Into the Woodshed

“I didn’t kill anyone,” Will tells Hannibal in “Savoureux.” “Someone is making sure no one believes me.” By the end of the episode, Will is “almost certain” he knows who that someone is. Even before a recovered memory of Hannibal forcing Abigail’s severed ear down his throat removes any doubt, Will spends much of “Kaiseki” asserting his innocence—and Hannibal’s guilt—to anyone and everyone who comes to visit him at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Even Hannibal himself. “What you did to me is in my head and I will find it,” Will declares. “I’m going to remember, Dr. Lecter, and when I do, there will be a reckoning.” 

Crying “Hannibal,” however, proves an ineffective exoneration strategy. In the absence of evidence proving either Will’s innocence or Hannibals’ guilt, Jack and the rest of Team FBI are done listening to his allegations. “We investigated your claims about Dr. Lecter, Will. Thoroughly. We went over every fiber of every stitch of clothing. We took his DNA. We took his fingerprints. We found nothing,” Jack tells Will, exasperated. “I can’t hear this anymore.”  

So in “Sakisuke,” Will tries a new approach. Operation Damsel in Distress, we might call it. Before, Will professed clarity in who he is. Now, he is “the unreliable narrator of his own story.” Before, he was indignant and defiant. ”The light from friendship won’t reach us for a million years,” Will snaps at Hannibal in “Kaiseki.” Now, he characterizes himself as afraid and confused. Described in the script as appearing “wrung-out” and “haunted” (Final Shooting Script, 4), Will makes an emotional plea for help—from fucking Hannibal, of all people. 

“I don’t know which is worse: Believing I did it, or believing that you did it and did this to me,” Will, voice shaking and eyes filling with tears, tells Hannibal during a visit from Doctors Lecter and Bloom. “I felt so betrayed by you. Betrayal was the only thing that felt real to me. I trusted you. And I needed to trust you.” In his subtle way, Hannibal appears surprised and even moved by Will’s dramatic reversal. Perhaps Will is not the “loss” Hannibal mournfully told Jack he is.

Alone back in his cell, however, Will quickly shuts off the valve to his crocodile tears. His emotional confession was all an act.

Just what is the object of the “game,” though? At first, I thought Will ultimately hoped to convince Hannibal that he no longer believed his previous accusations. Much like Abel Gideon attempts to do. To portray himself as weak, unstable, and unthreatening. To play on Hannibal’s twisted understanding of their friendship and his professional responsibility as a psychiatrist to engender sympathy, even pity. As Will succeeds in eliciting from Alana. But a subsequent one-on-one conversation between Will and Hannibal in “Hassun” changed my mind. 

Hannibal summons Will to consult on the murder of Andrew Sykes, the bailiff at Will’s trial, and determine whether or not Will’s so-called admirer is also responsible for his own alleged victims. “It’s not the same killer,” Will concludes post empath vision. Despite the similarities between tableaus, Sykes’ murderer showed too much mercy. “Then this is blunt reproduction?” Hannibal asks, seemingly disappointed. Now he is the one pretending. “You knew that already,” Will replies, letting his underlying aggression slip. “Would’ve liked to have been wrong,” Hannibal answers. Will blinks, almost startled, quickly restoring his inscrutable game face. 

W: Occam’s broom. You intentionally ignored facts that refute your argument hoping nobody would notice.

H: You noticed. I wanted to dispel your doubts once and for all.

W: My doubts about what?

H: Me. I want you to believe in the best of me. Just as I believe in the best of you. This crime offered us both reasonable doubt.

W: It offered us a distraction.

H: Maybe this acolyte is giving you your path to freedom. Even Jack is ready to believe, Will.

Will is literally taken aback by this. Is Hannibal offering him a way out?

W: It would be a lie. 

H: I don’t want you to be here.

W: I don’t want to be here either. 

H: Then you have a choice. This killer wrote you a poem. Are you going to let his love go to waste?

Will knows Hannibal knows who really killed Cassie Boyle, et al. Will knows Hannibal is performing here. Can we then also assume the same of Hannibal? That he knows Will is performing now and was performing for him and Alana in “Sakisuke.” And, to echo Friends, that Will knows Hannibal knows. That the performance itself—pretending to be the “wrung-out” special agent, “haunted” by what he has done—was the objective of the game all along. Not convincing Hannibal of its veracity. What Will actually believes is irrelevant. He only needs to show Hannibal that he can play his part. “All the world’s a stage,” if you will, with Will and Hannibal as equal players. Will does not seek sympathy, but respect. An entente. His performance tells Hannibal that he is in on the joke. 

This warped game reminds me of my second-favorite onscreen dysfunctional couple: Nick and Amy Dunne from David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2016). *spoilers* Like Hannibal, Amy is an intelligent psychopath that sees her relationship as an unspoken arrangement for each party to maintain certain roles. She plays the “cool girl,” while Nick pretends to be the “man of her dreams.” When he stops upholding his end of the bargain, however, she expertly sets him up for murder. Her murder.

Unable to prove his innocence, Nick makes a direct appeal to Amy. He goes on national television and convincingly acts the part of penitent husband. Nick also indirectly communicates to Amy that he figured out the final clue to her anniversary scavenger hunt, demonstrating his ability to play and win her clever game. Moved by his performance, Amy emerges from hiding, hastily creates a new story to explain her disappearance, and saves Nick from death row. Once the two of them are back at home, alone, Nick seeks an end to the charade.

N: Alright, you can stop pretending now.

A: I’m not pretending. You were perfect. The Nick I saw on TV, that’s the Nick I fell in love with.

N: You do know I was just telling you what you wanted to hear, right?

A: That’s how well you know me. You know me in your marrow.

Will similarly tells Hannibal what he wants to hear. Not expecting Hannibal to believe him, but to demonstrate to Hannibal that Will knows what he wants to hear. To prove that Will has figured Hannibal out. For someone who thinks as highly of himself as Hannibal, this in itself is an impressive feat. A feat that earns Will the opportunity to escape the trap Hannibal has set for him. A worthy opponent is hard for the gentleman cannibal to find. Hannibal would rather keep Will around, at least a little while longer, going so far as to kill both the judge at Will’s trial and Beverly Katz to make it happen. 

Like Hannibal, Amy seeks a worthy opponent. In the final moments of the film, she informs Nick that she is pregnant—the final twist in the Nick and Amy story that solidifies them as the perfect couple. Nick is, in a word, enraged.

N: You fucking cunt!

A: I’m the cunt you married. The only time you liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt would like. I’m not a quitter. I’m that cunt. I’ve killed for you. Who else can say that? You think you’d be happy with a nice Midwestern girl? No way, baby. I’m it.

N: Fuck! You’re delusional! I mean, you’re insane! Why would you even want this? Yes, I loved you, and then all we did was resent each other and try to control each other and cause each other pain.

A: That’s marriage.

And like Will, despite his protestations, Nick ultimately wants in too. When Nick tells his twin sister Margot that he intends to stay with Amy—to raise a child with Amy—despite the fact that she’s a psychopath who framed him for murder, she calls bullshit on his given reason of parental responsibility. “You want to stay,” she realizes, in tears. “You want to stay with her. You’re breaking my heart.” 

In season three’s “Apertivo,” Jack will come to Will and ask why he calls Hannibal in “Mizumono” and tells him that the FBI knows Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper and plans to arrest him. “Because he was my friend,” Will tentatively responds. “And because I wanted to run away with him.”

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