“The eating of the heart is a powerful image” HANNIBAL Season 3, Episode 1 “Antipasto” (Fuller, 2015)

Look, I know from the Fannibals sites that some people didn’t like Season 3, or at least not as much as one and two. I humbly beg to disagree. This season sees Hannibal exposed and ferocious, no longer wearing his “person suit” in which he was pretending to be the respectable psychiatrist, trying to help the FBI catch – well, himself. At the end of Season 2, he left most of the cast writhing in pools of their own blood, and we saw him drinking champagne on a plane to France. His psychiatrist, Bedelia, was by his side, wedded to him, it seems, by their shared responsibility for the death of her patient, whom Hannibal had referred to her. Obligated to him by his helping her cover up her killing.

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Hannibal’s fairy tale is set in Florence, Italy. You may remember a Hannibal of a different generation, in Silence of the Lambs, telling Clarice Starling that memory is what he had instead of a window, as she admired his drawings of the Duomo. Hannibal, it turns out, is an expert on pre-Renaissance Italian literature, particularly Dante, and wants the job of Curator and Translator at the Palazzo Capponi, which of course he gets, by killing the previous Curator and then consuming the man chosen to replace him: Dr Fell, who he meets and eats in Paris. Also by being able to recite Dante from heart at a moment’s notice:

Joyous appeared he in his hand to keep
my very heart, and, lying on his breast,
my lady, veil-enwrapped and full asleep.

But he awakened her, and of my heart,
aflame, he humbly made her, fearful, taste
I saw him, finally, in tears depart.

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Bedelia is no longer pretending not to know what Hannibal does, or of what he is capable. She has an insight into his Nietzschean ethos

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And Hannibal is loving Florence.

“I’ve found a peace here that I would preserve. I’ve killed hardly anybody during our residence”.

Well, the old Curator. And Dr Fell. And Mrs Fell. But the rude Professor Sogliato, who is a natural for dinner because he has been opposing Hannibal’s appointment and being, well, rude about his Italian – will he kill and eat him? No, that would not serve to preserve the peace.

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Bedelia has a flashback to her apartment, just after the bloodbath of the Season 2 Finale, where Hannibal is showering, washing off the blood. She asked him then what he had done.

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Bedelia is terrified of him, but still, they are living the high life.

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There’s a complication, of course, as can happen when you kill people (maybe eat them) and take their identity. This complication is a young scholar from England, Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom from The Boat That Rocked and Avengers: Endgame) who worked for Dr Fell, cordially detested him, and won’t be too upset when he finds out that Hannibal is taking his place. Hannibal appears to show friendship, in one of those double entendres that Hannibal does so well

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We have another flashback to Hannibal’s extended feast on Abel Gideon, at which the only guest of honour was Abel himself.

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“you wish me to be eating oysters, drinking sweet wines and snacking on acorns.
All to make me tastier?”

Abel’s arm is hanging up in the basement being consumed by snails, to make them tastier. And Abel’s tasty flesh is being eaten by Hannibal

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At the dinner, Dimmond asks Bedelia (AKA Mrs Fell) if she is avoiding meat. She replies with one of the great vegan ripostes

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But what is she eating instead? Ah yes

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Dimmond, being a scholar, tells her

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Yes, Bedelia is being fattened up for a future feast. And she knows it.

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Dimmond gets his hopes up: “Is it that kind of party?” “It is not that kind of party” replies Hannibal. To Bedelia’s amazement, Dimmond gets up and leaves at the end of dinner. Alive.

But not for long. Hannibal is giving a lecture to prove his qualifications for the Curatorship. He lectures on mediaeval art, particularly drawing the comparison between Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and Pietro della Vigna, whose alleged treachery and suicide earned him a place in Dante’s Hell. Disappearing in the glow of his slideshow, Hannibal is soon replaced by the One whom Mads seems to be using as inspiration for his portrayal of Hannibal

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The theme of his talk is

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Lo fe gibetto a me de la mie case: I make my own home be my gallows”.

Realising that he is looking at her, and that he considers that she betrayed him (by resigning as his therapist), Bedelia gets up and rushes home to pack. Dimmond comes to the lecture, realises immediately that Hannibal has replaced Dr Fell, and they stroll through an exhibition of instruments of torture. Why do people love such exhibitions? In fact, why do we love stories about zombies, vampires, cannibals? Hannibal explains

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Or as Dimmond puts it

“What still slaps the clammy flab of our submissive consciousness hard enough to get our attention?”

Dimmond offers a sort of partnership with Hannibal. Big mistake. Since Will, Hannibal is not looking to take on new partners. Hannibal takes him home for dinner, just as Bedelia is about to leave, her bag packed and ready.

Wasting no time, Hannibal wallops Dimmond with a bust of Aristotle (appropriate on so many levels) and has a fascinating exchange with Bedelia as she wipes blood off her face, and Dimmond crawls painfully toward the door. He asks her, and us:

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She knew what he would do. She was curious about what would happen. She anticipated their thoughts, counter-thoughts, rationalisations. Is this (the bloody mess) what she expected? Yes, it was.

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He helps her off with her coat. She’s not going anywhere.

And nor is Dimmond, whose corpse Hannibal folds up into the shape of a heart and leaves in a distant cathedral – but more of that next episode.

And nor are we. We are also curious about what will happen. We also anticipate thoughts, counter-thoughts and rationalisations. We also expect things to happen, whether it be in this show, or in our own lives, filled with appetite and consumption and instruments of torture.

That’s participation.

As usual, Hannibal has the final word, in a line that sums up pretty much everything I have been trying to say about cannibalism, and the link to carnivorous virility, and our assumption that it’s OK  to eat anyone whom we classify as less than us.

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As Claude Levi-Strauss said:

“We are all cannibals”.

 

Next week: Beneath the Planet of the Apes

The First and Last Hannibal movie: HANNIBAL RISING (Webber, 2007)

Well, it’s the first Hannibal movie, because it starts with him as a child, and it’s chronologically the last one released. Unless #BryanFuller makes a movie, instead of Season 4 of the TV show. Or Sir Anthony Hopkins comes back as an octogenarian Hannibal, with his wife (Clarice – Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore would both be fine) running the meat business. Martha De Laurentiis @neoprod – I have a script treatment ready!

