Merely the ink from which flows my poem: HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 3 “Hassun” (Fuller, 2014)

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Will is awaiting trial, and the FBI has offered a plea deal – but if he fights the case and loses, he’ll face the death penalty. The electric chair. We see him in that chair, smoke rising from his corpse, as the clock ticks – backwards. Like Vertov’s bull in Kino-Eye, he comes back to life. Then we see the executioner – it is Will himself, looking serious, and quite spiffy, in a suit.

He’s clearly anxious about the trial.

He buttons himself into a suit; so does Hannibal. They dress to the dalla sua pace aria from Don Giovanni. It is a song of anxiety – Donna Anna has asked her fiancé, Don Ottavio, to kill Don Giovanni in revenge. But all Ottavio can do is worry about her state of mind. Hannibal is feeling a bit guilty too perhaps, or is this his design? Anyway, he is creating a protégé from young Will, and doesn’t want electric chairs getting in his way.

Hannibal puts on cuff-links, while Will has hand-cuffs. Easy to confuse the two words.

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The Prosecution argues that Will killed and ate Abigail as her father had planned to do. Her father killed girls and ate them, so then did Will. The crime, although it’s a murder trial, is clearly cannibalism.

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Jack is called as a witness and dumps on the FBI case, taking the blame for pushing Will too hard, and pleading the Hannah Arendt defence: Will had objected to the name “museum of evil minds” because

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Will’s Defence lawyer opens an envelope and another ear falls out.

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Hannibal’s diagnosis: there may be another killer. He has sent this ear to help you prove you are not guilty. He is an admirer. Will is incredulous – an admirer?

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Hannibal speculates that the killer wants to be seen. Why?

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In court, it’s not getting better though. Freddie tells how Abigail believed that, like her father

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Chilton gives damning evidence, and uses Clarice’s line about Hannibal from Silence of the Lambs:

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Hannibal takes Will a folder of crime scene photos from the latest murder – the court bailiff who was killed: found burned, mounted on stag’s head, Glasgow smile and ear lopped off. The team are calling it “Will Graham’s greatest hits”. Will does his pendulum thing (obviously feeling much better) and sees himself kill the dude, but without it being, you know, personal:

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But Will sees that this is a different killer:

“Cassie’s lungs were removed while she was still breathing. Georgia was burned alive. What I found of Abigail was cut off while her heart was beating.”

Hannibal admits he knew that, but wants Will to use this as a defence, even though it’s a lie.

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Hannibal gets on the stand, and takes the oath, but Will sees through him.

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Hannibal lies for Will, saying it’s the same killer. It’s love, or as the prosecutor says, “his personal beliefs and biases are driving his conclusions.”

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The judge tosses out the defence. Hannibal is pissed. Not in control.

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Bad idea, judge. He is found holding the scales of justice. His brain on one side of the scales, his heart on the other.

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But there will be a mistrial. Will has a reprieve. For now.

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Hell is in Hello: “MOTEL HELL” (Connor, 1980)

Lee Marvin “sang” these words in the musical Paint Your Wagon:

Do I know where Hell is? Hell is in hello…

Don’t know whether Director Kevin Connor got the idea from Lee Marvin, but he certainly borrowed from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with an actual chainsaw duel between two brothers featuring at the climax of the film. Texas, in its own low budget way, revolutionised the horror genre, introduced slashers, and let us in on the world of the neglected, socially isolated “flyover zone” cannibal.

It’s also a spoof on Psycho – the killer in the motel, the unsuspecting travellers. You might also call it a precursor of the film Delicatessen that was considered on this blog last week: once again there are rooms for rent, human meat for sale.

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The motel is actually called MOTEL HELLO but the “O” keeps flickering off, thus giving the sinister name, and the title of the film.

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Vincent (Rory Calhoun) is a neo-lib dream: an entrepreneur who relishes his freedom to do whatever he likes in the name of business. The hidden hand of the market is his, and that hand carries a shotgun, or sometimes a chainsaw. Vincent runs the motel, but in his spare time (of which he has plenty) he ambushes motorists and stores them until he slaughters them and sells their flesh in his butcher shop as FARMER VINCENT’S SMOKED MEATS.

