“I knew it was him.”
– Molly Graham
Of all the deadly sins, the one God himself admits to is envy. It’s right there in the rules: Thou shalt not worship false idols. It’s the first one, actually, when you talk about the big ten, and it’s a smite-worthy offense. In the world of Hannibal the name of God is Dr. Lecter, and as soon as he thinks you’ve forgotten that, prepare to feel his wrath.
There are two false idols in the back half of season three, and both are invoked in “…And the Beast from the Sea.” Molly Graham is the first, and the second is The Great Red Dragon himself. Hannibal Lecter cannot stand by and allow these others to be worshiped by his flock, so he acts out, flexes his muscles and demands credit if not penance as he shines down from on high. Classic God move.
“Beast from the Sea” picks up in Jack Crawford’s office with a post mortem of Will’s disastrous trip to the Brooklyn Museum where he was just a bit too late to catch Francis Dolarhyde in the process of eating a William Blake painting. Alana Bloom, prescient as always, offers the possibility that the Tooth Fairy is trying to stop himself, prompting Jack to speculate whether or not they could provoke Dolarhyde to commit suicide.
Will sneers at Crawford’s suggestion, spiting his nom de guerre as an epithet. Jack “The Fisher of Men” Crawford has become wholly unconcerned with masking his lack of empathy. He has spent the series at an analytical distance from the horrific acts of men, only being moved out of a sense of pride or personal justice. It’s made him an effective teammate for Will in the past, as they used to balance each other out, but after their respective sojourns in Florence the gap between them has grown. Will has been brought to dangerous levels of empathy, and clearly Jack has become emboldened with an extra large dose of not giving a fuck about people.
That this gap between them was widened by Hannibal Lecter is appropriate, as he is truly behind everything meaningful development the two men have been through in the series including this current case of criminal art appreciation. The following scene illustrates Lecter’s agency perfectly, as Francis Dolarhyde sits down in Hannibal’s empty office for a session of teletherapy with the incarcerated cannibal.
Francis confides his worry that the Dragon will hurt Reba — the only person who’s ever shown him kindness and the only living woman he’s ever felt. Hannibal, in hearing this, sees an opportunity to mould a vulnerable beast into his instrument of divine retribution. The conversation is shot with Lecter’s face entering the frame on a closeup of Dolarhyde over the killer’s shoulder. Hannibal is made to be Francis’ conscience before uttering his immortal lines from the Thomas Harris canon:
“Save yourself. Kill them all.”
What follows is an incredibly distressing hour of television, as Bryan Fuller and company once again masterfully walk the line between pity and terror in the characterization of Francis Dolarhyde. He stakes out the Graham house, has a final date with Reba while watching his video of Molly and Walter, and under the light of a full moon attacks Will’s family (having poisoned the dogs earlier in the week).
The assault on the Graham house is about as terrifying and anxious as TV gets. Suspense is built once again by subverting the show’s source material, taking this encounter from the end of Red Dragon and displacing it in the narrative so as to free it from obligation to the original outcome. The scene is just different enough that anything could happen, including the brutal death of Will’s family.
On top of this is the weight of Francis Dolarhyde’s strong characterization in the show leading up to this scene. We haven’t seen him kill, we’ve barely seen him be violent, we’ve only really seen him as a terrified child. To then have Francis confidently stride into the Graham house with a stocking over his head, dentures in his mouth, and feeling a thirst for his specific brand of transformation, manages to be surprising despite our knowledge of what he intends to do. Bryan Fuller pulled a Jaws on The Great Red Dragon, waiting until past the halfway mark in the story to show his wrath.
Molly proves to be a resourceful bad ass though, saving her child and escaping thanks to a well timed car alarm and her capacity to drive a dead man’s vehicle after getting shot. Her ability to survive a visit from the Tooth Fairy on her own merits elevates her above the character in Red Dragon and all its other adaptations. In the book, Molly is saved by Will, in the Brett Ratner film Will teaches her how to shoot a gun, handing down the manly hidden knowledge of violence. In Hannibal Molly is on her own and escapes the dragon’s wrath on her own merits.
Of course, when I say the Dragon’s wrath I really mean the wrath of a god named Hannibal. Underlining Lecter’s unholy influence over this act of divine retribution, we see him in the scene immediately preceding the assault bathing his hand in moonlight, well aware that under that same celestial glow his apostle is doing his work. If this small act of blocking and the initial therapy scene at the top of the episode didn’t solidify his presence enough in the home invasion enough, the scenes following all serve to shed light on Lecter’s intervention from on high.
Jack and Alana start paying attention to Hannibal, now that they know he gave up the Grahams’ address and is in regular contact with the Red Dragon. They strike a deal with him, to keep Dolarhyde talking during their next call just long enough for them to trace his location. It seems to work, as Hannibal is quick to reason why he must continue to lend an ear to the poor man on the other end of the line.
