A Collection of Glass Animals

“I’ve always had a thing about glass. I had a magic mushroom experience very early on where I got a bit freaked out about being symmetrical. I imagined I had a sheet of glass running right through me. Glass became quite frightening. I think glass is quite a frightening substance…glass becomes something that holds you back and lets you in at the same time. It’s an amazing material; it’s something solid yet ephemeral. It’s dangerous as well. I just love glass. And it’s a way to separate people but engage them. You can invite them in and keep them away at the same time. It’s probably my favourite material, glass.”

Damien Hirst

As much as I appreciate the character development that stems from it for Will, my least favorite part of “Mukozuke” is the discovery of Beverly’s separated body, presented between panes of glass dripping with melted ice and blood. 

It is a striking image, upsetting as it may be for viewers who loved Beverly and her role in the series. It’s upsetting for the characters in the show, too. We see that in the image above, with Jack Crawford doubled over in grief; a rare moment of vulnerability from a character who spends much of the series cold and angry. It’s distressing for Will, too, who is so bereft at Beverly’s murder that he manipulates a sociopathic fan into attempting to kill Hannibal. 

It’s up for debate whether Will helped or hurt himself in empathizing his way through Beverly’s murder, but consequences for Will aside, the Ripper’s choice for Beverly’s death tableau reveals something about him, too. During Will’s own dissection of Beverly’s body, he observes from the Ripper’s perspective, “I pull her apart, layer by layer, like she would a crime scene. This is my design,” revealing that Beverly has been treated like one of her lab subjects. This suggests that her killer, a.k.a. Hannibal, is trying to understand the core of her too, the answer to Beverly Katz, in the same way Beverly understood her evidence.

At the sight of this death tableau, some viewers made the connection to a similar image from a different piece of media:

The above is a still from the psychological science fiction horror film, The Cell. It’s a weird, salacious, beautiful movie directed by Tarsem Singh and starring Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaugn, and Vincent D’Onofrio. The plot of The Cell has some superficial similarities to Hannibal. In it, Lopez plays a child psychologist who’s experimenting with a special technology that allows her to explore the minds of non-verbal children with trauma. After a serial killer (D’Onofrio) is caught and goes comatose due to underlying health issues, the FBI (with Vaugn as one of the agents) recruits Lopez to use her tech to get into the mind of the killer and discover where his final–still living–victim is being kept. What follows is an Inception-like journey into the mind of D’Onofrio to recover the information. 

One of the bits of horror Lopez encounters is a living horse suddenly split between multiple panes of glass right before her very eyes, its heart still beating, lungs still breathing, as she’s forced to pass through the panes to continue her quest. Kind of icky. 

Viewers, of course, linked these particular dots, as it’s a unique visual concept. But what many missed is that, in treating Beverly this way, Fuller was not referencing The Cell, but the artist who also inspired that scene in the film:

Damien Hirst is an interesting figure. Like Hannibal, his work is preoccupied with questions of life, death, and god; the use (and suggested misuse) of corpses (animal and human); the role of decay, and the value of meat. I don’t know what Hannibal would think of pieces like “A Thousand Years” wherein a severed cow’s head and its congealed blood helped feed maggots which grew into flies which were then killed by a connected bug zapper, or “Mother and Child Divided” which featured a cow and its calf in two separate tanks of formaldehyde, each severed in half. But there’s no denying the philosophies of these two figures have some overlap, like their pieces of work. 

After being asked in an interview with Stuart Morgan what happens when Hirst’s bisected animals are displayed, Hirst answered:

DH: It’s like creating emotions scientifically. What do you do if an animal is symmetrical? You cut it in half, and you can see what’s on the inside and outside simultaneously. It’s beautiful. The only problem is that it’s dead.

SM: Imagine a person completely opened.

DH: In a way, you understand more about living people by dealing with the dead people. It’s sad but you feel more.

It’s reminiscent of Will’s empathized perspective from Hannibal, with Hirst pulling his subjects apart layer by layer to get to the–literal and metaphorical–heart of them and their place in our world. 

The idea of feeling more after a living thing has died isn’t rare in Hirst’s portfolio. It’s one of the motivations behind his piece, “Away from the Flock” too. The work, a lamb submerged in formaldehyde, is, according to one review, intended as a comment on the fate such a creature faces in our society: to become art or pet food. By becoming art, the animal has thus been elevated through Hirst’s manipulation. In Hirst’s own words:

You get a sense of tragedy and loss. It just looks sad when you see it in liquid. I get all this press stuff about shock and horror, but when you actually see them, they have a strong emotional feeling. Because in a way, it’s like putting an animal back together, instead of taking it apart.

Hirst likes this paradox–that his dissections can become unifiers of a sort. Unifiers of feeling, of meaning. That in death they have taken on new significance. “It’s not a ‘preserved’ lamb, it’s a dead lamb,” he said of the piece. “But then it does have a kind of new life.” 

Hannibal too seems to appreciate the ability of his death works (his tableaus and his meals) to give new meaning to the people he’s using to make them. To convince the Muralist, for example, to allow Hannibal to sew him into his mural in episode two of season two, Hannibal tells him, “God gave you purpose, not just to create art, but to become it.” And later in episode six, Hannibal tells Abel Gideon–while he is carving up Gideon’s roasted leg and serving it to Gideon himself–that “The tragedy, Abel, is not to die, but to be wasted.” It’s a very Garret Jacob Hobbs approach, the importance of honoring what you have killed and wasting none of it. 

I’ve talked before about how seeing hunting and killing this way elevates its significance, ritualizing it and spiritualizing it. It’s a philosophy that stays with the show throughout its entirety, with many of the series’ killers looking to absolve some perceived flaw of their victims through killing and repurposing them. Elden Stammets wanted to use bodies to form connections with nature. The Angel-Maker gave his criminal victims divine wings. Tobias Budge turned his victim into a semi-functional musical instrument. Francis Dolarhyde felt in killing his victims he transformed not only them, but himself. 

Whether Damien Hirst’s artwork moves or repulses viewers, or some combination of both (another similarity with Hannibal), there’s no denying the relevance of the work to Fuller’s series. I’m personally dying to know what exactly Hannibal would say, walking through a Hirst installation, winding his way through an exhibit of living butterflies or blood-stained glass tanks. But until Fuller writes such a scene, I’ll have to imagine for myself whether Hannibal finds such visuals impactful or laughable. In good taste, or bad. 

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