The penultimate episode of Hannibal’s second season begins with a very productive therapy session between Will Graham and his psychiatrist, Dr. Lecter. Though we have seen it through various stylistic flourishes, clever quotidian acting beats, and expressionist nightmares about Manstags, neither of these men have actually said it until now:
“I have an understanding of your state of mind and you understand mine. We’re just alike.”
It is a breakthrough. We have finally reached a point in the series where Will and Hannibal can lucidly have a conversation about their relationship.
With this new clarity, unfortunately, comes the simple fact that becoming too close with a psychopath can be dangerous territory. It was Jack Crawford’s mantra all through season one, and it is still true now: don’t get too close.
But “Tome-Wan” is all about getting too close, using humour and empathy to take viewers to uncharted, enchanting, and terrifying territory.
Hannibal is not pleased that Will has sicced Mason Verger on his cannibal trail, telling the mad millionaire that the doctor is responsible for all of Margot’s recent misbehavior. Will owns up to this manipulation in a repetition that one would expect from a person that is just like Hannibal Lecter. He was just curious what would happen, giving him a little nudge.
Of course, this is not completely true. There is another snare around Hannibal’s neck that even he can’t see, one that will tighten if he takes the human bait, dragging him out of the waters and into the clutches of Jack Crawford.
After having Hannibal label Mason discourteous, declaring that whenever possible it is best to eat the rude, Will mentions that in all likelihood Verger will try to kill the cannibal during his next appointment. Graham shrugs it off like it’s no biggie, stating simply that Lecter will have to kill Mason first.
Dr. Lecter asks his friend to close his eyes and imagine what that might be like. Will finds himself standing on the edge of the killer pig pen of his imagination, Hannibal dangling in front of him, straightjacketted. Here we see Graham’s true intentions as he slits his enemy’s throat and lowers him to the squealing hogs.
Will’s eyes are dead in this fantasy, but even after having been exsanguinated, Hannibal’s eyes are clear, alive, and practically angelic. Being alike is a two way connection: Graham is closer to his inner reptile, but as a result he can see the haunting glimmer of humanity that shines in Lecter.
This inversion is half of what “Tome-Wan” is all about. Now that we are aware of the secret plot to get Hannibal to bite, human stakes need to be set in place for the events of the finale to matter. By humanizing Hannibal, even just slightly, while taking the sparkle out of Will’s eyes, Bryan Fuller is placing doubt in our minds. Do we want Hannibal caught? And – because we are seeing this show through Will’s eyes now – does he?
“What did you see?” asks Hannibal as Will comes back to reality.
Instead of an answer all we get is a smile and the familiar Hannibal piano cue that has been drilled into us like a dinner bell to so many of Pavlov’s dogs.
The other half of “Tome-Wan” is about the consequences of getting too close, resulting in the birth of a legendary adversary.
After the titles roll we see the familiar face of Mason Verger in session with Hannibal. The psychiatrist hides a scalpel in the cuff of his suit jacket, preparing for the worst as they talk about the differences of happiness and suffering.
Mason removes his papa’s knife, the one he used to test the thickness of pig skin at 4-H fairs. He brandishes it dangerously close to Hannibal’s throat, but instead takes a seat and stabs the blade into the arm of Lecter’s leather chair. This is a game of chicken, instigated by Verger, who never blinks.
Michael Pitt is striking a balance, once again, between the comical and unspeakably horrendous. It is a flavour that has always been under the surface of Hannibal, usually explored with food puns and winks at the camera. Tapping into a state of being that is so psychotic and volatile, Pitt is able to tip the scales into the world of comedy through his sheer emotional violence. Thanks to this shift in tone, we are able to be taken down some very dark roads, laughing all the way.
He stabs the chair again, giggling uncontrollably in his constant struggle to contain the terrible things trying to escape from him, and the game is on.
In order to accept what lies down these paths, we need to be reminded that in addition to being discourteous, Mason is also a lesser demon of Hell who partakes in the sadistic mutilation of women and children. We head over to the hospital, where Margot is displaying her new gruesome cervical scar to Will and Hannibal.
Will encourages Margot to make herself win. She can show her brother how strong she is by moving on, clearly projecting his own struggles with Hannibal onto this sibling rivalry. The death of their unborn little-Verger mirrors the loss of Abigail Hobbs, and Will has already learned his lesson: anger only gets in the way when you’re dealing with psychopaths that never lose.
Unfortunately for Will, his own revenge is proving to be a little bit more difficult to achieve than simply living well. We finally get to see him and Jack talking shop about the master plan to reel in Hannibal, but Graham says that he simply hasn’t been given anything substantial to act on.
All that Will can give Jack is vagaries. He has the impression that Lecter is trying to compel him to kill Mason Verger, and other than Hannibal’s motto (eat the rude), there’s no evidence to really go on here.
Through this info sharing, we’re given a look into how this whole secret master plan is working. By giving Hannibal a taste of his own persuasive medicine, Will expects to arrest him when he inevitably tries to kill Mason.
Jack proves that he is also a good fisherman, and leads Will to the interrogation room where Bedelia Du Maurier, Hannibal’s former psychiatrist, is pacing.
What at first seems like a key piece of evidence against Hannibal becomes a very loud warning sign. She is offered immunity from prosecution and confesses to killing a violent patient of hers while under Hannibal’s influence. The patient that attacked her swallowed his tongue, she says, but it wasn’t attached to his body at the time.
She was convinced it was self defense, but in the end it was murder. Bedelia tells Will that Hannibal will similarly persuade him to kill someone he loves, making Graham believe it is the only choice he has. The only chance to catch Hannibal, she says, lies in his tendency to become lost in his own cleverness and whimsy.
