“...And the Beast from the Sea” is structured as a perverse quasi romantic farce, in which two working-class guys are pitted against one another by a rarefied man who literally lives in a gilded cage. Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) has been trying to jerk Will’s (Hugh Dancy) figurative chain over Francis Dolarhyde’s (Richard Armitage) crime spree for some time, suggesting that the latter has replaced the former as the primary occupier of his affections. (Or of whatever precisely counts as “affections” for Hannibal Lecter.) Will hasn’t been taking the bait, having a variety of other things on his plate (a new wife and superstar killer to pursue will fill one’s calendar fast), but Hannibal escalated the state of affairs this week, disclosing the address of Will’s family to Francis and ordering him to “kill them all.” Does Hannibal mean Will, too, when he says this to Francis? It’s a question that hangs over the narrative. There are only two episodes remaining in the season, and probably of the entire series, so a discarding of subtlety is in order. Is Hannibal in love with Will, or running him through another psychological thresher? If it’s love, does Hannibal want Will back, so to speak, hence his wanting the latter’s family dead, or does he seek revenge for the gall he perceives Will to display in taking a family to begin with? Or is it all of the above? As one considers these questions, it’s fruitful to remember: The F.B.I. never caught Hannibal; he gave himself up to stay closer to Will, which is to say that he feels as if Will hasn’t honored his side of that bargain.
I think Hannibal, in his way, truly loves Will and that Will returns that love, with these truths baffling their internal senses of how the world proceeds. (Hannibal’s bizarro form of honor is directly alluded to when he says that he’s always told the truth, “in my way”—a characteristic that lands several dark punchlines over the course of the episode, as he repeatedly owns up to his manipulations with flippant mater-of-fact-ness.) For Hannibal, love is something that shouldn’t exist, as he’s an über-criminal mastermind, after all, a contemporary Mabuse who destroys people in fashions that suggest a cruel child torturing an insect on the sidewalk. For Will, love in this case is an issue of what it says about him morally: Can a “good” man love a monster and remain unsullied? It’s worth noting that the issue of both parties being men has never been even passingly broached by creator Bryan Fuller and his collaborators, as this casualness informs Hannibal with a cleansing sense of progressiveness that often counterpoints the despairing grotesquerie.
This romantic subtext is the central emotional motor of the series, what keeps it from collapsing into absurdity. On a literal level, Hannibal is starkly bonkers, at times even decisively nonsensical. It’s amazing what Fuller can get away with without losing his audience, and the central relationship between Hannibal and Will is the resonant bedrock that allows for that tonal dexterity, reverberating as a universal symbol of how self-loathing can reliably either poison relationships or keep them from blossoming at all. This acknowledgement of self-hatred has become particularly pronounced since Francis’s arrival on the scene, as he represents a less polished and guarded embodiment of the emotions that drive Hannibal and Will’s power games. (Particularly heartbreaking this week is Francis’s incredulity in response to Reba calling him a man—a detail that astutely reflects the emasculation that drives the increasing emergence of his Red Dragon.) Francis, despite his status as chief, so-far-uncatchable villain, scans almost as a hapless innocent, a pawn battered back and forth between our heroes. That’s a design of Hannibal’s, of course.
This partnership between Hannibal and Francis is represented again by the superb visual conceit of emphasizing settings and characters, not as they are, but as how others see them—a remarkable realization of the “memory palace” concept from earlier in the series. It’s a reminder that objective “reality” might be the ultimate lie we tell ourselves, and that the mind is our ultimate safe house or prison, depending on the brain’s individual state. This device is also a practical context for visually dressing up expository dialogue scenes. When Francis sneaks into Hannibal’s old office to call him at the State Hospital, we see the conversation that follows as if Francis was a patient of Hannibal’s at the latter’s old practice. Hannibal’s in one of his fabulous suits, a typical work of Lucifer-chic with dark, trippy stripes and colors which often cause him to resemble a human Cheshire Cat. Francis is sitting opposite of him, spilling his guts about Reba (Rutina Wesley), while a double of Hannibal occasionally hovers over Francis’s shoulder, physicalizing the idea of a little devil inspiring one’s most destructive impulses (no one’s around to serve as the contrasting angel). Francis relates that same old new-couple’s chestnut: Francis is in love, but afraid the monster he feels he’s nurturing inside him will tear her to pieces. Hannibal throws him the bone of Will’s family.