Simpsons fans will know Rory Calhoun of course!

Farmer Vincent’s is a family business, and Vincent’s sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) is involved in the process, which involves burying the victims up to their necks in the garden and cutting their vocal chords so they can’t make a fuss, then feeding them up like hogs until they are fat and edible. But Vincent fancies one of the victims, Terry (Nina Axelrod) and asks Ida to help her heal from the accident he caused. His kid brother Bruce (Paul Linke) is the local sheriff, and is as clueless as we expect local sheriffs to be, but he soon develops a crush on Terry. But she develops a crush on Vincent, so we know that (murder and cannibalism aside) there’s going to be trouble.

In a scene that perfectly parodies slasher movies, two little girls sneak into the smoking room, and with the requisite spooky backing track, are terrified by the scenes of carnage they see there – a lot of dead pigs. Only pigs, we might chuckle but, for Vincent, pigs and people are just the same: dumb animals good for nothing except slaughter and smoking for profit.

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Terry is pretty upset about losing her boyfriend (to whom she was not married, the religious Vincent notes), but he convinces her that being with them is “preordained”

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“Ah, the ways of the Lord are mysterious!”

Vincent’s methods of harvesting meat animals are not too particular: the local meat inspector who gets too nosy, a bus full of hippie musicians, even a pair of swingers whom he has lured with an ad – all get buried up their necks in the garden, unable to make any intelligible sound.

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He explains to Ida how important his various traps are, because “they give me a chance to be a free agent” and his work will remain special and important. Yep, Vincent is a classic neo-lib. As Ida pulls the latest victims out of the truck toward the holes he has dug, he tells her “plant ‘em!”. As they reflect on the strangeness of the hippies, they chant their motto:

It takes all kinds of critters
To make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!

As Vincent and Ida settle down to “plant” their critters and pull out the scalpels to cut their vocal chords, are they really behaving differently to the farmer who ties down a bull or hog to castrate him or to burn off his horns, or a sheep farmer who cuts hunks of skin off the backside of a lamb because it’s an easy way to avoid fly-strike (and saves money on insecticides)? They cleverly portray the hard work and care of farmers who really can see nothing wrong in the suffering they inflict for the sake of profit. He checks out one victim, smiling “not quite – tomorrow he’ll be ready to become famous.”

Terry asks how Vincent got started in the meat business and he tells her of the days when they couldn’t afford an icebox, and Granny would smoke anything she could catch – chickens, rabbits, frogs. One day, she asked Vincent to do something about an annoying dog who was barking, and that dog ended up smoked too. Did Granny know she was eating a dog, asks Terry, now repulsed, although she has just been enjoying Vincent’s smoked “ham”. Vincent replies:

Why Granny never put any distinctions on any of God’s creatures. She always used to say [Ida and Bruce join in the chant] MEAT’S MEAT, AND A MAN’S GOTTA EAT!

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Ida doesn’t like the wheezing and hissing noises the captives make as they try to talk without vocal chords. Vincent replies “They’re good animals! Not like taking care of chickens, or hogs.” Ida asks: “Vincent, do you think in the years to come people will appreciate us for what we’re doing here?” She goes on “Somebody’s gotta take a little responsibility for the planet!” Vincent and Ida are also ecologists, performing a valuable service by combating the scourge of human overpopulation.

The action is interspersed with the seemingly continuous telecast of a televangelist on the TV. Also with cannibal puns: as the swingers get ready for what they expect will be a wild evening (it will, but not quite as they hoped), Ida tells them “you look good enough to eat”. And the final credits roll to the Kregg Nance song “You’re eating out my heart and soul”.

