– Will Graham
“The Wrath of The Lamb” was not made to be Hannibal’s final episode, but it is, and it’s a perfect one at that. It brings a close to the story of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, the show’s central romance, allowing them to finally see each other honestly and speak without riddles or judgement. It has brought down the curtain on a triumph of modern storytelling, having made one of culture’s most enigmatic and iconic villains sympathetic without compromising his horrifying worldview. With “The Wrath of the Lamb” Bryan Fuller has taken Hannibal Lecter from his skeezy and unattractive place in horror, and turned him into the legend he deserves to be.
The entire back half of season three, which comprised the Red Dragon story arc, has lead up to this point. The episode begins with Francis Dolarhyde faking his death through an elaborate scheme invented to protect Reba McClane from the Red Dragon that would so love to to brutally change her. Despite this being one of the only remaining bits of canon, the scene is shot so skillfully from Reba’s perspective that, by the time the title sequence starts, it’s forgivable if you think Francis did blow his brains out to protect the only love he’s ever known.
Suspense in this matter is also heightened by Hannibal’s tried and true method of revising the canon. As I’ve mentioned before, the final act of Red Dragon was actually used two episodes ago opening up the finale’s narrative options, and it’s completely believable that Francis might have martyred himself in the episode’s first ten minutes.
Dolarhyde later ambushes Will in his motel, arranging to meet his therapist face to face, and it’s here the agency of the episode becomes obfuscated. The conversation between Francis and Will is hidden from us, so the details we know about Graham’s plan are only those we hear him explain to Alana Bloom and Jack Crawford in the FBI’s Behavioural Sciences Lab, and the parts he tells Hannibal before asking him kindly to participate in the scheme that will lead him to freedom.
It’s Hannibal’s oldest and most effective trick, the use of unreliable narrator to disorient both its characters and audience. The question of how much of a role Will had to play in Dolarhyde’s eventual convoy ambush and subsequent cannibal liberation is one of the episode’s many intriguing and troubling unanswered questions, one that becomes increasingly complicated as the show’s conclusion unfolds.
The scenes leading up to Hannibal’s escape help build the stakes. Alana has a conversation with both Chilton and Lecter separately, reminding us that Hannibal is powerful and none of the characters in play, other than Reba, are innocent and deserving of his mercy. In fact, both of the doctors she consults, despite their mutual abhorrence of one another, can both agree on how immoral the show’s heroes are, each condemning Alana, Will and Jack’s righteous willingness to sacrifice others (like, say, a bunch of FBI agents) for their cause.
Will meanwhile meets with Bedelia, who seems to be the only person really able to grasp the weight of Hannibal’s being put into even the slightest bit of motion. As the two whisper-yell at each other, it becomes clear that the explanation and apology she so deftly wields as a moral shield will be of no use when Dr. Lecter puts meat back on the menu. The fact that other characters can’t draw the same conclusions is nauseatingly rich in dramatic irony.
When Jack Crawford arrives on the scene of the highway massacre, the look on his face is one of expected betrayal – a man who’s been playing a game with a rival for so long that defeat is no longer surprising or even that infuriating. He observes the bodies left in the wake of Hannibal’s initial contact with Dolarhyde in the same way that Will accepts the corpses as objects when he walks among them with Hannibal. These deaths are in service to something bigger. At least that’s the moral justification.
Hannibal spirits Will away to a house on the bluffs above a large and turbulent body of water, where the two speak of their impending meeting with the Dragon, aware that he is watching them the whole time. It ratchets up the suspense, both men sparring with their feelings yet again, before Hannibal is shot in the back by Francis, who then proceeds to begin his changing ritual before the show reaches its ultimate conclusion.
Will attacks Dolarhyde, who in turn stabs Graham in the face, completing the reluctant special agent’s collection of literary wounds (the knife to his face is the last pain Will suffers in the books). A fight ensues, Hannibal joins Will, and the two of them slay the Great Red Dragon together, Graham gutting him and Lecter biting out his throat.
The final fight is hyper-stylized. Original music by Siouxsie Sioux scores the romantic murdering of Francis Dolarhyde, and as he finds himself transformed on the stone floor outside of Hannibal’s secret home, blood pools underneath him in the shape of dragon wings. Will and Hannibal finally look at each other then, as equals, and embrace with the show’ final lines of dialogue:
WILL: It really does look black in the moonlight.
HANNIBAL: See? this is all I ever wanted for you, Will. For both of us.