The fire is burning in Hannibal’s office as he and Will drink wine, talking about the problem that Mason Verger presents. Hannibal believes this is a pleasure that they can share, like the wine, but Will accuses his doctor of fostering a sense of codependency. It’s a distancing tactic here so that Hannibal is compelled to actually act instead of driving Will to do the murdering for him.
The discussion turns to Abigail and the camera gets very dark. The entire frame is obscured by shadow save the faces of these sad men. In this state of meta isolation, Will sees himself in Hannibal and vice versa, each defining the other with an assertion.
“I only want what’s best for you,” pleads Hannibal, trying to cling to the only piece of matter even close to his lonely orbit of a life.
“You’re right, we are just alike,” states Will, breaking the illusion. “You’re as alone as I am, and we’re both alone without each other.”
Back in the interrogation room, Jack is having his try at Bedelia, clearly losing patience with fishing. He gave her immunity and she took it, but can offer nothing in return. Hannibal, according to her, is only guilty of influence. She impresses on him that if Jack thinks he is close to catching Lecter, it is only because he is being made to think that.
“Don’t fool yourself into thinking he’s not in control of what’s happening.”
This conversation is made manifest on Hannibal’s dinner table. Jack and he sit down to have a self-reflexive conversation, each admitting that at this point, nothing is certain. They eat a Ukrainian dish whose outcome can never be certain: a gelatin containing whole fish that serves as a metaphor for the show.
Again, here we see some humour seeping through, as characters interact with the dramatic irony that threatens their every moment of life. The similarity between Jack and Hannibal has never been so fully on display, each having to admit that despite their proclivity for pulling the strings, they are in the end just fish in chaotic jello: nothing but one big edible diorama.
For the first time we see a cooking montage outside of Hannibal’s kitchen. Will is making food for his dogs. In addition to indicating that the show’s central pair has become just a like, this scene goes a long way in showing that Crawford and Lecter aren’t the only ones vying for control.
The theme of composition in this show is always evoked as a symbol of power. Whether its music, a sketch or a recipe, when a character is shown taking disparate items and carefully combining them to serve another purpose, it means they are experiencing clarity. Will is not just working for Jack, he’s cooking up his own scheme.
This scene is also here to remind us that Graham has a lot of dogs just as Mason Verger shows his face, retrieving Will for some farm house entertainment.
Hannibal is abducted from his office by Verger’s henchmen but not before pulling a move straight out of the source material and slicing open the femoral artery of one of his assailants. Carlos overtakes Lecter with the application of a taser and takes him to the pig pit to be strung up in the exact way that Will imagined it.
Verger plays the super villain and hands his papa’s knife to Will. In order to get the piggies salivating, Mason would like Hannibal to bleed a bit.
Will frees Hannibal instead and is knocked unconscious. When he comes to his senses he is alone, there is blood everywhere and Carlos has been eaten by the pigs.
What follows is, simply put: television at its best. The next sequence strikes a perfect balance between horror, comedy, living metaphor and haunting character piece.
Hannibal has brought Mason to Will’s home in Wolf Trap. He gives the slaughterhouse king a massive dose of psychedelic drugs and does what he does best: he puts the wrong idea into just the right head. Again, Michael Pitt is so wonderfully invested in his violent insanity that every line, every glance and every burst of laughter from Verger allows us to have as much fun as he is while getting a very strong sinking feeling.
Getting close to the inner workings of a psychopath brings us to dangerous territory. Hannibal gives Verger his papa’s knife and asks him to demonstrate how his dear sweet dad used to test the fat of pigs. Not on the beast he is hallucinating though (one of Will’s dogs), on himself.
Jumping ahead a few hours, Will is returning home and surprised to find only Winston waiting for him on the porch. Entering to see where everyone else is, he finds a shadowy figure feeding the family of strays. The figure is Mason and he is feeding his face to the dogs.
“What Mason is experiencing is not restricted to reality,” explains Hannibal, wearing the head of a boar from his victim’s perspective. “So, reality must be forced to adapt.”
Mason loudly declares that he’s hungry, and Hannibal tells him to eat his nose. He does so, remarking that he has the same taste and consistency to chicken gizzard.
“I’m full of myself!” Mason says, with a burp, before Will and Hannibal argue over who should kill him. Will wins this battle of responsibility, but Lecter chooses to let this legendary game of chicken continue. He breaks Mason’s neck but lets him live.
This scene is the best example of humour opening doors to normally inaccessibly horrific ideas and images. Thanks to the energy and style brought to this self-mutilation moment – both from Pitt’s performance (he nails every beat) and the previous psychedelic induction scene – the tension produced from the image of a man carving away at his face is relieved about every sixty seconds with a joke.
It is Hannibal distilled and sustained, elevating “Tome-Wan” to the tightest, most mesmerizing hour of there series. To use the words of Mason Verger: I am enchanted and terrified.
Later, Jack pays a visit to Mason’s private hospital bed, but is unable to get any sort of condemnation of Hannibal or Will. Verger doesn’t even acknowledge knowing Graham, attributing his newly masked deformity to a tumble in the pig pen and praising the effects of Dr. Lecter’s therapy.
Jack leaves and Margot puts a button on this dark comedy of a plot arc. Finally in a position of power and ready to live the hell out of her passive revenge she promises to take care of him in the same way he took care of her.
The final scene of the episode is a contemplation on what being just alike means. Hannibal has finished sketching a reproduction of Gavin Hamilton’s painting, Achilles Laments the Death of Patroclus. He likens their relationship to that of the Greek warriors, who would like to see all of their allies die so that they might savour victory both alone and together.
Will says that this is not sustainable, the way that he keeps taunting Jack. Lecter agrees, Crawford is his friend and he owes him the truth.
Unfortunately for Jack, being close to a psychopath is very dangerous territory.