(S P O I L E R S)
In which I am fixed and unseeing. Unless someone else sees me.
The psychological echo chamber that Hannibal (and Hannibal) builds throughout the first season is one that entraps many a character, and drives Will into a complete breakdown. In a meta-narrative sense, it also draws in the viewer, with plot points, themes, and motifs repeating themselves throughout the extended story to create a hypnotic, ambient buzz of dread (most notably in “Releves”, which I discuss here.) So it’s only appropriate that in a second season in which the power dynamic between Will and Hannibal is flipped, there would be an episode like “Sakizuke” that mirrors its counterpart from Season 1.
“Amuse-Bouche” was the second episode of Hannibal’s maiden voyage, and it famously dealt with rogue pharmacist Eldon Stammets, who drugged and planted diabetics in order to give them a more profound connection to the world, which then extends to the almost fungal connections that form between the main players of the show. “Sakizuke” similarly explores the symbiotic connections between these characters, and their varying states of decay. As I alluded to in the essay for “Kaiseki”, Bryan Fuller includes some of Hannibal’s Japanese background in Season 2, primarily in Brian Reitzell’s sound design and with the episode titles. Sakizuke is the Japanese culinary version of Amuse-Bouche, so this episode of the same name also deals with a mad artist assembling humans into a giant performance piece meant to connect them with a greater purpose. This time, it’s the wheel (or spiral) of bodies that the unnamed killer crafts inside a secluded grain silo. It’s one of the most memorable grotesqueries in the show’s run, a Hieronymous Bosch nightmarescape invading the waking world.
Leave it to Hannibal to offer the most compelling analysis of this daisy chain of death. As he peers into the top of the grain silo after discovering the killer’s lair, the bodies form the iris of an eye, while also reflecting in his eye (in a closeup that tells so much about what lies deep inside the inky vaccum of Dr. Lecter.) Before arriving at the scene, he asks Jack if the killer is looking at God, and theorizes that “The eye looks beyond this world and into the next. And sees a reflection of man itself.” Later, when he’s stitching the killer into his own creation, he comforts him by saying “God gave you purpose, not only to create art, but to become it” (much like classic painters would insert themselves into their pieces.) It’s easy to read a touch of megalomania into Hannibal’s view, which also ties in with his love for the classical arts (which often invoke a profound sense of transcendent divinity.) And in Will’s empathic vision of the body spiral, Hannibal repeats one of his famous lines from “Amuse-Bouche” (“Killing must feel good to God too. He does it all the time. And are we not created in his image?”), furthering the godlike aspirations attached to him. But a much more brass tacks motivation can also be applied to his fascination.
For despite his status as the FBI’s new Will Graham and a seeming victory in his grand experiment of Season 1, Hannibal is losing much of what really stabilizes him. His hyper-compartmentalized psyche needs Will to take the blame for the Shrike copycat murders, but it also yearns to save what he perceives as his only real friend in the world. His loneliness at the end of “Kaiseki” is reflected here in his several meetings with Will, and even though he’s now tight with the FBI, he’s still an outsider (seen in a nice bit of business when he awkwardly pivots between Katz, Zeller, and Price, one of the few examples the series has offered of this graceful man almost tripping over himself.)
And after a period of slowly percolating distrust, Bedelia finally fires Hannibal as a patient, in a scene filled with animal menace and a raw, palpable sense of fear. Gillian Anderson’s dry, off-kilter portrayal of Bedelia has always matched up well with Mads Mikkelsen’s subdued, hyper-controlled performance. Just as his motivations are often fascinatingly hard to read, so too does her poker face conceal what seem to be much more complex emotions than she readily allows. Despite his Machiavellian view of the world (nicely echoed in his comments to Jack, that the killer knows that “those in the world around him are a means to an end”), there’s always an eternally childlike vulnerability to him. Aside from his attempts at connecting with Will, this can be seen in his continuing offers of friendship to Bedelia. So when she throws down her final rejection, he’s left without his main ties to human normality. And his first instinct is to balance things out by turning her into his next meal (in his office and in his later failed attempt at her house.) It’s telling that when Jack intones that “The killer’s having an existential crisis”, his words are crosscut with Hannibal dining on veal taken from the body spiral killer’s leg, a resetting of his control over the world after the abject rejection he experiences in the first half of the episode.