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This is the Hannibal film everyone loves to hate. We are treated to a sweet young Hannibal (Aaran Thomas) having to watch his beloved little sister Mischa being eaten by Nazi collaborators and deserters, and then discovering that he himself unwittingly joined the feast.

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From this, we deduce, came his hunger for human flesh. Like the desperate young crash survivors carving meat from the corpses of their dead teammates in Alive, his subsequent actions may not be acceptable, but become at least partially understandable. Psychopathy founded in trauma.

Hannibal of course would have hated this – remember that he told Clarice in Silence of the Lambs

“You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism… Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”

Or as the 21st century Hannibal said:

when it comes to nature versus nurture I choose neither. We are built from a DNA blueprint and born into a world of scenario and circumstance we don’t control.

There are two streams of thought on the subject of evil: one, from Rousseau to Arendt, is adamant that morality requires an explanation for evil, while an alternative stream from Voltaire to Jean Améry, insists that it be left unaccountable. Clarice Starling and Dino De Laurentiis would seem to favour the side of Rousseau, while Harris and Hannibal, and many critics of the film, seem more aligned with Voltaire. Harris apparently faced the awful choice of accepting large sums of money to divulge the origin story, or else see it betrayed by another writer.

The opening image of a film, they tell you in film studies, sets the mood and the theme. This one opens with a spider-web.

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People are afraid of spiders, for reasons that I have never quite understood. Beware, this one seems to be saying, and we hear childish Hannibal in the background, telling Mischa to run and hide! But it’s just a game. Until the Nazis appear, with their Hiwis, or Lithuanian collaborators, led by the irredeemably despicable Grutas (Rhys Ifans), bandits who are all too willing to assist the SS, for their own profit.

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Hannibal’s parents are killed, and the Hiwis take over the lodge, desperate for food, and finding none.

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Except for the children.

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We do not witness the cannibal acts then, but in nightmare flashbacks eight years later. Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) is now a teenager, still mute from PTSD, in an orphanage which uses the former Lecter Castle. He is accused of not honouring “the human pecking order”

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Yes, he hates discourtesy. He won’t swallow bullying. Yet.

He escapes the orphanage, crosses Lithuania, Poland, East Germany (hops over the Wall, easy as anything) and arrives in his uncle’s home in Paris. Uncle is dead, and he moves in with his beautiful young Japanese aunt, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li, who is Chinese, but, ah well). Will there be romance as she helps him recover his voice?

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She teaches him about the Samurai code, in front of the armour of her ancestors, strangely evocative of a later Hannibal.

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She teaches him the art of fighting. And the treatment of enemies.

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A butcher in the marketplace insults Murasaki, and Hannibal is enraged. The butcher (a Nazi collaborator) becomes Hannibal’s first kill, and then his first human meat, after the chef explains the delights of eating cheeks.

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Hannibal presents Murasaki with the butcher’s head. When she objects that he did not need to do that for her, he replies

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Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to Hannibal. Ah, so young, and already eating the rude. And already seeing cannibalism everywhere – looking at a fresco of Abraham on the mount, about to sacrifice his son, he asks

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So much about older Hannibal is revealed – the police inspector (Dominic West from The Wire) gives him a lie detector test – but he responds to nothing.

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Hannibal is also brilliant – the youngest student ever admitted into medical school. But he is still obsessed with Mischa and the men who took her from him. He can draw their faces from memory, but cannot remember their names. A dose of sodium thiopental, truth serum, with the Goldberg Variations (another Silence of the Lambs reference) playing in the background, gives him his mental break. Or maybe breaks something in him, depending on your propensity for behaviourism. He remembers that there was a bag of dog-tags left in the lodge, returns to the Soviet Union (no problem crossing the Iron Curtain for Hannibal apparently) and finds all the names. And Mischa’s teddy bear, and her bones. And one of the Hiwis, whom he dispatches, much as Will later dreams of dispatching Hannibal.

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He licks the blood off his glove, with some gusto, and prepares the cheeks for a fresh-air feast.

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Hannibal spends the rest of the movie tracking down the rest of the gang, who are now into respectable industries like human trafficking and drowning ortolans for lunch.

Along the way, there are interesting discussions of our topic – cannibalism. One of the gang tell Hannibal, as he is about to be killed:

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Survival cannibalism. Common in the days of sail, and in various famines. But the Inspector knows what happened, back in the USSR.

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Cannibalism happened on the Eastern Front, says the Inspector. This is not news to Hannibal. He is determined to find the gang leader, Grutas. The Inspector tells him (us) what a lovely guy Grutas is. He sawed off the head of the Rabbi at Kaunas.

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He walked away from his war crime trial because a witness got acid poured down her throat. So really, whatever Hannibal does, well, it’s OK with us. But the Inspector has decided Hannibal is insane.

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Murasaki tries to persuade him to give the gang up to the police. She can be quite persuasive.

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But Hannibal cannot make that promise. He has already promised Mischa – revenge.

At his first encounter with the villain, Grutas, he has an interesting outlook on cannibalism too.

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There you have it. Cannibalism is about love.

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Then the big reveal. Lady Murasaki is a captured by Grutas, Hannibal comes to the rescue and has Grutas at his mercy. Mercy is not a word Hannibal uses much, and when Murasaki asks him to stop, he says

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Grutas replies:

So did you. You ate her too. So why don’t you kill yourself? Pot Watcher fed her to you in a broth. You have to kill everyone who knows it, don’t you? You ate her, half conscious…

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Hannibal snaps, and carves M for Mischa on Grutas’ chest.

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Murasaki gives up, despite Hannibal’s protestations of love.

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Instead of following her, Hannibal stops for a quick snack on Grutas’ cheeks.

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Trivia time: Hannibal is not only a brilliant doctor, musician and cook, but he is also apparently ambidextrous. Check him out writing left-handed in this movie, whereas he is right-handed in all the others, and in the TV series.

