When Jacques Derrida pointed out that the binary of inside/outside is “the matrix of all possible opposition”, he was apparently not referring to this episode of Hannibal, not even to cannibalism particularly. But he was big on deconstructing binary oppositions, and his opinion that the core binary, the binary to end (or start) all binaries, is that between inside and outside, is particularly apposite to this episode.
Will and Jack are fishing through a hole in the frozen ice of a river, but the prey they are planning to capture is not piscine – it’s Hannibal. Yes, Jack finally got the message; they are no longer discussing whether Hannibal is the Ripper, now it’s about the tactics that might entrap him. They are outside of Hannibal’s world of gourmet human flesh, and their way through it is via his table. Live bait, to lure a predator.
IMHO this is one of the key episodes of the series, smack in its middle (although who knew that the blinkered, Philistine network would cancel after three seasons?), and it features the line that for me is the core of the whole Hannibal mythology:
One of Nietzsche’s most quoted aphorisms is “That which does not kill me makes me stronger” and that, for Hannibal, is precisely the role of a true friend. One should be, to a friend, “an arrow and a longing for the Übermensch” (the superman). This is to what Hannibal was referring when he said that the struggles with Will (including, of course, his attempted murder of Hannibal) would change them – that they were “all Nietzschean fish”.
Will has brought along a wild-caught trout, from his icy rendezvous with Jack. Hannibal has prepared it as truite saumonee au bleu, and the trout seems to be regurgitating his own tail.
You thought “turducken” was some brilliant 21st century idea? Nup. The Tudors were doing it in the 16th century, and it was called “engastration” meaning “stuffed up the gastric passages”. Their specialities included pie from a whole turkey stuffed with a goose, who was stuffed with a chicken, then a partridge, which was stuffed with a pigeon. This poor trout has his own tail in his mouth, but he is the very totem of cannibalism: humans eating humans; we eat ourselves.
They dine to the Piano Concerto 1 in C Major by Ludwig Van Beethoven, or at least that is what we, the audience get to consume, while they enjoy the fish and the banter. Will is being a smartarse, implying that he still suspects, or knows, that Hannibal is the cannibal, and implying he might be joining up with him.
Jack is quick to dispel the idea that they might have doubts about Hannibal, but alludes instead to:
Hannibal is ready for that. He has a whole Nietzschean weltanschauung to share with his admiring friends:
“We need to move past apologies and forgiveness. We will absorb this experience.”
This could have almost come out of Thus spake Zarathustra, in which “man is overcome and the concept Übermensch becomes the greatest reality”. Hannibal, as we know, spends his time helping the region’s many serial killers and tormented psychotics to “become” their greater selves. As a leading forensic psychiatrist, he is familiar with, and often therapist to, most of those who will be pursued by the FBI. Like Nietzsche, who said that “Zarathustra, as the first psychologist of the good man, is perforce the friend of the evil man”, Hannibal is drawn to these violent individuals, not to cure them but to see if they can become a higher form – an Übermensch.
Now we get into the episode’s killing time and, again, there is engastration involved. This time, a vet examining a dead horse finds she was not pregnant, but has a dead woman sewn inside her. Now, that’s worth calling the FBI for.
Hannibal is still acting as murderer-interpreter, despite having said he was retiring last episode. He sees that the woman is inside the horse for a reason:
Yeah, where have we heard that before? Ah yes, Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) in Silence of the Lambs, who put a moth chrysalis into the throat of each victim, as they ‘gave’ their skin to assist his becoming a woman. But what was this woman supposed to become? She’s pretty dead.
Look, this whole woman in horse plot is a bit silly, so we get to meet another really important character family: the Vergers. We don’t see Mason yet, who will be the main antagonist later, but we hear him as he rapes his sister, Margo, saying
Since we’ve all read the book or seen the film Hannibal, we know that Mason used to give poor kids chocolate at his father’s poor-kids’-camps, just before he abused them. So, Margo has changed (in the book she is a weight-lifting lesbian, who would be less prone to submit to Mason’s perverse desires, but the bodybuilding lesbian is such a stereotype). Now she is very cute, and we figure someone is going to fall for her, and that someone’s gonna be Will, because we suddenly see a filmy love scene, apparently inspired by the impressionistic sex scene in the film Fight Club, which turns out to be Alana and Hannibal. Is Hannibal bi, or just using her? Best not to talk about it.
Hannibal has his own hopes for Margo Verger, including a course of Übermensch 101, which is – get them to kill someone. In this case, her abusive and filthy rich brother.
Alana really likes to talk about stuff in bed, much to Hannibal’s obvious distaste.
The woman in the horse’s uterus is on the slab, very dead, giving the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) guys a chance to get some cannibal talk in.
But hey, there’s a heartbeat! Is this the birth that Hannibal predicted? They open her up, crack apart the ribs, and a bird flies out. Birth, resurrection, growth, all basic issues in Hannibal and the rest of Western literature.
And we’re not finished with inside/outside dualisms and engastration. The bird in the woman in the horse was meant to be her rebirth, and Hannibal points out to Will:
Will has found out that “doing bad things to bad people makes you feel good”, a truth that Hannibal emphasises to him, and also to Margo, who has been dehumanised by her brother, and since then by her family, who consider her weird. She’s come to the right analyst here:
But does Will still want to kill Hannibal?
Oh, yes, the sub-plot. The psychopath killing people is the social worker of the guy who sewed the woman into the horse, hoping for a rebirth. Those two, of course, must have their confrontation. It results in one of the great lines of the show:
He’s certainly in there, but he’s not dead, and tears his way out of the horse’s uterus just as Hannibal is bonding with a sheep, a nod to the original theme of Silence of the Lambs.
Will wants to kill the dude, but Hannibal stops him. Killing people is 101, and Will is way past that, so Hannibal sticks his thumb in the gun’s hammer just as Will is about to blow the killer away. Killing this random psychopath will not move Will onto a higher level of evolution.
But Hannibal is impressed as hell at Will’s progress from wimpy FBI trainer to willing executioner. With dialogue quoted straight out of Hannibal’s thoughts about Clarice at the end of the book Hannibal, he tells Will:
“I can feed the caterpillar, and I can whisper through the chrysalis, but what hatches”:
As the great Derridean and Nietzschean philosopher Dr Seuss once said: “Inside, Outside, Upside Down”.