To Catch a Cannibal

Much of what I have written about season two boils down to when, how, for whom, and to what end Will Graham puts on a performance. Questions that are difficult to answer given his ability to entwine truths and half-truths and falsehoods and misdirections and insinuations and lies of omission in a single conversation. And made even more difficult to answer when Will is arguably never entirely sure of the truth either. To catch Hannibal, Will must play everyone. Up to and including himself. Knowing when he is acting and when he is not is thus near impossible for either the characters or the viewer to conclusively determine. Every word can be genuine. Every word can be suspect. And every word can be both. 

Will’s own uncertainty notwithstanding, scenes in which no other characters are present are perhaps our best and only option for getting a fair reading of the man behind the mask. With no one—especially Hannibal—to perform for, Will can be his most honest self. These moments of solitude typically occur inside Will’s home or his dreams. But with only himself (and his dogs) to talk to, Will is not particularly candid about his state of mind. Limiting us to making inferences based on either his behavior or the content of his nightmares. This changes with the discovery of Randall Tier’s body in “Naka-Choko.” 

Will kills Randall in self defense at the conclusion of “Shiizakana.” To court Hannibal, Will then repays his debt by putting Randall’s mutilated body on display at the Museum of Natural History. Randall’s head, removed at the jaw, sits atop the skull of a saber-toothed cat. His dismembered arms and legs replace the fossil’s limbs. “The bloody flesh at odds with the bare ivory of the bone,” the script reads. “A grotesque amalgam of man and beast, of long-dead bones and recently-living flesh” (Final Shooting Script, 4).

Called to the scene, Hannibal and Will begin to profile the perpetrator—a joint performance for Jack, as both know exactly who is responsible. 

J: The killer chose not to dispose of the body, but to display it. 

H: A jarring reminder of the informality of death. 

J: Randall Tier was denied the respectful end that he himself denied others. 

H: This is a humiliation, a final indignity. 

W: He isn’t mocking him. This isn’t disdain. He’s commemorating him.

H: This killer has no fear for the consequences of what he’s done.

W: No guilt. 

Will proceeds to treat this murder tableau as he would any other Jack assigns him: He conducts an empath vision. Will does not need to imagine himself as Randall’s killer. He is Randall’s killer. Why then conduct an empath vision? Whatever his reason, conjuring Randall offers Will the chance to explain himself. And us the rare opportunity to see Will do so without his façade. This is a Will we can take at his word.

Will circles his Randall murder tableau while a naked Randall—“a haunting silhouette” (6)—circles Will. “Come closer. I want to see you,” Randall instructs in voice over. “Can you see you?” he asks. “Clearer and clearer,” Will responds. Garret Jacob Hobbs prompted Will to see in “Aperitif.” Now it seems Will is no longer the seer, but the seen. He continues:

W: You forced me to kill you.

R: I didn’t force you to enjoy it. You made me a monument.

W: You’re welcome.

R: The monument is not to me; it’s to you. 

Randall may convey these words of reproach, but Will is their author. Does Will then pass judgement on behalf of Randall? Or, similar to his encounter with a phantom Elliot Budish in “Coquilles,” does Randall merely serve as the means by which Will judges himself? Whatever the answer, Will is defiant. Defensive. 

W: I gave you what you want. This is who you are. What you feel finally matches the reality of what I see.

R: This is my becoming. And it’s yours.

This declaration—“And it’s yours”—appears to throw Will. Quite a feat, considering this conversation takes place entirely inside his head. Will falls silent, shakes his head, eyes searching. “This is my design,” he accepts.

The admission returns Will to reality and his inscrutable performance. 

W: He knew his killer. There’s a familiarity here. Someone who met him, understood him. Someone like him. Different pathology, same instinct. 

J: His killer empathized with him?

W: Don’t mistake understanding for empathy, Jack. No, if it’s anything, it’s envy.

J: Envy?

W: Randall Tier came into his own much easier than whoever killed him. 

H: This was a fledgling killer, he’s never killed before. Not like this.

W: Not like this, no. This is the nightmare that followed him out of his dreams.

How much of Will’s assessment of himself can we accept as true? Does Will truly “envy” Randall? The sentiment is similar to something Will tells Peter Bernadone in “Su-zakana.” “I envy you your hate,” he confesses. “Makes it much easier when you know how to feel.” Will does not know how he feels. He does not know what he will become. Mired in doubt, he begrudges others their certainty. Given his imagined conversation with a phantom Randall, however, I am inclined to believe Will when he says, “This is the nightmare that followed him out of his dreams.”

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