When Francis does call, Alana and Jack are so enraptured by their subject that they lose focus on Hannibal and he playfully reasserts his power. Brought to gaping awe at the sound of Francis struggling to keep the Dragon contained, crying and changing voices, Crawford and Bloom forget the killer in the room with them. Mads Mikkelsen lays on some of that quotidian nuance we saw betray Hannibal’s vanity in his conversation with Chilton earlier this season, and his motivation is clear when he breaks the call off with a quick, “They’re listening.”
In the aftermath of his fickle betrayal, after the behavioural sciences unit case Lecter’s old office, Alana makes good on her promise to take away Hannibal’s dignity. In doing this, she gives him everything he craves, acknowledging his continued role in the horrors of the world despite his incarceration. The point is highlighted visually by elevating Hannibal to his most iconic form while his cell is stripped: hoisted on a dolly, wrapped in a straight jacket and muzzled; the Hannibal Lecter you can buy off the shelf in drugstores around Halloween. Ignorant to Hannibal’s motivation, Alana makes sure his toilet is taken away under the impression that humiliation will serve as punishment rather than validate his relevance.
Francis, meanwhile, fears so much what he is becoming with the help of Hannibal, that he breaks up with Reba before making the aforementioned call to his therapist. Both scenes showcase Richard Armitage deftly handling material that could so easily produce embarrassed laughs from an audience. As it is though, seeing Armitage fluctuate seamlessly between tears, cold silence and monstrous threats is chilling and heartbreaking. Add in Rutina Wesley’s confident and scared performance of Reba McClane and it’s hard not to get teary eyed in these scenes.
Armitage and Wesley are such a natural addition to the show that it’s difficult to feel like it doesn’t belong to them (though it occurs to me that if Hannibal Lecter were to read that sentence I’d probably be in a bit of trouble). Hannibal has long benefited from the experience of excellent guest stars, but these two take the top prize, able to conjure the amount of emotional investment normally only won from scenes involving the series’ central family — Will, Hannibal, and Abigail — despite only having three episodes together by the end of this hour.
All this time, Will has been in the hospital waiting for Molly to come out of her anesthetic reverie following her post-gunshot surgery. He has a heart to heart with his stepson, who having recently read about Will in TattleCrime has come to resent his formerly interned father figure. Will doubles down on his empathy for Dolarhyde, insisting that he intends to catch him and help him rather than kill him (as Jack would have no qualms with), and Wally can’t stand by it.
Molly, when she comes to, is similarly angry, by he is able to see the true man behind her torture, and indeed all the terrible things that happen on the show. She says she knew it was Hannibal, and expresses her worry that good things are too slippery to hold onto in this world. This is especially true when the good thing you want has already been claimed by a Dracula-esque psychiatrist with a God-complex.
Will’s empathy for Francis, along with Hannibal’s posturing as the supreme being of all things terrible, comes into play in the final scene of “Beast from the Sea.” Graham visits Lecter, who promptly confesses to sicking the Dragon on him, denies Will his family, and positions his attack as a revelation rather than a punishment. In bringing his patients together through violence and threats, he has made them just alike: two men possessed by something bigger than themselves, each a monster in the other’s eyes, and both living in service to the vain God at the center of their dark universe: Hannibal Lecter.
Privacy Settings – Hannibal is given a hilariously meta line when confessing to his contact with the Red Dragon:
“How do you imagine he’s contacting me? Personal ads in the paper? Writing notes of admiration on toilet paper?”
This is a direct nod to the source material in which Hannibal communicates to Francis Dolarhyde through personal ads in The National Tattler (the book version of TattleCrime) and correspondence written on bathroom tissue. This is how Hannibal originally suggests Francis kill the Grahams.
The reference is funny for self-reflexive reasons, but it’s also a cheeky jab at the book. One of the primary criticisms I have of the novel is that the Dolarhyde story and the actual investigation seem too compartmentalized. Bryan Fuller has found a way around this thanks to clever framing and moving Lecter and Dolarhyde’s communications to the phone.
The Supermarket – Dork Shelf Games Editor Eric Weiss and I talked about Hannibal on last week’s episode of The WhaleCast and touched on a scene from the book we didn’t expect would translate to the world of the TV show. Namely, this was the heart to heart between Will and Wally. In the novel and both the film adaptations, this talk about insanity takes place in the aisles of a supermarket and neither Eric or I could imagine the show shooting a scene in that kind of environment. Hannibal just doesn’t seem like a show where its main characters eat cereal, least of all the Graham family.
Red Dragon Remix – As I touched on above, the Graham home invasion doesn’t normally happen until after the case is closed. By displacing the event in the chronology of the story, Fuller has has once again opened up his options in terms of how the story arc can end. Having used up nearly all of Red Dragon’s iconic imagery already, Hannibal is free to explore new territory in its final two episodes.
The Shy Boy – Speaking of new territory, neither of the previous Red Dragon adaptations tackled the upsetting backstory of Francis Dolarhyde childhood under the care of his grandmother. We’ve already seen a glimpse of this in a flashback, but I really hope next week we get to really delve into the story behind the shy boy who’s becoming a monster.
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