“Like you, Will, he needs a family to escape what’s inside him.”
– Hannibal Lecter
All Will Graham wants is a family of unwanted people. He had it once, collected and presented to him by Hannibal Lecter, but he rejected it in the name of a moral conviction he only truly half-held. In abandoning his surrogate family he had it erased and the trauma that followed drove him to create another one all his own. Gathered like the stray dogs he keeps rescuing, the new Graham family is a dark mirror of the abandoned Lecter-Hobbs clan of his past.
“…And The Woman Clothed With the Sun” is the type of Hannibal episode that presents variations on a central theme. Season one in particular is characterized by this through its case-of-the-week procedural format, with criminals and crimes that serve as living metaphors for a primary character’s inner turmoil. This week, in the absence of that classic Hannibal format, we simply see each character deal with the personal pathos of wanting a family of their own.
Will’s desire for a family of misfit toys is the baseline for this study in brood-making, and that’s where “Clothed With the Sun” starts. Will, visiting Hannibal in his cell at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for the first time in three years, is brought face to face with the family he threw away. Hannibal, more exposed than ever now that he has been apprehended, bluntly reminds Will:
“Is there a child in your life, Will? I gave you a child, if you recall.”
The conversation is shot to emphasise its reflective and regretful nature. Trading closeups between Will and Hannibal’s faces, the camera is situated on the opposite side of Lecter’s plexiglass barrier. The effect is two fold, at once physically separating the former parents and projecting a ghostly translucent image of the other man in the same frame as the shot’s focus. In moments framing Will, Hannibal looks like a memory, and the opposite is true for those focused on Dr. Lecter.
Memories of family planning pervade the rest of the episode as Hannibal remembers the key moments of his time with Abigail, preparing her at first for her life as his daughter and later for her death at his own hands. Immediately after Will leaves Hannibal in his lavish quarters, we are treated to a flashback showing Lecter and Abigail faking her death. As they spray Abigail’s blood around Will’s kitchen, it feels more like they are preparing a surprise party rather than framing their favourite person for murder.
Subsequent flashbacks pepper the episode, shedding light on the hidden parts of Hannibal and Abigail’s relationship. While the cannibal’s creepy parenting style won’t win him the title of adoptive father of the year, it is clear, through the chemistry shared between Mads Mikkelsen and Kacey Rohl, that the characters share a deep father-daughter love. Even when he makes her cut open her exhumed father’s corpse as grief therapy, spilling embalming fluid all over Lecter’s office, you get this impression that neither is motivated by anything other than a familial obligation to please the other.
To spend so much time on these dead daughter matters with only four episodes remaining in the season (and the series for that matter) is a bold choice for Hannibal. The blind spots between Abigail’s faked death and her real one, both at the hands of her surrogate father, were not particularly pressing questions in the series mythology. We’ve seen Hannibal use his 21st century vampire hypnosis on multiple people by now, so the implication that he psychically drove her to accept captivity and mutilation was clear.
Still, what we see through the Hannibal and Abigail interactions is revelatory and comes at just the right time. All season has been building on the idea that Hannibal Lecter is not so much an evil force as he is one that is difficult to comprehend from a normative paradigm. He is violent, brutal and dangerous, but you can see that he experiences love and that his affection can be enjoyed by those who are willing to walk with him on that path less travelled.
That’s Will’s cursed gift. He can see through Dr. Lecter’s eyes, understanding his unsavory diet, and deep down share’s the doctor’s desire for a life of isolation and family. The flashbacks in “Clothed With the Sun” prove that Will could have been happy with Hannibal and Abigail, even if it was at its base an uncanny satisfaction. Of course, Graham has replaced his old family with a new one, and a touchingly directed phone conversation with Molly — featuring dog name innuendos and actual genuine laughter — shows us that Will has truly found something at least on par with what he lost.
With Will’s family prominently at stake now that he is in communication with his offbeat ex-boyfriend, we see a similar relationship at play between Alana and Hannibal. The doctors were actual physical lovers in season two, but now Bloom has a family of her own: Margot Verger and their son, the heir to Muskrat Farm.
Like Will, Alana is dependant on Hannibal. Because he took the credit for Mason Verger’s murder by eel, allowing Margot to escape from under his deranged thumb, Hannibal has blackmail on the new family that could tear it apart. It is with this reveal that Hannibal’s luxurious cell makes sense. It’s a sort of quid pro quo between the two of them — each able to ensure the other’s comfort or humiliation. She can take away his toilet, he can take away her son and massive fortune.
“Clothed With the Sun” isn’t only about the potential destruction of family. Francis Dolarhyde — The Great Red Dragon — is the ironic counterpoint to all the familial dread elsewhere in the hour. The man whose inner demons possess him to slaughter entire households of happy innocents is actually motivated by a desire for what they have.
