When we begin the ninth episode of Hannibal’s second season our hero, Will Graham, is in the middle of a gratifying revenge wet dream. His psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is tied to a tree with thick rope, which also has been wrapped around the dream-cannibal’s neck and finally attached to a pulley and the ravenstag.
Will wants Hannibal to admit to what he’s done him (murdered and eaten a whole bunch of people, seemingly for the sole purpose of framing Graham), but just like the waking version of Lecter, this guy tied to the revenge dream tree can only confess his love.
“No one can be fully aware of another human being unless we love them,” he confesses. “By that love we see potential in our beloved. Through that love we allow our beloved to see that potential. Expressing that love, our beloved’s potential comes true.”
This is not the answer Will wants, no matter how true it is.
Denied satisfaction by his own subconscious, Will chooses to represent Hannibal as the dark and alien Manstag. It is a symbol we know well as representing Graham’s inability or refusal to fully think like this antlered animal man, and knowing that this interrogation is over he whistles to the Ravenstag. The animal marches forward, tightening the rope and detonating the Manstag’s head in a fountain of blood.
Will wakes up, safe in his bed, and we’re taken to Hannibal’s kitchen where he is preparing an omelette for Jack and it probably has people in it.
The two man eaters sit across from each other and talk about the virtues of forgetfulness. Jack particularly wishes to be able to wipe some guilt from his past: not that he came to distrust Hannibal, as the doctor suggests, but that he came to doubt Will.
Hannibal mentions that he is no longer in the employ of the FBI with regard to his dealings with Will. Now that Graham is his patient, he benefits from the confidentiality that the doctor offers both as a professional courtesy and also a polite “fuck you” to the FBI.
Jack and Hannibal clink glasses across the dinner table, eating their respective people and the camera frames them as adversaries, reminding us that in four weeks time this house of unholy dining will become a deadly battleground when Crawford has a kitchen confrontation with the Chesapeake Ripper.
These first scenes present the two major ideas in “Shiizakana,” the second episode in a row that takes the form of a classic Hannibal crime-procedural-as-allegory type: understanding a beast and forgetting the past.
This week we are being asked to forget the fast paced, twisty-turny, plot based Will-on-trial arc that has velocitized our television watching appetites earlier this season, and to get used to the emotional psychological contemplation of this Hannibal as a weekly nightmare metaphor format.
Despite the jarring change in pace, this format is Hannibal at its best, replacing generic serialized plot contrivances that other TV dramas deal in with highly theatrical symbols representing the turbulent emotional states of its well defined central characters.
Without this format, Hannibal would cease to be the hawk among the little high concept television birds that mob around it. It is a brave risk that showrunner Bryan Fuller is taking, and I’m betting it will pay off in the long run, just as it did last season (and will hopefully continue to do).
The weekly metaphor was articulated in Will’s dream, and physically manifests itself outside of a Flying J in a very X-Files-esque cold open: A trucker, investigating a noise on top of his cab, torn asunder by a shadowy monster made of teeth and claws.
After the titles roll, we are back in Will’s head. He is remembering the frustration of not killing Mr. Ingram in the stables last week and when he emerges from the flashback asks Hannibal if he has any regret.
“A life without regret would be no life at all,” commiserates the doctor.
Will calls his choice not to kill last weeks’ emotional stand-in for Lecter a mistake, and Hannibal decides to help him understand why not shooting the man in the face was actually the better choice. Hannibal sees the danger in Will’s murder-lust and instructs him to adapt his behaviour.
“Adapt. Evolve. Become,” says Will, mulling this over before Hannibal walks him through a cathartic alternative history of life without regret.
Will re-imagines the scene in the stables. This time he doesn’t listen to Hannibal’s calls for restraint and pops a bullet hole through the mad social worker’s skull.
As the camera trades off closeups of these men’s faces, Will defines his regret: “A missed opportunity to feel like I felt when I killed Garrett Jacob Hobbs. To feel like I felt when thought I’d killed you.”
