Well, a boy’s best friend is his mother.

Hannibal is nothing if not artful when it comes to its messaging, but the theme of “Oeuf” is quite clear: FAMILY. FAMILY. FAMILY. Did I mention family? The word is actually said 39 times over the course of the episode. The crime of the week is the most obvious example of the theme, but—as has become my habit—I wonder what these reflections on family tell us about Will. 

The nature of the case makes Will noticeably uneasy. Uneasy in a way that is separate from how his empathy disorder typically makes him feel. His session with Hannibal begins to reveal why. “Something so foreign about family,” he says. “Like an ill-fitting suit. I never connected to the concept.” 

I find this assertion hard to believe. Will can connect with anyone. Perhaps his lack of understanding then has less to do with him and more to do with his parents. Will’s mother? “Never knew her,” he shares. Father? Someone Will “followed” from place to place, making him the perpetual stranger in school. Hannibal romanticizes this father-son relationship in a later conversation with Jack. “Will may feel the tug of life before the FBI. Before you,” he says. “Simpler times in boatyards with Dad. That life is an anchor stringed behind him in heavy weather.” But Will’s description implies no real bond with his father. Only proximity. Maybe Will developed his interest in fishing and fixing boat motors because these were activities he and his father did together. Or maybe Will learned to fish and fix boat motors as a way to entertain himself at the boatyard in his father’s absence. I’m more inclined to believe the latter.

Thus it is not that Will lacks an understanding of family as a concept; he just never got to experience a loving one. Unlike the “Lost Boys,” who by all appearances came from model family units. This bothers Will. “I’m angry about those boys,” he tells Hannibal. “I’m angry because I know when I find them I can’t help them. I can’t—I can’t give them back what they just gave away.” Notwithstanding his attempts to look and sound indifferent on the subject, Will seeks kinship. And not only for its function as an anchor. 

Left wanting by his biological family, Will—like the Lost Boys—seeks a surrogate one. The episode suggests multiple options. First, his dogs. When Hannibal observes that Will “created a family” for himself, Will immediately thinks of his pack of strays. We saw in “Aperitif” the compassion Will shows towards his dogs and the peace he so obviously feels in their presence. But that peace never completely cures his isolation. Will’s dogs provide an incomplete sense of family. They offer immeasurable companionship, loyalty, and love free from judgement but limited emotional intimacy. Unlike a parent or romantic partner, dogs are also incapable of filling the role of caretaker. In that regard, Will will always be the giver.

Which brings us to option two, the FBI. Scene descriptions in “Oeuf” make the concept of FBI as family quite explicit. After leaving the Turner house, the team goes over crime scene evidence back at the morgue. “Jack faces Zellar, Price, Katz, and Graham. He’s like a demanding father, presiding over his children as they present what they’ve just learned at school,” the script reads. “Will stands slightly apart, not quite fitting into this surrogate family” (Final Shooting Script, 11). The wording suggests that a surrogate family does exist, but Will remains unassimilated. He does not enjoy the sibling-like camaraderie his colleagues share. On the contrary, Zellar offers only cutting remarks. “Let me guess, only child?” He asks Will. “Because family friction is usually a catalyst for personality development.” Jack also utterly fails Will as a surrogate father. As team leader, it is his responsibility to look after Will, his subordinate. But Jack too often prioritizes the mission over his friend’s well-being. 

Will might have once considered options one and two his only avenues for a surrogate family. But “Oeuf” strongly teases the possibility of an option three: Abigail. Will feels a tenderness towards her that he does not entirely know what to do with. Halfway through the episode, Will shows up at Hannibal’s office holding a wrapped gift. 

H: Has Christmas come early? Or late?

W: It was for Abigail.

H: Was?

W: Thought better of it. Wasn’t thinking clearly. I was upset when I bought it. Maybe still am.

[…]

H: What is it? 

W: Magnifying glass. Fly tying gear.

H: Teaching her how to fish. Her father taught her how to hunt.

W: That’s why I thought better of it.

H: Feeling paternal, Will?

W: Aren’t you?

