“The Number of the Beast Is 666” finds Will (Hugh Dancy) and Jack (Laurence Fishburne) turning desperate as Francis (Richard Armitage) remains at large, with their only pipeline to the killer embodied by an increasingly contemptuous, puckish Hannibal (Mad Mikkelsen). Said desperation is predominantly embodied by three conversations, duets as always, that serve to heavily foreshadow whatever awaits us next week in Hannibal’s season, perhaps series, finale, “The Wrath of the Lamb,” a title that derives from a phrase in Revelation 6:16: “And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the lamb.” Hannibal evokes this phrase this week, in the first duet, likening Will to the lamb, or to a spurned savior, taking in stride Jack’s comparison of his truly to “The devil himself, bound in a pit.” Hannibal retorts that, in these analogies, Jack would be God, then, sending his savior to battle Satan and the Great Red Dragon, a suggestion that Jack takes with something like a fusion of fury and good humor.
Which is to say things have turned awfully heavy, even for Hannibal, but the tone and the aesthetic of this series is already so heightened as to readily accommodate bibilical symbolism, which isn’t new anyway, particularly this season. The viewer might wonder if these reveries are intended as true religious inquiries or offered, to paraphrase a Pulp Fiction character, as cold-blooded things for characters to say before a literal or metaphorical cap is popped in a motherfucker’s ass. As surface-level poetry, the dialogue in “The Number of the Beast Is 666” is as polished, overheated, and savory as one can routinely expect from creator Bryan Fuller, but that word “routine” is the mild rub. The characters are on the verge of talking in circles, belaboring Will’s culpability as a potential agent of Hannibal’s dark cabal as the ex-doctor’s simultaneous lover and evil twin. The second conversation, between Will and Bedelia (Gillian Anderson), is split apart to bookend the episode and emphasizes these possibilities, explicitly in the act of highlighting “Hannibal’s agency” in the world, which complements the involved bibilical framework through which Hannibal and Jack briefly workshop. (Is Will an agent of God or the Devil?) Notably, Will also directly voices, for the first time, a subtext that has long been text, asking aloud if Hannibal’s in love with him. The logical follow-up question is unsaid but hanging: Is Will in love with Hannibal?
The third conversation is the most startling—a classic sequence that serves as the episode’s centerpiece. Francis has captured Dr. Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza), after the latter agreed to disparage his intelligence and masculinity for a Tattler article that was purposefully set up by Will and Jack as a way to provoke Francis to attack Will, hopefully nabbing him the process. (The picture accompanying the article has been framed so as to purposefully “inadvertently” telegraph the location of Will’s new hideout.) But Francis went after Frederick first, kidnapping him and imprisoning him in his aging, antique-festooned home. Super-glued to a wheelchair, the doctor comes to, and we see him in a close-up in the foreground, Francis’s face hooded, his body clad in a kimono, sitting on a couch in the background with eerie calm and grace that borders on daintiness. Up until this point in the Francis arc, the character has largely been shown in a pitifully self-hating light that courts audience relatability and an attending sense of pathos. Here, he’s terrifying. It’s clear that the war between Francis and the “Dragon” has been waged and lost, and the Dragon now has the run of the premises.
Francis discusses with Frederick his transformation, which mirrors all the other transformations that have been discussed in Hannibal, both in “The Number of the Beast Is 666” and virtually every other episode that’s preceded it. But Francis’s transformation, potentially unlike Will’s, isn’t theoretical/illusory. His voice is now informed by a deep, guttural timber that suggests the transcendence of weakness that Francis has sought all along. Hulking over Frederick (in a pose that pointedly echoes the fashion in which Will stands over Frederick when they do the Tattler interview, the latter but a pet bandied about being warring parties), this Francis, a massive, featureless humanoid, is explicitly reminiscent of Tom Noonan’s interpretation of the character in Manhunter, particularly in that film’s equivalent of this scene. And Fuller, director Guillermo Navarro, and their collaborators devise an image that’s the equal of anything in that Michael Mann film: the confrontation between Francis and Frederick is shot from somewhere near Frederick’s feet, the camera tilted up, with Francis always hovering directly behind Frederick’s chair. The image suggests a parody, or perversion, of the act of prayer, which is mentioned in the dialogue, and it also connotes an impression of a serpent twisting around a branch or rock—another, more oblique, bibilical symbol that syncs up with the writhing, twisting movements of the William Blake paintings that Francis emulates. It’s an unnervingly vertical image—offset by the pointed negative space on both sides of the screen—that emphasizes this creature’s profound power over his victim. When Francis utters one of the best, scariest lines from Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, “Fear is not what you owe me. You owe me awe,” the sequence achieves operatic lunacy.