This gains the approval of Hannibal, and Will leaves, giving us a very rare encounter outside of the doctor’s office. It turns out Will’s standing appointment is back to back with Margot Verger’s and the two puppets meet each other, Will introducing himself as the guy who didn’t kill all those people.
Back inside the office, the throughline of the second half of this season continues its slow burn. Hannibal and Margot talk about her brother, the still faceless Mason Verger, how she wants so badly for him to die, and the power of dehumanization. Dr. Lecter still supports his patient’s desire to murder her allegedly twisted brother, and this has given Margot a slight case of the jitters.
Despite having vetted her handsome predator of a psychiatrist’s credentials, she is still unsure exactly what kind of mind doctor Hannibal is, especially having now run into a fellow patient.
In the cold winter light of the next day, the FBI is called to the scene of what appears to be a particularly strange beast attack. The trucker has frosted over on top of his vehicle, eviscerated, dismembered, but not eaten.
Hannibal, wearing a hilarious fur hat, suggests perhaps a rabid animal, but evidence is revealed that this is inline with a number of recent livestock mutilations in the area. Whatever is doing this is working its way up – adapting, evolving and becoming – practicing for the blood sport on display here.
To get an expert opinion on what kind of animal might be able to do this, Will pays a visit to Peter, the brain trauma suffering stable worker version of himself played by an always welcome Jeremy Davies.
Peter tells Will that it could be a wolf trained to be a bear or a bear trained to be a wolf. Animals have friendship just like humans, as he demonstrates with Kevin, the rat that he has smuggled into the mental hospital for company.
As Will leaves, this new insight giving him what he needs to make the requisite empathy jumps to solve the case, Peter pleads that he not blame the animals. Man is the only creature that kills to kill.
Sure enough, we cut to the killer behind the mauling. He is working with bear fossils and pneumatic pistons: a person making a monster suit.
The skeleton-bear-man then takes to the woods of a park, spots a couple, stalks them and hunts them in a kill scene that is refreshingly standard and visceral as far as deaths on Hannibal go.
In all the tearing apart and chomping of pneumatic skeleton teeth on living flesh, all I could think was how lucky these victims are. This is a very clean death on a show that regularly features expiration by forced elective surgery and drowning in one’s own bodily fluids.
When daylight comes the FBI is handling the crime scene and Will, now empowered with the insights of a man who understands beasts performs his signature metronome trick (which, visually speaking, is particularly striking this time, featuring a bonfire re-igniting as its smoke descends back home from the sky).
He is with the Ravenstag, acknowledging his own inner animal as he hunts the lovers. He commands his beast to kill, so it gores them with its antlers and as it raises its head to shower in the resulting viscera, Will’s own antler-framed face emerges in a shot that not a lot of other shows would be able to pull off since it is so expressionist that it flirts with being eye-rollingly comical.
Luckily for Hannibal, we have been conditioned by this show to accept overtly theatrical symbols like this, ourselves bears trained by Fuller’s wolves, so apology for its unconventional tone is unnecessary at this point.
Emerging from his empathy-trance, Will has a full profile on the killer. The bear-man is an engineer who built his inner beast and he just wants to maul these people. There is no way that he is choosing them, they aren’t making any mistakes, they are just his prey. It’s all just a combination of bad luck and psychosis.
Returning from commercial we are back in therapy with Will and Hannibal as they muse on the visceral nature of killing people with their own hands in comparison to the cold cowardice of hiding behind a gun and pulling a trigger. Hannibal brings up the elephant in the room, asking how Will – who has already admitted to wanting to squeeze the life from Lecter with his bare hands – felt when he sent the demented orderly Matthew Brown to do his killing.
The alliterative conclusion that Will settles on with Hannibal is that there is virtue in being intimate with your instincts.
At the crime lab Jimmy and Brian are comparing bite marks on the victims to those on a plaster cast of a cave bear’s skull, telling Jack that only a machine could really do this kind of damage, and Hannibal enters declaring that there is but a thin barrier between human and animal.
