“The reason you caught me is that we’re just alike.” – Hannibal Lecter in Red Dragon (Thomas Harris, 1981)
There is a mythology underneath the characters in Hannibal. Though the television show is decidedly not a direct adaptation of any one of its predecessors – more a deconstruction of well-known characters and events used to make a collage and then set in motion – there is one fundamental aspect about Will Graham that cannot be forgotten.
Will Graham’s defining action in terms of this mythology is that he caught Hannibal Lecter.
In its journey to realize this mythic similarity, “Naka-Choko” flirts with these modern horror legends so much that it’s easy to call it the most meta episode of Hannibal yet. It winks at its source material, masterfully hitting beats of terror, confusion, and very dark humour. Also, there is a really steamy sex scene that takes place in two separate rooms and involves four humans, a theremin, and a Manstag.
The episode opens with dogs barking. We are in Wolf Trap, Virginia, moments before Will Graham is ambushed by beast mode Randall Teir (former patient of Dr. Lecter and psycho of the week from the previous episode). We have seen these moments: Will backing up, turning off the light a little too close to the side window. What we get instead of a quick cut to Hannibal’s office and a semi-cliffhanger is a rare complete answer as to how the beast man died.
Randall pounces through the window but Will manages to maneuver into a position that would allow him to shoot the would-be man-bear with his shotgun. That is not Hannibal’s gift to Will though. As has been explored in the previous few episodes, Graham fantasizes about killing his psychiatrist with his own hands. Randall is Hannibal’s surrogate in the intimate act of dying at the hands of a dear friend.
This could not be more clear. The opening scene is incredibly effective at showing exactly what Will is getting out of this, using the expressionistic language that the show seems to speak so effortlessly.
After deciding to forgo the cold distance of pulling a trigger, Will begins to punch the bear man repeatedly in the face. The victim he sees is the Manstag and as he punches away, it begins wearing the face of Hannibal.
Grabbing the demon’s horns, Will breaks the Manstag’s neck, before being brought down to reality, straddling the corpse of the most violent furry in popular media.
This takes us back to where we left off in the fallout of this event: in Hannibal Lecter’s office, Randall’s body on the table and Will declaring things between the two characters even-steven.
Hannibal dresses Will’s bloody knuckles in an increasingly common encounter of physical intimacy between the two men. It’s a big win for Lecter.
“Don’t go inside, Will,” pleads the cannibal medic. “You’ll want to retreat. You’ll want it as the glint of the rail tempts us when we hear the approaching train. Stay with me.”
The doctor lets Will in now, having shown him the transformative power of surviving a calculated murder attempt. No matter how good it feels to hold hands with Hugh Dancy, there is a body on the table in the other room that needs to be honoured. As Hannibal puts it: Will owes Randall a debt.
Cut to Jack entering the Museum of Natural History, presumably having been called to the fresh crime scene. Will has inverted Randall’s bear suit situation, dressing the fossil of an extinct predator in the dead man’s skin. “Randallsaurus,” a body poem by Will Graham.
After the titles, Will and Hannibal have been brought to the scene as it is being canvassed and right in front of Jack they discuss the motivation behind this grisly tableaux. The killer felt no guilt and had no fear: he was commemorating him.
Will does his patented metronome magic on his own crime scene, and an empathy feedback loop is created. A dialogue between Graham and his inner Randallsaurus (complete with Dino Damage) ensues, culminating in a very key exchange.
“This is my becoming,” says Randall Tier, echoing a constantly repeated line from Red Dragon.
“This is my design,” says Will Graham, echoing himself and very much hinting that there is more at work here than we can currently understand.
After Will and Hannibal dangle the bait underneath Jack’s nose just a little bit more, we get to catch up with Freddie Lounds in her home office. Still beholden to the deal struck when Lounds let him use Tattle-Crime as a way to contact his admirer, Will shows up to help the clickbait crime reporter with her novel (that already has a movie deal).
They begin talking about the Chesapeake Ripper and immediately Freddie demonstrates her status at the most clever person on the show with the least authority. Frederick Chilton doesn’t make sense as the Ripper’s true identity. The jester who ran the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane was apparently so laughably incompetent with a scalpel that he pursued psychiatry in order to avoid embarrassment.
The Ripper rips, and Chilton was not equipped with the skills that would allow for that most Victorian form of serial killing. Freddie declares that even though this all might make for a good ending in Will’s book, she is not done. Evoking a mutual loss, she mentions that she will not let go of the death of Abigail Hobbs so easily.
Coming back from commercial, Margot Verger is in session with Dr. Lecter.
“You know you will have to kill him, Margot,” advises Hannibal, almost as if he knows that in a world outside of theirs is a novel in which she shoves his pet moray eel down her brother’s throat.
She blames it all on poor planning, but Hannibal blames it on love. Margot must allow herself to hate Mason in order to summon the killing power needed to slaughter the pig.
At this point, Margot reveals that she has a lot more to lose from the death of her brother than just an abusive family member. Their father was such a sexist homophobe that in the event of there not being a straight male heir to the Verger dynasty when Mason dies, everything goes to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Hannibal muses on the idea of legacies. Perhaps Margot can make one for herself.
Of course, there are two ways that Mason Verger dies in the branching mythology of the Hannibal Lecter franchise, so it’s only appropriate that after being teased with one (death at the hands of his tortured sister) we be wonderfully reminded of another.
Riding into the family stables (actually Toronto’s Casa Loma) Margot is greeted by one of the three biggest baddies to ever share the pages of a book featuring Hannibal the Cannibal. Michael Pitt does an excellent job of embodying the volatile, intelligent maniac that’s been teased for the past two episodes as he threatens his sister with a horrific fate in the most delightful use of dramatic irony yet.