The romantic subtext is the central emotional motor of the series, what keeps it from collapsing into absurdity.
The center of the episode is a set piece in which all three of the tormented, nesting love stories (Hannibal/Will, Francis/Reba, Will/Molly) come crashing on top of one another, representing Francis’s increasing confusion as well as the realization of Will’s worst fears, which are Hannibal’s happy fantasies: the former’s invasion of Will’s cabin to kill Molly (Nina Arianda) and her son, Walter (Gabriel Browning Rodriguez). What follows is a beautifully choreographed ballet of pursuit and evasion. Francis, with a black cap pulled over most of his face, killing dentures in his mouth, and a leather jacket that fosters his resemblance to the “Gimp” from Pulp Fiction, as well as to Tom Noonan’s version of the character from Manhunter, quietly stalks onto the Graham cabin porch, picking the lock. Detecting something, Molly awakens and glides over to Walter’s room as Francis enters the cabin. Molly instructs Walter to climb out of his window, wait by the car, and count to 100. If she doesn’t join him, Molly says, head to the road. Molly slides down the hallway before Francis sees her, luck briefly favoring her, considering the order in which Francis chooses to inspect the rooms. This is an elegant piece of thriller craftsmanship: Noteworthy for the dignified, nearly defiantly calm silence of it, and for the transcendent grace it allows all of its participants to display. The images lock into place with crystal precision: a close-up of a foot here, a layered shot of a pursuer above his intended prey there, all accompanied by Brian Retzeill’s characteristically adventurous, poignant score, which suggests an aural counterpoint fashioned by the use of pounding drums and something that sounds like a Theremin.
This set piece ushers forth a number of compelling shock waves in its wake. One senses that the women are being shoved aside for whatever awaits the primary characters at the end of the season, confirming yet again Fuller’s bleak view of the world as being socially untenable for troubled visionaries who must walk alone. The doubling of Will and Francis is in place again this week, as they’re both afforded prolonged, painful breakup scenes with their significant others. Francis’s is less mysterious, as he leaves Reba because he doesn’t want to hurt her, but Will’s interlude with Molly in the hospital following Francis’s attack feels just as final. Fuller’s attitude toward Molly is curious: He respects her as a deviation from the “sidelined wife” stereotype, but he also evinces an almost ineffable resentment of her that syncs up with Hannibal’s accounting of the state of Will’s present affairs as embodying a hypocritical pipe dream. Molly isn’t likable; there’s something subtly smug and un-giving about her, something not entirely trustworthy that’s expressed by her near-indifference toward the state of Will’s sick dogs (in reality poisoned by Francis) early in the episode.
Another dissonance is Hannibal’s exhibition of an emotion that could be called pity if we didn’t know any better, toward Francis. Hannibal agrees to a sting operation to help Alana (Caroline Dhavernas) and Jack (Laurence Fishburne) find Francis, but he gives up the charade, warning Francis when the latter begins to lose himself in a barrage of self-hatred that climaxes with heavy breathing and self-hurting that echoes the earlier, scarier self-abuse scenes that are dramatized as a supernatural wrestling with William Blake’s great, famed monster. Of course, this pity has the twinned benefit of directing spite toward Alana and Jack, but Mikkelsen’s delivery of “they’re listening” before dropping the phone has a trace of active human concern. Hannibal pays the price for this sabotage, as he knows he must, with Alana bundling him up in a gurney, strapping a variation of the famous Silence of the Lambs muzzle to his face, standing beside him in a pose that recalls the scene from that film in which a senator visits Anthony Hopkins’s Lecter regarding the whereabouts of her daughter. Alana even has the same bobbed haircut as Diane Baker’s senator, which Hannibal regards with a chilling blankness that’s intensified by the whiteness of the mask.
But it’s Mikkelsen and Dancy’s chemistry that dominates this episode: Hannibal has never been more cheekily, bitterly curdled, Will never more frayed. Mikkelsen’s line deliveries are particularly delicious, specifically when he offers orations that could be describing himself, Will, Francis, or some sort of scrambled variation of all of the above. Quoting Goethe’s Faust, Hannibal offers, “Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast, and one is striving to forsake its brother.” He could mean the Red Dragon and Francis, or Will and his world of loneliness versus his doubtful married refuge, or Hannibal could be speaking for himself, as a man torn between nihilism and an affection that manifests itself as demonic cruelty.
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