Previously on Hannibal, Will Graham was arrested for Hannibal’s murders, and chose to plead not guilty; but if the verdict goes against him, the penalty will be death. However, he now has a short reprieve thanks to a secret admirer, who generously killed the judge in his case. We, the audience, have a chance to “draw a breath”, which is also the term for being alive. And this episode is all about life and death, and choosing between them, for ourselves, for those we love, and for our victims. It is summed up in the “previously on Hannibal” reprise, where Jack and Hannibal discuss death. Jack has spent his life chasing serial killers:
Will mentally escapes his prison purgatory by remembering good times – fishing. He finds this, as many people describe, relaxing and even meditative. In this memory, he visualises teaching Abigail to fish, the same Abigail who everyone believes is dead and at least partly inside Will’s digestive tract (in that he vomited up one of her ears). Abigail sees no real difference between hunting with her father, who killed and ate girls who looked like her, and trapping and killing fish. She has a point.
Beverley, the super smart FBI investigator, wants to believe Will is not guilty, but cannot buy his accusations against Hannibal. She seeks Will’s assistance to understand who killed the dude who made mosaics out of corpses, and gets mad at him when he accuses, who else, Hannibal. Why, she asks, would he do it?
He tells her: “There will be a clever detail – he wouldn’t be able to resist it.”
Will is contemplating murder, Beverley is contemplating motive, and Jack’s wife, Bella, is contemplating suicide. Her breast cancer has spread, and she is consulting Hannibal about life and death, subjects on which, like most things, he is expert. Her cancer has won the battle, and she has no quality of life, is only staying alive for Jack.
That thought, she tells Hannibal, makes her feel alive. How, she asks, does it make Hannibal feel? And that question affords us a fascinating glimpse into Hannibal as Übermensch:
“The thought that my life could end at any moment frees me to fully appreciate the beauty and art and horror of everything this world has to offer”
Nietzsche, like Hannibal, was a Dionysian, contemptuous of the moralising of Christian ethics. Dionysus was the god of controlled passion, a worthy adversary to Christian suppression of passion. Nietzsche pictured himself as a satyr, half man, half goat, a bridge between man and nature, an affirmer of life. Will Graham sees Hannibal, after he realises that he is the killer they seek, as a faceless man with stag-horns, a windigo, a monster from Algonquian legend, transformed from human shape into a powerful creature driven by a lust for human flesh. Hannibal is Dionysus, in his form as satyr.
Hannibal is clearly a master of ancient Greek culture, telling Bella, as they discuss suicide (according to Sartre, the only subject worth discussing):
“Upon taking his own life, Socrates offered a rooster to the god of healing, to pay his debt. To Socrates, death was not a defeat…”
There is of course a separate killer keeping the FBI team busy – a sweet, new agey woman who wants to put people out of their misery, taking away their pain with her herbal cures, in one case blinding a patient, in the other killing him and filling his head with bees. She is also, the team speculates, into mythological symbolism:
Beverley discovers, after some broad hints from Hannibal, that the killer from last episode, the dude making mosaics out of corpses, is missing a kidney. This links the murder of the murderer to the Chesapeake ripper, who takes surgical trophies from his victims.
Will remembers Hannibal’s first visit to his home in Season 1 Episode 1, with breakfast neatly packed in a picnic basket.
Will realises that Hannibal was feeding him human flesh, and so he also is a cannibal, if innocently. And we know Jack has been dining regularly at Hannibal’s table.
Bella has taken Hannibal’s musings about suicide to heart, and decided that the life Jack wants to preserve (hers) is of a quality not worth saving.
She has taken a lethal dose of her morphine. Hannibal has reservations – not about death, which, we remember, he described as a cure. But about the effect on his friend, her husband, Jack.
Life, death. They are no more than the flip of a coin.
He revives her. She wakes up and gives him a pretty good slap, for someone who was nearly dead. Her view: he has robbed her of her release, her “cure”.
Meanwhile, Beverley is convinced of Will’s claims against Hannibal and goes snooping in his basement. This was never going to end well.