WILL: It’s beautiful.
They then fall over the edge of the cliff they’re standing on and the show’s all but over, ending after the credits roll with a quick shot of Bedelia Du Maurier preparing to eat her own leg at a table set for three.
Those final lines of dialogue between Hannibal and Will are powerful. They complete both characters’ arcs without compromising Hannibal Lecter’s status as a sublime monster. While other media has attempted to make him sympathetic through explanation, apology and Anthony Hopkins’ hammiest acting – giving him a back story that justifies his violence and eventually turning him into an anti-hero – Bryan Fuller and company have simply taken off Hannibal’s person suit and then convinced us that, as horrific as his worldview is, he is right.
Taken as a whole, the series can be seen as a 39 hour parable about the difference between empathy and experience, observation and participation, presentation and honesty. It begins with Will as an empath, tortured by the idea of what evil can exist in the world. He encounters Hannibal, who takes moral objection with this mental self-flagellation, and over the course of their relationship teaches Will that the violence of the world is real and sublime. It can be beautiful.
Will’s arc is one of understanding, but Hannibal’s is one of honesty. We meet the cannibal fully disguised in his person suit, practicing psychiatry and scrambling people’s brains. In his quest to make Will understand the nature of his reality, he has had to shed his meticulous presentation fully. It’s a violent and involved process though, and we actually see it mirrored in “Wrath” with Dolarhyde’s assertion that he only partially revealed himself to Reba so that she could survive.
In their slaughtering of the episode’s titular lamb (Dolarhyde), Will allows himself to hear Hannibal’s message for the first time and Lecter allows himself to be truly vulnerable. They participate together in a sacrifice demanded by their worldview, made vulnerable and honest, nearly heroic in a universe ruled by horrific indifference to human life.
Their falling off the cliff in the show’s conclusion juxtaposed with Bedelia’s autophilic comeuppance in the show’s stinger, serves as evidence of how transcendent Will and Hannibal’s journey has been. While the image of Gillian Anderson preparing to eat her own leg would normally serve as a cliffhanger for season four, the imposed series finale status of the episode colours it differently.
Their absence at the table is felt, with two places set for invisible guests given emphasis by Bedelia’s very tangible fear. We won’t be seeing Hannibal and Will again anytime soon, but their effect on those who they’ve touched is everlasting, us viewers included. Thanks to Hannibal the world is a little bit scarier, a little bit less forgiving, a little bit more beautiful. Through our observation and implicit participation, we can all take comfort in Hannibal’s advice to Will as we wait for their inevitable return, whether it be in this best of all possible worlds or another reimagining:
“When life becomes maddeningly polite, think about me. Think about me… don’t worry about me.”
Sweet Escape – While Alana, Margot and their lil muskrat may have escaped by helicopter as soon as Hannibal reentered the world, Hannibal’s threatening borrowed time monologue loomed over their retreat. In the books and films Hannibal Lecter famously eats the person who humiliated him during his incarceration (the canonical Frederick Chilton), specifically after he escapes from custody and Chilton is hiding in South America. In these last six episodes, Alana has been playing the role normally reserved for Chilton, so I hope for her sake the Verger family escapes to some place less cliche.
Skin – Further wetting my appetite for a Bryan Fuller version of Silence of the Lambs, the still very living Frederick Chilton entertained fantasies of wearing Hannibal Lecter’s skin. Fannibals: get working on a fic where the recovered Chilton is Buffalo Bill please.
Fight Music – The final confrontation between Will, Hannibal, and Dolarhyde goes considerably off book, but it does borrow some DNA from Michael Mann’s un-precious Manhunter. The climax of that film adaptation is a deadly fight set to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly, and ends with Francis in a pool of blood that makes him look winged. It’s that scene that seems to have allowed Hannibal to give itself permission to use actual pop music with lyrics for the first and only time.
We Can Only Learn So Much and Live – As much as this feels like a great end to one of the greatest television shows ever made, the question remains: what was supposed to come next? My theory is that season four would explore the final chapter of Hannibal in which Clarice and Lecter live the high life of super rich, opera going cannibals (with Will in the role of Clarice, obviously). what do you think? Speculate in the comments.
When Teacups Come Together – And so ends Dork Shelf’s coverage of Hannibal. Thank you for reading. I hope someday we can meet again when teacups come together and Bryan Fuller gets the rights to Silence of the Lambs.