Abandon All Hope

I cannot tell you how many times I have watched “Mizumono.” I have listened to its climactic conclusion even more—a rip of its audio in my music library. 

Hard to imagine then that I could glean anything else from repeat viewings at this point, but this is Hannibal we are talking about. It was during one recent relisten that a fairly simple shift in thinking compelled me to interpret the emotional final exchange between Hannibal and Will in an entirely different way. I had always read the scene as happening between two individuals. Two human beings. Silly me. Hannibal does not consider himself a human being. He is God.

Maybe this realization has something to do with me watching all 15 seasons of Supernatural—in which God is an actual character that Sam and Dean Winchester struggle to figure out a way to outmaneuver—over the course of four months during the pandemic lockdown. IDK. But Hannibal’s phrasing hit differently this go around.

Hannibal repeatedly aligns himself with God throughout the series. “Killing must feel good to God, too. He does it all the time, and are we not created in his image?” he asks Will in “Amuse-Bouche.” The episode’s Final Shooting Script even ends with the direction, “OFF HANNIBAL, seizing the chance to play God himself” (46). 

There is a serious uptick in God mentions in season two. Just to name a few, from “Shiizakana”: 

W: What do you think about when you think about killing?

H: I think about God.

W: Good and evil?

H: Good and evil has nothing to do with God. I collect church collapses. Did you see the recent one in Sicily? The facade fell on 65 grandmothers during a special mass. Was that evil? Was that God? If He’s up there, He just loves it. Typhoid and swans, it all comes from the same place.

From “Naka-Choko”:

W: You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. I’m not the product of anything. I’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism.

H: Then you can’t say that I’m evil.

W: You’re destructive. Same thing.

H: Evil is just destructive? Storms are evil, if it’s that simple. And we have fire, and then there’s hail. Underwriters lump it all under “Acts of God.” Is this meal an act of God, Will?

From “Ko No Mono”: 

H: I don’t pray. I have not been bothered by any considerations of deity, other than to recognize how my own modest actions pale beside those of God.

W: I prayed I would see Abigail again.

H: Your prayer did not go entirely unanswered. You saw part of her. Should the universe contract, should time reverse and teacups come together, a place could be made for Abigail in your world.

Hannibal does not name drop the Spirit in the Sky during this concluding scene in “Mizumono,” but his dialogue nevertheless betrays an enduring conviction in his own supreme divinity. 

“Time did reverse,” he tells Will. “The teacup that I shattered did come together. A place was made for Abigail in your world. Do you understand? A place was made for all of us, together. I wanted to surprise you. And you, you wanted to surprise me. I let you know me. See me. I gave you a rare gift, but you didn’t want it.”

Plot-wise, Hannibal is simply revealing that he did not harm Will the way Will believes he did. Not only did Hannibal not kill Abigail but he also went one step further and facilitated the surrogate family Will so deeply desires. How kind of him. But Hannibal describes this new set of circumstances as if he were God. Hannibal has performed a miracle. He fucking reversed time. He raised Abigail from the grave and “made” a place for her in another world as if he is THEE CREATOR. Will has thus not only spoiled their romantic getaway but also spurned Hannibal’s divine benevolence. How dare Will not accept this “rare gift” our Lord Hannibal has so graciously bestowed upon him—the gift of knowing, of seeing divinity?

“Do you believe you could change me, the way I’ve changed you?” Hannibal continues. “I already did,” Will, bleeding out on the floor, replies.

I have long thought that this was the moment that Hannibal decided to kill Abigail. Not Will’s warning phone call. Not his arrival in Hannibal’s kitchen. Because with those three simple words—”I already did”—Will threatens the totality of Hannibal’s power. And if Hannibal sees himself as God, Will is also challenging his divinity. 

God is immutable. He cannot be changed, especially by someone who is not divine. But as soon as Will speaks those words into existence, Hannibal knows they are true. Will has changed him, and that cannot stand. Killing Abigail consequently serves to re-establish his godly authority. “Fate and circumstance have returned us to this moment when the teacup shatters,” Hannibal says. As if he does not choose to kill Abigail. Her death is just God’s will. Because Hannibal’s will is God’s will. 

Reconsidering this conservation through the lens of Hannibal’s presumption of holiness also shifted my understanding of the references to Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Inferno, that we will see in season three. I was one of those kids that read The Inferno for fun in high school. I also took a whole course on the subject in college. I hope to dig into its allegorical function in Hannibal in greater depth later, but for now I will point to this:

When Dante (the character) and Virgil reach the center of the ninth circle, they find Satan frozen in ice at the waist for all eternity. Contrary to popular representation, Satan is then not the King of Hell, but rather one sinner among many punished there. Which leads to an important question: If Satan is not the HDIC (head deity in charge), who is? And the answer is quite clear: God. God not only determines who goes to Hell but also creates Hell and its tortures. 

I am reminded of a line that always stuck out to me from True Blood. “God doesn’t punish. God forgives,” Sookie Stackhouse tells a questioning vampire in season two’s “I Will Rise Up.” Hannibal similarly tells Will that he forgives him in “Mizumono,” but Hannibal does not know that God. He only knows the God of The Inferno. The vengeful God. The God who traps the lustful in a violent storm and submerges flatterers in piles of excrement. The God that collapses the roof on a church full of believers. The God who eats the rude. “God is beyond measure in wanton malice and matchless in His irony,” Hannibal tells Will in “Ko No Mono.” 

Hannibal also asks Will if Will can forgive him. And Will does, even though Hannibal commits the very harm that convinced Will to betray his friend in the first place. He kills Abigail. Bryan Fuller explained the reason behind Will’s clemency in a 2015 interview with The Wrap: 

Will has got to the point in his relationship with Hannibal where he can’t be angry with him for doing what he does. It’s like being angry at a shark for eating somebody. You’re in the water, the shark is a predator. That’s what it does, so you can’t be mad at a shark for being a shark. You have to take responsibility for your role in getting in the water, and Will is saying, “I acknowledge that I got in the water. I accept that you’re dangerous, I understand how you’re dangerous and I forgive you for being who you are.”

But Hannibal is not just a shark. He is God. And how can anyone ever defeat God? Will succeeds where others fail, but to do so he must complete his own series of Herculean trials and become a deity himself. Unlike Hannibal, the God Will that emerges by the end of season three momentarily finds that balance between divine forgiveness and punishment. Creating and taking. Embracing and destroying. But then Will was somehow always capable of holding two opposing forces simultaneously.

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