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The film got a measly 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. Most criticism centres on the fact that it is not particularly scary, but that rather misses the point, IMHO. The question the film asks is: how do people overcome the social conditioning of their childhoods to become what they are – killers, cannibals, rapists, politicians? It may be genetic, as Hannibal tells Clarice: “nothing happened. I happened”. Or maybe the childhood itself offers a clue to how, as Clarice asked “you got that way”. The film offers a view of the latter – a gentle, loving little boy with, clearly, a brilliant mind, but so traumatised that he can think of nothing but revenge. His target – rude people and bullies. No one minds seeing them get their comeuppance. But you take a bite out of their cheeks, and suddenly everyone is convinced you’re a monster.

But here’s why I like this film:

  • The book and the screenplay are both written by the brilliant Thomas Harris, who of course created Hannibal. This is the only film in the series for which Harris wrote the screenplay
  • The Director is Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring)
  • There are two Hannibals in this movie (a 100% increase on all the other movies)! One at age eight, and the other a young man
  • It only takes Hannibal’s story up to his arrival in North America, leaving a nice narrative gap between that and his eventual capture and captivity by Will Graham in Red Dragon, which was perfectly filled by Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal (even if time shifted by a few decades)
  • It shows the humanity of Hannibal, his devotion to his sister, and his determination to hunt down her killers. If you don’t want your Hannibal to show humanity, then this can be a problem
  • It was a prequel. Every great character gets a prequel – Darth Vader, Indiana Jones, Vito Corleone, Mr Spock, Zorro, Batman – even Jesus has scored a few. Why not Hannibal?

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“I wanted to surprise you” HANNIBAL Season 2 Finale, “MIZUMONO” (Fuller, 2014)

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Mizumono is usually translated from Japanese as a “matter of chance”, which is already surprising for a narrative where we have constantly been told that Hannibal, the cannibalistic mastermind, is completely in control and manipulating the other characters, including the entire FBI. But it is so, as we shall see. Even Hannibal is surprised, and not in a good way.

The episode begins with Hannibal’s handwritten note, an artwork in itself, a calligraphic masterpiece (what – Hannibal’s going to write like a spider crawling out of an inkwell, like me?) He is inviting Jack to dinner.

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We all know it’s going to be a showdown, orchestrated by Will, who has told Jack they are trapping Hannibal, and has told Hannibal they are killing Jack, preparatory to escaping together. Whose side are you on, Will?

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Hannibal sums up the carnage to come, with a line used against him in the book Hannibal

When a fox hears a rabbit scream, he comes running. But not to help.
When you hear Jack scream, why will you come running?

In a lovely piece of screen juxtapositioning, both ask Will “When the moment comes…”

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But what exactly needs to be done? Will sees the spectre of Garret Jacob Hobbs, the first serial killer he blew away, back in Season 1, sitting on his front deck, disturbing his dogs. Will picks up a hunting rifle and prepares to kill a stag. Hobbs says the same word he said to Will as he died, a triumphant question confirming the male need for carnivorous sacrifice in order to reinforce identity.

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You might remember that in Episode 4 of this season, Hannibal thwarted the attempted suicide of Jack’s wife, Bella  – he revived her (after first tossing a coin).

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He saved her for Jack. Now as the cancer takes her, she asks

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Well, that’s awkward. Will wants him to kill Jack, now Bella wants him to save Jack. Sometimes the hinges of human sympathies get a bit squeaky.

But he’s leaving town anyway, leaving the FBI and his patients behind, taking Will, for whom he has prepared a nice surprise, involving time reversals (remember the broken cup?)

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They’re burning all Hannibal’s patient records, including the one that shows the demented clock Will drew when he was suffering from encephalitis. But even over the smoke of his flaming life, Hannibal retains that keen sense of smell

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Yes, he smells on Will the scent of Freddie Lounds, whom Will had claimed was the main course of their recent dinner. Hannibal is surprised! Shocked. Disappointed. Angry. Sad. And you have to give it to Mads Mikkelsen, it takes a hell of an actor to express all that without a word of dialogue.

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Of course, the Jack/Will plot is falling apart, since they are not the hunters/fishers/conspirators that they think they are. Jack’s boss puts him on “forced compassionate leave” and he hands in his gun and badge.

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If they are going to take Hannibal down, it will be without the authority or firepower of the FBI. It’s just revulsion and animosity now. And Will never seems completely sure whose side he is on. But he has been goaded – by Hannibal who framed him, by Jack who is driven by humiliation at being constantly deceived, and probably fed a fair amount of human flesh by Hannibal, and Will is intent on seeing where this goes, which is a very Hannibal approach.

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Hannibal has outdone even himself with his presentation of the Last Supper (of this life) for himself and Will. He asks Will if he understands the concept of the IMAGO.

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It is the last stage of metamorphosis in insects, and also in humans turning into Übermenschen, I guess. But in what Hannibal calls “the dead religion of psychoanalysis” (a phrase he first used in Silence of the Lambs) it also means an ideal

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It’s the concept of an ideal person, often one (Clarice’s Dad for example) that we hold on to all our lives and try to live up to. Hannibal and Will have concepts of each other, but they are “too curious about too many things for any ideals”.

NOW IT’S TIME FOR OUR SURPRISE

Hannibal asks Will:

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Hannibal is asking Will for permission to show MERCY! Do you remember what he said last episode? “Pity has no place at the table”

Yet now he puts to Will a new plan.

We could disappear now. Tonight. Feed your dogs. Leave a note for Alana and never see her or Jack again.

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Hannibal points out that he served lamb, an animal that is so quintessentially gentle and harmless that it is repeatedly used in the most brutal religious ceremonies. Will sees the significance – lamb is sacrificial. Hannibal has sacrificed a lamb to appease the wrath of the new Übermensch, Will Graham. Is it enough?

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Well yes, Will does, he sees it as the triumph of the Will. He needs to see one of his mentors defeated, another victorious. He needs to see and even taste the sacrifice.

Jacques Derrida in an interview entitled ‘Eating Well,’or the Calculation of the Subject states:

The virile strength of the adult male… belongs to the schema that dominates the concept of subject. The subject does not want just to master and possess nature actively. In our cultures, he accepts sacrifice and eats flesh.

