A Wild Hunt

In the first scene of “Potage”, Abigail Hobbs stands beside her father amidst a beautiful autumnal landscape, hunting gear on, and a look of apprehension on her face. 

“Be patient. Wait for your shot,” murmurs Garret Jacob Hobbs as Abigail takes aim at a doe meandering through the trees. Her first shot misses. Her second does not. 

Back at Hobbs’ hunting cabin, Abigail is unsure of what she’s done. “Aren’t deer supposed to be complex emotional creatures? […] I read they’re like the equivalent of a four-year-old human being. […] They care about each other. They care about their environment. They tread lightly through the underbrush because they don’t want to hurt the plants.”

“They’re a lot like us,” agrees Garret Jacob Hobbs. “And we’re going to honor every part of her…None of her is going to go to waste.”

He talks more about how they’ll use each of those parts that won’t be wasted. Abigail says she’s not sure she’ll be able to stomach eating her. To which her father replies:

Taking this approach to killing has the benefit (for the killer) of elevating the act above the mundane, and it romanticizes in some ways the hunt that precedes the death. And it’s hunting as a concept in Hannibal that I’d like to explore today. 

There are many hunters in the show. Our first and most obvious hunters are Abigail and her father. The series has us get to know them a little better in “Potage” through the act of hunting, and their relationship is often defined by the fact that they hunted (for deer and young women) together. Hobbs’ philosophy of honoring every part of a victim has a clear impact on Abigail, who kills Nicholas Boyle later on in the episode in self defense and anxiously wonders, “I didn’t honor any part of him, so it’s just murder, isn’t it?”

Hannibal is a hunter too, though his constant refinery and the show’s own hesitance to give us scenes of Hannibal in action helps distance him from the inherent indignity of donning his murder suit and getting up close and personal with his next meal. But still, he stalks his prey, snuffs out their lives, and then cleans their meat for dinner. He jokes with Jack in the very next episode about how the “rabbit” Hannibal is serving “should have hopped faster.” And funnily enough, when we cut to a man running for his life, he even appears to be a hunter.

And finally there is Jack and to a lesser extent, Will, who are not literal rifle-toting hunters, but metaphorical legal hunters. Jack’s job as head of the Behavioral Science Unit with the F.B.I. puts him in a position to hunt down criminals every day, a job he does with much satisfaction. And Will’s pursuit of Hannibal from season 2 onwards may be more often framed as “luring” rather than “stalking” but still requires much of the same effort.

As such, hunting is a central theme in the show. But what’s the cost to those who participate? (And yes, I do mean participate rather than observe.)

There’s a Roman myth about a hunter named Actaeon that feels important here. In the story, Actaeon has had a very successful and bloodthirsty day of hunting. While walking in the woods, he has the bad luck of stumbling upon Diana, famed goddess of the hunt, bathing. As a virgin goddess, to have a man see her was untenable, so Diana transformed Actaeon into a stag and told him, essentially, to try to tell everyone what he saw now! As Actaeon made his escape, confused at the state of his body, his own hounds stumbled on his scent. Spurred on by his hunting companions, his many dogs tore Actaeon to pieces, thinking him a true stag.

In the short film version of this myth produced by the National Gallery, there is an added adjustment. After being tracked by his hounds, Actaeon is killed by his companions and served for dinner to the group that evening. The short film itself is brimming with Hannibal vibes, though it was published the year before Hannibal had even started airing. There’s one moment in particular that stands out: Actaeon’s transformation.

In a season 2 episode of Hannibal, Will undergoes a similar visual transformation:

I can’t help but wonder if Bryan Fuller saw Metamorphosis and drew inspiration from that very scene. Though this is just speculation, seeing these two moments in relation to one another draws a neat line between the act of hunting (and seeing, if we think about Actaeon) and its consequences. If we look back at the hunters on our show, it’s not hard to find the ways their lives are altered and distorted by their choice to make hunting a key element of their lives. Garret Jacob Hobbs ultimately dies for his crimes. Abigail is deeply traumatized by her role in her father’s activities. Hannibal is tricked into a (short-lived) life of incarceration in his pursuit of Will, Jack damages every personal relationship he ever had, and Will loses his humanity to the point where suicide seems the only feasible option for redemption. 

To commit to the hunt thus means something must be sacrificed. Like Actaeon in the forest with Diana, there’s a price to pay for transgression and violence–whether your violence is seen as simply that or something more divine, or your transgression is unwitting or intentional. Katharine talks about Hamlet in relation to the series, but there are aspects of “Potage” that remind me of another of Shakespeare’s insights: “These violent delights have violent ends.” Well, that’s certainly true of the characters in Hannibal. 

Further Reading

Post title taken from the folklore of The Wild Hunt

2 thoughts on “A Wild Hunt

  1. Pingback: Shot Through the Hart, and Hannibal’s to Blame | Read the Rude

  2. Pingback: A Collection of Glass Animals | Read the Rude

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s