But in Bryan Fuller’s grand scheme, Hannibal’s view of the body spiral as a connection to the divine might have more resonance than is readily apparent. Acclaimed mythology scholar Lillian Tyack (also a major Hannibal fanatic, a longtime reader of this blog, and the author of the forthcoming book Echo/Ecco: Theological Mythocryptography in a Post-Navidson World) recently contacted me from her Swiss chalet with the following sage insights:
These past two episodes have featured, albeit briefly, scenes involving pomegranates. The first occurs when Will imagines himself having dinner with the Wendigo and the other is showcased when Hannibal feasts alone on the leg of the man he added to the mural. The image of a pomegranate has existed throughout history as a reminder of the Rape of Persephone, the goddess of Greek mythology who represents the fertility of vegetation. She exists as the daughter of the goddess of the harvest, Demeter and the god of thunder, Zeus. Persephone is best known for her role as the Queen of the Underworld alongside her husband Hades. She was brought there as a girl when Hades and Zeus transpired her kidnapping. This caused Demeter great grief and once she realized that the father of her child betrayed her, she vowed to inhibit the growth of all agriculture until Persephone was returned. Hades conceded to let his wife go, but before her release he tricked her into eating the seeds of a pomegranate, thus forever tying her to the Underworld and forcing her to return for one third of every year.
In Hannibal, the Underworld isn’t so much a tangible place as it is a state of mind. This Underworld is represented by the darkness of the psyche, how far someone can go until they finally tumble into the psychotic, horrific and distinctly evil. Hannibal Lecter rules this mindset; he is a cannibalistic psychopath yet he is able to float through the world with charming ease. Will, on the other hand, is pulled into this horrific darkness by the two men he trusts the most. Hannibal, like Hades, believes that brining Will into his own domain is the best for both of them while Jack, like Zeus, pushes Will to madness for his own benefit. Alana serves as the role of Demeter, who is much distraught by what became of a man who was once so close to her. Jack and Alana have both served as semi-parental figures to Will throughout the first season, but it is not till this episode where the audience is able to see how much he relies and clings to them. When Alana determines that Jack is partially to blame for Will’s predicament, she prevents the FBI from flourishing by calling an inside investigation and even serves as a possible threat to the livelihood of the establishment. She persists in her efforts to retrieve Will from the Underworld, and slowly but surely he makes his way back. He sometimes experiences moments of clarity, and even his act of making himself seem in need of Hannibal’s attention as a means of manipulation serves as evidence that he is becoming more lucid as each day passes. Even when Will breaks out of the physical and metaphorical prison that he is trapped in, he is still intrinsically tied to Hannibal Lecter. This respite then ends and as the season progresses, Will gradually re-enters his Underworld to rule alongside Hannibal as he aids him in creating unconventional works of human art. Then, he serves as the cannibal’s other half, gaining his trust and establishing himself as a member of the psychotic. During the killer/veal dinner scene, as Hannibal sits across from an empty seat with only a pomegranate as a placeholder, it is evident that he awaits Will’s return as the Queen of his own personal Underworld.
The cursed nature that Will might carry extends into the flights of altered perception that he experiences throughout this season. Hugh Dancy walks such a fine line with his acting, as much like Hannibal in Season 1, he’s required to play a character who’s often playing a character. Or two. Or three. His breakdown in front of Alana and Hannibal at the open of this episode is revealed to be an elaborate emotional con when he returns to his basement cell. When he pleads with Beverly for help (in a mirror of Anthony Hopkins’s quid pro quo speech in Silence of the Lambs), he seems sincere. But in the episodes to come, his descent back into Lecter’s psychological dungeon calls much of that sincerity into question. It’s a disorienting ride for the character and the audience, yet another symbiotic connection fraught with peril.
*Now that he’s incarcerated, the tenor of Will’s empathic visions has changed. Instead of the classic image of the gold pendulum erasing the crime scene and placing him into a fugue state, he’s now instantly transported into the photographs that he examines. At the same time, we get our first glimpse of Hannibal’s version of Will’s visions, his highly attuned sense of smell placing him firmly within the golden cornfield that will lead him to the body spiral.
*And speaking of visions, the extensive eyeball motif in this episode can also be interpreted as yet another callback to Garret Hobbs’s “See! See!” (itself another echo of similar lines by Francis Dolarhyde.)
*In another echo of “Amuse-Bouche”, we see Jack pouring out his guilt over Will to his psychiatrist (played by the great Martin Donovan), just as Will began to pour out his guilt over killing Garret Jacob Hobbs to Hannibal in that earlier episode. The irony of Jack’s feelings is that he later essentially gives implicit consent for Beverly to continue picking Will’s brain for help, thus once again inadvertently dooming a subordinate of his to Hannibal’s murderous advances.
*Bedelia’s visit to Will at episode’s end (and her confirmation that she believes him) will prove to be the thread of sanity that Will clings to the most as he formulates his plan against Hannibal. But it also becomes a much more complicated matter in view of her eventual siding with her former patient.
*I failed to mention it in the “Kaiseki” essay, but I love the cage that Will sits in at Baltimore State during his interviews. That line of individual pens is such a striking image, fully in keeping with the show’s Gothic sensibilities while also emphasizing the medieval cruelty of Frederick Chilton’s house of horrors.