'Hannibal': We Are Family

[This is a review of Hannibal season 3, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]


There is a moment in '…And the Woman Clothed with the Sun,' where Richard Armitage's Francis Dolarhyde asks Rutina Wesley's Reba McClane if he may have a plum. Chances are Francis doesn't really want a piece of fruit (though you never know, they did look delicious); he was simply interested in breaking the ice with the lovely film developer before him, and asking for a plum was his way of doing that. The inherent symbolism of ripe fruit aside, the episode's writers have keyed in on a subtle, but potent way to make their serial killer more sympathetic. There is something incredibly vulnerable and childlike in the way Francis asks for permission to take and eat a piece of fruit; it's something that is there anytime an individual must ask for whatever he or she wants, especially when the conversation has nothing to do with the item in question. And for whatever reason, an adult, asking for food – from someone who is more or less a stranger – places him or her in a position where they may feel particularly exposed. How awkward would it be if the recipient of the question said "no"?

Asking for a piece of fruit is Francis' first precarious step in building familiarity. This person cares enough to see that I am fed and made happy, how far does that compassion go? And for someone as shy as Francis is, well, he may as well have asked Reba to marry him. In other words, there is an incredible amount of intimacy packed into a single scene between two people discussing infrared film in a darkroom. And the idea of intimacy carries over and emerges again and again, during a remarkably affecting episode of Hannibal that is ostensibly all about intimacy – especially the particular kind of emotional intimacy between family members.

Like it or not, Will, Hannibal, Alana, and Jack have all become a peculiar kind of extended family. Will and Alana have significant others now in Molly and Margot, and they are both raising children with their spouses. And yet, the notion of surrogacy permeates any conversation about either. Hannibal is quick to point out Will may have consciously sought a ready-made family, a wife who came to him with a child, as he "knows better than to breed" – all to avoid any sort of biological blame that the child might be more like dad. The same goes for Alana, who carried her and Margot's child, the heir to the Verger fortune. In both cases, the questions of biological creatorship are second to the identity of the individuals nurturing the child in question.

That notion leads to two terrific scenes about parenting and the power and responsibility of such a position. The first is another mostly wordless sequence, one featuring a young Francis at the Dolarhyde family table. Again, the scene is set around food, making the idea of eating with and in front of others people and intimate act. It’s a communal experience that Francis, as he developed a debilitating level of self-consciousness due to his cleft palate, seems to have deprived himself of – hence his ravenous consumption of a piece of pie in front of a woman who the best of both worlds: present but otherwise unable to see him. At any rate, the scene has almost no dialogue whatsoever, just the disapproving stare of a mother (or mother figure) from across a lengthy table. It also seems important to point out that Francis was seated at the opposite head of the table, suggesting the absence of a father and perhaps a hindering level of expectation being thrust upon a boy whose legs still dangled above the floor from the chair he was seated in.

That's an incredible amount of information to unpack in an otherwise short scene, but in its silence, it speaks to how successful Bryan Fuller and Steve Lightfoot (and in this case, co-writer Helen Shang and director John Dahl) are when it comes to peeling back Francis' layers without any verbal exposition at all. In fact, the only words spoken about Francis have come from those who are hunting him.

Naturally, the most valuable information about the hunt comes from Hannibal and Will's discussion, a discussion Dr. Lecter continually wants to make about Will and his ready-made family. The two act like a couple reunited after a particularly painful divorce. Mads Mikkelsen delivers a strong, subtle performance as Hannibal's eyes briefly betray his usual stoicism, when Will's refusal to address him informally cuts deeper than the bone-handled knife Abigail used to reciprocate her biological father's love.

Hugh Dancy in Hannibal Season 3 Episode 9

In the entire episode, there is no more poignant line delivered than that of Hannibal telling Will, "I gave you a child, if you recall." In an hour devoted to the idea of intimacy and familial relationships – particularly families created when couples raise a child together – Hannibal has no problem steering the discussion back to the idea of creatorship, surrogacy, and certainly intimacy, with the intention of burying an emotional blade deep into Will's heart.

Every time she is mentioned, the onus of Abigail's fate shifts to Will. Hannibal knows this, and so, too, does his psychological husband. This spousal connection between the two, coupled with the daughter they briefly shared – and who was intended as an enticement for Will to join Hannibal on the lam (as opposed to "the lap" Freddie Lounds intimates he's now in) – is probably the most potent example of family Hannibal has yet to offer its audience.

What's remarkable is that this agonizing and layered discussion and dissection (literally and metaphorically) of families is both the text and the subtext of an episode otherwise engrossed with the rigors of tracking a brutal serial killer. It's difficult to think of another series that would dare attempt such a feat, let alone succeed in the way Hannibal has here.


Hannibal continues next Saturday with '…And the Woman Clothed in the Sun' @10pm on NBC.

Photos: Brooke Palmer/NBC

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