Meat Cute

Introducing characters, character relationships, and narrative arcs is the primary objective of just about any television pilot. “Aperitif” is no exception. Many scenes stand out, but the exchange between Will and Hannibal in Will’s Duluth motel room is perhaps the most telling for me. 

Will and Hannibal are together the fulcrum on which the entire series pivots. This scene quite literally sets the table for how that power dynamic will take shape this season; or, how Hannibal bests Will in a game that Will does not even realize he is playing. This is not the first time Will and Hannibal interact (that happens earlier in Jack’s office), but it is their first one-on-one. And from the start, Hannibal makes moves to control Will. 

Will awakens from undoubtedly another restless night of sleep to the sound of knocking. When he opens the door to find Hannibal as his unexpected visitor, light penetrates Will’s pitch-black room. Hannibal appears chicly attired, while Will remains in a vulnerable state of undress. In just the contrasting imagery of its opening frames, the scene figuratively establishes the psychological trials to come and the unequal standing of its two principal contenders.

Hannibal waits on the exterior side of the threshold, twice asking Will if he may enter and only doing so after he receives an acquiescent nod. Is Hannibal a vampire? The show’s magical realism does not extend that far, perhaps, but this will not be the last time Hannibal embodies the undead man from Transylvania. 

Hannibal enters the room and offers Will a freshly made container of “protein scramble,” featuring sausage made from either Cassie Boyle’s recently harvested lungs or some other human organ Hannibal put on ice. Beyond giving an unwitting Will his first taste of human flesh—the metaphorical pomegranate seed or drop of vampire blood—Hannibal supplements his campaign of domination with manipulative mind games. Contrary to Will’s request that he keep their interactions “professional,” Hannibal juxtaposes talk about the case with psychiatric observations about Will.

H: The mathematics of human behavior. All those ugly variables. Some bad math with this Shrike fellow, huh? Are you reconstructing his fantasies? What kind of problems does he have?

W: He has a few.

H: You ever have any problems, Will?

W: No.

H: Of course you don’t. You and I are just alike. Problem-free. Nothing about us to feel horrible about.

Hannibal will use the same associative technique during their future therapy sessions, muddling Will’s disquieting empathy for killers with his frayed sense of self as a way to convince Will of his taste for murder. 

Another psychological maneuver we see here and will see again from Hannibal is his attempt to position himself as Will’s ally against Jack. After describing himself and Will as “just alike,” Hannibal makes an unexpected confession. He believes that “Uncle Jack”—a bizarrely familiar way to identify Jack, whom he officially referred to as “Agent Crawford” just moments earlier—sees Will as a “fragile, little teacup” and “the finest china, used for only special guests.” Using Jack as cover, Hannibal implicitly disparages Will for his weakness and instability while simultaneously presenting himself as a potential friend and psychological anchor. 

Will hides the emotional impact of the unsolicited remark with a cynical laugh—his go-to defense mechanism. (Not quickly enough to stop a split-second wounded expression, however, revealing the success of Hannibal’s unanticipated attack.) 

Up to this point, Will perhaps considers himself on equal footing in this banter. The cinematography substantiates this. Despite them sitting no more than three feet apart at a relatively small table, Will and Hannibal almost never inhabit the same frame during their interplay. Up until the final line of dialogue, we only see either Will or Hannibal in profile alone. Intercutting between their respective shots, and the occasional close-up of the offending plate of food, the scene takes on the energy of a tennis match.

As Hannibal makes Will the subject of discussion (“Are you reconstructing his fantasies?”), the camera moves in closer. To mix metaphors, Hannibal has turned up the heat. A guarded Will continues the volley, ignorant of the hazards ahead.

After Hannibal relates his conclusion about “Uncle Jack,” Will playfully asks how Hannibal sees him. (A question that will take on new significance following Garret Jacob Hobbs’ haunting final words, “See?”) The camera then gives us a completely new angle: Hannibal in extreme close-up, nearly head-on. Match point. “The mongoose I want under the house when the snakes slither by,” he says, unblinking. In Hannibal’s eyes, Will is a predator of predators.

The scene concludes with a sudden two shot, finally showing both a smirking Hannibal and a bewildered Will in frame. “Finish your breakfast,” Hannibal says. Hannibal – 1, Will – 0.

So much of Hannibal relies on conversations between two characters sitting across from one another. As the first of many such conversations between Will and Hannibal, this particular exchange creates ripples that we will continue to spot throughout both the season and the series.

3 thoughts on “Meat Cute

  1. Hmm iit seems like your site ate my first comment (it
    was super long) so I guess I’ll jut sum it up what I submitted
    annd say, I’mthoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog writer
    but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any points for
    newbie blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.


    • Thank you for reading! Blogging has been a new experience for us. We usually just share our Hannibal takes with each other. As relative newbies ourselves, we have found it helpful to center posts around a specific theme, write multiple posts before starting to publish, and cross-post on social media, like Twitter. Good luck!


  2. Pingback: With a Little Help from My Friends | Read the Rude

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