Will is right to question himself. Are his paternal feelings towards Abigail his own, or the product of his empathizing with her biological father, Garret Jacob Hobbs? Perhaps it is a combination of the two. I choose to believe that Will does feel a genuine affection towards Abigail, irrespective of his empathy disorder. He wants to protect her. But that does not make this surrogate family appear any less inappropriate. Will killed Abigail’s father; he probably should not replace him. 

Hannibal nevertheless encourages Will to pursue option three. Or perhaps, more specifically, 3B: Abigail plus Hannibal. Hannibal uses Will’s attachment to further ingratiate himself. He performs a similar affection for Abigail, and consistently stresses their shared sense of obligation as the two men that saved her life. “Abigail’s lost too,” he tells Will. “And perhaps it’s our responsibility, yours and mine, to help her find her way.” When it comes to family, Hannibal seemingly offers Will not only a surrogate daughter but also a partner. As friend, psychiatrist, and co-parent, Hannibal can provide the kind of emotional support and camaraderie missing from options one and two. It is easy to understand then why the promise of this particular surrogate family entices Will so much. He imagines a life with Abigail—noticeably, most often sans Hannibal—for the rest of the season. But of course, joining Hannibal’s murder family comes with certain consequences. 

In all three options, Will either acquires or becomes a surrogate father. But mothers are the primary focus of “Oeuf.” And a mother-child relationship is something Will admits to never having experienced. Amina and I will no doubt discuss the gendering of Will as feminine at a later date, but for now I want to think about potential surrogate mothers for Will. “Oeuf” provides us a glimpse at two: Alana and Beverly. Otherwise known as Will’s option four. 

The episode gives us the one and only scene in which all three characters—Will, Alana, and Beverly—and just those three characters share the screen. (That I can recall anyway. Am I wrong?) And it is a pretty significant one. After finding a third murdered family, Will, Alana, and Beverly comb through files of missing children in an attempt to identify the next possible target. 

A: Without the interference of a leader, these kids would never consider violent action.

W: Our missing kid’s a boy. A paradox in the midst of a normal family. He’s an outsider who doesn’t look like one. He’d have a vocation. Something inventive or mechanical.

B: Here’s one. Family moved from Biloxi to Charleston to Fayetteville in the last three years. He won a junior high award for his work on pretty sophisticated computer circuitry. 

That description sounds an awful lot like young Will. The final script leaves no room for doubt. The conversation reads: 

A: Without the interference of a leader, these kids would never consider violent action.

B: A fuse yet to be lit.

A: A buried darkness. An inkspot on their soul. It takes a catalyst to bring that to the surface. 

Will: Our Trilby’s a boy, a paradox in the midst of a normal family, an outsider who doesn’t look like one. He’d be good at a vocation, something inventive or mechanical.

A: (to Will) Would’ve been the perfect candidate.

W: I would have. (moving on) He would have hobbies that require hand-eye coordination, that are off the beaten path…that link up to what his father does for a living. Something that consumes him so as to keep him engaged. 

Would Will have been as honest about the similarities between himself and the Lost Boys with anyone else? Probably not. Certainly not Jack. At this point, he does not even show that degree of raw vulnerability with Hannibal. Opening up to Alana and Beverley, no matter how warily, attests to the trust Will feels towards them and perhaps no one else. In return, both women show genuine—and, one might even say, motherly—concern. Alana seeks to protect Will from Jack, while Beverly regularly looks out for him in times of distress. When Zellar makes his passive aggressive comment about Will’s stunted personality, for example, Beverly “swoops in to take the sting away” (12). “I was the oldest, so all the friction rolled downhill,” she interjects, making herself the subject of the conversation instead. 

Just as Hannibal recognizes the emotional attachment Will feels with Abigail, he no doubt senses the bond Will shares with both Alana and Beverly. Unlike with the former, however, Hannibal cannot play the strength of the latter relationships to his advantage. On the contrary, they threaten his influence. Which is unquestionably at least part of the reason why Hannibal will seek to break those ties, getting close to Alana to turn her against Will and murdering Beverly. A motherless Will is a more pliable Will. 

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