With a Little Help from My Friends

At the end of “Ko No Mono,” Will tells Mason Verger that, if Hannibal had “his druthers,” Mason would be “wrapped around a bullet right now.” The next episode, “Tome-wan,” begins with Will informing Hannibal about what he has set in motion.

W: Can you explain my actions? Can you posit my intentions? What would be your theory of my mind?

H: I have an understanding of your state of mind. You understand mine. We’re just alike. This gives you the capacity to deceive me and be deceived by me.

This is not the first time Hannibal has told Will they are “just alike.” He first said it all the way back in “Aperitif” during their breakfast meet cute, when Hannibal brings Will a serving of “protein scramble.”

H: You ever have any problems, Will?

W: No.

H: Of course you don’t. You and I are just alike. Problem free. Nothing about us to feel horrible about.

“Just alike” is not the only callback in this relatively brief conversation either. It continues:

W: I’m not deceiving you, Dr. Lecter. I’m just pointing out the snare around your neck. What you do about it is entirely up to you.

H: You put the snare around my neck. Why did you tell Mason Verger I want to kill him?

W: I was curious what would happen. 

Hannibal gives Abigail the same answer in “Relevés” when she asks why he called to warn her father, Garret Jacob Hobbs. Will was not present at the time, so I can see two possibilities. Either Will understands Hannibal well enough to know that being “curious what would happen” is a motivation Hannibal experiences and thus also desires Will to experience. And echoing Hannibal word-for-word is just a coincidence. Or, Will replies honestly, and that response just happens to be identical to Hannibal’s. (Or, surprise third option, a combination of both—as is so often the case with our dear Mr. Graham.) Either possibility helps convince Hannibal that the pair are indeed “just alike.” The latter also helps persuade the audience. 

A third and final callback in the exchange, however, complicates that presumption of sameness. Will persists:

W: It’s true, isn’t it? You do want to kill him [Mason]. Or you want me to kill him. Either way, you’d like him dead. I’m just giving you a little nudge.

H: Mason is discourteous. And discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me.

“Ugly.” Ugly. Where have I heard that word used before? Oh, right. Ugly is how Will describes how it feels to kill someone when he talks to Abigail in “Potage.” 

A: So killing somebody, even if you have to do it, it feels that bad?

W: It’s the ugliest thing in the world.

I went through every Final Shooting Script between “Potage” and “Tome-wan” to check how often “ugly” or “ugliness” appears in character dialogue. Answer: seldom. Besides these two instances, I could only find three others that made it to broadcast. Two of which (Kade Prurnell telling Jack that the whole former-FBI-consultant-accused-of-serial-murder thing “is going to get ugly” in “Kaiseki” and Mason talking about his father buying “ugly things” in “Ko No Mono”) seem insignificant. And the third is Abigail quoting Will back to him in “Relevés.” 

Thus Hannibal’s use of the word “ugly” here feels pretty deliberate. On the show’s part, if not the character’s. After two callbacks that demonstrate how Will and Hannibal are the same, the third suggests how they are different. Will considers ugliness the ultimate consequence of murder. Murder makes him feel good, and he finds that ugly. Makes him ugly. Hannibal, on the other hand, considers acts of ugliness acceptable grounds for murder. 

Why do these callbacks matter? Well, I think—considered together—they tell us something significant about the bond between Hannibal and Will, how Hannibal perceives their bond, and how that perception also hinders their bond. 

As his repeated insistence of “just alike” demonstrates, Hannibal likes to emphasize his and Will’s sameness. Or, at least, the promise of sameness. “He’s nothing like me,” Hannibal says of Will to Bedelia in “Fromage.” “We see the world in different ways yet he can assume my point of view.” “It’s nice to have someone see us, Hannibal,” she intuits. “Or have the ability to see us.” This presumption of sameness or eventual sameness is why Hannibal seeks out Will as a friend. Or, as Bedelia puts it later in this discussion, why Will is “worthy” of Hannibal’s friendship. 

Hannibal is not the first person to treat similarity as a measure of interpersonal compatibility. In her book, You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships, linguist Deborah Tannen argues that women—and, of course, adults of any gender identity and expression can behave or not behave this way—tend to forge and maintain friendships by focusing on what they have in common. Interests. Hobbies. Experiences. Reactions. She calls this bonding concept the “story of sameness.” 