They have eaten the flesh of the gentle lamb. Now they need to sacrifice a warrior. They discuss forgiveness. Hannibal offers to forgive Will – would Jack do the same? Will replies

Jack isn’t offering forgiveness. He wants – justice. He wants to see you. See who you are.

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Will’s imago will be born in blood.

The FBI put out a warrant for Will (on somewhat shaky legal grounds according to some Internet commentators) and Alana phones to warn him. He then calls Hannibal, and uses the same words Hannibal used in the very first episode when he warned Hobbs:

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Hannibal is carving meat for their not-going-to-happen dinner when Jack appears, beautifully framed in the carver.

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This is ceremonial warfare like jousting or bushido or martial arts: it starts with courtesy and appreciation of the enemy.

Jack: I want to thank you for your friendship, Hannibal.

Hannibal: The most beautiful quality of a true friendship is to understand and be understood with absolute clarity.

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Jack reaches for his gun, Hannibal tosses a carving knife, and it’s on. Alana arrives with her little gun, and Hannibal offers to let her leave alive

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Pretty much what he said to Clarice at the end of Silence of the Lambs. She decides to shoot, of course; Hannibal has taken her bullets, of course. Then comes the shocking climax, where we find that Hannibal has actually reversed time, made the cup gather itself up again.

Have you seen this episode? If not, do so now. In case you haven’t, no more spoilers. It’s sensational.

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You did.

“Hiding and revealing identity” – HANNIBAL Season 2, Episode 12 “Tome-wan”, (Fuller, 2014)

The penultimate episode of any season is often the most tense, since it is preparing us for the shock of the climax. Masks are torn off, loves and hatreds revealed, disguises discarded and armour strapped on. “Tome-wan” is a course of a Japanese meal in which a lidded dish is prepared and then opened to present the soup inside. So it is for Hannibal Season 2 in this episode, which will be followed, we know, by the titanic battle between Jack Crawford and Hannibal, as already partially revealed in Episode 1.

This episode is about hiding and revealing identities.

It’s just as well Hannibal is a psychiatrist, because he can explain to us, the mystified audience, what is going on in the heads of those he is manipulating. At the start of the episode, Will Graham is in therapy, asking Hannibal if he can “explain my actions? Posit my intentions?” Of course he can. Hannibal says “I have an understanding of your state of mind. You understand mine.”

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Mads Mikkelsen has said that he plays Hannibal as the devil, while Anthony Hopkins said he played the role as the “Trickster” archetype. Their portrayals have one thing at least in common – they are cultured, civilised men who hate rudeness. He uses terms from the original books and movies:

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What does one do with the rude, the crude, the uncivilised? Refine them of course, just as we refine our raw materials by processing them – in the case of food, by cooking them. So let it be with Mason Verger. Will asks if Hannibal is thinking of eating Mason.

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Barney, a guard who got on well with Hannibal at the asylum, came up with these aphorisms in the book Hannibal, even though, in this Lecter universe, the asylum is still a long way off for Hannibal.

Will agrees that Mason is “a pig” (apologies to any pigs who are listening – they are delightful animals) and that he should be someone’s bacon. He is willing to join Hannibal at the cannibal table.

But wait. Will has taken the Trickster role that this Hannibal has discarded. We know that he is conspiring with Jack to manipulate Hannibal into committing a murder, hoping to then arrest him. He claims to be doing what he accused Hannibal of doing: setting people at each other’s throats just because

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Hannibal asks Will to close his eyes and visualise what he would like to happen. Will sees Hannibal, strung up over Mason’s killer-pig pen, and Will is slashing his throat. When Hannibal asks what Will saw, they just smile at each other. The masks are coming off.

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But Hannibal has recruited Mason as a patient, and must listen to his ravings. Mason really is the freest range rude one can imagine – he puts his feet on Hannibal’s desk, then sticks his father’s knife into one of Hannibal’s fine antique chairs. Folks – don’t try this at home. It is very rude. You know it will end in tears.

Hannibal is holding forth on God again, an entity with whom he has a tortured relationship.

“God’s choices in inflicting suffering are not satisfactory to us. Nor are they understandable. Unless innocence offends him.”

Hannibal does not claim to be God. He finds Mason offensive, and must make him suffer. He would prefer Will as the chosen murderer – this would both cement their relationship, advance Will’s path of becoming, and provide an inexpensive dinner. But Margot will do – she is seeking revenge for the way Mason abused her, but she doesn’t want to lose her inheritance, which will happen if he dies.

Jack is pressuring Will to catch Hannibal, but Hannibal has demonstrated nothing for which he can be arrested.

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Hannibal will kill Mason, Will tells the confused Jack, because Mason is rude. Using a Clarice line from Silence of the Lambs, Will says

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The FBI have found Bedelia, Hannibal’s psychiatrist, who tells them how Hannibal influenced her to kill a patient of theirs. He will influence you to kill too, she warns Will.

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Will wants to know Hannibal’s weakness. How would Bedelia catch him?

“Hannibal can get lost in self-congratulation at his own exquisite taste and cunning.”

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That’s how Hannibal will be caught, which is exactly what Clarice told the Game Warden in the book Hannibal.

Will is playing a dangerous game, pretending that he is coming over to Hannibal’s side, although a part of him is certainly longing to do so. He tells Hannibal that it is all starting to feel like a dream. Dreams, Hannibal tells him, prepare us for waking life.

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Hannibal is taking off his mask, something he rarely does, and inviting Will into his inner sanctum of extreme carnivorous virility, and into a relationship that will be new for both of them.

“There are extraordinary circumstances here, Will. And unusual opportunities. Mason Verger is a problem. And problem solving is hunting.”

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Will is not so sure he is on top of this manipulation. He is confused and tempted by Hannibal’s offer to be the cannibal’s apprentice. He concludes:

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“Every moment of cogent thought under your psychiatric care is a personal victory. We are just alike. You’re as alone as I am.”

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It’s love, captain, but not as we know it. It’s a form of love that only two adversaries can feel. Both are sincere, yet both are trying to manipulate, master the other.