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People certainly don’t like the idea of cannibalism, but they usually find it hard to articulate what is wrong with it, compared to eating other “critters”. For most, it is enough to say it is taboo, but that really begs the question. The genius of this film is that Vincent is not the usual psychotic serial killer type of cannibal. He is good humoured, kind, and has a strong sense of morality, seen in his choice of religious programs, as well as his shock when Terry comes on to him – he recoils, saying “we should be married first”.

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Well, they are going to get married, by none other than the local pastor, played by the legendary Wolfman Jack, a gravelly voiced DJ of the golden age of Rock.

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Ida drugs Terry, so that she and Vincent can go prepare the meat for the wedding feast. Vincent insists on offering his victims a humane death – he believes that “no animal should ever suffer any unnecessary pain”. Well, we nearly all believe that! Just a question of semantics – define ‘animal’. Define ‘pain’. And define ‘unnecessary’.

Anyway, Bruce is royally pissed off and starts looking for evidence against Vincent, and the “animals” start digging themselves out and staggering about in a scene reminiscent of just about every zombie movie.

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Terry finds out the truth, but it’s her version (what else could it be?) As far as Vincent is concerned, he is just preparing the wedding feast. He says:

Haven’t you ever cleaned a fish? There’s nothing cruel in what I’m doing here. I treat most of my stock better than farmers treat their animals. I don’t feed them chemicals or hormones. When you consider the way the world is today, there’s no question I’m doing a lot of them a big favour.

Terry ask him what right he has to play God. Vincent denies that is what he is doing.

I’m just helping out. There’s too many people in the world and not enough food. This takes care of both problems at the same time.

And that’s Vincent’s truth. And there is some truth in it.

The climax is the two brothers battling it out with chainsaws (a Texas Chain Saw reference) while Vincent wears a pig’s head on his head, which would not help his visual acuity much, but takes us to all sorts of interesting tropes, such as Animal Farm. The shock ending: as Vincent dies, he admits to his whole life being a lie, to being the biggest hypocrite of them all. Why?

My meat. I used – preservatives!

The film received a respectable 70% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The reviews range from “a rather well-executed dark comedy” to “tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic.” I liked it because it ticked all the boxes in my quest to understand cannibalism’s undermining of anthropocentrism. And Rory Calhoun is terrific – or as Montgomery Burns would say:

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Innocent cannibalism: “SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET” (King, 1936)

One of the earliest films in the range of cannibal stories I have chosen to cover is George King’s 1936 version of Sweeney Todd. Sweeney is a modern myth, but is a descendant of the shadow archetype, those who destroy themselves in trying to destroy others, including Homer’s Cyclops, whose behaviour, Lacan would say, is governed by “unregulated libidinism”. This Todd is certainly so governed.

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The poster on the wall of the barber shop, where the story is told

The title role is played by the wonderfully named Tod Slaughter, who presents Todd as pure evil: socially respectable, yet greedy for money and lusting after the young heroine, Johanna. This is a far more straight forward explanation of cannibalism than the 21st century version where Depp is motivated by revenge at injustice (and insists on singing as well).

The plot is straightforward: Todd has a barber shop near the docks where he lures passers-by in for a shave, kills them and steals their valuables, the kind of simple but effective business plan that any bank would find beguiling.

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Todd’s partner in crime, Mrs Lovett, has a pie shop and profitably disposes of the bodies. Johanna is the daughter of a local merchant and Todd offers to go into partnership with him, planning to ruin him and blackmail him into approving marriage with his daughter. When the girl’s true love, Mark, returns with riches from the African colonies, (he also bravely fights off a tribe of savages, who are probably cannibals in terms of the colonial trope) he is robbed by Todd but saved from death by Mrs Lovett, who is jealous of Todd’s attention to Johanna. In an interesting instance of early (pre-‘slasher’) gender displacement, Johanna decides to save Mark by dressing as a boy, but is captured by Todd and, setting the gender roles back to basics, has to be rescued from the resulting fire (which consumes Todd) by Mark.

