In which when it comes to you and me, there can be no decisive victory.
And so it ends. Or begins. Maybe this is the end of the beginning, the climax of the prequel to the life of Hannibal Lecter: Incarcerated Mastermind. King of Chilton’s House of Horrors. Maybe it’s the beginning of the end (literally in this case, considering NBC’s cancellation of Hannibal.) Of course, Bryan Fuller’s view of time, chronology, and all things orbiting such states of measurement has always been as vastly fungible as his takes on identity and sexuality. This series began drifting away from such concrete notions of linear judgment as soon as Will Graham investigated the murder scene at the Marlow house back in the pilot episode. Even as the real life clock continues to tick away toward potential obsolescence for this incarnation of the Lecterverse, Hannibal itself refuses to yield to standard definitions of
Witness “Digestivo”’s much-discussed climactic scene, in which Will effectively severs his wildly complex relationship with Hannibal. As Fuller noted on Twitter during the episode’s airing, the equations that we briefly see in Hannibal’s notebook represent his attempts to reverse time, a natural continuation of he and Will’s ongoing conversation about the shattering of a teacup and the realities/dreams of reconstructing it (a metaphor that has been extensively applied to the fractured psyche of everyone’s favorite FBI profiler.) Will might be putting a button on this thing of theirs, but even his attempt at finality echoes his previous stabs at such. Just as his near-death in the Lecter House Massacre of “Mizumono” painfully brought his story full circle, back to the initial trauma at Hobbs House, so too does he still seem trapped in this relationship cycle.
Hannibal’s ultimate decision to turn himself in to Jack Crawford and the FBI ensures this. We know from the established Thomas Harris universe that the rise of Francis Dolarhyde and the Red Dragon will necessitate the deployment of Lecter’s deductive skills. But all the previous versions of that story gave Lecter a clear, unambiguous motivator for his existence: rage. The Will Graham of Manhunter and Red Dragon (and the source novel) was wily and insightful enough to finally capture Hannibal the Cannibal, but only by surviving his nemesis’s attempted murder gambit. Held captive in his cell, the classic version of Lecter brooded and plotted away, trying to destroy the man who took his freedom.
The version of this endgame that Fuller presents in “Digestivo” is a different beast indeed…and entirely in keeping with the tone of the show, and of the Will/Hannibal relationship. Gone is the life-changing standoff between these two men; that happened at the end of last season, a lovers’ separation bathed in blood, yet lacking in the finality of Hannibal’s imprisonment. With Will left to wander the underworld in search of his oppressor/obsession, the path to revenge seemed to be fairly clear. But even that was obscured in the events of “Dolce”, when hesitation and negotiation took over their museum confrontation. The two men who strode out into the courtyard were more deeply bonded soulmates obligated once again to play pre-assigned roles than bitter adversaries. Not that that stopped Hannibal from attempting to eat Will’s brain after he nursed him back to life from Chiyoh’s assassin’s bullet. After all, in the empathy-stunted ethical landscape of his mind, the calculus of survival rules all. And even his soulmate stood in the way of his freedom.
Which, when Hannibal surrenders to Jack, makes his real endgame all the more powerful. And devious. And touching. (You wouldn’t expect anything less complex in this show, now would you?) His final words as a free man (“I want you to know exactly where I am, and where you can always find me.”) are a clear refutation of Will’s stated desire to never see him again, the spurned friend/lover/confidante striking back in a nod to the classic literary Lecter’s vengeance. But he’s also realized that his only real fulfillment comes with Will’s participation in his life. And in a purely Machiavellian way, chess master Hannibal also has to realize that this lateral move temporarily grants him more power in captivity. Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins played the caged Hannibal as a sly and powerful man deprived of any meaning in his life. Mads Mikkelsen has spent two and a half seasons establishing his version of the character as always being several steps ahead of everyone else, always deftly playing the long game, always testing the dialectical results of his sociological experiments. Confinement for this Hannibal can’t be the crushing blow that it was for his predecessors, right?
Maybe it’s because he dealt confinement of all sorts to others with such great aplomb. Hence the end of Mason Verger, the paralyzed plutocrat trapped in the prison of his own body. Mason has always been an acid commentary on the gaudy, perverse excesses of the social elite. Looking back now, his repositioning in the pre-Red Dragon storyline (he’s post-Silence of the Lambs in the books) makes him the final extension of a long series of stabs at the wealthy and privileged. After all, much is made in the first two seasons of how seamlessly Hannibal navigates the world of the rich. Think back to the opera scene and subsequent dinner party in Season 1’s “Sorbet”, in which the privileged patrons and associates fawn over his charms, only to be fed harvested organs at the episode’s conclusion. Hannibal’s rarified tastes might play well in the dens of the Baltimore brahmins, but his enduring connections come with the mostly middle-class (at least in demeanor, if not entirely income) characters surrounding the FBI. With the upper class portrayed as self-absorbed and foolish (think also of the vainglorious Frederick Chilton), it seems only natural to have Mason serve as their ultimate avatar, a grotesque parody of the power of money.
So when, in a truly horrifying moment, Margot realizes that the child he’s promised her as payback for her loyalty has been stillborn inside the womb of a giant pig, it all makes sense in the twisted logic of a man who’s lived a life of unbridled power and privilege. I’ve noted this before, but in his limited run on the show Mason has been one of the few characters to make Hannibal smile and laugh. This surely is somewhat based in condescension, but there might also be a bit of knowing recognition in his reactions. For if Hannibal is an empathy-bereft, childlike predator, then Mason’s total lack of moral and ethical grounding must serve as some sort of funhouse mirror reflection. There, but for the grace of God, goes Hannibal?
From a purely entertainment-based perspective, it’s sad to see Mason meet his demise. As portrayed by both Michael Pitt and Joe Anderson, he was one of the show’s great levelers, his riches allowing him to cut the Gordian knot in ways both decisive and terrifying. And just as Hannibal’s personality infected the show in meta-stylistic fashion, so too did Mason’s perverse desires serve as a competing virus. “Digestivo” must have set an unofficial record for most primetime references to dining on penises, and Mason’s death by drowning/asphyxiation via eel (Chekhov’s eel?) is a stomach churning moment and a metaphorical feminist deathblow enabled by two women who’ve been traumatized by men. Now the real question is what happened to his harvested sperm, especially with the time constraints of this episode’s rapid plot movement? But maybe that’s a question best left for later. For now, the Red Dragon awaits.