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Jack is maintaining his mask as well – the admiring friend, who enjoys Hannibal’s exquisite gourmet dinners, and is not even a bit suspicious. Hannibal can see right through this, as he sees through the main course – Kholodets, a dish in which fish are mounted in clear calves foot jelly, positioned as if pursuing each other. Jack admits that he doesn’t understand who is pursuing whom at the moment. Well, says Hannibal, whoever is pursuing whom in this very moment

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Well, if Will is to manipulate Hannibal into an arrestable offence, he’ll have to hurry, because the patient (Mason) has captured Hannibal, bound him in a straitjacket and suspended him over the carnivorous pigpen, just like Will’s fantasy. And hey – Will is there, to help feed those hungry piggies! Here’s his chance to get rid of the Chesapeake Ripper and revenge himself for his false arrest. All he has to do is take the knife Mason hands him and cut Hannibal a bit, make his blood drip into the pen, to excite the pigs’ appetite.

Instead, he joins Hannibal’s army. He cuts the straitjacket and frees Hannibal. In the fight that follows, he is rendered unconscious.

Some time later, Hannibal has Mason tied to a chair, and is prescribing drugs – a cocktail of psychedelics.

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It’s all happening in Will’s house, and when he arrives, Mason is kindly feeding Will’s adopted dog family. Ever suspicious, Will asks “What are you feeding my dogs?”

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He is chopping off bits of his face and feeding them to the dogs. As he feeds and praises the dogs, he tells a story that might explain Hannibal’s wrath.

“I adopted some dogs from the shelter. Two dogs that were friends. I had them in a cage together with no food and fresh water. One of them died hungry. The other had a warm meal.”

Hannibal has nothing against human cannibalism, but dog cannibalism is beyond the pale. Rude.

Now it’s time for the apprentice to step up.

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Will replies:

“There is no mercy. We make mercy. Manufacture it in the parts that have overgrown our basic reptile brain.”

Then, says Hannibal, there is no murder – we manufacture that as well. Will has all the elements to make murder. Maybe mercy too, but murder is what he knows best. This is a fascinating piece of Thomas Harris’ philosophical musing from the very last page of the book Red Dragon. In this scene, Will is at the scene of the battle of Shiloh, one of the fiercest battles of the American Civil War, at a pond which mythology later named, for obvious reasons, “Bloody Pond”. He has a realisation.

“Shiloh was not sinister; it was indifferent. Beautiful Shiloh could witness anything. Its unforgivable beauty simply underscored the indifference of nature, the Green Machine….

He wondered if, in the great body of humankind, in the minds of men set on civilisation, the vicious urges we control in ourselves and the dark instinctive knowledge of those urges function like the crippled virus the body arms against.

He wondered if old, awful urges are the virus that makes vaccine.”

Mason interrupts to tell them he is hungry, and Hannibal recommends auto-cannibalism.

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He does.

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That shifted the conversation – now we can talk about taste! Who knew we humans tasted like chickens? Hannibal uses some more lines from the book and movie Hannibal.

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Hannibal asks Will to kill Mason, but he refuses. “He’s your patient, Doctor”

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Mason is now faceless and quadriplegic. Jack visits him, hoping to gather an accusation against Hannibal, but now Mason is wearing a mask. Quite literally. From behind his mask, he tells Jack that he has benefitted greatly from Hannibal’s therapy and

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You bet he does.

Will visits Hannibal, who is drawing an image from the Iliad

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Hannibal sees himself as Achilles, the invincible warrior, and Will as Patroclus, his only love, who was killed outside Troy while dressed in Achilles’ armour. Patroclus, like Will, was known for his empathy. A constant theme of Greek epics, Hannibal says is

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Also battle-tested friendships. Hannibal tells Will that Achilles wanted all the Greeks to die, so that he and Patroclus could conquer Troy alone.

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Will has moved far beyond entrapping Hannibal now. He is at the very least an accomplice to the mutilation and crippling of Mason Verger. He plays his last ace: he tells Hannibal that they are going to get caught, that Jack suspects, that Hannibal should give Jack the Ripper. “Allow him closure. Reveal yourself. You’ve taunted him for long enough.” Is he hoping Hannibal will repent and confess?

Hannibal seems to agree. “Jack has become my friend. I suppose I owe him the truth”.

The truth can hurt, as we will find out in the next episode, the Season 2 finale, the blog of which I will post in two weeks, on 8th September. Everyone will reveal their identity, and it will get brutal.

“…power over life and death” HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 11 “Ko No Mono” (Fuller, 2014)

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“This is my design”.

It’s Will Graham’s favourite line. But he is wrong. Everything that has happened and will happen in the build-up to the giant brawl (of which we saw a preview in episode one) is in fact Hannibal Lecter’s design. Jack and Will think they are playing him (and Will is not too sure), but he is at least a dozen steps ahead of them all the way.

This episode is all about DEATH AND REBIRTH. This is a fundamental theme in most religions: the sacrifice of the innocents, and the rebirth (Moses in the bulrushes, Jesus’ resurrection, the birth-rebirth cycle of Hinduism and Buddhism).

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The episode starts with a birth. The Wendigo (stagman) is watching a creature born from the earth – tearing its way free from the birth membrane and gasping for breath. It is the birth of a new Wendigo, and it is Will Graham. It is his dream.

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Then there is death, and death precedes life, because we kill to eat. For some of us it’s plant based, for others a sentient creature, slaughtered in our name. For Hannibal, it’s all of the above, and always dramatic. Last week was a baby pig, this week it’s a couple of songbirds. This scene is taken from the book Hannibal. He is serving dinner to Will. We see a bird in a glass case; we see wine being poured in. Surely not.

“Among gourmands, the ortolan bunting is considered a rare but debauched delicacy.”

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“Preparation calls for the bird to be drowned alive in Armagnac. It is then roasted and consumed whole in a single mouthful.”

Will points out that ortolans are endangered.

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The tradition in this fearful ceremony is to wear a shroud over the diners’ heads, under which they hide from God.

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Hannibal witnesses Will eat his ortolan, as do we, in extreme close-up.

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Hannibal tells Will that after his first ortolan he was “euphoric”.

