“People come here to be closer to their god.”
The Christian sacraments of reconciliation and communion are deeply linked. The first involves a sinner asking forgiveness and performing penance, the second involves cannibalism. Communion, the holiest sacrament, is the ritual eating of Jesus’s body and blood, but it can not be partaken by sinners (at least that’s what my Catholic school teachers told me). And that’s why Hannibal Lecter has resolved to eat Will Graham – after he’s forgiven you, the next step is to be your own personal Jesus.
Of course, Hannibal’s relationship with God is much more complex than a one-to-one allegory, but the sacraments are being invoked in “Secondo”, the third hour of the third season of the best show on TV. The hour begins with a philosophical discussion on the nature of forgiveness between Hannibal Lecter and Bedelia Du Maurier, his fake wife and real therapist. Lecter’s close encounter with Will in the previous episode has left him shaken and tearful. This is what it’s like when God is forgiven.
It’s an idea we only ever half get to, that humans can forgive deities. Maybe it’s because of the nature of relapsing into religion, or God’s love of elegance, but Hannibal suggests it’s because God’s apologies are terrifying. Hannibal’s episode-ending vow to eat Will is the horrific inversion of the reconciliation-communion relationship between god and man. When God forgives us, we are then allowed to eat him, so it only stands to reason that when we forgive God we should expect the descent of his divine teeth.
“Secondo” continues to explore the theme of divine forgiveness through it’s two other plots. Jack Crawford, alive, neck scarred and living arrives in Palermo this week, pursuing Hannibal as a means to ask Will’s forgiveness. In the Norman Chapel where Hannibal left Will that grisly man-valentine, Jack meets Rinaldo Pazzi who is under the assumption that Crawford would like to nab Il Mostro as much as he does.
Pazzi is twice rebuked by the American tourists who have no intention of catching Hannibal, with Jack’s admission that he’s only in Europe to find Will. Crawford offers Pazzi a few trade secrets in Hannibal hunting – that Il Mostro will return to Florence and that his unsavoury needs can be restrained – but the commendatore already knows this.
Later, the two hunters turn their conversation to God. Jack admits to having had his faith ignited by his encounter with Hannibal. He was dead, Will was dead, but now that they have been born again he wants to make penance. Jack says he is consumed with the guilt of using Will Graham’s imagination and breaking it. He admits that, in Hannibal, Will can find acceptance and understanding, and concedes to also desiring for that kind of relationship. Knowing Jack Crawford, the hunter of men, this reconciliation likely has an ulterior motive. I have no doubt that Will’s forgiveness is important to Jack, but this quest to get back Graham likely serves a greater need.
When Crawford revealed that he was in Palermo to find Will, my initial thought was that by the episode’s end we would be seeing our first look at the Red Dragon plot arc scheduled for this season, either by way of ending on an American murder scene or through Jack’s dialogue. “Secondo” left me hanging in that respect, continuing with the show’s deliberate and restrained pace. I still think that Jack’s motivation in finding Will is to that end – of bringing him back home to catch the terrible Toothfairy – and if I’m right that makes me marvel all the more that the show kept itself from dangling such a tasty reveal in front of us this week.
At this point, season three’s pace is so deliberate that it’s become a part of the show’s visual language. On Will’s pilgrimage to Hannibal’s Lithuanian home, snails are all over the frame. Close up shots of the little guys undulating and feeling around the Dracula-esque Lecter Family Estate almost feels like assurance from Bryan Fuller and his team – a crawling, slimy wink indicating that yes, they are aware that we’re three episodes in and still haven’t even seen Alana Bloom.
Will is in Lithuania to better understand his deity’s origins, so the name of the game is origin story. Graham prowls around the estate, watching the woman in charge, Chiyo (Tao Okamoto), patrol the grounds and prepare food. The voyeuristic tones are effective and creepy, as we (like Will), expect to find something horrendous.
Will’s game of rear window is cut short when on a trip to the cellar he discovers a dungeon with a single occupant. This is the man Hannibal blames for the death of his younger sister Mischa, and Chiyo was left with him when Hannibal had to leave for emotional reasons.
