“You hook ‘em, I’ll land ‘em.” — Jack Crawford, the fisher of men, in Hannibal episode 2.8 “Su-Zakana”
Hannibal is excellent at slipping into the framing of an unreliable narrator. It is a device that can be used to mask important details for a dramatic reveal, juxtapose real events with perceived ones, and, at its best, reveal a truth about an inaccessible character. “Ko No Mono” manages to deftly pull off all three of these effects in a single TV hour, while hitting the series’ first truly heartbreaking moment.
We start the episode with a symbol of birth: the Manstag in a dark forest watching the prone Ravenstag expel a dark child into the nightmare woods. Using the visual language of rebirth that Hannibal taught us in “Su-zakana” (the one where a deranged social worker was sewing women into the wombs of dead horses) we see the animal that has been the walking metaphor of Will’s empathy for the devil explode and release the elusive Grahamstag: a tortured and bloody Hugh Dancy with antlers.
This is a wonderful way of catching us all up on Will’s journey into the kitchen of darkness, using expressionist symbols to show that our hero has become just like the villain.
The real life effects are shown right away. At Hannibal’s dinner table, Will continues his training as a grisly gourmand, his teacher serving him a right of passage that in turn is a symbol of Dr. Lecter’s worldview. A tiny, endangered songbird is gorged, drowned in liquor, plucked and roasted, then eaten in a single bite, bones and all, resulting in euphoria for the eater.
Hannibal calls it a rite of passage, one that used to be observed with covered heads so that a divine being wouldn’t catch eaters of this metaphor for the pleasure of another being’s anguish.
“I don’t hide from God,” says Hannibal as the dinner club, uncovered, eats their forbidden foods and experiences pure pleasure.
By now we know that Dr. Lecter feels very much like God (he loves this Big Guy’s church-collapsing style), and now that Will has become just like him, this line turns from brazen hubris to an invitation. Hannibal doesn’t hide from God, he doesn’t hide from himself, and he doesn’t hide from Will.
This puts the narrative frame solely over Hannibal’s shoulder, and thanks to Will’s deep cover mentality, that framing doesn’t break when the cannibal isn’t in a scene. We get to see an episode of Hannibal almost exclusively from Dr. Lecter’s point of view in a rare moment of his own deception.
Will says that the euphoria of eating the little bird is the same kind that he felt when he killed Freddie Lounds.
Then, in case there was any confusion as to what was going on from Hannibal’s perspective, we are treated to a meticulous recreation of what I would say is the most iconic image in the Hannibal Lecter pop culture mythology: silence in the parking garage at the offices of Tattle-Crime broken by the squeaking of a wheelchair carrying an immolating Freddie Lounds.
That image, in one form or another, appears in every single telling of Red Dragon. It has been shown on the big screen in Brett Ratner’s adaptation, as well as Michael Mann’s less by-the-book Manhunter, and of course is a major set piece in the novel. If the idea is to convince someone that Freddie Lounds is dead, this is the image to evoke.
Luckily for us (by which I mean Freddie Lounds super-fans), the details are off. In the Baltimore Autopsy Unit, Jimmy and Brian confirm that the teeth on the corpse match the tabloid journalist’s orthodontic records, and while everyone waxes poetic about how Lounds never could keep herself out of a story, the detail drops that this charred husk was killed before being set on fire.
“Freddie Lounds had to burn. She was fuel. Fire destroys and it creates,” says Will, nodding to the canon. “It is mythical.”
Only it’s not. In the three times that this particular crime has happened, Lounds was first used as a vessel of communication for the Red Dragon, Francis Dolarhyde, before having his (Freddie is Freddy in the source material) lips bitten off and being burned alive.
These are big details in terms of the mythology, and as the ending of the episode reveals, they mean something.
Given this context, what comes next is a chilling piece of foreshadowing.
“She won’t rise from the ashes, but her killer will,” continues Graham, either alluding to the fact that this is a trap for Hannibal, a symbol of his own transformation or unknowingly teasing the invisible Red Dragon in the room.
Much of the rest of “Ko No Mono” takes place across various therapy sessions with Hannibal. We catch up with Margot Verger on her quest to sire a male heir, admitting in a group session with Will that she has become pregnant.
The lady Verger doesn’t expect anything from Will, but won’t object to having a positive male role model in the baby’s life, considering that her brother is not very good with children.
We get to see exactly how true this statement is with a cut to the Verger family stables as a visiting group of orphans are lead on a tour. Mason corners a child, Franklin, and begins to tell the forsaken kid that his foster guardians don’t want him. It is stomach churning to see what you would expect is going to be a case of child abduction, but things get weird when Verger achieves his goal.
Franklin begins to cry and Mason holds the boy’s throat, angling his head just right so that he can collect a tear from the saddest child in the world. Standing back up, and placing the tear stained square of tissue in a case, Michael Pitt hits a perfect bit of dark comedic relief, with a joyful “Have a chocolate!” and tossing one at the emotionally broken, but thankfully unmolested child.
The tear is added to a signature Mason Verger martini, and Hannibal has once again successfully dodged content that would not befit network TV by showing us something more unsettling.