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Haha! Good one Will! See you and raise you, in a high stakes game, or so we suspect, and which is confirmed to us later in the episode. Will is (or thinks he is) trapping Hannibal. Yet, as his dream portends, he is not fully in charge of this narrative, and may in fact be turning into his own version of the Wendigo, even as he pretends to be following Hannibal’s tuition, graduating to murder and cannibalism. Hannibal tells him

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His choices are affecting the physical structure of his brain. Killing is changing the way he thinks. Then Hannibal uses some dialogue from Red Dragon, in which Hannibal is encouraging Francis Dolarhyde, (whom we don’t meet in this series, although there is some speculation that he was the killer in Season 1 Episode 1).

“You must understand that blood and breath are only elements undergoing change to fuel your radiance. Just as the source of light is burning.”

The creation of the Wendigo, or the Übermensch, is a chemical process, a “becoming” which requires the destruction, the burning, of lesser beings, just as humans like to believe that the destruction of “lower” animals is required for their continued existence (or so the Verger marketing campaigns tell them). Will can only grow into his destiny by killing and burning people. And such is the impression he hopes to give Hannibal.

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In the book and films of Red Dragon, Freddy Lounds (a male reporter) is glued to Dolarhyde’s grandma’s wheelchair, set alight, and rolled into his parking garage. In this reimagination, we are led to believe that Freddie Lounds has met that fate, after the removal of some meat (her psoas muscles) for the meal Hannibal and Will enjoyed at the end of the previous episode. They continue their metaphysical conversation over her (?) charred corpse, in front of the clueless Jack Crawford. Hannibal observes that the burning was sacred. Will replies:

“Freddie Lounds had to burn. She was fuel.
Fire destroys and it creates. It is mythical.
She won’t rise from the ashes. But her killer will.”

Oh yeah. And we’re not leaving the metaphor there. It’s the circle of life, as Elton keeps reminding us. Life ends in death, death engenders new life. Nietzsche spoke of amor fati – the love of fate, the acceptance that what has happened could not have happened any other way, and will happen again, and again. Bit like Australian politics.

Yet Hannibal continues to hope that somehow his own agency can alter the cycle of eternal recurrence, reverse time and repair the loss, particularly of his sister. He is obsessed with Stephen Hawking’s description of entropy as proof of the “arrow of time” – we “know” that time only flows one way because a shattered teacup does not gather itself back together. Hannibal really likes Hawking’s early theory that, when the universe stops expanding and starts contracting, time will reverse and entropy mend itself; the teacup will mend, Mischa will be whole again, Abigail will be returned to Will. He has something of the sort already planned out, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Apologising to Will for killing Abigail, he says:

“Occasionally I drop a teacup to shatter on the floor. On purpose. I’m not satisfied when it doesn’t gather itself up again. Someday perhaps a cup will come together.”

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Meanwhile, we get to know Mason Verger, and find out why Margot hates him, Hannibal increasingly dislikes him (now he is in his therapy room) and we are going to really detest him. Mason has a cute recipe for cocktails: he likes to make children cry and add their tears to, presumably, gin and vermouth. He’s into orphans, which got him into trouble in his youth.

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Hannibal’s therapy is never pointless. He has been treating Margot; a rather unorthodox therapy in which he encourages her to have a child so that she can inherit the Verger fortune when she kills Mason. Now he drops the hint to Mason: that she may be expecting a child.

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Now, in case we have somehow overlooked the birth, death, rebirth theme, someone (yeah, of course it’s Hannibal) has dug up Freddie and a few other corpses and made a Shiva effigy in the graveyard.

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Shiva is known as “The Destroyer” within the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity, but he is also the God who creates, protects and transforms the universe. Hannibal sees a similar role for himself in the human universe. Not surprising that he likes the Hindu gods, because there can be many of them, and he is hoping Will, or one of his protégés, will become like him. He tells Will that every creative act has its destructive consequences.

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Will tells Alana that the killer of Freddie must have a benefactor, and

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But Will is befuddled over Margot, and her revelation that she used him to get pregnant. Fatherhood was not was he was expecting, but he quite likes the idea. He asks Hannibal if he has ever been a father.

“I was to my sister. She was not my child, but she was my charge. She taught me so much about myself.”

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Now, in the books Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, Mischa was a toddler who was torn from Hannibal’s little arms by Nazi collaborators in WWII and cooked, and Hannibal was given some of the resulting stew, which, we are supposed to swallow, turned him into a cannibal. Well, that is how you become a wendigo apparently. No such revelations in the TV series though. For one thing, this Hannibal is much younger, and was born decades after the Nazis were defeated. We don’t know how old Mischa was in this new universe, or the circumstances of her death and ingestion. Perhaps we’ll find out in Season 4:

#bringbackhannibal

Please?

We do know that Abigail reminded him of Mischa, which means she might have been a bit older than a toddler when eaten. So Will, who is still mighty pissed off about Hannibal killing Abigail and forcing her ear down his throat, asks

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Amor fati.

Will talks of his dreams, in which he is teaching Abigail to fish. And just to confound anyone who claims Hannibal is a psychopath, he says (and this pretty rare)

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So why did you kill Abigail? Will wants to know. You sacrificed her!

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Now Hannibal often quotes God, which bothers many in the audience, including, at this point, Will. What God does Hannibal pray to? Well, he doesn’t pray, we are not awfully surprised to learn. He’s just impressed by disasters, particularly church collapses.

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Will retorts that he prayed to see Abigail again, and Hannibal, who has a sharp wit, points out

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Yes, her ear, barfed up in Will’s kitchen sink. Put up your hand (nobody’s watching) if you laughed at that line! But Hannibal has a plan, which he puts in obscure, metaphysical terms, which don’t much help the terribly practical Will:

“Should the universe contract, should time reverse and teacups come together…”

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Well, he is, supposedly, going to be father to Margot’s baby.

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Mason is now annoying everyone – at his farm, where he is teaching pigs to eat living humans, and in Hannibal’s rooms, where he is boasting of the way his father would stab pigs at the shows, just to see how fat they were.

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Mason arranges a car accident for his sister, followed by a hysterectomy, to remove her temptation to kill him. Without an heir, all the money would go to the Southern Baptist Church. And no one wants that. Except, I guess, the Southern Baptist Church.

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We finally find out the truth about Freddie Loundes’ murder – there wasn’t one. She’s sitting in an FBI office, part of Jack and Will’s plot to entrap Hannibal.

