So, it’s come to this. Hannibal has apparently ended with a cliffhanger – literally – and at this moment we don’t know if the series will continue. Though this episode was always going to be problematic, with the series apparently cancelled and the featured players’ contracts having expired, it’s become crucially important to wring what pleasure we can out of this series finale.
With Francis Dolarhyde, the nutty Red Dragon, working his way up to another mass murder, Will believes that only Hannibal’s intervention will stop him. But Dolarhyde is still toying with blind Reba, who he has locked in his house. When he tests her loyalty and she tries to escape, he apparently kills himself and sets the house on fire – but this can’t be the end of the Red Dragon, surely, even though we’ve seen the splattery mess that used to be his head?
Indeed, it’s a ruse to make Reba and the FBI think he’s dead; but forensics show that the corpse is in fact that of a missing worker from a service station.
Is Dolarhyde’s show of emotion for Reba at all authentic? We’ll never really know, because his next move is to take WIll captive, and insist on meeting Hannibal. This, we know, is bound to end in tears.
While Alanna taunts Frederick, Will confronts DuMaurier, who crumbles at the thought that Hannibal might be freed in order to lure out Dolarhyde. While Will and Crawford declare themselves determined to kill Dolaryhde first and Hannibal second, Will does seem more committed to the former than the latter; ‘This is my Becoming’, he declares, worryingly.
The plan to fake Hannibal’s escape during a transfer inevitably goes wrong when Dolarhyde kills the escort, leaving only Will and Hannibal alive. The two retreat to Hannibal’s clifftop house, where he took Abigail and Miriam, and they enjoy a last meal together; but Dolarhyde intervenes, shoots Hannibal and proposes to film his death.
A bloodbath ensues as Dolarhyde stabs Will, Will stabs Dolarhyde, Dolarhyde stabs Will again, Will stabs Dolarhyde again, Hannibal slashes Dolarhyde, and eventually Will slashes Dolarhyde’s throat, and he, at least, is 100 percent dead, but that’s a whole lotta stabbing.
In a final homerotic clinch, which comes ‘this’ close to ending in a kiss, Hannibal declares ‘This is all I ever wanted for you Will – for both of us’ – and Will throws himself and Hannibal off the cliff.
In a perverse postscript, DuMaurier, clearly driven bonkers by the anticipation of Hannibal coming to eat her, is seen immaculately dressed for a sumptuous dinner of her own amputated leg.
In viewing Hannibal we’ve experienced everything from artistic tableaux of supernatural beauty to scenes of grotesque sadistic torture; we’ve been expected to show sympathy for the unforgiveable, to empathise with the intolerable, to endure the unendurable.
Certain elements of the series have reached levels of achievement rarely seen on television; the photography, the staging, the music. The acting has been at times superb; the scripts intelligent, if pretentious, the themes disturbing and avante garde.
If the third season and particularly the finale was uneven, it may be because of the necessity to reach some kind of conclusion – the chasm between season three’s first half Italian episodes and the second half Red Dragon arc was uncomfortably wide. (And we never did find out how Dolarhyde selected his victims – we know from the book that it was through his work in film processing,, but the series seemed reluctant to go into this.)
Hannibal’s bold and experimental approach to both subject-matter and movie-making may have been a desperate attempt by the network to see off the challenge of cable TV; if so, it went too far, creating something which could be tolerated neither by the network nor by its rivals. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a show which may have destroyed its own creators, a nightmare from which the viewer may be glad to have awoken.
But it will certainly be remembered as bold, innovative, challenging; the sort of thing we need more of on TV. ‘Extreme acts of cruelty require a high degree of empathy’, Will said to DuMaurier – that could have been the motto for this entire series.
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