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Hannibal (#110 of 30)

Every Episode of Hannibal Ranked

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Every Episode of Hannibal Ranked

NBC

Every Episode of Hannibal Ranked

NBC’s Hannibal ran for three seasons, but its concept called for at least twice as many. Undertaking a freeform adaptation of author Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter saga, producer Bryan Fuller crocheted 39 episodes out of Will Graham’s involvement with modern crime fiction’s most notable maneater without once mentioning the iconic Clarice Starling. In short, the result of the NBC severance was a bridge that reached not quite halfway across the river before being rudely interrupted by lack of funds. Happily, the unfinished symphony yielded great beauty.

In ranking all 39 episodes, the rich, once-in-a-lifetime series leads one down several paths. What’s the most fascinating aspect? Fuller’s fruitfully complex relationship with the source material, switching from solemnly pious to manically freestyle (even openly rebellious) at the drop of a hat? An equally complex study in the dynamic relationship between auteur (and not-so-auteur) directors and a showrunner who needs a stable of weirdly brilliant minds to realize his epic vision? The show’s evolution from vague Mentalist retread—possibly a canny bit of misdirection on Fuller’s part—to the grandest opera dedicated to the destructive infatuation shared by two men ever to air on network television?

Or is it simply about the story, meat and potatoes, and nothing more? Does the series rise and fall based on how tunefully a given episode renders the ballad of Will (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen)? In truth, all these concerns factor into a 39-episode ranking, to a degree that Hannibal makes for a solid, encyclopedic study of the different ways we experience pleasure (or displeasure) with episodic television drama. This ranking will endeavor to adhere to a rough calculus, weighing the complex pleasures from one episode to the next. In preparation, I revisited every episode, in its established order, but also checked in with a selection of isolated scenes, quiet and loud alike.

Hannibal Recap Season 3, Episode 13, "The Wrath of the Lamb"

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Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “The Wrath of the Lamb”

NBC

Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “The Wrath of the Lamb”

Per the elaborate religious analogies offered up in “The Number of the Beast Is 666,” “The Wrath of the Lamb” finds Will (Hugh Dancy), the lamb to Hannibal’s (Mads Mikkelsen) Lucifer and Jack’s (Laurence Fishburne) God, attempting an elaborate bait and switch to nab Francis (Richard Armitage), a.k.a. the Great Red Dragon, after the latter fakes his own death. Theoretically, the episode is about the negotiations Will must orchestrate so as to cleanse himself (he’d like to think anyway) for a return to his life with Molly, as he navigates the powerful influences of his dueling authority figures. In actuality, every plot development is clearly planted in preparation for the show’s climax atop a bluff where Hannibal once hid Miriam and Abigail. As with Justified’s somewhat anticlimactic finale earlier this year, there’s a rushed, “off” quality to “The Wrath of the Lamb.” At times, one wonders if there’s a conductor sitting right outside the periphery of the camera, egging the actors to “move it along.”

Hannibal Recap Season 3, Episode 12, "The Number of the Beast Is 666"

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Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “The Number of the Beast Is 666”

NBC

Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “The Number of the Beast Is 666”

“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.

Hannibal Recap Season 3, Episode 11, "…And the Beast from the Sea"

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Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “…And the Beast from the Sea”

NBC

Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “…And the Beast from the Sea”

“...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.

Hannibal Recap Season 3, Episode 10, "And the Woman Clothed in Sun"

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Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”

NBC

Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”

“And the Woman Clothed in Sun” is explicitly taken with Hannibal’s great theme: “reality” as a terrifyingly fluid and elastic realm, dictated by the conditions of the fragile mind. The most taken-for-granted elements of our lives, events that we think just “happened” to us, can be revealed to have been actively initiated by us without our conscious knowing, and can mean nothing that we initially take them to mean. These ideas aren’t new to psychiatry or even to pop media, which often utilizes crude acknowledgements of subjectivity in the service of springing lurid twists in which half a narrative is revealed to be an illusion or fabrication. Hannibal is after something more ambitious and universal, however, exploring how we casually isolate ourselves, how traumas can inform different people in greatly unpredictable fashions. This notion of loneliness, of self-imposed exile inspired by self-loathing, is what has lent the series-spanning arc between Will (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) such remarkably durable emotional heft. At its broadest, the series is about people who hate themselves managing to find one another, revealing social functionalities they didn’t know they possessed. The murders and the Grand Guignol flourishes are symbolic of a desire to connect and to reach out socially, and this is how Hannibal evades the chic nihilism of most serial-killer fiction.

