I have written before about Will’s “pregnant” choice of words. And this exchange from “Kaiseki” offered another loaded phrase to pore over: “I hear Hannibal’s voice in the well of my mind.” The “well of my mind.”
As viewers, we are no strangers to Will’s consciousness. We access it regularly via his empath visions, dreams, and hallucinations. And, beginning with this episode, his memory palace. As a result, we—like Will—already conceive of his mind as a figurative place. It is no longer purely subjective or formless; it has shape. Outside of empath visions, Will typically envisions this space in the natural world. The script for “Aperitif” describes Will’s dreamscape as a “misty forest” (Final Shooting Script, 19), whereas in “Kaiseki,” his memory palace takes the form of a river flanked by “tall, mature pines” and a “snow-capped mountain range” (Final Shooting Script, 5).
In this conversation with Alana, however, with just one word—”well”—Will (and, by extension, writers Bryan Fuller and Steve Lightfoot) not only gives shape to his consciousness but also depth and meaning. Wells are the means by which we retrieve Earth’s most essential natural resource: water. They are how communities form and survive. In short, wells are a life force.
There is no shortage of allegorical readings of wells. They “are traditionally shafts leading down to the world below or to the ‘waters of the deep,’ which hold secret powers,” writes Hans Biedermann in Dictionary of Symbolism. He continues,
In Islam a square brick-lined well is an image of paradise. There are early Christian representations of the fountain in the Garden of Eden, from which the four rivers originate. Here the life-giving element water comes to light, and it is associated symbolically with baptism and with the bloody water flowing from the wound in the side of the crucified Christ (377).
In fairy tales and dreams, Biederman explains, wells appear as “places of penetration into the unknown worlds of the unconscious, of what is hidden and, in everyday life, inaccessible; wells are associated with the symbolic notions of the cleansing bath, drinking from the sources of life, and quenching our thirst for higher knowledge” (378).
Based on that description, a well sounds like the perfect metaphor for Will’s mind. It is the very manifestation of his one-of-a-kind imagination, evoking both the unknown and at times frightening depths of his consciousness as well as the “secret powers” he comes to possess in the retrieval of whatever lies below. Will is by no means at ease with his empathy disorder, but it is nevertheless what sustains him. Defines him.
So then how might we interpret Will going to drink from the well of his mind and finding Hannibal’s voice there? It does not bode…well. In talking to Hannibal, Will seems to believe that he can successfully remove the not-so-good doctor from this once sacred space. “What you did to me is in my head and I will find it,” he says later. “I’m going to remember, Dr. Lecter, and when I do, there will be a reckoning.”
But you cannot unpoison a well. Will can successfully treat his encephalitis, but he cannot purify the metaphorical groundwater that Hannibal has irrevocably contaminated. From this point forward, whenever he figuratively plunges a bucket into the depths of his consciousness, the water he retrieves will contain traces of Hannibal’s befoulment. The well of his mind is no longer a reliable source of knowledge and nourishment. It pollutes rather than cleanses.
The Stag Man’s unexpected and at times unrelated appearance in Will’s empath visions is one small way in which we will spot that contamination over the course of this season. Will’s growing tolerance if not appetite for murder is, of course, a much bigger one. Amina and I often debate the ultimate impact of Hannibal on Will—does Hannibal turn Will into a killer, or was that inevitable?—but imagining Will’s mind as a contaminated well makes it easy for me to put nearly all the blame for Will’s becoming on Hannibal. At least in this moment.
The next time we see or hear mention of a well is when the FBI discovers Miriam Lass at the base of one in “Futamono.” Buffalo Bill style. Hannibal imprisons Miriam down a dry well—a physical representation of the psychological manipulation he performs against her. If Hannibal has poisoned the well of Will’s mind, might we consider him similarly trapped? Is Will symbolically lost down a well after season one? Is Winston Lassie, running home to alert the townsfolk to Will’s misfortune and rally a rescue party? Amazing what just one word can imply.
P.S. Be sure to read Amina’s post, Born of Water, for more on the abundance of water imagery in Hannibal.
Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism. Translated by James Hulbert. New York: Facts on File, 1989.