In which we’re conjoined. I’m curious whether either of us can survive separation.
Allow me, dear reader, if you will, to indulge in a bit of editorializing before digging into “Dolce”, this week’s mind-warping episode of Hannibal. Or perhaps the editorializing is part and parcel of the digging. Lord knows a good deal of my thoughts have already been beaten into the ground before now, especially if you’ve been following the epic Hannibal essay project that I began several months ago (and if you haven’t, get cracking at the beginning.) But I feel that they bear repeating nonetheless, even in the relatively limited arena of my readership.
So following the news of Hannibal’s cancellation two weeks ago, this week brought the news that both Netflix and Amazon have passed on picking up a prospective fourth season of the show. Much of their decision seems to be motivated by the unfortunate timing of the cancellation, as the series’ cast has been released from their contracts (a common move in a situation like this) and Bryan Fuller has begun work on his televised adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Despite the interest of most of the creative parties to continue the show, the wait for their availability might stretch into next year, thus delaying more Lecterverse exploits beyond the time that those streaming services are willing to wait. The fate of the show, then, rests in another cable outlet, or a lesser web service.
The only way I can respond to this (especially in the wake of viewing “Dolce”) is to drop my well-mannered veneer of loquacity and say “Wake up people! This is a tragedy!” There’s a whole tree falling in the woods argument to be made about Hannibal’s impact on the popular form, but the fact remains that what Bryan Fuller, James Hawkinson, Brian Reitzell, Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, and so many others on the creative team have crafted in two and half seasons has forever expanded and altered what is possible for a televised narrative. As I’ve mentioned before, I hesitate to even confine Hannibal to the field of television; it’s as cinematic as anything the medium has witnessed, an unholy marriage of Lynch and Bunuel. Works of art like this show what is truly possible on the small screen, and in many ways they’re much more daring than the majority of major theatrically released films. If indeed this season is the swan song for Fuller’s vision of the Lecterverse, then there will come a day in the near future when the word on Hannibal finally gets out to the audience that it so stridently demanded: that this was arguably the most subversive show in the history of television and one of the most subversive artworks of the modern cinematic medium.
It’s also been a show very much reflective of our time, sometimes in rather unexpected ways. Witness the two scenes in “Dolce” that encapsulate the show’s complex explorations of sexuality. Following Mason’s offer to harvest his sperm for a proper Verger heir, Margot and Alana engage in a bout of sensual coupling that transcends the meaning of the term “sex scene.” It’s intriguing on a purely narrative level, as before now there’s been no hint that Alana has lesbian tendencies. And Fuller doesn’t seem like one to indulge in the hoary male cliché of all women being constantly a half step away from getting it on with any member of the sisterhood. Alana’s intentions in her alliance with the Vergers have always been murky, and yet following their tryst both women are fairly blunt about the desire to deliver both Hannibal and Mason to the authorities when the time is right.
So what remains is what appears to be a purely carnal experience for both women, depicted in a kaleidoscopic montage of intertwined body parts and merging identities. It’s all in keeping with the show’s various plunges into the fungible, mutable nature of sexuality. In this manner, it also mirrors our modern society’s ever-evolving definition of what defines one’s sexual identity in all its permutations. Just as we’ve gradually moved away from the strict male-female gender dynamic, so too has Hannibal defied much of that tradition in the way it presents desire and attraction (even as it also conforms enough to said expectations to provide a gateway into its more subversive aspects.) It’s very possible that the Alana-Margot affair involves two women who view sexuality as a nebulous concept to be indulged, no matter what reproductive organs the partners might possess. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve both been the victims of sexual predation by two men who’ve shown no compunction about using sex as a weapon (Mason’s pedophilia from Thomas Harris’s book has been downplayed in this version of the story, but his incestual crimes still leave vivid scars.) Or that they’ve both entertained dalliances with a man whose increasing obsession with one of those predators has removed him from their lives.
That man, of course, is one Will Graham, and it’s his long awaited reunion with Hannibal at the Uffizzi Gallery that forms the other half of this episode’s dual examination of the ambiguities of sexuality. At various times, Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen have lauded Bryan Fuller for the silences and pauses he’s allowed them in their conversations/confrontations, and this scene is no different in that respect, as so much of what each man wants to express is contained in lingering glances and deep gazes. But then again, so much of what has come to define the Will/Hannibal relationship has been borne from this same sense of the sprawling, often indefinable undertones that lay just beneath the surface of their interactions. The internet meme of the duo as suppressed gay lovers is amusing, and there’s definitely a spark of homosexual desire that drives their bond. Credit Fuller, again, for having the guts to redirect Hannibal Lecter’s previously dandyish but very heterosexual impulses (his most enduring on-screen relationship so far the May-September one with Clarice Starling) into coded gay longing. Maybe this is part of the reason why the show hasn’t reached a broader audiences; the arena of network television still like its relationships to be resolutely hetero or definably gay in a prancing or butch manner.