I first encountered Tannen on an episode of Call Your Girlfriend—a “podcast for long-distance besties everywhere,” as the tagline goes. “There’s almost a classic conversation,” she explains to CYG co-host Aminatou Sow. “You tell your friend something happened to you, and she says, ‘Oh, I know how you feel. The same thing happened to me. I would feel the same way. I did the same thing.’ And somehow that makes both of them feel better.” “You’re applying yourself to my perspective, as I’ve been applying myself to yours,” as Hannibal tells Will in “Tome-wan.”

Tannen continues, echoing Bedelia, “I think, on some level, we all want to be seen. We want to be seen for who we are. And when we feel that a friend…‘gets me,’ you know, ‘she gets me,’ is really special and gratifying.” However, “the same things that are the most gratifying about a friendship, can also be things that at other times can be frustrating.” One must balance the validation of feeling seen “with the desire to be the same,” she argues. “Constantly saying, ‘Yeah, me too, I’m the same,’ does sometimes seem to be not seeing you, not getting who you actually are, because there are ways you’re different.” 

Tannen ultimately wants to know how adult friends communicate with one another, and how those language patterns can both join and divide. Her research thus seems like a perfect if unexpected fit for thinking about Hannibal. Without starting a debate about Hannigram, Bryan Fuller has repeatedly said how the show began as an “exploration of male friendships.” “As a gay man, I’ve always been fascinated with heterosexual male friendships, and seeing patterns of romance and devotion that are not sexualized, but are nevertheless very deeply felt,” he said in a 2015 interview with Bloody Disgusting. “To re-contextualize the mythology of Hannibal into this bromance is why I wanted to do this show,” he told Collider.  

Applying the “story of sameness” to the—at this stage—”deeply felt” friendship between Hannibal and Will, then, makes me conclude that Hannibal is so taken by how Will “gets” him that he does not adequately offset his “desire to be the same” with his recognition and acceptance of how he and Will are not. He tells Bedelia in “Relevés” that he wants to “help Will understand” who Will is. And who Hannibal considers Will to be is a killer. Just like him. Convinced of their sameness, Hannibal moves to persuade Will of that actuality. “If you followed the urges you kept down for so long, cultivated them as the inspirations they are, you would have become someone other than yourself,” Hannibal says to Will in “Savoureux.” “I only want what’s best for you,” he assures him in “Tome-wan.”

Hannibal’s commitment to sameness, however, ultimately makes Will feel unseen. “I’m afraid I need to be saved from who you perceive me to be,” Will tells Hannibal in “Su-zakana.” “I’m alone in that darkness.” That breakdown in understanding is enough to put stress on any friendship, but when it comes to friendship with Hannibal, it is downright dangerous. “Some psychiatrists are so hungry for insight that they may try to manufacture it,” Bedelia warns Will in “Tome-wan.” “How deadly that can be for the patient who believes them.” 

And perhaps if Hannibal were not so beguiled by how he and Will are or could be the same, he might have detected Will’s deception sooner. Will may be capable of deceiving Hannibal because they are just alike, as Hannibal contends, but Will chooses to deceive Hannibal because they are not completely alike. Because they disagree on something as seemingly simple as what is ugly. 

Will’s betrayal of Hannibal in “Mizumono” then boils down to his breaking the illusion of their sameness. “I let you know me, see me,” Hannibal accuses Will. Hannibal first interprets the existence of any difference between them as proof that their friendship is forfeit. As Tannen tells Sow, for some friends, “the very fact that you’re having a fight makes you think that something is wrong.” Will, conversely, finds a way to move beyond the story. As Fuller explains in that Collider interview,

When he says, “I forgive you,” some people were like, “I don’t buy it.” If somebody has wronged you in some way and you’re mad at them, for whatever reason, but then you just go, “Well, that’s how they are. I can’t change them, so I have to either accept them or reject them.” Will accepts who Hannibal is.

Or, as Tannen explains, “for many people, if we can fight, that shows we’re really good friends. We can have a fight, and then we can get over it.” Will understands and accepts what maintaining a friendship with Hannibal requires before Hannibal does. “Friendship with Hannibal is blackmail elevated to the level of love,” Alana tells Will in “Aperitivo.” “A mutually unspoken pact to ignore the worst in one another in order to continue enjoying the best,” he responds.  

Sow, Aminatou, and Ann Friedman. Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020.Tannen, Deborah. You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships. New York: Ballantine Books, 2017.

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