Will is not impressed with Mason’s mutilation of Margot, and the loss of yet another child (he’s keeping count: Abigail, 1; fetus, 2). He punches Mason in the mouth, pulls a gun on him, and tells him that all of them have been pawns in Hannibal’s game.

“Do you think it was Margot’s idea to have an heir?
You think it was your idea to take it from her?
My idea to come here and kill you?
The only thing that you, your sister and I have in common – is the same psychiatrist.”

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Oh, there is a reckoning coming. In two more episodes.

 

“Man’s flesh is delicious” THE LAST CONFESSION OF ALEXANDER PEARCE (Rowland, 2008)

Alexander Pearce was, as far as we know, Australia’s first cannibal. Although the Indigenous people of Australia were regularly accused of cannibalism, the evidence is suspiciously absent, and clearly such accusations were extremely useful in the British colonial campaigns of subjugation and genocide.

But Alexander Pearce was the real thing.

The film is mostly set in Hobart Jail, where Pearce (Irish actor Ciarán McMenamin) is waiting to be hanged, and has requested a priest to hear his confession. Somewhat unwillingly, an Irish priest named Father Philip Connolly (Adrian Dunbar) listens to Pearce’s story.

In 1824, the British penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land was a living hell, where vicious floggings were regular punishments.

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Pearce had been transported to Australia for stealing a pair of shoes, and continuing law-breaking saw him eventually transferred to Sarah Island, which was surrounded by sea on one side and wilderness on the other.

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Eight convicts made their escape, and headed off into the bush with enough food for four days. After eight days, weak with hunger, they start discussing cases where sailors lost at sea have engaged in cannibalism to survive, and realise they will have to do the same. They nominate Dalton the one member of their gang they all hate, a man who volunteered to be the “flogger” and who has whipped all of them. He probably should have kept his day job at Sarah Island.

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Three of the others turned back, but “took their share of Dalton”. Every time they run out of food, another man is killed. They see new potential meat – kangaroos and emus – and vow brotherly love – never to kill another of their own, but then discover how fast kangaroos and emus can run. Soon there are four, then just three, and Pearce realises that he is next, because the other two are friends. Luckily for Pearce, one of them gets bitten by a snake, develops gangrene and well… once more they have brotherly love. The priest is dismissive of such protestations of virtue, and Pearce answers:

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“A Full Belly is prerequisite to all manner of good! Without that, no man will ever know what hunger will make you do.”

Soon there are only two, and neither dares sleep. Pearce wins the game, and the last meal, but is interrupted by a local.

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After three months, Pearce made it, alone, to Jericho, in the centre of Tasmania, over 150km away from Sarah Island. The magistrate sent him back to Sarah Island, because he did not believe the story of cannibalism. He thought it was a cover for his friends, to disguise the fact that they were still at large, bushranging.

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“He’s a thief. He’s a forger. A recalcitrant Irish… but I didn’t credit him with being a savage”.

It was also impossible to hang him for murder, since there were no bodies – a legal benefit of cannibalism.

At Sarah Island, Pearce was viciously flogged and chained to a rock.

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He escaped again, perhaps at the urging of another young convict, whom he killed eight days later, while they still had provisions. He was apparently enraged when he discovered the boy couldn’t swim, a real disadvantage when escaping from an island. Pearce signalled the first passing ship, confessed his actions and showed the authorities the body. So this time, they could hang him.

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“The man’s a monster. He cut that young man in half, and devoured him for meat, and this while he himself still had bread and cheese lining his pockets”.

At the governor’s table, all merrily chewing on some other unfortunate animal, they discuss Pearce’s fate: to be hanged, and his body dissected.

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“Quite an irony, I imagine, a cannibal being dissected… see what breeds such savagery”.

Asked by the governor’s wife why he is giving comfort to Pearce, the priest replies “I do it for fear… Fear of what we all might become, here at the end of the world.”

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Pearce was hanged at the Hobart Jail at 9am on the 19th July 1824.

“whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall that man’s blood be shed, for in his own image, God made human kind.”

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“The world is always easier understood held at a distance with tales of monsters and the like. This is how Alexander is remembered. Not as a man. Yet few truer words have ever been spoken: A full belly is prerequisite to all manner of good. Without that, no man will ever know what hunger will make him do.”

The film was nominated for the 2010 Rose d’Or, Best Drama at the 6th Annual Irish Film and Television Awards, Best Drama at the 2009 Australian Film Institute Awards, won Best Documentary at the 2009 Inside Film Awards and the director Michael James Rowland was nominated in the Best Director (Telemovie) category in the 2009 Australian Directors Guild Awards.

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Pearce is supposed to have said just before his execution:

“Man’s Flesh is Delicious. It Tastes Far Better Than Fish or Pork.”

This line does not appear in the film, and is probably apocryphal.

“It was… intimate” HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 10 “Naka-Choko” (Fuller, 2014)

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Intimate is the word for this episode. And hey, this is a cannibal blog, so all the sex going on might seem a bit out of scope, but stick with me, it makes sense. It’s all sex and death today. Sigmund Freud would have loved this episode.

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Everything Hannibal does has a purpose – a plan or, as Will would say, a “design”. He is always a dozen steps ahead of the chess game he is playing with Jack Crawford, which explains the huge punch-up that’s going to happen (we saw some of it at the start of episode 1 of this season).

What motivates Hannibal is what motivates us all. When we pad out to the fridge in the middle of the night, or he abducts a rude person on a dark road, we are concerned with two things: appetite and power. We are hungry, and we have the power to open a packet of instant noodles. Hannibal is hungry, and has the power to kill and cook people. Just a matter of opportunity, and belief. This hunger and lust for power is motivated, Hannibal believes (and I’m not going to argue with him, because that would be rude), by death.

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According to anthropologist Ernest Becker, most of us are motivated by a fear of death, and fill our time with convoluted ways to distract us from thinking about it.

