“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.”
Flannery O’Connor wrote this in a letter to her friend in 1955, speaking to the superficial faith she felt characterized the culture around her and people’s inability to accept the difficult nature of existential existence. A devout Catholic herself, O’Connor’s stories often explore the “higher paradox” that comes along with the glory of God and the ugliness of those who pray to him, including her most well-known short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” That’s also the story Alana Bloom is reading to the comatose Abigail Hobbs in Hannibal’s second episode, “Amuse-Bouche.”
It’s always seemed like an odd choice for Alana to be reading. It’s a tale of a family on a road trip to Florida who get into a car accident and are then brutally, and somewhat gleefully, murdered by a band of escaped convicts led by a man called The Misfit. The main character is a grandmother who never ceases in her talking, and who thinks mostly of herself until she’s held at gunpoint and forced to contend with the death of her family, the absence of their salvation in the face of apparent evil, and her surprise forgiveness of the man who’s bringing forth so much pain.
At this point in the show, Abigail’s presence is incidental to the plot, her role in her father’s murders as yet unknown. Jack thinks she helped, but Alana and Will aren’t convinced. So why is Alana reading such a grim story to a girl who’s just lost her own family to a brutal murder, and who’s currently unconscious because of the attempt made on her own life by her own father? It’s a question I’ve had since my first viewing of the episode. Rereading the story, though, has helped clarify the intention of its inclusion, especially when we look at the two apparent antagonists of both Hannibal and “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Because both Hannibal and the Misfit explore the idea of God and his existence in a world with so much violence. Where’s the moral fairness when bad shit happens to good people and they themselves are the ones capable of doing that bad shit?
Here is, for example, an exchange between the grandmother and the Misfit:
“‘If you would pray,’ the old lady said, ‘Jesus would help you.’
‘That’s right,’ The Misfit said.
‘Well then, why don’t you pray?’ she asked trembling with delight suddenly.
‘I don’t want no hep,’ he said. ‘I’m doing all right by myself.’”
And between Will and Hannibal in season 2:
Will: What god do you pray to?
Hannibal: I don’t pray. I have not been bothered by any considerations of deity other than to recognize how my own modest actions pale beside those of God.
Both comments suggests an independence from God. The Misfit sees no need to be helped nor redeemed by God, and has previously stated there’s no meaning in life but to do what you want and have fun. According to the Misfit,
Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead…and He shouldn’t have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can-by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.
The compass of morality rarely points north, feels the Misfit, so why bother using it to navigate?
And Hannibal has always seen himself acting in line with God’s own behavior, so the idea of conventional morality seems silly. Later on in the episode, Will and Hannibal talk about the nature of God:
Hannibal goes on to reference a church roof that collapsed on its parishioners in Texas. “Did God feel good about that?” Will asks. To which Hannibal answers, “He felt powerful.” It’s a clear insight into how Hannibal feels about divinity and unrighteous violence: they’re one and the same.
I wonder then, if the presence of O’Connor in this episode is meant to be taken as a moral touchstone for the series at large. The world of our characters (few of whom can be neatly painted as heroes or villains, just as in the works of O’Connor) is colored by the same bleakness as the world in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The morality of it all makes just as little sense. And for Will, the “dark night of his soul” is only just beginning.
- Flannery O’Connor – “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
- “Easter with Flannery O’Connor”