grip.
If there’s one other important role that Lawrence Wells’s appearance serves, it’s as an accelerator for Will’s mental collapse. For what is the human totem pole but the most grotesque, fantastical vision of death that the show has offered so far, and another marker for the intrusion of the nightmare world that Will sees into the waking hours. As he enters his state of hyper-empathy on the beach, he utters the words “This is my resume. This is my legacy. This is my body of work.” He’s tapping into Lawrence Wells’s mindset, but also commenting on the toll of his own work. The descending God’s eye POV of him mirrors a similar one in “Coquilles”, when he gazes upon the work of the Angel Maker. And the small pool of blood next to him on the sand is a disturbing grace note for his subconscious self-assessment.
Will’s breakdown is also reflected in the sound and visuals around him. Brian Reitzell infuses most of his scenes with a disturbing ambient drone, one that builds in intensity as he falls further into the darkness. When he first visits Hannibal, the normally carefully controlled camera compositions break apart into a serious of circular pans. And the closeups on Will’s tortured face continue to proliferate, building an even more claustrophobic sense for the viewer. But this descent isn’t over. In some ways, it’s only begun.
As usual, we have some leftovers:
*In the opening scene, Zeller and Price discuss the philosophy of puzzle assembly in relation to the human totem pole. This is episode is finally the point where Will takes all of the puzzle pieces he’s been collecting (and that have been dropped around him) and starts to put them together. His vision of stabbing Nicholas Boyle, who then morphs into Abigail is a major turning point. And his confrontation with Hannibal at the end is going places before he’s led astray into his co-father/enabler role. You always have to be careful about what you might see when the big picture is assembled.
*”This is possibly the finest salad I’ve ever eaten in my life. A shame to ruin it with all that meat” (Freddie Lounds, during the climactic dinner at Chez Lecter. Which, in retrospect, means that she’s one of the only major characters not to engage in cannibalism during the first two seasons. Watching the show again has made me realize how much I love Freddie as a character, and how much I wish that she had more screen time.)
*As a huge Lance Henriksen fan, I love seeing his cameo in this episode. But man, what a way to earn a paycheck: sit in a chair for a three minute scene and emote!