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Neither Todd nor Lovett are ever seen eating human flesh – all cannibalism is performed by the unwitting customers, alluded to when Mark’s comic relief friend and shipmate, Pearley, munches through a pie while speculating on what Todd does with the bodies. The word ‘cannibal’ is never uttered, and the only whiff of abjection is when the narrator, a modern day barber in Todd’s old shop recounting the story to a customer, reveals there is a pie shop next door, and watches in amazement as the man flees. This is textbook abjection: the smell of meat from some non-human mammal cooking next door has made the customer in contemporary London realise his own mortality.

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The class nature of nineteenth century England is illustrated by young Tobias, who is brought to Todd as an apprentice: Todd gets one guinea for each boy he takes from the parish. The Beadle warns Todd that this is the last boy he is getting: presumably he has killed, and Mrs Lovett has cooked, the previous seven.

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“You’ve brought me another apprentice. And a nice little boy, too!”

The boy prepares the victims by applying shaving cream, and is then sent off for a walk with a penny pie from next door, making the innocent lad the chief innocent cannibal. In fact, all the cannibalism is innocent and is carried out by the lower classes, represented by Pearley and Tobias, an apparent metaphor for the exploitation with which the working class was struggling in the 1930s when the film was made. Todd’s unconscionable slaughter of men (never women, except, almost, the disguised Johanna) for profit is pure objectification: he treats his fellow humans as commodities. No explanation is given, nor needed: Todd’s maniacal laughter is necessary and sufficient to make clear that he is a psychopath; in this, he is a mythic figure: the stuff of nightmares.

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Full movie (with some audio issues) is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W0YoxQkTjs

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“Nothing here is vegetarian” HANNIBAL, Season 1 Episode 7, (Fuller, 2013)

This episode is called “Sorbet” which, in a French menu, is the break, the refreshing fruit frappe served between courses to clear the palate. It’s all about preparing: not just the kitchen and the ingredients, but also the guests. It’s about content, and timing.

In this episode, we find out much about Hannibal, particularly the way he chooses and prepares his meat, but also some important psychological facts. We meet his psychiatrist, Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson – Dana Scully from X-Files). She knows a lot about Hannibal – not everything, but a lot more than Jack and Will and the entire FBI. But, like one of Hannibal’s feasts, she is going to serve us each dish when it, and we, are ready.

The episode starts with Will lecturing at the FBI Academy about the Chesapeake Ripper, who we (but no one else) know is really Hannibal. We learn a lot about how Will believes the Ripper views his victims, and about his methods.

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A “sounder” is a collective term for pigs, and that is how Hannibal sees his victims – as pigs. Just as humans confine and slaughter pigs with barely a twinge of conscience, so Hannibal collects human organs for his freezer.

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Organs are carefully removed. Like an earlier Ripper named Jack, the conclusion is that the killer has anatomical or surgical training (although Jack the Ripper may have been a butcher rather than a surgeon). Another important fact that Will tells the kids and us:

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And so to the theatre we go, the concert hall in fact, where we hear a magnificent opera recital from the brilliant pen of Brian Reitzell, who went on, after Hannibal, to write the music for American Gods. Of course, we can’t just sit and enjoy it as Hannibal and his annoying patient Franklyn (and his friend Tobias) do, decked out in black tie and tux. No, we start with some lessons in anatomy and acoustics – the scene starts in the larynx of the singer and we then get to follow the music up her throat and into Hannibal’s ear.

After the recital, the Chairperson of the Baltimore Philharmonic gently chides Hannibal for not putting on one of his sumptuous feasts – she misses not just the food but the spectacle.

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Hannibal replies that he is waiting for inspiration. Perhaps Franklyn provides it: as Hannibal rather testily dismisses him, he asks:

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Hannibal is also busy torturing Jack with supposed calls from his missing student Miriam Lass. As Will puts it:

“The reason he left you Miriam Lass’s arm is so he could poke you with it.”