“For some, that barrier is way too thin,” Jack muses before greeting the recently entered Hannibal in a well executed wink of dramatic irony.
The beastly doctor pulls Jack aside, and at the risk of breaching his confidentiality oaths of psychia-trust, mentions that he once had a patient that experienced this kind of species dysphoria as a child. Now as a grown man, there is a good chance that he has developed the confidence to transform himself into his inner beast.
Cut to the Museum of Natural History (the interior of which is Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum) where the bear man is named by his former psychiatrist as Randall, who exhibited what Hannibal euphemistically describes as a fascination with teeth.
The doctor calls Randall’s work beautiful before taking hold of his brain for his own nefarious purposes, warning the bear man that the FBI are coming and when they do that he would be best served by doing exactly as Hannibal says.
Sure enough, Jack Crawford turns up to interrogate the fossil specialist, possibly a little too heavy handedly, and Randall is prepared with assurances that his identity disorder has been dealt with. He is a success story.
A surprise visit comes to Will in his Wolf Trap, Virginia home as well, as Margot Verger pulls up in her car. After inviting herself into the house for whiskey and giving some expository background on her family’s lucrative meat packing business as well as her sexual preferences, Margot seeks a character reference for Hannibal from her host.
Visually framed as a therapy session, they bond over their own respective private carnage. She tried to kill her brother (“I assume he had it coming”) and he tried to murder doctor Lecter (“Did he have it coming?”). Finally Margot reveals why she finds Hannibal so suspect, clearly wary of the doctor’s manipulation of her after he provided the advice, “If at first you don’t succeed: try, try again.”
Will goes straight to Hannibal the morning after this clandestine encounter with his fellow patient and asks his shrink what he thinks might happen if his clients started comparing notes. Graham lets Hannibal in on Bedelia Du Maurier’s visit to him while incarcerated and asks if he killed her, to which the surprised doctor truthfully replies no.
“What do you think about when you think about killing?” Will asks next (and hopefully inspiring the title of Lecter’s inevitable memoir), still being forced to orbit the truth of Hannibal’s intimate instincts.
Hannibal’s answer calls back to a season one line lifted straight from Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon source material: He thinks about God. Dr. Lecter collects church collapses, illustrating this by casually mentioning recent tragedies and statistics that corroborate his theory that a supreme being feels no remorse. Typhoid and swans both come from the same place.
Hannibal suggests that Will has a more personal conversation with Randall, setting up the final act as an action packed climax: the bear-suited pneumatic predator set loose in the woods outside of the Wolf Trap home.
One of Will’s rescued strays (Buster) runs outside, following the scent of whatever is in the woods, and Graham gives chase after grabbing his shotgun. He catches up to a bleeding Buster, rescues the dog and hightails it back inside, turning off the lights just in time for beast mode Randall to burst through the window (a allusion to the climax Michael Mann’s Manhunter) and attack to the tune of some juxtaposing signature Hannibal choral music.
The subsequent struggle isn’t shown, instead we cut to Hannibal opening the doors of his office to find Will standing over the corpse of his assailant laid out on the table.
“I’d say this makes us even,” he says, referencing his own attempt to kill Hannibal with a crazy person.
But Will still does not- at least consciously – understand the motivations of this perceived archenemy. Hannibal never acts out of vengeance. Everything he has done to Will, including this, has been a gift born of love.
In order to forget what he must so that he can move forward, Graham needed to destroy a symbol of Hannibal’s malevolent presence. In Randall he has found a surrogate: a person in a monster suit to stand in for the impenetrable Manstag dressed in the cannibal’s person suit.
Just as Lecter required the fear of death at the hands of Graham in order to transform into his current powerful and safe state of being, Will needed to feel the satisfaction of killing Hannibal and so his best friend in the whole wide world gave him that experience, gift wrapped in fossils, machinery, and long nurtured obsession.
In the end we are left with inverse images reflected back at one another. One sees violence where the other finds love. Either way you look at it though, Will is exactly right when he calls it like he sees it: