Hannibal operates as a full-tilt relationship melodrama this week. The actual hunt for Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage), a.k.a. the Tooth Fairy, a.k.a. Red Dragon, takes an emotional backseat to a variety of couples who’re sorting through almost comically elaborate assemblies of skeletons in the closet. As with nearly every other episode of this series, “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun” is composed of alternating duets of escalating intensity. In the pre-credits scene, Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will (Hugh Dancy) discuss—what else?—the thin ideological line separating their respective positions in society, which now parallels the fragile boundary separating Will from Francis (a doubling that the series repeatedly emphasizes by likening Will’s investigation to Francis’s preparation for the acts that have triggered it). Will’s a killer almost like these men, who has pivotally funneled his emotional trauma and estrangement into law enforcement, deriving his predatory thrills from the hunt of other predators. That text has always powered Hannibal and Will’s duets, but, now that Hannibal’s imprisoned in the world’s poshest lunatic asylum, a certain brittleness has crept into the former’s parrying and jousting. Mikkelsen plays Hannibal with a layer of spurned torment here that’s naked even by the standards of his distinctive interpretation of the character: His eyes sing with dashed erotic bitterness, which quietly primes the well for a betrayal down the road that’s inevitable if creator Bryan Fuller intends to follow Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon.
The show’s narrative structure now resembles a sort of love octagon. There’s Hannibal and Will, of course. For reasons that aren’t yet apparent, Abigail (Kacey Rohl) has turned up again in flashbacks that unsurprisingly reveal her to have been complicit with Hannibal in the ambush that concluded the second season. There’s also Francis, who admires Hannibal and calls him under the pretense of being his attorney in the highly unlikely development that serves as this episode’s final stinger. Alana (Caroline Dhavernas) may still be with Margot, raising a “Verger baby” with the latter’s family money, but she’s slept with Hannibal in the past, and has had a pronounced “will-they-or-won’t-they” thing with Will—an electricity that still exists between the two on some subterranean level in their brief duet here. And, remember, she also conspired with Hannibal to murder Mason—information that hovers, un-lanced, above Alana’s power negotiations with Hannibal, of which she’s now the dominant party due to his incarceration. (Dhavernas now plays Alana as a closeted woman freed, reveling in a newfound element of sexual confidence, dressing as a kind of modernized cross between an American professional and a French aristocrat. Scene to scene, the character still doesn’t make much sense, but the actor keeps you watching.) Will’s married to Molly (Nina Arianda), a coupling that’s roused class insecurities in him that parallel Francis’s exclusion from the nuclear family structure he simultaneously envies, seeks the approval of, and actively aims to destroy. Now complicating matters further is Reba McClane (Rutina Wesley), a blind film developer who works with Francis and seeks out his companionship. Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) isn’t kidding when he tells Hannibal that “we’re all in this stew together, doctor.”
There’s quite a bit of accomplished, bitchy verbal game-playing in the marvelous “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun,” one of several high points of an adventurous and sterling season. Three duets, described below, best illustrate the shifting power dynamics between the characters as well as the surprisingly straightforward pathos. Though that straightforwardness is distorted when one remembers that three of the characters are multiple murderers. The first, between Hannibal and Will, informs the show’s increasing emphasis on dejection from the outset. Hannibal wasn’t on screen much last week in “The Great Red Dragon,” as quite a bit of the episode’s running time was devoted to introducing Francis. This week, however, we see him enough to notice details about his incarceration, such as the institutional jump suit that Hannibal must wear, which has a comic effect, emphasizing a declawed, condescendingly infantilized quality that only renders the former doctor scarier; you know he’s biding his time, looking for opportunity for escape or retribution.
This duet has a second part, in which Hannibal and Will mentally visit the Jacobi family home, the site of one of Francis’s murder sprees. In their minds, they walk the grounds of the estate and we see them do so, Hannibal pointing out to Will that the killer might be targeting families with enclosed yards, so as to savor the moon. This scene is an inspired example of the showrunners using Hannibal’s abilities of mental projection as a pretense for freeing him from the confines of his cell. The device emphasizes the touristy distance that Hannibal and Will both feel from regular family arrangements, while, more practically, allowing episode director John Dahl and his collaborators to visually spice up scenes that could’ve merely existed as exposition traded between characters in two-shots (though the two-shots in the institution are always subtly varied, using the glass panel that exists between the characters as an elegant, image-enriching plane). A vision of Will naked, covered in blood, looking up at the moon envisioning himself as Francis, prepares us for his duet with Molly.
Will and Molly’s phone conversation is a case of Hannibal rendering a heartbreaking scene from a moment that scanned as obligatory character work in the book. Certain macho relics from the story’s 1980s roots remain. We don’t believe Molly, for instance, when she calls Will a “hot shot,” even facetiously, because this show’s sensibility couldn’t be farther away from the tone of derring-do that occasionally characterized the book and its first film adaptation, Manhunter. The series in general, and this scene particularly, is wounded, unexpectedly warm (the key to the show’s success), sad, and essentially hopeless. Fuller and his collaborators, riffing on Harris, clearly believe that outsiders can never really join society; the best they can hope for is to limit the extent of their destruction, either to themselves or to others or to all of the above. Will envisions himself sitting on his bed with Molly, the disjunction between reality and fantasy crushingly epitomizing the cliché of being so close yet so far away. A telling line of dialogue suggests that Will may be married to Molly, but that he may never be intertwined with her spiritually as many couples might appear to be (normally only from the vantage point of lonely people like Will). Molly makes a flippant reference to Will’s “criminal mind,” wounding him—and a woman married to this man for even just a spell should know that it would. Does Molly truly love Will, or are her feelings for him a complicated embodiment of pity? Is he just another of the strays they take collectively in?
As rich as these scenes are, the duets between Francis and Reba take Hannibal to a level of intensity that honors the best, most surprising portions of Red Dragon. We’ve seen the carnage that Francis has wrought, especially this week in those unmooring close-ups of Mrs. Jacobi in bed, spread out in a quasi-crucifixion pose, engulfed in geysers of blood stains, and now we’re to somehow find a way to understand him as the most pitiful, tormented human being this series has offered. Francis speaks for the first time this week, after only uttering guttural moans previously, and we can hear the profound speech impediment caused by his cleft palate. The way Francis utters “Mrs. McClane” from his van, garbling it yet determined to verbally push it out so as to reach out, when he offers her a ride home, is the most moving gesture in the entire series. Considering the context of who Francis actually is, the scene is flabbergasting for its empathy and awareness of vulnerability, bringing to mind some of the vocal effects that Charles Laughton landed in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Armitage plays this role in the tradition of some of the 1930s-era Universal Studios movie monsters: with an acknowledgement of the grace that arrives almost inadvertently from the purity of the effort to overcome physical damage—a grace that Francis hates himself too much to recognize. When Francis eats a piece of pie that Reba offers him as they sit in her home, quickly, like a hungry dog, we share his relief in being able to eat with someone while remaining alone and unwatched in equal measure. It’s training-wheels companionship for a man who’s long been lost in the figurative cold.
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