This scene offers the realization of the fears that fuel the high-blown theories that Will, Jack, and Alana (Caroline Dhavernas) bat around from behind the presumed safety of their various government institutions—a hypocrisy that Hannibal enjoys calling out, especially to Alana. No one truly cares that Frederick is destroyed, and the heroes may have barely and subconsciously set his doom in motion intentionally. Frederick is to pay the tab for the protagonists’ hubris once again, as he’s a reliable Hannibal whipping boy who, as demonized as he is, scans as a relative innocent considering the collusions with evil (Hannibal, Mason, and to a lesser extent Margot and others) of which everyone else is now unambiguously guilty. Comparably, Frederick is just a typically self-promoting dick.
Frederick serves as a handy embodiment of Fuller’s careful revisions of the Harris novels throughout his tending of the show, particularly in regard to gender roles. For instance, Frederick was shunted unceremoniously off to the side of this season’s narrative, presumably writing his upcoming books, The Dragonslayer and Blood and Chocolate, so that Alana could oversee Hannibal’s incarceration, despite her laughable lack of objectivity for several dozen reasons. And the torture and humiliation that Frederick endures in this episode, having his lips bitten off and being subsequently burned alive, happened to Freddie (Lara Jean Chorostecki) in the book Red Dragon as well as in its subsequent film adaptations. (This Freddie, though, was burned alive, if only by pretend, in a sting operation in the second season that pays homage to the Harris book.)
Indeed, the torture scene between Francis and Frederick would play much differently, with considerably heavier rape connotations (which remain, however subsumed, nevertheless), if it were to involve a collision between a man and woman, which emphasizes another of Fuller’s revisions: Both Freddie and Alana were men in the Harris novel and its prior adaptations, which is to say that Frederick serves as a catch-all male victim of diminishment for the sake of newly afforded female prominence. (This Frederick theory isn’t even taking into consideration the fact that he was nearly killed by a woman in the second season, after she was brainwashed by Hannibal into believing him to be the Chesapeake Ripper.)
Frederick reflects a certain over-compensatory self-consciousness on the part of Hannibal toward women, who, despite their prominence in the story and the wealth of cool things they’re given to say, still essentially exist as outliers to be sexually fetishized and resented. What is Hannibal most broadly? A love story between two men who feel estranged from the heteronormative domestic arrangement, i.e. from women. What are the prominent female characters, apart from intelligent and exceedingly attractive? Schemers, even including Molly, who wanted Will to go hunt the Great Red Dragon in another telling deviation from the source material that serves to empower a female character for ambiguous reasons.
The exceptions to this rule are Beverly Katz, who was killed by Hannibal to serve a larger narrative purpose, and Reba (Rutina Wesley), who’s defined mostly by the contradictory human feelings she arouses in a man, Francis, who takes her prisoner at the end of this episode. I’m not suggesting that Fuller’s indulging thoughtless sexism, but something much more fascinating: thoughtful sexism. Art needn’t be politically correct, and these neuroses, regardless of intention, strengthen the dominating bond between Hannibal, Will, and Jack, who may not be Satan, Christ, and God, respectively, but simply two wayward lovers and a father surrogate. Frederick succinctly embodies Fuller’s wrestling with the dehumanizing gender tripwires of serial-killer fiction, serving to nurture further curiosity over the show’s approaching finale. The book’s climax hinges on two women in jeopardy, though certain revisions (such as the chronological restructuring of Red Dragon’s pivotal home-invasion sequence, which already occurred last week in ”…And the Beast from the Sea”), already suggest that the climax’s emphasis might be shifted to Will, the lamb.
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