This episode is called “Sorbet” which, in a French menu, is the break, the refreshing fruit frappe served between courses to clear the palate. It’s all about preparing: not just the kitchen and the ingredients, but also the guests. It’s about content, and timing.
In this episode, we find out much about Hannibal, particularly the way he chooses and prepares his meat, but also some important psychological facts. We meet his psychiatrist, Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson – Dana Scully from X-Files). She knows a lot about Hannibal – not everything, but a lot more than Jack and Will and the entire FBI. But, like one of Hannibal’s feasts, she is going to serve us each dish when it, and we, are ready.
The episode starts with Will lecturing at the FBI Academy about the Chesapeake Ripper, who we (but no one else) know is really Hannibal. We learn a lot about how Will believes the Ripper views his victims, and about his methods.
A “sounder” is a collective term for pigs, and that is how Hannibal sees his victims – as pigs. Just as humans confine and slaughter pigs with barely a twinge of conscience, so Hannibal collects human organs for his freezer.
Organs are carefully removed. Like an earlier Ripper named Jack, the conclusion is that the killer has anatomical or surgical training (although Jack the Ripper may have been a butcher rather than a surgeon). Another important fact that Will tells the kids and us:
And so to the theatre we go, the concert hall in fact, where we hear a magnificent opera recital from the brilliant pen of Brian Reitzell, who went on, after Hannibal, to write the music for American Gods. Of course, we can’t just sit and enjoy it as Hannibal and his annoying patient Franklyn (and his friend Tobias) do, decked out in black tie and tux. No, we start with some lessons in anatomy and acoustics – the scene starts in the larynx of the singer and we then get to follow the music up her throat and into Hannibal’s ear.
After the recital, the Chairperson of the Baltimore Philharmonic gently chides Hannibal for not putting on one of his sumptuous feasts – she misses not just the food but the spectacle.
Hannibal replies that he is waiting for inspiration. Perhaps Franklyn provides it: as Hannibal rather testily dismisses him, he asks:
Hannibal is also busy torturing Jack with supposed calls from his missing student Miriam Lass. As Will puts it:
“The reason he left you Miriam Lass’s arm is so he could poke you with it.”
Meanwhile, Jack and Will are busy with a new killer, who the CSI gang are convinced is the Ripper (organs have been removed, if a bit sloppily). Will says no – this dude is collecting organs for sale, and trying to save the “donor” afterwards (without a great deal of success). This is not the MO of the Ripper:
So, asks Jack, how do you see the Ripper? Will considers, and then comes up with an analysis taken from Will’s analysis of Hannibal in Red Dragon (the book):
“… one of those pitiful things sometimes born in hospitals. They feed it. Keep it warm. But they don’t put it on the machines. They let it die. But he doesn’t die.”
We finally meet Bedelia Du Maurier, Hannibal’s psychiatrist. It is perhaps not widely known that psychiatrists go to psychiatrists, but in view of the psychic storms they deal with daily, it makes sense. Hannibal later tells Will he started seeing a psychiatrist when he chose to become one.
Bedelia does not mince words. She is no longer practising, and stays available for Hannibal because she likes him. Turns out there are other reasons too, but we’ll save them for later episodes. She and Hannibal discuss honesty, and she shows that she can indeed be brutally honest:
She also tells him that she is his therapist, not his friend, something he recently told the distraught Franklyn, who is a version of Benjamin Raspail from the books, one of the Silence of the Lambs characters whose names were not released by MGM for the television production. Caught in his own trap, Hannibal must look for company or even friendship elsewhere. Could it be Will?
Hannibal and Will have a lot in common, particularly a fascination with the motivation of the Ripper.
We find out a lot more about Hannibal’s motivations in a series of montages showing how he chooses his victims (from their business cards) and the meal they will supply (from a set of menu cards in perfect copperplate handwriting).
He starts with a medical examiner who rudely accuses Hannibal of lying. Hannibal asks for his business card, and then appears when the man’s car mysteriously breaks down on a rainy road.
The rude medical examiner is found in a school bus, his top half sitting across the aisle from his bottom half. He is missing a kidney and his heart.
Will realises, though, that the mutilations are just theatre.
Hannibal and Alana prepare these organs for dinner (she presumably believes them to be from a different mammal) and duel flirtatiously as he tries to draw out what she knows about Will. Hannibal’s interest in Will is growing in each scene. He suspects Will can become a friend, perhaps even become an Übermensch like himself.
In the meantime, Hannibal is preparing his banquet for the Philharmonic. There is the montage of business cards and recipes involving liver pate, brisket, lungs and brains, and various business owners, who presumably have offended Hannibal’s intense dislike of discourtesy. This montage is accompanied by the rollicking “Golden Calf” aria sung by Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust.
“Le monstre abject insulte aux cieux! [The abject monster insults heaven!]”
This spate of mutilations leaves the investigation team baffled. No longer are they seeking an organ harvester – one of the victims is missing a spleen. Who on earth is waiting for a spleen transplant? There is only one explanation:
But despite the excitement of hunting and cooking, Hannibal is unhappy. There is a poignant scene of Hannibal sitting, forlorn, at his desk, checking his appointment book (last appointment Will Graham) as we hear, what else, the Mozart Requiem, the musical quintessence of melancholy.
He goes looking for Will, who is day-nightmaring about Abigail (who is calling him “Dad”) and girls mounted on antlers. Hannibal interrupts his bad dreams and sees the range of atrocity photographs will has been studying.
There follows a discussion of the possible motivations of the Ripper, in which Will is starting to get close to the truth. Hannibal suggests that perhaps the Ripper is displaying his enemies after death, as happens in many cultures. Will disagrees – “These aren’t the Ripper’s enemies. These are pests he’s swatted.” They are just being punished for undignified behaviour. Disgraced.
As he prepares his banquet, Hannibal tells Will why he gave up surgery:
This is news to us, although we know that, as a child, he was unable to save his sister Mischa – could this be an indirect reference? Anyway. There follows a wonderful montage of Hannibal’s banquet plates, followed by a round of applause from his guests, who are all about to become unaware cannibals.
But before they can eat, Hannibal has a warning:
What they applaud now, they will later consider appalling, abject, psychologically shattering. The gross hypocrisy of their logic is impossible for even the brilliant Doctor Lecter to comprehend.