Monday, August 03, 2015

HANNIBAL Ep. 35: "And the Woman Clothed with the Sun..."

In which he needs a family to escape what’s inside of him.

Hannibal: Abigail Hobbs is dead.
Abigail: Long Live Abigail Hobbs.”

“Click, click….boom.” (Hannibal)

It’s all been there since the beginning.  Much like the way in which Hannibal Lecter himself managed to hide in plain sight for so long, so too has what could be summed up as the real main thrust of Bryan Fuller’s reinvention of the Lecterverse sat dead center in the eye of the psychological hurricane that has engulfed the lives of the show’s characters.  Sat there as the nominative saving grace amidst the turmoil, the unwavering light in the darkness.  Hannibal’s radical, mature take on the fluidity of sexuality might evoke the frisson that drives Hannigram worshippers into a state of frenzy, but it’s rooted in something much deeper: the twisted sense of familial connection that has bound these star-crossed players together. 

Season 1’s “Amuse-Bouche” (you can read my thoughts on it here), established Fuller’s fascination with symbiosis of all levels (personal, societal, biological, metafictional) early on.  Its tale of Eldon Stammets and his mushroom and fungus inspired social experiments (ah, remember the days of killers of the week and routine comic relief) served as the breeding ground for those much larger matters of family, establishing the deep yet dysfunctional connections that cast Jack and Hannibal as Will’s dueling father figures, Alana as his concerned sister, and Abigail Hobbs as the surrogate child for Hannibal and him.  And throughout all of the grotesque murder tableaus, psychological mind games, multi-layered betrayals, and headlong dives into insanity, the yearning for familial bonds has remained of paramount concern for all of involved.  Indeed, the show’s central dramatic force, the relationship between Hannibal and Will, is at heart the story of two outsiders who can seemingly only find deeper solace in each other, in the family they form to replace the ones that were torn from them years before.

“And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…” brings these familial matters back to the forefront in a major way.  Trapped in the plastic comfort of his cell/observation room, Hannibal is rebuked three times by members of his family.  In their first meeting since his surrender, Will refuses to address him in anything less than formal terms, chastising him for his haughty taunts in a nice bit of meta-commentary on the Lecter archetype (“I expected more of you Dr. Lecter.  That routine is so old hat.”)  Alana, now financially set in her relationship with Margot Verger, defends surrogate brother Will by threatening her former lover with the indignity of removing his books; in the family structure metaphor, it’s almost as if the daughter has turned the tables on the abusive father, lording over him in the nursing home.  And Jack, the man who for so long served as Hannibal’s co-father figure, now only sees him as a tool with which to catch the Tooth Fairy.

All three times, Hannibal finds solace in his memory palace, and all three times with his surrogate daughter Abigail.  In flashbacks to the period between the end of Seasons 1 and 2, we finally see the mechanics of her complicity in his plot, as she assists him in faking her death, all in the name of her spiritual rebirth into the surrogate family which he planned on constructing with Will.  As with all of their previous scenes together, there’s an electric charge between Mads Mikkelsen and Kacey Rohl, a tenderness that also borders on the sexual.  She’s both his daughter and disciple; when she manipulates her artificial arterial spray, her eyes dance with glee in the aftermath.  When he advises her to “Never be ashamed of who you are, Abigail”, prodding her into slitting her father’s corpse’s embalming fluid-spewing neck, she’s terrified but also thrilled.  Of all the new additions to the Lecterverse canon that Fuller has created, Abigail might be the most resolutely intriguing.  For a character who essentially died at the end of Season1, she’s served as the ghost that has haunted both Hannibal and Will, as the totemic symbol of dark, complex human desire and frailty.  As Hannibal reminds Will in the opening scene, she’s the child the he gave to him, only for Will to betray him to Freddie Lounds (although Will’s motivations were still hazy at best in the events of “Mizumono.”)  It’s interesting to note the returning Freddie’s words to Will later in this episode, when she reminds him “We’re co-conspirators, Will.  I died for you and your cause.”  Will might blame Hannibal for Abigail’s ultimate fate (although he shoulders some of that himself), but both men enlisted a younger woman to fake their own death for the furtherance of their philosophy.

And this is why the emergence of Francis Dolarhyde into this world of fractured families provides such an interesting spin on things (and a possibly fitting endgame to the series as a whole.)  Thought it’s only hinted at in this episode, Francis’s history of emotional abandonment built the foundation for the psycho-physical transformation that he pursues so lustily.  Though he might not consciously realize it, his search for connection plays right into the desires of both Hannibal and Will.  It’s no mistake that Hannibal’s first direct contact with Francis comes at the end of the episode, immediately after his final flashback to his dead surrogate daughter.  The prospective Red Dragon is a fitting replacement figure for her, another damaged soul trying to come to terms with what they perceive as their natural state of being (Hannibal even refers to him as a “shy boy.”)  Like Abigail, he also resembles so many of Hannibal’s old borderline patients from earlier seasons, a raw nerve ripe for manipulation.  It’s a comforting proposition for a man who has steadily been stripped of his old support system.

