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.”
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
Hannibal will kill Mason, Will tells the confused Jack, because Mason is rude. Using a Clarice line from Silence of the Lambs, Will says
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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:
“Every moment of cogent thought under your psychiatric care is a personal victory. We are just alike. You’re as alone as I am.”
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.
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
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.
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?”
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.
“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.
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.
Hannibal asks Will to kill Mason, but he refuses. “He’s your patient, Doctor”
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
You bet he does.
Will visits Hannibal, who is drawing an image from the Iliad
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
Also battle-tested friendships. Hannibal tells Will that Achilles wanted all the Greeks to die, so that he and Patroclus could conquer Troy alone.
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.