Alana Bloom pays a visit to a very mentally unstable looking Will Graham at his Wolf Trap home, probing to see if he did actually kill Freddie. She is not satisfied with the answers he’s giving which, to be fair, are really creepy.
After Will points to Alana’s double standard – calling Hannibal a bad influence on him while actively pursuing the cannibal’s handsome Danish romance – he gets a gun and tells her to log some hours at a firing range. She might be wrong about a lot of the details, but she is right about being afraid.
Back in therapy, Hannibal has collected the full set of Vergers as Mason arrives for his first session with his literary archenemy. Again, we get some wonderful comic timing out of Michael Pitt, electing to lay on the chaise lounge as he espouses his history of child abuse and subsequent slap on the wrist (community service at a pound and court ordered therapy that was decidedly not helpful).
The conversation is all about catching us up on what a perverted, narcissistic fuck Mason is, but the physical beats say everything we need to know about who these psychos are to each other. Hannibal and Mason share one thing in common, a desire for complete control over everyone in their lives, so that they might prey on their favourite flavours of little bird (rude people and orphan tears respectively).
What makes the match-up so comical and exciting is how everything else about these two killers is perfectly opposed. Hannibal is effortlessly refined, while Mason goes out of his way to liken himself to great artists in an effort to manufacture greatness. Verger hates his living sibling while Hannibal mourns his own dead sister. Each man is even perfectly suited for the other’s unsavoury appetite: Mason is deliciously rude and Hannibal is an orphan whose tears Verger would love to salt a martini with.
Meanwhile Freddie Lounds has a funeral and Alana watches from a distance. Will approaches her and they pick up their conversation from before, concluding with Graham mentioning that Hannibal suggested that he come to the ceremony (practically nudging Alana with his elbow and winking with an open mouth).
Will is the next one in therapy. He and Hannibal talk about taking and making life. Will is undergoing biological changes now that he is to be a father and this brings up the unspoken tragedy between this couple: the death of their surrogate daughter Abigail Hobbs.
Hannibal is a show that, thanks to its crime procedural format and dark-as-nightmares subject matter, rarely stops to mourn a death. Now that the Manstag and the Grahamstag are alone together with no secrets between them (except maybe one), the unreliable narrator gets us close enough to Hannibal Lecter to actually have a moment of genuine love and regret.
“I’m sorry I took that from you,” says Hannibal. “I wish I could give that back.”
In a moment of absolute poetry, he admits that he is frustrated when the smashed teacup doesn’t put itself back together. A teacup falls and breaks as piano plays: it’s the same teacup that Abigail dropped as Hannibal made her breakfast in the never aired “Oeuf;” the same musical theme that played in the series premiere as the two surrogate dads sat beside Abigail’s hospital bed.
The shattered teacup of private Hannibal moments begins to reassemble itself and finally after almost two whole seasons we have a genuine emotional connection with the devil. It is heartbreaking.
Freddie’s grave is exhumed and her corpse is transformed into a depiction of the Hindu goddess Shiva. The crime indicates to everyone present that there seem to be two killers at work: a destroyer and a benefactor. The clever part about this is that in retrospect, thanks to the unreliable narrator, it seems like Jack and Will are talking about Hannibal and Graham, but it’s really the two of them working here.
Alana calls it a courtship, assuming it’s Hannibal and Will, but in fact it’s the Guru and the Grahamstag.
The image is further evoked during the next therapy session with Will and Hannibal. In a clever trick of the camera, it is clear that they have reached a point in their relationship where they can use each other to talk to themselves. As the faces get mixed up in the back and forth, yet another permutation of the nightmare stag appears: a Shivastag growing out of the space between them.
Act four opens with Mason back in the hotseat where he discusses Margot’s tenacity and cleverness.
This is followed by an encounter with Alana in which, while kissing his lover’s hand, Hannibal notices the distinct scent of the firing range. He immediately confronts her and she brushes it off as a symptom of her paranoia. It’s not enough for Hannibal, who finally is beginning to realize for himself the dangers of intimacy that he so masterfully demonstrated to Will Graham all last season.
Incensed by his therapy, Mason hatches a scheme to make sure that Margot’s heir never sees the light of day, having his servant Carlos T-bone her car with his truck. She wakes up on the dark operating table of forced surgery and her brother promises that there will be complications with her reproductive parts forcing real doctors to remove the child.
Alana has had just about enough of all of these mind games, drowning in the waters of Hannibal’s influence, and confronts Jack. This is the first substantial scene without Hannibal or one of his patients and as a result we finally get to break the framing device.
She presses and presses and presses Jack to spill the beans, so he invites her on a walk. They enter a room in the FBI headquarters and suddenly Alana understands. Freddie is still alive, and Will and Jack are fishing for prey that won’t bite.
The episode closes with a confrontation between Will and Mason. Graham has lost another child thanks to this rich swineherd and the threats start flying.
“I’m gonna feed you to my pigs,” laughs Verger before Will pulls the scales from his eyes.
There are other people in control now. Will is not one of them. Everything that we have seen has been connected by a single, invisible line: one that leads to Hannibal Lecter.
Of course, that’s only half of the story, the one that we have been seeing up until now. At the other end of that line, safely outside the dark waters, is a fisher of men. His name is Jack Crawford, and he is about to land a very big fish.