But, of course, Hannibal isn’t the only side of the psychological equation seeking a return to his old ways.  Fully recruited back into the FBI’s cause, Will now suffers once again from the psychotic visions and night sweats that he once tried so hard to escape.  In the show’s surrogate family dynamic, he’s also beginning to see his new prey as a kindred soul to the young woman he couldn’t save from herself.  But he also holds a special affinity with Francis as a fellow traveler along the road to madness, a hyper-sensitive man plagued by visions seemingly beyond his control (as I detailed in last week’s essay.)  Which raises the question: how much will Hannibal view Francis as the new Abigail, and how much will he view him as a fitting replacement for Will?  After all, the last few interactions with his former friend/soulmate/lover have ended in something just south of acrimony.  And a caged Hannibal, one who despite his original motivations is beginning to see the limitations of his current state, will do anything to return to the luxury of a life that now only exists in that memory palace.

Yet the conflict that might drive him to recruit Francis Dolarhyde into the fold might also be one whose moral and ethical boundaries aren’t quite as clearly defined as they might seem.  In crafting the Red Dragon paintings that would inspire Francis (and this story), William Blake established an iconic dichotomy between the Satanic titular monster and the woman clothed with the sun, the mother of a child who would spread the word of God.  But he also intended his work to be a deeper commentary on the necessary duality of good and evil in forming the existence of the recognizable world.  Taken in this context, this episode offers up a series of one on one confrontations between characters who seem to be on the opposite ends of the moral spectrum, but who need each other for balance.  Thus Hannibal and his three visitors give each other meaning, even in this advanced state of relational decay.  Will and Freddie return to their antagonistic ways, but still rest in a mutually beneficial quid pro quo status.  And when Francis shares a piece of pie with blind film technician Reba, the murderer and the innocent find a connection that goes beyond their proscribed places in society.  Such moral and ethical ambiguity is perfectly in line with the show’s complex view of the world.  It’s also perfectly in line with the God’s eye view of the world that Hannibal holds, one in which the divine kills with the same power that he heals.  And just as that God can seem to be an absentee deity, so too does Hannibal seem to be disappeared from the world at large, even as he still holds power from deep within the recesses of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

To the leftovers we go:

*During his nightmare vision of himself lording over the dead body of Mrs. Leeds, Will gradually begins to see her as an oil painting, echoing the transfigurative power of the previous seasons’ murder tableaus (in which ordinary people achieved transcendence by being turned into works of art by their deaths.)  It also reminds us of the reversal of this motif that Francis enacts, a man who tries to appropriate a work of art into the living world by transforming himself into it.

*This episode marks the long-awaited return of Lara Jean Chorostecki as Freddie Lounds.  We’ve already been teased with the flaming wheelchair death that her original male version suffered in the previous incarnations of Red Dragon, so it’ll be interesting to see if she still meets the ultimate fate of her predecessors.

*When Hannibal notes to Will (during their shared vision of Francis’ murders) that blood does indeed appear to be black in the moonlight, it’s a nice visual callback to the rivers of black liquid that engulfed so many of the characters in some of the show’s more surreal nightmare sequences.

*Credit to Mads Mikkelsen for deftly portraying the subtleties of Hannibal’s evolution into a more malevolent character.  In particular, the barbs that he throws his old friends’ way are tinged with just enough humor, compared to his previously dry tone, that they seem like they should be followed by rim shots on the soundtrack.  When he chides Alana for coming “to wag her finger” (to which she naughtily replies “I love a good finger wagging”), the mild ribaldry of his response (“Yes you do”) forms the comic highlight of the episode.  Mikkelsen’s interpretation of the character will likely never enter into the realm of operatic villainy where Anthony Hopkins once tread, but this episode shows how a cool psychopath caged for this many years can start to be forced to find his entertainment in the smallest shots he can take.

*The Will/Francis montage that occurs as they view their respective copies of the Leeds family footage (Will’s on a tablet, Francis’ on 16mm film) reminded me of something that hasn’t been that obvious until now: how much of an analog show Hannibal is at heart.  Aside from cell phones, the presence of digital technology is assumed, and yet pushed into the background.  So much of the drama and plot progression stems from flesh and blood analysis and psychological tension, people interacting with people, and not machines.
*Two weeks into the Red Dragon story, I’ve been struck by the background windows of Francis’s workplace, and the prominent reverse image letters on them (which work part of the center’s Gateway title.)  Then I finally remembered one of the novel (and film’s) signature line, in which Francis tells Freddie that “You owe me awe!”  And there it is in the background: a warped version of the awe that he will soon demand.