Meanwhile, Jack and Will are busy with a new killer, who the CSI gang are convinced is the Ripper (organs have been removed, if a bit sloppily). Will says no – this dude is collecting organs for sale, and trying to save the “donor” afterwards (without a great deal of success). This is not the MO of the Ripper:

So, asks Jack, how do you see the Ripper? Will considers, and then comes up with an analysis taken from Will’s analysis of Hannibal in Red Dragon (the book):

“… one of those pitiful things sometimes born in hospitals. They feed it. Keep it warm. But they don’t put it on the machines. They let it die. But he doesn’t die.”

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We finally meet Bedelia Du Maurier, Hannibal’s psychiatrist. It is perhaps not widely known that psychiatrists go to psychiatrists, but in view of the psychic storms they deal with daily, it makes sense. Hannibal later tells Will he started seeing a psychiatrist when he chose to become one.

Bedelia does not mince words. She is no longer practising, and stays available for Hannibal because she likes him. Turns out there are other reasons too, but we’ll save them for later episodes. She and Hannibal discuss honesty, and she shows that she can indeed be brutally honest:

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She also tells him that she is his therapist, not his friend, something he recently told the distraught Franklyn, who is a version of Benjamin Raspail from the books, one of the Silence of the Lambs characters whose names were not released by MGM for the television production. Caught in his own trap, Hannibal must look for company or even friendship elsewhere. Could it be Will?

Hannibal and Will have a lot in common, particularly a fascination with the motivation of the Ripper.

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We find out a lot more about Hannibal’s motivations in a series of montages showing how he chooses his victims (from their business cards) and the meal they will supply (from a set of menu cards in perfect copperplate handwriting).

He starts with a medical examiner who rudely accuses Hannibal of lying. Hannibal asks for his business card, and then appears when the man’s car mysteriously breaks down on a rainy road.

The rude medical examiner is found in a school bus, his top half sitting across the aisle from his bottom half. He is missing a kidney and his heart.

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Will realises, though, that the mutilations are just theatre.

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Hannibal and Alana prepare these organs for dinner (she presumably believes them to be from a different mammal) and duel flirtatiously as he tries to draw out what she knows about Will. Hannibal’s interest in Will is growing in each scene. He suspects Will can become a friend, perhaps even become an Übermensch like himself.

In the meantime, Hannibal is preparing his banquet for the Philharmonic. There is the montage of business cards and recipes involving liver pate, brisket, lungs and brains, and various business owners, who presumably have offended Hannibal’s intense dislike of discourtesy. This montage is accompanied by the rollicking “Golden Calf” aria sung by Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust.

“Le monstre abject insulte aux cieux! [The abject monster insults heaven!]”

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This spate of mutilations leaves the investigation team baffled. No longer are they seeking an organ harvester – one of the victims is missing a spleen. Who on earth is waiting for a spleen transplant? There is only one explanation:

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But despite the excitement of hunting and cooking, Hannibal is unhappy. There is a poignant scene of Hannibal sitting, forlorn, at his desk, checking his appointment book (last appointment Will Graham) as we hear, what else, the Mozart Requiem, the musical quintessence of melancholy.

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He goes looking for Will, who is day-nightmaring about Abigail (who is calling him “Dad”) and girls mounted on antlers. Hannibal interrupts his bad dreams and sees the range of atrocity photographs will has been studying.

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There follows a discussion of the possible motivations of the Ripper, in which Will is starting to get close to the truth. Hannibal suggests that perhaps the Ripper is displaying his enemies after death, as happens in many cultures. Will disagrees – “These aren’t the Ripper’s enemies. These are pests he’s swatted.” They are just being punished for undignified behaviour. Disgraced.

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As he prepares his banquet, Hannibal tells Will why he gave up surgery:

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This is news to us, although we know that, as a child, he was unable to save his sister Mischa – could this be an indirect reference? Anyway. There follows a wonderful montage of Hannibal’s banquet plates, followed by a round of applause from his guests, who are all about to become unaware cannibals.

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But before they can eat, Hannibal has a warning:

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What they applaud now, they will later consider appalling, abject, psychologically shattering. The gross hypocrisy of their logic is impossible for even the brilliant Doctor Lecter to comprehend.