Chiyo and Will take the opportunity of their meeting to discuss their respective beliefs about Hannibal over tea. The scene is incredibly meta, serving as a criticism of the source material mined for the Lithuanian plot in this episode. In Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, books three and four of Thomas Harris’s series, a simple explanation is given to Dr. Lecter’s cannibalism: he does to his victims what the man in the cellar did to Mischa.
Will is not convinced by that explanation, literally stating:
“Mischa doesn’t explain Hannibal. She doesn’t quantify what he does.”
To many book readers this will be empowering. The horror of Hannibal Lecter lies largely in his alien aspects: he’s impossibly intelligent, has the acute senses of an apex predator, and commits the unthinkable act of cannibalism. When the books seek to grow the character beyond his horror-trope affectations, he becomes understandable and sympathetic, turning from otherworldly monster into a Dexter-like antihero. To many, including myself and Will Graham, it’s too simple an explanation.
Will proves his point to Chiyo by asking the question on all of our church camp bracelets: What Would Hannibal Do? He engineers a scenario in which she is forced to comply with the absent Hannibal’s wishes, releasing the prisoner so that she is assaulted and is forced to kill the old man in self defense.
The two lovers of Hannibal unite during the post mortem moments in the Lecter Estate cellar. Will transforms the old man’s corpse into an idol, a man-moth hanging from the ceiling. The tableau acts as a response to the man-valentine left in Palermo, Will’s way of saying he and Chiyo have been transformed.
For all of the many believers being drawn to Hannibal Lecter, he does have at least one skeptic. Gillian Anderson’s Bedelia Du Maurier is the only character on Hannibal that might be able to resist her captor’s transformative influence. Anderson, once again, holds her ground in scenes that showcase Mads Mikkelsen in all his face-eating charm.
Two dinner scenes have Hannibal making hilarious cannibal jokes and laughing at them, much to Bedelia’s horror. The first (and best), a meal with the nepotist Dr. Sogliato, is interrupted by the funniest impromptu ice-pick brain surgery ever filmed. Guest star Rinaldo Rocco acts the hell out of brain damage, and the delight Mikkelsen experiences when he informs his fake wife that technically her removal of the instrument from Sogliato’s head is what killed him is infectious.
Despite all of the killing and the eating, the puns and the dramatic irony, Bedelia is determined to save herself, and so begins the battle of the psychiatrists. She uses her captivity as an opportunity to learn about why Hannibal eats people and what, if anything, it has to do with Mischa. The framing, thankfully, keeps the details of his little sister’s fate a mystery, but by the end it’s made clear that whatever happened, she betrayed him and he ate her.
Betrayal is inextricably linked to forgiveness, and forgiveness to communion. As Pazzi said to Jack in the chapel the built Hannibal’s mind palace, people come to Italy to be closer to God. With Hannibal’s apostles converging on his location, he is about to satiate his appetite for reconciliation.
Lady M- Chiyo, played by Tao Okamoto, is an original character made for the series to fill the role of Lady Murasaki. Murasaki is Hannibal’s aunt in Hannibal Rising. According to an interview Bryan Fuller gave in December, Chiyo is one of Lady Murasaki’s attendants, allowing Okamoto to fill the role while also opening up more room to explore the revisionism that is clearly happening in these initial season three episodes.
Little Sister- As I mentioned in the recap, Hannibal was not responsible in the least for Mischa Lecter’s death in the books. She was eaten by Nazis who were occupying the Lecter Estate during World War Two (in the books Hannibal Lecter was born in 1933). At the end of the book, Grutas (presumably the man in Chiyo’s cellar) mocks Hannibal, saying that he was fed broth made out of Mischa. At the end of “Secondo” Bedelia’s implication that Hannibal purposefully ate Mischa revises the Hannibal mythology in a way that brings mystery back to his alien motivations.
Bounty and Betrayal- Moving into more speculative territory, it appears as if some of Bedelia’s actions are being hidden from us viewers. In “Antipasto” there is a unique shot of Du Maurier on a security camera monitor, and in the final scene of this week’s episode, Anderson plays a beat of secret regret when delivering a line about everyone being capable of betrayal. In the books, the catalyst for Hannibal’s return to America is a three million dollar bounty placed on his head by Mason Verger which inspires a character to betray Lecter. Bedelia is not a character in the books, and it may be a long shot, but turning to the faceless menace for help might actually be her best move right now.
FROM AROUND THE WEB