Will comes to this conclusion with help from Hannibal, and it is brought into full view with the episode’s compelling Dolarhyde scenes. We see a short glimpse of Francis’ childhood, eating dinner at what book readers can assume is the Dolarhyde Orphanage run by his grandmother. The rest of his journey is spent garnering audience sympathy thanks to two excellent performances by the season three guest stars.
Reba McClane, played by Rutina Wesley of True Blood fame, is introduced in “Clothed With the Sun.” Blind and only now experiencing the sighted world for the first time, she encounters co-worker Francis when he comes to request infrared film as she work in the Gateway darkroom. Her confidence contrasts with Dolarhyde’s childish self loathing comfortably, in a way that makes them both endearing. Later, when the two are on a semi-date at Reba’s home, she broaches the topic of Frank’s speech impediment, and the results are both terrifying and beautiful.
Francis’ need for love, or even basic kindness, pulls our instinct to fear him away. He is painted as a deeply pained and emotionally traumatized child. The effect works especially well since Hannibal doesn’t let us watch guest stars kill people, making Will Graham reenact them instead. The separation from murderer and victim illustrates that Francis Dolarhyde and The Great Red Dragon he is becoming are separate entities and should be viewed as such.
The balancing act between Francis and his inner demon, his emotional desires and his grotesque method through which he satiates them, illustrates how even we viewers can be exploited by familial love. It’s a deep note inside of us that can be plucked by skilled hands and true to form, the guru of human behavioural sciences knows exactly how to play it.
Jack Crawford, a man who’s family was taken by cancer, in the episode’s most important twist (though not necessarily most exhilarating), reveals to Hannibal that he has knowingly exploited Will’s love of both his families in order to get him on the Tooth Fairy case with Lecter in his brain.
Jack leaves Lecter with this information, and the penultimate scene shows a flashback to Hannibal’s decision to break his family apart after receiving a phone call tip from Will that the FBI knows that he’s the Chesapeake Ripper. Lecter tells Abigail to go upstairs and wait, because they are going to hunt together, and we all know how it ends. We’ve seen it many times already, each more painful than the last. Hannibal even told Abigail how’d he’d do it, essentially erasing himself from her life by reopening the neck wound he held closed in the ambulance the day they first met.
Hannibal receives a phone call from Francis, masking as Lecter’s attorney, and the men without loved ones get down to talking. Over the phoine Dolarhyde has found a father, in whom he can seek guidance regarding what he is becoming, and the incarcerated cannibal has found another lonely mind to mold. All Hannibal Lecter wanted was a family of unwanted people.
A Room With a View – Hannibal told Will in the season two finale that if he were ever apprehended that he would be able to live in his mind palace. It’s a sentiment echoed from the novels, and it being put to great use now that Lecter is behind bars. The freedom of being able to present Hannibal in various colorful locations while still keeping him under glass is helping avoid the darkness that the top of season two slipped into when Will was in the hospital’s basement.
Say AAAAAAAAAAH! – It’s not a part of the canon, but I absolutely can’t pass up the opportunity to gush over the hilarious sight gag in the bus stop scene. I won’t ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it, just go and rewatch the scene when Francis offers Reba a ride and keep your eyes on the advertising.
And I Thought They Smelled Bad on the Outside – Just because we’re in the Red Dragon arc doesn’t mean we’re done with Hannibal references. In Harris’ novel, Lecter exhumes Clarice Starling’s father so that she can face her trauma and get on to becoming a new vessel for Mischa. It’s a weird plan, but still one that’s evoked in this episode when Garret Jacob Hobbs gets trotted around like a therapeutic knife target. The connection, thematically, represents Hannibal’s love of his sister Mischa and his compulsive need to recreate his original family from when he still had his innocence in Lithuania.
Speaking Your Mind – Hannibal Lecter may have been introduced in Red Dragon, but he is hardly its main character. His influence on Francis Dolarhyde can be felt, and he is a key part of the investigation, but his scenes are greatly limited in number. In the Brett Ratner film adaptation this was such a problem, especially considering that Anthony Hopkins was pulled in to reprise his role as Lecter, that extraneous semi-comical scenes were added in to satiate audiences that had been fooled into thinking this was some kind of Hannibal origin story. It’s the worst.
Thanks to Bryan Fuller’s decision to allow Hannibal and Francis to talk on the phone rather than via highly codified written correspondence (which is how it’s done in the book), we get to keep Hannibal and his interests visible during the story, rather than hidden between the lines like they usually are.
… And The Woman Clothed in Sun – William Blake has a series of Red Dragon paintings, each of which partially serves as a title for an episode of Hannibal season three. Next week’s episode is named after The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, which is only two words off from this week’s episode. Still, those words might make all the difference. Considering Freddy Lounds has been writing her heart out for an audience that includes The Great Red Dragon, I wonder if we might be seeing the journalist clothed in sun (and glued to a wheelchair) next week in a grotesque reenactment of how she faked her death in season two.
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