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Who is the Ripper? HANNIBAL Season 1 Episode 6, (Fuller, 2013)

In this episode, we meet Abel Gideon (Eddie Izard), a doctor, like Hannibal, a killer, like Hannibal, and believed by Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza), the “keeper” of the Baltimore asylum for the criminally insane, to be the Chesapeake Ripper (who of course is really Hannibal). Gideon has been in the asylum for the last two years, since killing his wife and her family – on Thanksgiving. The murders ceased two years ago, and Chilton believes, therefore, that Gideon is the Ripper. Will doesn’t buy it.

Gideon kills a nurse in the psych hospital, a grisly murder which Will Graham kindly re-enacts for us (it’s just his thing), including a scene involving eyeballs that could come straight out of King Lear. The nurse’s body is laid out like the “wound man” diagram from mediaeval medical texts (the image that gave Hannibal away in Red Dragon). The nurse’s multiple wounds, however, were delivered post mortem, but Jack remembers taking his new recruit, Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky from Veep) to see a Ripper victim, where she deduces that the Ripper keeps the victim alive and conscious during the mutilations. Also, the Ripper removes organs, if only the yummy ones: liver and thymus.

Miriam Lass disappeared while illegally (with Jack’s tacit approval) chasing up the medical records of the victims of the Ripper. He is stricken with guilt and wants to catch the Ripper – enough to (as Will puts it) “get into bed” with Freddie Lounds whom they ask to publicly declare Gideon to be the Ripper. Hannibal is royally pissed off about this. No one gets to take credit for his work.

Now Jack is getting phone calls from Miriam – one while he is asleep in his bed, another from his bedroom while he is interviewing Gideon. Could she be alive after being classified as missing, presumed dead, for two years? The next one has a phone number attached – but when they trace it, they find not Miriam, but just her arm.

Miriam is present in this episode in flashbacks – always in black and white. Over a postprandial brandy, Hannibal asks Jack to share his memories of Miriam, but as the scene fades to a flashback, it is not Jack but Hannibal being interviewed by Miriam. She is asking him about a hunter he treated when a surgeon, who later became a victim of the Ripper. Then she finds a picture of the wound man on his desk (a direct reference to the way Will found out Hannibal in Red Dragon), and Hannibal comes up behind her in stockinged feet and grabs her by the neck.

So, dude – where’s my cannibal? No one is getting eaten in this episode, although there are hints of body parts being removed. But the episode is full of mental cannibalism – the preparation and consumption of thoughts. First – who are the psychopaths? Jack and Will are convinced Gideon is not the Chesapeake Ripper and hope to draw the real one out by getting Freddie to “confirm” a lie. They do something similar (insulting the Tooth Fairy) in the book/movie of Red Dragon, with rather drastic results. Freddie wants to know whether Gideon really is the Ripper. “Why not?” seems to be their reply. After all, Alana explains, “certain personalities are attracted to certain professions”. Psychopaths are attracted to roles as CEOs, lawyers and the clergy. Number five on the list, says Jack (and Miriam tells us the same thing in a flashback), is surgeons.

Number 6, sneers Will, is journalists. Number 7? Freddie makes Will say it: law enforcement. Well then:

Then we have that dinner party – our three favourite psychiatrists (at least until Bedelia makes an appearance next episode), those who feed on our diseased minds, discussing – what else? – tongues. Their tool, and their weapon.

Bloom and Chilton heap compliments as Hannibal serves one of his most gourmet dishes:

Inspired by August Escoffier, we are having Long Tangyuan en papillotte, served with a sauce of duxelles and oyster mushrooms. Picked myself.

They laugh about tongues (the main ingredient), although where would psychiatrists be without them? Alana hasn’t eaten tongue before; Hannibal responds that this was “a particularly chatty lamb” although who knows whose tongue it really is? Chilton, like all good dinner guests, has a story about the Romans, killing flamingos just to eat their tongues, and Hannibal responds with probably the second most famous Hannibal aphorism (after the one that got us all interested in Fava Beans):

Hannibal is speaking in tongues.

 

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