If you only know Hannibal from the movies, not the books or this TV series, everything up to now has been a prequel; for you, the real story probably begins here. Because as scary as Hannibal is in the outside world, he’s almost scarier where he’s more familiarly seen, in a cage. Last week we saw the culmination of two-and-a-half seasons of groundwork, with Mason Verger dead, Hannibal captured, and Will Graham apparently free of Hannibal’s influence. But such is Will’s infatuation with Hannibal, that this situation cannot last. All it needs to draw the two together again is a catalyst, and this comes in the form of the Red Dragon.
Three years have passed. Hannibal has been caged in Alana’s institution, but his prison seems rather luxurious, resembling nothing more than the Renaissance-style hotel suite at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alana drinks wine with him, congratulating him on escaping the death penalty by having been declared insane, though he denies he is, and she maintains that he defies categorisation.
Meanwhile, crazed Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) is so obsessed with the inhuman figure in William Blake’s prophetic painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun that he is attempting to sculpt his body and mind into an inhuman form; the opening montage shows him training his body, tattooing his skin and even modifying his teeth.
Once every lunar cycle, Dolarhyde’s demented visions trigger murderous rampages in which he slaughters ‘perfect’ families. He imagines himself lit with an inner light, like something out of Michael Mann’s The Keep, and keeps a scrapbook of Hannibal cuttings.
Hannibal is allowed to prepare his own food, using plastic cutlery and no human ingredients, of course; he entertains Frederick Chilton, who taunts him with stories of this new serial killer, dubbed by the FBI The Tooth Fairy. Hannibal’s ‘niche appeal’, Chilton argues, has been superseded by the way The Tooth Fairy ‘strikes at the very core of the American Dream’.
Alana and Chilton discuss the lies they concocted to get Hannibal put away, and Alana warns that Hannibal’s written rebuttal of Chilton’s book Hannibal the Cannibal will bring them both down.
Chilton’s foolishness in taunting Hannibal will come back to haunt him; Hannibal intuits that The Tooth Fairy doesn’t like the name he’s been given, and inevitably the two will connect.
So what of Will Graham? Understandably, he’s been pretty much out of it. He’s living quietly with Molly (Nina Arianda) and her son (a rather unlikely plot development considering what a mess he was when last seen). So when Jack Crawford comes to visit, it bodes ill. Crawford, of course, wants help with The Tooth Fairy, and Will is reluctant, but is drawn in by photos of the murdered families. Molly is surprisingly willing to let him go and do his duty, referencing High Noon, in which a retired lawman is compelled to take up his gun again. And Will’s secret is that he has received a letter from Hannibal advising him not to be drawn in – advice calculated to have the opposite effect?
Will walks through the Buffalo crime scene, forcing himself into the empathic state in which he sees himself stabbing and shooting the family, smashing mirrors, and posing the corpses with fragments of mirror on their faces.
Partial prints and bitemarks on the victims provide some clues to the killer, but of course we know that the dentition is a red herring. In fact the teeth seem to have a life of their own, sitting in a glass and growling at Dolarhyde.
Will needs to recover the mindset to deal with Hannibal, to re-enter his mind palace; once he opens the door, there’s no going back. When he goes to Hannibal, is this a sign of strength, or a failure?
A dramatically straightforward episode, which sets the series on a whole new course, this seems a rather low-key exercise; Will doesn’t seem to agonise much about getting back in the saddle.
We miss the exquisite Florentine settings, and the tailored perfection of DuMaurier, and of course there are unanswered questions: is Alana still with Margot? (unlikely). What’s happened to DuMaurier? (unknown). And will Chilton get his comeuppance? (undeniable).
And of course, the big one – will the Red Dragon arc be the end of the show, or is there still a chance that we will get to experience Hannibal’s latter days?
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