Hannibal Recap Season 3, Episode 9, "And the Woman Clothed with the Sun"

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Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 9, “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun”

NBC

Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 9, “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun”

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.

Hannibal Recap Season 3, Episode 8, "The Great Red Dragon"

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Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, “The Great Red Dragon”

NBC

Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, “The Great Red Dragon”

When we first see Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage), he’s sitting in what appears to be a cafeteria, having coffee, looking over a Time magazine with rapt fascination. On the cover is a reprint of William Blake’s The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, one of several paintings the poet and artist produced depicting images of a seven-headed, 10-horned monster from the Book of Revelation. Francis turns the magazine’s pages and finds within them an even more striking image in the series, a reprint of the nearly identically titled The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun. The paintings cumulatively dramatize both sides of a single image: In the first, we see the front of a woman as she’s descended on by the dragon, and in the second, we’re behind them, looking predominantly on the dragon’s powerful, startlingly sexualized back, which is rippled with muscle, supporting great sprouting wings and a coiled tail that suggests a phallus. In the first painting the woman is accorded dramatic agency, and our empathy is drawn to her; in the second, she’s seen cowering between the dragon’s legs, our senses primarily taken with its power over her. It’s this power that transfixes Francis.

Hannibal Recap Season 3, Episode 7, "Digestivo"

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Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Digestivo”

NBC

Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Digestivo”

The most distinctive quality of Hannibal this season is its nearly pure amorality. There might not be another series on television right now in which no interior value system is courted or pandered to, apart from a treasuring of phenomenal aesthetics. Which is to say that we’re placed empathetically into Hannibal’s (Mads Mikkelsen) way of valuing art pointedly over life. What is one of his succulent human meals but the fashioning of art from the spare parts of someone Hannibal deems beneath him, representing the sort of transcendence that he and Will (Hugh Dancy) often discuss? Creator Bryan Fuller and his remarkable collaborators never try to teach us a civics lesson, so as to justify the show’s considerable violence contextually in a manner resembling a more obviously violent cop program that might purport to tell us the hard truth about how life really is (on the streets). Fuller’s refusal to apologize for his fantasies or to hedge his bets with a conventional thematic ultimately scans as moral, in a roundabout way. The show’s aversion to platitude awakens our senses. Hannibal’s images are often modeled after paintings, and that’s how one watches the series: with rapt, somewhat distanced appraisal, as one might regard a work hanging up at the Museum of Modern Art. Traditional emotional responses aren’t usually courted, bringing into stark relief how superficially Pavlovian those reactions can be—how they’re used to paper over mediocre craftsmanship and easy rationalizations. Certain Brian De Palma films achieve this same speculative effect, particularly the really crazy ones that are made strictly for his acolytes (Raising Cain, for instance). But Hannibal now renders even De Palma’s work sentimental by comparison.

Hannibal Recap Season 3, Episode 6, "Dolce"

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Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “Dolce”

NBC

Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “Dolce”

In “Dolce,” Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will (Hugh Dancy) finally meet again, together for the first time since the attack last season that sent every major character off in a different figurative corner, scrambling for stability and absolution. Hannibal and Will’s relationship has unambiguously gained the tenor and stature of a major, socially conflicted romance. Hannibal’s murders have attained a wacky but resonant thematic association: Killing in this series is a metaphor for the exposure of the private craziness we feel we nurture inside ourselves, for which society will potentially shun us. Hannibal revels in a potentially offensive symbolism in which violence is linked with unconventional sexuality, particularly homosexuality, but its treatment of this dicey juxtaposition is empathetic, dwelling on the characters’ respective confusions, not to mention their senses of social estrangement.

Hannibal Recap Season 3, Episode 5, "Contorno"

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Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 5, “Contorno”

NBC

Hannibal Recap: Season 3, Episode 5, “Contorno”

Last night’s episode of Hannibal, “Contorno,” is both conveniently and poetically ludicrous. Repetition has inescapably set into this season’s Italian sojourn, which partially accounts for why last week’s superb American flashback episode, “Aperitivo,” felt so sharp. It’s beyond time for Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) to be caught in Florence by Will (Hugh Dancy) or Jack (Laurence Fishburne), or even Mason (Joe Anderson), and returned to America to face his sins while presumably counseling a variety of enforcers on the behavior of other ingenious master killers. The show’s dream logic has nearly reached a breaking point, as certain visual motifs are coming dangerously close to courting self-parody, such as when Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino) uses a payphone and the audience is treated to a rapturous, slow-mo sequence of the quarter tumbling down the change slot. When Jack spreads Bella’s ashes in a canal, the visual device makes emotional sense, but this is…a quarter. One awaits the pornographic opening of a Sprite bottle.