In which all the elements of epiphany were present.
Well that was certainly cathartic. For a show that has traded so heavily in subverting expectations, in denying easy resolutions, in portraying Hannibal Lecter in almost superhuman fashion, always several steps ahead of his pursuers….well, even though he walked away at episode’s end, Jack Crawford’s royal ass-kicking of everyone’s favorite urbane cannibal certainly provided an emotional payoff a long time coming. Granted, the plot trajectory that Bryan Fuller has crafted for this season, with Francis Dolarhyde and the rising of the Red Dragon waiting in the wings, would seem to dictate that Hannibal’s time as a free man is limited at best (although that all could change.) But still, departing from the traditional Lecterverse mythology to give Jack his great moment of revenge (for his near-murder, for extending Bella’s pain, for destroying his life) is an altogether valedictory and sweet experience. Even if you never want to see Mads Mikkelsen trapped in the confines of Frederick Chilton’s house of horrors.
Like so many moments in Hannibal, this climactic confrontation plays off of pre-existing cultural associations to evoke a feeling in the audience that is both nostalgic and immediate (which also reflects on the increasing temporal dissonance of the plotting.) Jack and Hannibal’s epic slugfest is set to Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie”, which will always possess a certain resonance with many as the theme song for the opening symphony of brutality in A Clockwork Orange (another work involving a man who gains great satisfaction from the combination of classical music and graphic violence.) Thomas Harris and Ridley Scott devotees can spy an almost direct recreation of Rinaldo Pazzi’s death from the Silence of the Lambs sequel (itself a recreation of an infamous public gutting from the Pazzi heritage), but that feeling of recognition is immediately derailed when Jack shows up on the scene. And, of course, there’s the scene’s most obvious feature: its invocation of the Jack-Hannibal brawl at Casa de Lecter that closed out Season 2’s “Mizumono.”
Much of this storytelling methodology is foreshadowed several scenes earlier, when Hannibal notes to Bedelia that he prefers the immediacy of the harpsichord over the piano that he must play in their apartment, that “the piano has the quality of memory”. This leads him into divulging to her both his past with Pazzi and his knowledge of Mason Verger’s bounty on his head. And maybe this progression is key to understanding something deeper about his character. So many of the players in Hannibal’s world (and especially in Season 3) are torn between the past and present, wandering in an emotional and psychological netherworld in which they resemble the dead, no longer able to exist outside of that which has scarred them. Bedelia herself plays the part of Hannibal’s wife while still clinging onto the clinical mindset of her psychiatric career; the resulting conflict traps her in a state of paralysis on all fronts. Mason and Alana forge an unholy alliance predicated on revenge for the scars that Hannibal has inflicted upon them, but they seem to have no existence in the present world in which they reside.
And there’s Will Graham, by the far the ultimate case study in the paralysis borne of a mind trapped between the past and present. His entire character arc in the show has been predicated upon running from the guilt of his past failures and the fantasies of his empathic visions, while still trying to forge a semblance of normalcy in the waking world. In the first four episodes of this season, much has been made of his status as a dead man voyaging through the land of the living, his sole purpose of killing Hannibal clouding his mind with visions of Abigail Hobbs and preoccupying him so much with Chiyoh as a partner in crime that he fails to see her complicity with her old cannibal charge (resulting in his tossing from their train and reunion with the nightmare stag.) As Hannibal tells Bedelia early in the episode “Will has reached a state of moral dumbfoundedness.” And as Chiyoh so accurately diagnoses in their train car “If you don’t kill him (Hannibal), you are afraid you’re going to become him.” Moral and ethical ambiguity are what make the show so oblique and fascinating, but in this case, Jack’s certitude about his revenge ethos give him an easier path to payback than the twisted one that Will embarks upon.
This is where Hannibal seems to rise above the rest of the players. Even as predatorial forces encircle him, he remains sanguine about the role that his past serves in shaping his present. A relative lack of empathy will do that for you. But there’s also an almost Dr. Manhattan-like quality about the perspective that he holds over his life. The reason why he’s been able to constantly stay so far ahead of his pursuers must be partly attributed to his ability to consolidate all times and experiences of his life into one viewpoint, acknowledging them all while still relentlessly moving ahead, a shark in the muddled psychological waters that cloud the vision of so many others.
Which is why Jack’s revenge gains such immediate traction in this episode. Will wants to circle his prey, tapping into his past, understanding his motivations before moving in (there’s also a sense that he needs more convincing to go through with it.) Mason and Alana want to counter Hanibal’s murder tableaus by enmeshing him in their own version, but that involves multiple levels of planning and bureaucracy. But Jack merely desires the intimacy of revenge that allows him to take a direct line toward him. And following last week’s “Apertivo”, which played so heavily around the literal and figurative shatterings of the main players’ lives, this time its Hannibal who is shattered, tossed through several sheets of glass, arm crushed in an antique wheel, ego bruised even as he tries to goad Jack into further violence and retribution. (It’s also interesting that Jack tosses his wedding ring into the river, evoking more of the drowning imagery that has dominated this season, yet this time serving as a moment of power rather than futility.)
Where this plot progression leads the show next week….well, that’s a great question. Traditional Lecter lore dictates that Hannibal must end up in Mason’s estate to be dangled above the man-eating pigs, only to be saved by Clarice Starling. But despite hewing close to that tradition in many instances, Bryan Fuller has displayed no qualms about handily manipulating it as well. And after all, Will Graham is still wandering down those train tracks….
Leftovers ahead on the right:
*As acclaimed Rossini scholar (and author of the forthcoming book Why Cordell Matters: The Mason Verger in Us All) Lillian Tyack noted on Twitter tonight “Fuller’s use of ‘The Thieving Magpie’ also offers a direct commentary on the scene at hand, as Pazzi tries to steal Hannibal’s knife, and Hannibal steals Pazzi’s life.” And who am I to argue with her?
*Brian Reitzell’s ever-evolving score remains a high point in the Hannibal experience. During several instances in “Contorno” (notably when Will falls from the train), he throws in a bubbling, gurgling tonal soundscape that almost sounds like a distorted Moog. Reitzell’s sound procuring process is always unpredictable and intriguing, so it’ll be interesting to eventually read about his methods for this go around.
* “There are means of influence other than violence…but violence is what you understand.” (Chiyoh, to Will, before tossing him from the train car. Hmmm…maybe her complicity with Hannibal is more a matter of trying to give Will a little tough love in redirecting him toward his ultimate goal.)
*Censor-defying moment of the week: Mason noting to Alan that she’s tasted more of Hannibal than everyone else, and that “Spitters are quitters, and you don’t strike me as a quitter”. That’s the second oral sex joke that’s flown under the radar this season (after Bedelia’s dinner time quip in the premiere about how her husband prefers her to taste a certain way.)
*More reason why Hannibal is too intelligent and daring of a show for the network landscape? And episode that climaxes in a satisfying fight opens with an extended conversation about snails surviving in the stomachs of birds, and how this reflects the complex nature of finding one’s true purpose in life. Sigh…..gets my synapses firing in all sorts of gratifying ways.