Beyond all of this, though, is the boldness he displays in forming a male-male coupling that is defined less by traditional modes of sexuality and more by the logical extension of male bonding that the culture has reduced to the status of bromance. For here are two men who have found the ultimate definition of themselves in each other, even as that fulfillment comes loaded with self-destruction and the possibility of annihilation. Will is able to clearly define the blurring of their personalities that has taken place, even as he also deals with the retroactive and future guilt that he now feels for all of Hannibal’s murders. It’s the endgame for Will’s empathic abilities; he might have feared forever bonding with Garret Jacob Hobbs, but the connection he’s formed with Hannibal extends to an almost genetic level. Such haziness lends this scene a queasy feeling, but it also makes it downright touching, a depiction of two people inextricably headed toward doom, yet also deeply enamored of each other. It also blows away most other televisual and cinematic representations of the complexities of human relationships in the depth of maturity to which it strives.
In the realm of complex pairings, we also have the curious case of Bedelia DuMaurier, who has been posing for so long as Lydia Fell that she now regularly self-administers a potent mixture of sedatives to keep her act going when Jack and Will arrive on the scene. Again, in most narratives of this sort, Bedelia would be the victimized woman or the femme fatale, but Hannibal won’t allow for such easy answers. For the better part of two seasons, she’s simultaneously expressed a deep attraction and revulsion toward her patient/lover/captor. But even now, after so many hints this season of her disgust with Hannibal’s murderous tendencies, she refuses to participate in simple dialectics when it comes to her feelings, packing up his bags as she prepares to part from him, telling him that he won’t be eating her, but still sharing a tender kiss and intimating that that act of cannibalism might still happen someday. And her staunch defense of him in the face of multiple interrogations shows the depth her bond with him, mirroring so much of Will’s situation. On a meta-level, these two relationships might be read as a metaphor for the plight of intellectuals and artists, who need their mutual company in a world that is so defined by strict measures of good taste, success, quality.
To continue the angle of complex and dysfunctional relationships, there’s Mason Verger’s homicidal revenge lust. His obsession with eating Hannibal is a neat bit of poetic justice, but it also seems to hold deeper implications. Look at the scene in which he fantasizes about walking up to the table where a fully glazed and prepared cannibal has been served up, Cordell’s rapturous description of the cooking process still ringing in his ears. There’s such peace in Mason’s gait and countenance. When he awakens to the sound of his phone, the pained, wistful look on Joe Anderson’s mangled face almost makes you sympathize with this monster of a man, forever trapped in a physical prison borne from the cost of his own excessive ways. Mason might be a horrible person, but he’s as much of a product of his upbringing as any of the show’s other characters. This single act of revenge seems to represent, for him, a chance at redemption through assimilation (or as his newly found Bibilical viewpoint allows him, a “transfiguration.”)
The mechanics of that redemption form the basis for a scene (and an edit) that is as moving and hallucinatory as anything the show has produced this season. Drawn once again back into Hannibal’s lair, Jack is forced to witness Will (who, earlier in the show, he admitted to possibly wanting to carry out Hannibal’s killing on his behalf, looping back around once again to his usage of Will as a pawn from the earlier seasons) serves as the main course of the recreation of the planned dinner from “Mizumono.” As Hannibal notes “Jack was the first to suggest getting inside your head. Now we both have the opportunity to chew quite literally…what we’ve only chewed figuratively.” As he bores in on Will’s skull with a saw, seasoned Lecter fans will recognize the encroaching doom as the same one that FBI sleazebag Paul Krendler suffers at the climax of the Thomas Harris’s Hannibal. And for a moment, Jack’s ultimate nightmare seems to be coming true, as blood flies from a drugged Will’s scalp. But that blood slows down into an impressionistic splatter of crimson rain (an image that has been repeated many times in the show), climaxing in several splotches suspended against a heavenly field of clouds (reminiscent of the celestial ending of “Mizumono”) before cutting to Will and Hannibal hanging upside down alongside other cuts of meat, the newest arrivals to the Verger estate, Mason there to greet them with delight. This transition seems to indicate that the bribed Florence police arrive to the scene before Will’s brain is served up as the main course, but it also creates enough temporal dissonance to call into question the nature of the reality of this final scene. But in a season in which the characters have often moved as the dead navigating their way through the underworld, this should come as no surprise.