After introducing Margot to his new pet, Pavlov the pig, Mason demonstrates a new investment of his. He has purchased a number of exotic pigs that he will be training to eat human flesh the same way that Pavlov (the real historic figure, not the pig) trained dogs to salivate to the sound of a bell. Only in this case the bell is human screams.
Mason shows Margot exactly how this will look by taking a dummy made of meat, dressed in her clothes, and lowering it by the neck into the pig pit as human screams are played over loudspeakers. It is an obvious threat, but the irony is lost on the nutso pig owner.
It isn’t Margot that he is feeding to the pigs in effigy, it’s himself. Mason Verger is iconic for two reasons. The first is that Hannibal Lecter convinces him to carve his own face off while being hung by the neck (an act of self mutilation he survives). The second is being eaten by his own man-eating pigs (which is how he dies in Ridley Scott’s less than great Hannibal).
Well performed and tensely shot, it’s a terrifying scene befitting of such an iconic villain. Even without the background information it works extremely well as an introduction to the show’s new big baddie. When taking the self-consuming references to the source material, this first real look at Bryan Fuller’s representation of Mason Verger is a perfect portrait of everything he has come to represent so far: a rich, intelligent maniac best known for being eaten by pigs he trained to kill someone else after being hung by the neck and transformed into a piece of living meat.
That introduction would have been enough to push “Naka-Choko” into the upper echelons occupied by the best Hannibal episodes, but the next (highly anticipated scene) cements it there right next to season one’s “Sorbet.”
Hannibal is teaching Alana Bloom to play the theremin, waxing about the idea of intimacy without touch while Margot shows up at Will’s house in Wolf Trap with a bottle of whiskey and eyes to put a legacy in her uterus.
What ensues is an act-long orgy of people using each other as long distance lovers. Hannibal and Alana physically get down to it in front of a fireplace, but he is thinking of Will, since the motivation for this pairing was to take away something Graham loves.
Meanwhile, Margot is a lesbian, and as Will mentions, he doesn’t have the right parts for her proclivities. Unfortunately for her, she needs a baby though. Graham sleeps with her thinking of Alana. Eventually through the magic of editing he ends up in the same bed with her and Hannibal before the Manstag (who you’d think would be the kind of perv who just likes to watch) subs in for both of the men she loves.
When its all over, and you’ve wiped the steam off your TV, Margot leaves Will, having successfully taken advantage of him through a personal sacrifice of her own. Graham is alone, Alana is with Hannibal, and Bryan Fuller, with help from director Vincenzo Natali, has come as close as humanly possible to making love with the concept of personal human connection.
This scene is the child of man and symbol. For the first time this season I was happy that Hannibal has a terrible Friday time slot that can allow for this sort of experimentation.
After the commercial, Freddie ambushes Alana, quickly deducing that she is sleeping with Lecter. The reporter snarkily wonders aloud whether this might be the reason that she doesn’t see how obvious it is that Hannibal is the real Chesapeake Ripper, and that Will probably is now too having come to the conclusion that if you can’t beat him, join him.
Hannibal, meanwhile, accepts the invitation of Mason Verger to meet up above the pig pit. Verger wants to meet the man who is meddling with his sister’s brain, and after some strong implications that Lecter knows terrible things about the mad pig breeder, he considers that maybe he should enlist in therapy too.
As a gift, Mason lets Hannibal select a pig to be slaughtered and taken home. He prepares it and serves the animal to Alana and Will at his table.
Alana speculated on the nature of Will and Hannibal’s relationship, telling them that Freddie Lounds made some pretty convincing points in favour of the doctor patient relationship extending to particularly unsavoury extra curricular activities.
Lecter is prompted to put on his plastic kill suit and pay a visit to Lounds in her office, but she is not there. Freddie has an appointment with Will to work on their book.
When she can’t get Will to answer the door, Lounds picks the lock on Graham’s barn. Inside she finds Randal’s beast suit along with a freezer containing the parts of him that weren’t used at the museum.
Will walks in on this breaking news in the making and tries to explain (maybe he’d have better luck if he wasn’t being so creepily and calmly insistent). Freddie bolts, but before she can drive away, Graham breaks her window with a tire iron and pulls her out, insisting that he can’t let her go until she hears what he has to say.
She had called Jack Crawford during this struggle, so Will, Hannibal and Alana all are called into the FBI to figure out what happened. Crawford is inclined to accuse Will all over again, but nothing is settled on.
That night Will and Hannibal have a dinner date. Graham has provided the meat and Lecter teaches him the finer points of food preparation while making puns (“You slice the ginger”).
A reflection of Will’s face in the knife symbolizes clarity of mind, invoking the image of Jack’s revelation from the season’s opening scene (which features the final discovery of Hannibal).
The best friends in the whole wide world sit across from each other and eat people while talking about what fear tastes like.
We leave the episode with a recreation of the first time we were shown Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter. The hand on the fork is Will’s, but the mouth belongs to both men. They finally understand each other.
It has been a long journey for Will, getting to know his dinner partner. He’s been led through a nightmarish maze not unlike the one used by Mason Verger to antagonize his pigs into eating humans. Whether a description of his journey includes a detour for killing and eating Freddie Lounds, we will have to wait and see (my money is on her survival and collusion in a larger scheme).
No matter what the case, one thing is certain: Will Graham is the one who catches Hannibal Lecter and he can’t do it until they’re just alike.