Shark Bait

In “Takiawase,” Will Graham brokers a deal with Dr. Frederick Chilton. A quid pro quo. Will agrees to let Chilton test* him. “You will be the first and last word in the mind of Will Graham,” Will lures. “God, you could dine out on that for years.” In exchange, Chilton promises not to discuss Will or his therapy with Dr. Hannibal Lecter. “Tell him that you’ve decided I am no longer any of his business,” Will instructs. “I am now under your exclusive care.”

We do not see Chilton assent to this arrangement, but we assume he does, given we next find Will undergoing a narcoanalytic interview. Chilton, however, immediately breaks his end of the bargain. He simply cannot resist gloating, not only divulging details about Will’s latest treatment but also implicitly accusing Hannibal of medical malpractice. “What Will Graham suffers from may not be a single condition, but a continuum of illnesses, all with different neurological mechanisms,” Chilton informs Hannibal. “Some naturally occurring; others appear to be induced.” Chilton soon makes the implicit explicit. “I have been thinking about the possibility that you may have been psychic driving Will Graham all along,” he says. “You are not the only psychiatrist accused of making a patient kill. We have to stick together.”

Will confronts Chilton about this breach of contract in “Mukozuke.” “You discussed my therapy with Hannibal Lecter, Frederick,” he says, impassive. “I have appearances to maintain.” Rather than terminate their agreement, however, Will adds another clause, another perk for Chilton. “It’s a shame we can’t talk to Abel Gideon about the Chesapeake Ripper,” he tempts. “Just think, Frederick, you could be the one who catches him after all.” And yet, counter to the agreement, Chilton continues to discuss Will with Hannibal. “I’m trying to set Will on the path to rebuilding his broken brain,” he tells Hannibal over a glass of brandy in Hannibal’s office, “picking up your pieces, as it were.” 

If there were any suspicion about Will’s intentions during the first exchange, the second removes any doubt: contrary to the stated terms of their accord, Will wants Chilton to spill to Hannibal. He correctly surmises that telling Chilton not to ensures he will, besting the cocky Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane administrator with simple reverse psychology. What then does Will seek to gain? To upset Hannibal by cutting off access to the object of his obsession? To provoke him into making a mistake that might lead to his unmasking or, better yet, arrest? To just see what he might do? Maybe all of the above.

Will must know that this strategy puts Chilton right in Hannibal’s crosshairs. If Hannibal was not intent on killing Chilton before, he certainly is now. In his quest to win the game, Will then knowingly volunteers an oblivious Chilton for the expendable role of pawn. To use him as cannon fodder. And cannon fodder Chilton becomes. In “Yakimono,” Hannibal frames Chilton as the Chesapeake Ripper and Miriam Lass shoots him through the cheek. Abel Gideon may have left Chilton without a kidney, but Will indirectly shatters his face and leaves him partially blind.

Will’s cruelty towards Chilton here shocks me, but it really shouldn’t. He uses and abuses Gideon in a similar fashion. In “Futamono,” Will tells Gideon that he should have let the orderly, Matthew Brown, kill Hannibal because Hannibal still wants to murder him. The BSHCI is “exactly where he’ll get you,” Will says, matter of factly. He continues,

The moment I convinced the chief of staff to put you in a cell next to me, you were stamped with an expiration date. Anyone who gets too close gets got. He’s the devil, remember? Smoke. I’d be very nervous if I were Dr. Chilton. He’s getting close too. The only way you and Frederick are gonna get out of this alive is if the Chesapeake Ripper is stopped.

Will knows that Chilton listens to every word he says while in state custody, so this serves as a thinly veiled warning to him as well as Gideon. But it is also further manipulation. Whereas before, Will plays on Chilton’s ego to vicariously agitate Hannibal, now he stokes fear as a last-ditch effort to get Chilton to vicariously unmask or apprehend him. Which Will has to believe has little to no chance of success, but he enlists Chilton for the doomed mission anyway. Just in case.

Will’s cavalier attitude toward Chilton’s safety is also not an isolated incident. He will do it again in season three’s “The Number of the Beast is 666,” using Chilton as an unwitting patsy to anger and lure out Frances Dolarhyde. For his assistance with the FBI-sanctioned scheme, Chilton is kidnapped, mutilated, and burned to within an inch of his life. Apart from calling Will “manipulative” in “Takiawase,” Chilton never acknowledges how Will deliberately put his life at risk in season two, but he will in “666.” “You set me up,” Chilton, absent lips and covered in second- and third-degree burns, struggles to articulate. “You knew it. You set me up. You put your hand on me in the picture, like a pet.” Will appears more shaken by this outcome than he is by Chilton’s fate in “Yakimono,” but that in no way absolves him of accountability for his choices. 

Will even treats Freddie Lounds—whom he unquestionably does not like—with more respect. In “Mukozuke,” Will asks Freddie to profile his admirer. In exchange, he largely offers her what he offers Chilton in “Takiawase”: total access. But, unlike with Chilton, Will is upfront about his objective. He wants to “establish a line of communication.” Perhaps Will knows that he cannot fool Freddie the way he fools Chilton. Not to mention considers her too cunning to put herself in any real danger. Her season-one encounter with Gideon demonstrates as much. Will trusts Freddie to take care of herself.

When talking this over with Amina, she made an astute observation: Will’s manipulation of Chilton stands in stark contrast to the way he treats not only Freddie but also Beverly. In “Takiawase,” when Beverly tells Will that she asked Hannibal to consult on James Gray’s autopsy—a cunning, if dangerous, move—he is completely horrified.

W: You what? If you invited him with an actual agenda, Hannibal would know it.

B: He pointed me to the evidence.

W: He pointed you to an absence of evidence. He’s baiting a hook, Beverly. He’s toying with you … Stay away from Hannibal Lecter.

Will spots the lure Hannibal cast for Beverly, and implores her not to take the bait. Not to get caught on Hannibal’s line and, eventually, find herself on Hannibal’s plate. But Chilton? To mix fish metaphors, Will knowingly sends a hapless Chilton into chum-infested waters. As if Chilton deserves to be put in harm’s way—to be toyed with—just because his massive ego makes it so easy to trick him into putting himself there. 

Will’s perception of who has power over whom seems to be at the crux of this difference in approach. To Will, Beverly is a friend and colleague. She is also someone who fails to see the danger before her, just as he once did, putting her at equal risk of Hannibal’s gruesome “curiosity.” Chilton, on the other hand, Will no doubt feels superior to. Choosing to familiarly address him as “Frederick” hints at this. Chilton’s failure to see the murderer hiding beneath Hannibal’s person suit is consequently not an understandable, if terrible mistake—a mistake made by every other character in the series, including every member of the so-called FBI Behavioral Science Unit, by the way—but rather irrefutable evidence of his quackery. If Chilton is too dense to spot the obvious threat to his well being, then, sucks for him.

*Sidenote: Will’s enthusiasm for Chilton’s tests recalls perhaps my favorite line from David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2016): “I love tests.” Which makes Will the Amy Dunne, not the Nick Dunne, of the situation. Doesn’t do much to help his I’m-not-a-sociopath defense. 

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