Hannibal, and increasingly Will, are fascinated by it. Hannibal is a psychiatrist, so he is very familiar with Freud’s “death drive”. Freud had always assumed that humans are driven by the “pleasure principle” – we like things that make us feel good. Sure, but later, in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, he suggested another drive which, he felt, explained why we revisit unpleasant and traumatic memories, both in dreams and often in our compulsive behaviours. This is the death drive, which is in a way more primal, since life itself comes from the inanimate, and must perforce return there. While the sex-drive pressures us toward extending or prolonging life, the ego-drive pressures us toward death. Death, then, becomes a driving force in our unconscious.

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Will has seen this death drive from the start of the story, was repelled by it, then started to recognise it as personified in Hannibal. Will pictures death as the stag-man, or as @BryanFuller calls him, the Wendigo. The Wendigo is a figure from North American Algonquin folklore. He is a giant cannibal figure, who gathers strength from feeding on human flesh, but the flesh makes him grow larger, and so his appetite can never be satisfied.

The Wendigo bite will infect the victim and turn him into a Wendigo too. Just what Hannibal is hoping to do to Will.

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For much of this season, and at the start of this episode when Will kills the cave-bear dude, he has fantasised the Wendigo – when he pummels the guy, he visualises beating Hannibal.

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When Will cracks the guy’s neck, we see him twisting the Wendigo’s antlers. He is trying, symbolically, to kill both the Wendigo that is Hannibal, and the Wendigo growing inside him.

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Violence brings intimacy for Hannibal and Will. Will points out that they are now even – both have sent someone to try to kill the other. Hannibal tenderly bandages Will’s torn knuckles, raw from the beating he gave – whoever he thinks he was beating. Hannibal mutters:

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Will replies:

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They are not just even now, they are almost equal. Will has tasted blood, he seems to be becoming what Hannibal wants him to become. His vision at the crime scene is not his usual recreation of the crime (since he did it) but, instead, the dead guy telling him: “this is my becoming”

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Will replies:

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There seems to be, finally, a genuine love developing between Hannibal and Will – a Nietzschean love. Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spake Zarathustra:

“In your friend, you should possess your best enemy. Your heart should feel closest to him when you oppose him.”

They have been enemies. Now they are ready to be friends, to feel love.

But Bryan Fuller doesn’t let us off that easy. Nothing is ever that straight forward in Hannibal. We suddenly get lots of sex, but it’s not our Übermensch lovers – it’s decidedly heterosexual, and Will and Hannibal are each shown in bed with, respectively, Margot and Alana, who will end up in a lesbian relationship with each other (sorry if that was a spoiler). There’s even an ironic view of Hannibal and Alana doing the pottery scene from Ghost, but with a theremin instead of a wheel.

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The sex is long and graphic, there is lots of groaning and sweating and some ecstatic expressions, but it is all exploitation.

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Hannibal is using Alana as his alibi for his nightly outings, as we will see. Margot Verger wants a male heir so she can kill her brother and still get her inheritance (an idea nurtured by her psychiatrist – one Doctor Lecter).

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Hannibal and Will morph in and out of each other, and at one stage both are in bed with Alana. And, never far away, is the wendigo.

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And we finally get to know Margot’s brother, Mason Verger, who, unlike the 1999 book and 2001 movie of Hannibal, has a face (at the moment). Mason is heir to a hog empire, and is busy breeding a pig that is willing to eat living humans.

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He intimidates Margot with these pigs (not hard as he has had her clothes filled with meat to tempt the porkers). He invites Hannibal, who is not easily intimidated, and knows as much about pigs as Mason:

“A resourceful feeder and an opportunistic omnivore”

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We find out something else too, something which becomes central to the attempts in the later books and movies to find a causality to Hannibal. They discuss Margot, and Mason asks if Hannibal has a sister.

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Mason is impressed with the visit, and Hannibal goes home with a new client and a suckling pig, which he serves to Alana and Will.

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He got the pig, he tells them, from a friend. “A friend of yours. Not a friend of the pig’s” Will comments snarkily. Hannibal’s reply is a veiled threat:

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A fascinating discussion of Will and Hannibal’s relationship follows, complicated by the fact that Alana and Hannibal are both psychiatrists and can’t leave their work at the office. Alana points out that “it’s hard to know where you are with each other.” Will replies that “We know where we are with each other. Shouldn’t that be enough?” Hannibal summarises this triangle as he gazes into his wine glass:

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We’re back to interpreting Hannibal as Satanic. Not my preferred reading, but Fuller hands out no obvious explanations in a plot that is up there with Greek Tragedy.

Anyway. Enough of the sex and exploitation and dead baby pigs. It’s time for the blood bond of the Übermenschen. Hannibal has heard about the Will Graham interviews, and waits, wearing his killing suit, for Freddie Lounds to come home to a nice surprise.

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But Will already has Freddie in his remote shed, where she has found bits of the cave-bear dude. Now it’s time for dinner. We finally get some cannibal talk! Will is apprentice cannibal, Hannibal the master chef. Will says

“I provide the ingredients. You tell me what we should do with them.”

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Now Hannibal gets the rules of the game. “Veal? Pork perhaps?”

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Hannibal offers to make a Peruvian dish called lomo saltado, and hands Will a sharp knife to cut up his meat, a definite gesture of trust, or maybe a tease. Now they are playing with the thin red line between pleasure and pain, eros and death drive.  As they eat, Hannibal analyses the meat: it has notes of citrus. It tastes “frightened”. Will asks “what does frightened taste like?”

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Look up “long pig” – it is widely used as a term for human meat, supposedly coined in the cannibal Pacific islands, and probably a mistranslation. Good enough for Hannibal, though, to know what Will is claiming. They are eating Freddie. Will is claiming he has swapped sides and is the cannibal’s apprentice. He reverses a speech Hannibal makes in Silence of the Lambs, where he chides Clarice for her insistence on trying to find what happened to make him the way he is.

“Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism…. You’ve got everyone in moral dignity pants – nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”

Will turns it around: he says “I’m not the product of anything”.

 

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Will has, he is claiming, given up good and evil, gone where the universe has taken him. And that is to Hannibal’s dinner table. They discuss the nature of evil – Will says it’s destructive. In that case Hannibal argues (again from the Silence of the Lambs) storms must be evil. And fire, and hail. Or what underwriters call “acts of God”.

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Not gods. Übermenschen.

 

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