We’re finally at the main course of this extended French banquet that makes up the episodes of Season 1. This episode is called Rôti, which means roast. The dead animals are coming out of hot, dark ovens, cooked, carved, and being eaten. And the accompanying sauce is a healthy dose of Existentialism, Hannibal Lecter style.
This episode is all about identity, and identity is all about existence: what is real, what exists and how can we be sure? Here is Sartre’s view of existence from the novel Nausea: the character who sees himself usually as a man named Roquentin, sitting under what seems to be a chestnut tree:
…the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous lumps, in disorder — naked, with a frightful and obscene nakedness.
Roquentin concludes “My existence was beginning to cause me some concern. Was I a mere figment of the imagination?”
Most of the characters are losing their footing in this episode, and some are losing all touch with reality.
Abel Gideon has lost touch with his identity. Thanks to Dr Chilton’s “psychic driving”, Gideon came to believe he was the Chesapeake Ripper. Of course he isn’t – that’s Hannibal, and Hannibal is none too pleased to have someone else take credit for his ‘work’. Hannibal discusses the situation with Chilton over dinner: Kudal, a sheep gut curry. Lots of useful metaphors in this dish – guts because we are getting inside all the characters at last, and sheep? Well, sheep are used (rather unfairly IMHO) as allegories of blind obedience – going where the leader goes, following without question. Chilton thinks psychic driving is something of this sort – lead the patient to the conclusion you have already drawn.
Hannibal points out that Gideon was an ideal patient to be manipulated:
Chilton suggests Gideon is a psychopath, but Hannibal squashes this idea:
So, if Gideon is not really a psychopath, he is just a common killer, a domestic violence offender who went over the edge into serial killer. Chilton told him he was the Ripper. Alana then told him he was not in a state of mind to know who he was.
Chilton feels like his is going to be blamed (especially since Gideon is planning to sue him). Gideon escapes, as he is hoping to attract the real Ripper, who, he hopes, will tell him who he really is, but Will understands that the Ripper will kill Gideon, for taking credit for his ‘work’.
Realising Gideon is not the Ripper, Chilton just wishes he had been more curious about how common minds work. Hannibal replies:
Thus, the sheep’s gut curry.
The psychic driving didn’t work as hoped, Hannibal tells Chilton, because, once a patient is exposed to the methods of manipulation, he will push back.
Will Graham is not aware of Hannibal’s manipulation, or of his now chronic encephalitis. He is having nightmares about water: tsunamis of water at crime scenes, melting clocks à la Dali, hallucinations of water pouring down the walls in the BAU. He imagines Jack is accusing him, Will, of being the killer they seek.
Will is lost. He feels crazy. Is that your worst fear, asks Hannibal?
Gideon’s battle with identity is brought into focus when he kidnaps Freddie Lounds, so that she can document his vengeance on Chilton, and draw the Ripper, who he knows is an “avid fan” of Freddie’s journalism (the term “avid fan” is from the book and movies of Red Dragon).
Gideon describes his existential crisis to Freddie.
He then proceeds to open up Chilton and remove an amazing number of his organs, without actually killing him:
When the FBI bursts in, Freddie is keeping Chilton alive, and Gideon has gone. Will is waiting in Gideon’s car, and takes him, not to the FBI, but to Hannibal’s home. Why? He is convinced that this is not Gideon he has captured, but his dead nemesis, Garret Jacob Hobbs. Hannibal helpfully tells him that there is no one there at all, which tips Will right over the deep end of his identity/existential crisis:
Will has what Hannibal describes as a “mild seizure” and questions Gideon about whether he is the man who claimed to be the Ripper. Why “claimed”?
He sends Gideon off to hunt Alana. He then tricks Will into going after Gideon. They meet up, two lost souls seeking identity.
At the end, we have the fascinating session of Hannibal with his psychiatrist, Bedelia. He tells her that Will is troubled, that Hannibal sees his madness and wants to contain it, like an oil spill. Oil, she tells him, is valuable, what is the value to Hannibal of Will’s madness?
And finally we come to the crux of Hannibal’s own identity crisis. He is not the loner that he likes to affect.
Bedelia asks “Do you see yourself in his madness?”
They discuss side-effects, that they can be temporary, or can be beneficial:
Will does not present Hannibal with problems from normal life. What does he present?
Now we’re talking abandoned identities!