If there was still any question about whether or not being William Graham is the definition of suffering, this episode should provide all the answer anyone needs. The poor man has, since his introduction, been repeatedly drugged, diseased, force-fed human meat, been incarcerated, stabbed, sliced open, mentally destroyed, shoved off the train, shot, and as of this episode, had he his head buzz-sawed open. There is something absolutely unbelievable about how Hannibal is able to very organically swerve from moments of genuine warmth to some of the goriest, stomach clenching, nightmare fuel on television. Hannibal seems determined, more than anything else, to question what acceptable television can be – censors say that overt sexual scenes are unacceptable but are they going to let extremely graphic (some might say gratuitous) violence and disfigurement past them silently? The episode itself reunited several major characters that have spent most of this season chasing each other, but reunions in Hannibal are usually just about as joyous as weddings in Game of Thrones, albeit with marginally better survival rates. Bedelia Du Maurier reasserts herself as a player in their incredibly dangerous game that the characters seem determined to play but no one, least of all Will Graham and Jack Crawford, benefit from her interference.
After the minor setback of having their hung and de-gutted last week, the Bloom-Verger alliance must reassess their plans. It’s clear that Hannibal isn’t exactly fazed by the bounty on his head and that Mason Verger is going to have to get smart about just how he is going to go about pursuing Hannibal Lector. His strange, extremely creepy second-hand obsession with eating Hannibal is being very much encouraged and fanned by his new right hand man, Cordell. Hannibal has long had a penchant for elaborately set up dream sequences and this week we are treated (?) to two – Mason Verger drooling all over a body (ostensibly Hannibal’s) that has been roast and prepared like a Peking Duck. The show delights in walking the line between tasteful and terrifying and at times like those, it’s not clear which is which. The second scene, which we’ll get to in a minute, involves Alana, Margot and some surprisingly steamy kaleidoscopic sex. It has been clear since the very beginning that whatever alliance exists between these three fantastically damaged characters, the alliance itself is not meant to stand the test of time. Even with a common goal, it is barely holding together. Alana makes this explicit when she reveals that she will hand Mason off to the FBI when she has used him up but Margot might have further need of both her brother and her lover if she is to ever fulfil her dreams of motherhood. If harvesting sperm from your brother and planting it in your lover seems twisted even for this show, consider that last season, said brother sterilized his sister, who now seems indifferent about the whole thoroughly fucked up affair. Alana’s sexual relationship with Margot is surprisingly and, unusually for Hannibal, seems driven more by plot necessities than by organic character development. Clearly, the writers have an objective for this particular development and we ought to wait for it to play out before condemning it. If nothing else, it can interpreted as the two characters finally displaying an agency that they have lacked since their introduction and pursuing plans of their own, independent design.
They are not alone in this. Since the season’s beginning, Bedelia Du Maurier has very much walked the knife’s edge dividing absolute confidence and absolute terror. Her ability to consistently walk on that incredibly thin emotional patch is perhaps the one, single reason that she is still alive. Her interactions with Hannibal have demonstrated she is keenly, perhaps instinctively, aware of when to display which side of that divide. As we saw in the previous episode, she is not above calling Hannibal out or making him aware of his deficiencies but it has also been clear that she is knows that she cannot press him too far and that things could go very poorly very fast if she does. More than anything, she knows Hannibal well enough to keep him on his toes and even if she cannot stay fully ahead of him, she knows enough to know when she is safe and when she is not. This week’s episode, ‘Dolce’, indicates that she was acutely aware not just of Hannibal’s intentions towards her but also the way he operates and functions. He is not some animal who eats people because he is hungry – rather, there is a complex set of conditions and requirements that are met before people are deemed worthy of his palate. Bedelia, as she states, has not stewed long enough for Hannibal’s appetite and being a man of impeccable taste, Hannibal would not ruin a good meal by eating it too early. Yet, as tempting as it has been to think of Bedelia as a victim in all this, ‘Dolce’ tells us that is just not the case. Bedelia is, and always has been, motivated by self-interest above all else. We have wondered why she would not just shoot a man as dangerous and as twisted as Hannibal even if it possibly meant some legal trouble in her future and the answer is simple enough; she feels some degree of attraction and connection to Hannibal. She is terrified but at the same time, she is also turned on. This season presented a shift in her as the terror and the fear began to outweigh her fascination with him but the balance has not shifted far enough that she would consider helping Will and Jack take the man down. She knows that current safety from Hannibal will last only as long as she plays her part; once she sells him out, she will be no different from any other ‘long pig’ fit for immediate consumption.
This actually brings to the impossible subject of the basis of Hannibal’s cannibalism. His taste for human flesh is based on two very different requirements, either of which are necessary for him to kill and consume. The first are the lowest of mankind, the rude and degenerate, the people Hannibal considers no different from animals – these he will kill freely as we have seen time and time again. The second, more confusing and more uncertain, condition is that he must love them. If that seems absurd, remember that Hannibal, for all his eloquence and sophistication, is insane. The question of his sister’s fate has come up before – and his statement that his sister made him betrayed himself can answer why he felt the need to consume her; he either felt that he needed to remove the one person obstructing his way to becoming his machine-like, utterly rational current self or that he felt that he could only move past that betrayal through consumption. Either would explain his desire to eat Will and possibly Jack as well and this brings us to the most frustrating part of the entire season. All these characters are tripping over themselves to kill Hannibal Lecter – Chiyoh wants him to suffer and so shoots Will, who himself wants Hannibal dead. Jack knows that Will needs to be the one to kill Hannibal himself despite it being abundantly clear that Hannibal has an exceptionally unhealthy effect on the man. In fact, the two men have been mirroring each other for a while and this episode even established their injuries as symmetric – two halves combining to form a single, extremely damaged person. Meanwhile, the Vergers and Alana want Hannibal dead on their own terms and no one else’s. It all makes this episode in particular frustrating since it gives Hannibal almost entirely free reign over everyone else.
Still, even with all the violence in the episode, Will’s reunion with Hannibal was just beautiful. The warmth and love in the characters’ faces as they met after putting each other through so much (well, ok, Hannibal putting Will through it, mostly) was heart-warming to behold and for a moment you had to wonder whether it wouldn’t just be better for Will to just go with Hannibal and live a happier life. So authentic was Will’s happiness that it was genuinely shocking when Will almost stabbed Hannibal. It also led to some of the series’ best dialogue:
Hannibal: You dropped your forgiveness, Will. You forgive as God forgives. Would you have done it quickly or would have stopped to gloat?
Will: Does God gloat?
The comparison between Hannibal as the god-like (or more likely, satanic) figure who is capable of warping minds and affecting others’ reality has been persistent and Hannibal spends the rest of the episode gloating over Will and later Jack. The whole sequence is a call back to Hannibal’s final dinner party in ‘Mizumono’ last season where Jack, Will and Hannibal were meant to gather for their final farewell. Jack was to be consumed, Will and Hannibal were to flee that was to be the end of the matter in Baltimore. However, Will’s actions denied Hannibal his meal and ensured that Will would not be a guest at the next party, but instead, on the menu. As painful as the experience was for Will (whose suffering seems destined to continue), the experience must also have been brutal on Jack who had to realize that he made a monumental mistake by not just killing Hannibal the last time they met. With Mason Verger having finally caught up to Hannibal though (and Jack conspicuously missing), perhaps Hannibal will soon experience a little of what he has so gleefully inflicted on others.