[This is a review of Hannibal season 3, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
There are several important and revealing lines in ‘Secondo’ that help make sense of what Hannibal is attempting in terms of peeking behind the proverbial curtain to see what makes Dr. Lecter the monster that he is. As the latter novels of Hannibal creator Thomas Harris and the films based on them (i.e., Hannibal and, to a more egregious degree, Hannibal Rising) can attest, this is a dangerous path to walk on. The more we know about what makes Hannibal Lecter tick, the less frightening he becomes. The more we know about the origins of his evil, the less that evil becomes a part of the character. It becomes the result of something that happened to him; it makes Hannibal the Cannibal less of a fascinating monster and more of a figure the audience is asked to empathize with.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for villains to be. It brings depth and roundness to their character that can make them more engaging on a certain level. The viewer can see how he or she might relate to the character in question, and therefore begin the process of understanding his or her actions. But the thing is, Hannibal Lecter works better as an unknowable entity, someone so far ahead of his adversaries (or prey) it is almost as though he’s not even human. We know that he is of course, but that lingering bit of doubt, that unknowable part of his character – the question of whether or not, like Iago in Othello, Hannibal really is the devil or merely some satanic figure creating havoc in the lives of those around him – is what makes the character so special. Remove that and you remove the romance of the character’s essence. Explain his actions, and Hannibal is no longer a monster; Hannibal is a product of something worse. We don’t want to believe that there’s anything wore than Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
As such, Bryan Fuller and his co-writers on ‘Secondo,’ Steve Lightfoot and Angela Burnett, go to great, yet somewhat oblique lengths to ensure Will Graham’s look into Hannibal’s past doesn’t demystify the character, but instead works to underline his unknowable monstrous nature.
“Nothing happened to me. I happened.” This may be the most chilling bit of dialogue in the entire episode. Hannibal is discussing the whereabouts of Will Graham and in doing so must acknowledge the events that occurred in his past. While Will is digging around the snail-infested confines of Stately Lecter Manor in Lithuania, coming face-to-face with Chiyo (Tao Okamoto), a woman who has been keeping watch over a man Lecter told her ate his sister Mischa, Bedelia explains to the audience the truth, by asking the man washing her hair how his sibling tasted.
In watching ‘Secondo,’ you get the feeling that this is a necessary step in the evolution of Hannibal’s story. Rather than give the audience something to latch onto, in order to make Hannibal more relatable and deliver some explanation for why he is the way he is, the episode offers the opposite. In the second most important line of dialogue, Will attempts to inform Chiyo about the man who has ostensibly made her his prisoner. Chiyo has refused to become the killer Hannibal said she would be, and as such is stuck guarding a man she believes responsible for creating the killer Will Graham is hunting. Will blows this notion up when he says, “Mischa doesn’t define Hannibal. She doesn’t quantify what he does.”
Will (and by extension the series itself) has pushed Hannibal Lecter back where he belongs: Into the shadows. This horrible fiction that Hannibal created for himself, borrowing the line “All sorrow can be borne if you put them into a story,” is not a rationalization of why he is the way he is; it is instead the first piece of the person suit he donned in order to pass unnoticed in normal society (as normal as anything in Bryan Fuller’s universe can be).
But that’s part of Hannibal’s game, isn’t it? To insert himself amongst those he finds fascinating, and to treat them like playthings. No one is going to let the devil in his or her house willingly, so Hannibal has to conceal his true self. That means passing for a person by constructing a persona, a fiction – one that goes all the way back to the beginning. And, up to this point, it has worked. Like the devil, Hannibal’s delight is the corruption of those around him, which is facilitated in part because they believed in one fiction or another about him.
Even though ‘Secondo’ ends with Will gaining a partner in Chiyo, Hannibal, though he can’t know it, and yet somehow probably does, winds up getting what he wants: He’s corrupted Chiyo and further corrupted Bedelia. “Technically,” Dr. Du Maurier kills the insufferable Sogliato (Rinaldo Rocco), removing the ice pick Hannibal impulsively shoved in his temple. It’s really an act of mercy, but death was delivered anyway. Meanwhile, Chiyo kills the man she’s been guarding for who knows how long after he attacks her because Will let the gaunt, bearded man out of his cage.
For all the deep dives the episode makes into the Will’s mind (the therapy session on the forest floor was particularly striking), perhaps the most effective is the one that reveals how alike his prey Will has become. By forcing Chiyo into a situation in which she has to kill, he’s gained an ally. But he has also delivered to Hannibal that which he wanted from Chiyo in the first place. Will’s transformation makes the welcome return of Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford all the more meaningful, as he blames himself for what his protégé has become.
And yet, despite the obvious similarities, this is the difference between Hannibal and Will that the episode works to make so clear: One of them always was a monster, while the other one became a monster due to his proximity to one.
Hannibal continues next Thursday with ‘Aperitivo’ @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: