Prayer for the Dead

As we make our way through this series rewatch, I find myself fixating on Will’s cryptic dialogue. Hannibal rightly receives a lot of attention for his clever use of language—his double entendres and half truths—but Will is an equally deft wordsmith. A skill on full display over the course of season two, with Will weaponizing his careful choice of words to charm and deceive Hannibal. For the moment, however, I want to focus on what Will says (or, often, does not say) suggests about him. His frame of mind. “Dire” feels an apt assessment. 

An exchange in “Yokimono” first piqued my interest. Released from state custody, Will surprises Hannibal at home to finish their kitchen conversation from “Savoureux.”

W: You wanted me to embrace my nature, Doctor. I’m just following the urges I kept down for so long. Cultivating them for the inspirations they are.

H: You never answered my question. How would killing me make you feel?

W: Righteous.

H: If I’m not the Ripper, you murder an innocent man. You, better than anyone, know what it means to be wrongly accused. You were innocent and no one saw it.

W: No, I’m not innocent. You saw to that.

Prosecutors dropped the murder charges against him, but Will still considers himself “not innocent” because of Hannibal. Why? His unwitting cannibalism? Perhaps Will blames himself for what Hannibal did to Beverly. Or even what he suspects he has done to Abel Gideon or might do to Dr. Chilton. But between his empty stare at the vision of his sink overflowing with blood in “Mukozuke” and the way his face falls when Alana discloses why she feels she was wrong about him during an earlier conversation in “Yokimono,” I would wager the main reason Will feels “not innocent” in this moment is because he tried to kill Hannibal. That Hannibal makes Will want to kill. He tells Hannibal that killing him would feel “righteous,” but at what cost?

“Last time, you almost destroyed me,” Will next tells Hannibal in “Su-zakana.” “I discovered a truth about myself when I tried to have you killed.” “That doing bad things to bad people makes you feel good?” Hannibal inquires. “Yes,” Will responds. 

Hannibal—so focused on determining whether or not Will still wants to kill him—seems to accept this answer, but I do not. Will already discovered that truth about himself after Garret Jacob Hobbs. “I liked killing Hobbs,” he confesses to Hannibal in “Amuse-Bouche.” “You said it felt good to kill Garret Jacob Hobbs,” Hannibal reiterates in “Savoureux.” So then what new truth might have Will discovered when he directed Matthew Brown to kill Hannibal?

Will may not tell, but “Su-zakana” shows through the character of Peter Bernadone. Similar to the Lost Boys in “Oeuf,” Elliot Budish in “Coquilles,” or Georgia Madchen in “Buffet Froid,” Peter is more than just a person of interest on a case. He is a reflection of Will. Specifically, season one Will. Confident that Peter is not Sarah Craber’s killer but knows who is, Will makes an unofficial visit to Peter in an attempt to coax out a name. “I wanted you to find me,” Peter falters. “I wanted you to find me, ‘cause if you could find me, you could find him.” We see the commiserate understanding dawn on Will’s face.

“Do you have a shadow, Peter?” Will asks him, knowingly. “Someone only you can see. Someone you considered a friend. He made you feel less alone. Until you saw what he really is.” The final shooting script paints an even sadder picture of Will. In it, Will’s last line reads, “Until you saw what he really is, and it made you even lonelier” (Final Shooting Script, 26). Unmasking the monster lurking underneath the person suit provided no comfort; it only othered Will further. 

Will sees himself and his experience in Peter, and continues to point out their similarities back at the FBI. “Peter Bernadone is psychologically disadvantaged. He’s been manipulated,” Will tells Jack. “As his social worker, this man [Clark Ingram] is in a position of trust, and he has betrayed that trust. I know what it’s like to point at a killer and have no one listen.” 

Given the obvious parallels, Hannibal then reasonably interprets Will’s resolve to rescue Peter as a belated attempt to rescue himself. Hannibal says as much to Will during a car ride on their way to finding Peter and his “enwombed”—what a word!—social worker:

H: You look like a man who has suffered an irrevocable loss.

W: I’m trying to prevent one.

H: Do you think if you save Peter Bernadone, you can save yourself?

W: Save myself from what, Dr. Lecter?

H: From who you perceive me to be.

W: I’m afraid I need to be saved from who you perceive me to be.

H: Many troublesome behaviors strike when you are uncertain of yourself. Peter Bernadone lies in the same darkness that holds you.

W: No. I’m alone in that darkness.

H: You’re not alone, Will. I’m standing right beside you.

The final shooting script shows there was more to the conversation. It continues: 

H: Does Peter Bernardone fantasize about killing the way you do?

W: He’s not a killer.

H: Given extreme enough circumstances, we can all behave like psychopaths.

Will does want to save Peter. Not only from his friend-turned-tormentor but also—as these cut lines explicate—from becoming a killer. “I think he deserves to die,” Peter later says of Ingram to Will. “But you didn’t deserve to kill him, Peter,” he replies. Contrary to what Hannibal seemingly suspects, however, I do not believe that Will holds any such hope of rescue for himself. 

The music playing during this earlier exchange with Hannibal is perhaps the biggest clue for me, as far as Will’s true motivation. The piece is “In Paradisum,” the seventh and final movement of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D minor, Op. 48. The opus premiered during a funeral mass in 1888. The Latin text sung during “In Paradisum” derives from the Catholic burial liturgy. Within this context, Will then does not see his rescue of Peter as the means by which he facilitates his own, but rather as a memorial to what he has already lost. “You were grieving her,” Will tells Peter of his attempt to transform Sarah Craber via equine rebirth. “You couldn’t save her, but you could bring poetry to her death.” Will similarly considers himself beyond salvation, so he seeks to bring “poetry” to his metaphorical death by liberating Peter in his place. 

Which brings me back to what truth about himself Will discovers when he tries to kill Hannibal. What loss is Will mourning? His innocence, as he accuses Hannibal of spoiling in “Yokimono”? Sure. But also perhaps something else. Peter once again holds the key. The shooting script contains so many revealing lines of dialogue that did not make it into the final episode, several of which I have highlighted already. Here is another:

“He forfeited his humanity. I forfeited mine.” In trying to kill Hannibal, yes, Will confirms that “doing bad things to bad people” makes him feel “good.” But he also discovers that such a response costs him not only his innocence but also his humanity. Peter grieves Sarah Craber. Will grieves his humanity. He buries his former self through Peter’s deliverance. 

Maybe Hannibal “destroyed” Will after all. But then, Will has felt this hopeless at least since Hobbs. I wrote earlier of how when he conjures a phantom Budish in “Coquilles,” Will imagines the Angel Maker offering him beatification. “I see what you are,” Budish says. “I can bring it”—his inner wickedness—”out.” But Will is unconvinced. “Not all the way out,” he responds. Will sees little to no chance of escaping his fate. By “Su-zakana,” at least part of Will already accepts that he will either die or be reborn as a killer—just as Hannibal perceives him to be.

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