“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.

Who was the tiger? LIFE OF PI (Ang Lee, 2012)

This is the 2012 film of the 2001 Yann Martel novel of the same name, directed by Ang Lee, who also made Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hulk and Brokeback Mountain. It is the story of a young man named “Pi” Patel, who recounts his life story to a writer. At 16, Pi and his family sail for Canada on board a freighter, carrying the animals from their zoo. They are Hindu vegetarians and have trouble with the French cook, who tells them that the cow and pig he serves up to them were vegetarian (where have we heard that joke before?) The ship encounters a massive storm and sinks. Pi survives the shipwreck and is adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat, with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

WTF sort of name is Richard Parker?

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Well, the name comes from an English court case about cannibalism (yes, you are in the right blog).

Here’s the thing. It’s not easy to survive in a lifeboat at sea. There’s the sun beating down, the risk of being swamped by big waves, danger from sharks and whales, and most difficult of all – no food or water. Drinking water that is. As Coleridge said:

“Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”

The “custom of the sea”, as British sailors used to call it, was that while it was not exactly encouraged, it was acceptable to eat whatever you could find in that situation, including your shipmates, preferably after they had died. But – not always.

In 1884, a small ship called the Mignonette was being sailed to Australia when it hit a big storm and sank. The four crew members survived in a lifeboat, not unlike the one in Life of Pi, for a couple of weeks on two tins of turnips and a turtle they managed to catch. When the 17 year old cabin boy fell into a coma, probably from drinking too much salt water, they slit his throat, drank his blood and ate him. His name was Richard Parker.

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Simpson, A. W. B. (1984), Cannibalism and the Common Law: The Story of the Tragic Last Voyage of the Mignonette and the Strange Legal Proceedings to Which It Gave Rise, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29911792

The captain and first mate were tried after their rescue and sentenced to be hanged, but their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment, and the men ended up serving only six months. The case itself, Regina v. Dudley and Stephens, became an important precedent for the “defence of necessity”.

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It was judged that, while cannibalism might be necessary under the custom of the sea, killing the boy to eat him was still murder, even if it saved the lives of three other men. Monty Python wrote a sketch based on the case:

The tiger, Richard Parker, is clearly named after this cabin boy. By some amazing coincidence, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a novel (his only one) almost fifty years earlier in 1838 called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, in which a character named Richard Parker becomes a victim of cannibalism by the ship’s remaining survivors after a shipwreck.

In the film (I knew we’d get there eventually), Pi escapes onto the lifeboat with a zebra, who breaks his leg in the fall, and an orang-utan. When the tiger, Richard Parker, jumps on the lifeboat, Pi leaps off, and witnesses the ship, with his family, sinking.

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A spotted hyena emerges from under a tarpaulin covering half of the lifeboat and threatens Pi, forcing him to retreat to the end of the boat. The hyena kills the zebra and later the orang-utan. Richard Parker (the tiger) emerges from under the tarpaulin and kills the hyena. It’s the circle of life.

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Pi takes refuge on a raft and comes to an uneasy truce with the tiger, feeding him fish that he manages to catch, overcoming his vegetarian ethics to save a fellow mammal. He answers the question so wearisomely put to most vegans: would you eat meat if you were starving?

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After sailing for some weeks, Pi and the tiger come across a floating island, filled with meerkats, who are very cute and assuage Richard Parker’s hunger. But the island turns out to be carnivorous, with the water turning to acid at night and consuming any animal on the ground. Some critics have interpreted this as mother earth turning against us as we fill the air with greenhouse emissions. At what point will we turn to cannibalism? As Pi finds out:

“Hunger can change everything you ever thought you knew about yourself”.

Reaching the coast of Mexico, Pi is disappointed to see Richard Parker disappear into the jungle without any farewell. Pi is rescued and brought to a hospital, where he tells the story to an insurance agent. The agent does not believe his story, and asks what really happened. Pi then tells an alternative story, in which his mother is the orang-utan, a sailor is the zebra, and the ship’s brutish French cook (played by Gerard Depardieu) the hyena. In this version, the cook kills the sailor and eats his flesh. He also kills Pi’s mother, but then Pi kills him with a knife, and uses his corpse as the cook used the sailor: as food and fish bait. The question of whether vegetarians would be carnivores in extremis is answered: yes they would, and they could be cannibals too.

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The writer recognises the parallels between the two stories, noting that in the second version Pi is actually Richard Parker, unleashing the carnivore/cannibal within each of us. Pi says that it doesn’t matter which story is true, because his family still died either way. He then asks which story the author prefers, and the author chooses the first, to which Pi replies,

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The Los Angeles Times called the film “a masterpiece”. It has grossed over $600 million at the box office, and has a “fresh” score of 87% on the Rotten Tomatoes site. The visuals, particularly the computer graphics, are astounding.

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Pi describes Richard Parker as

“my savage partner who kept me alive”

And the moral of the story, as they used to say in children’s books, is that, depending on the circumstances, we can be the tiger, or we can be the cabin boy. There is a tiger and a cannibal hiding inside each of us, just under the thin tarpaulin of civilisation.

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Taming the tiger, as Pi finds, is quite a trick.

“…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.