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). 

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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. 

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The Killing of a Sacred Ravenstag

In “Stuck in the In-Between with You,” I wrote about how I still puzzle over the meaning of the Ravenstag even after multiple rewatches. What is its narrative purpose? What does it convey to and about Will Graham? And part of the reason why I continue to ask myself these questions is that the significance of the Ravenstag to both the story and to Will evolves from season to season. 

That earlier post concluded that the Ravenstag primarily functions as a liminal marker—a figurative signpost conjured by Will’s subconscious to identify the moments when he has journeyed into the transitional space separating dreams from reality. When he has wandered into the proverbial woods. As both Amina and I argue, the Ravenstag also serves as a harbinger of doom, warning Will about both his relationship with Hannibal as well as his worsening physical and psychological condition. 

But that is what the Ravenstag conveys in season one. Season two is a different beast. Apart from fleeting appearances in “Kaiseki” and “Hassun,” we do not properly see the Ravenstag until the opening scene of “Shiizakana.” And what a scene. Will dreams of tying Hannibal to a tree and progressively garotting him with a rope pulled taut by the Ravenstag. One final tug on Will’s command and the Ravenstag separates Hannibal’s head from his body with a “fan of blood” (Final Shooting Script, 2). Talk about a flair for the dramatic.

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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.” 

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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?

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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:

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Shark Bait

In “Takiawase,” Will Graham brokers a deal with Dr. Frederick Chilton. A quid pro quo. Will agrees to let Chilton test* him. “You will be the first and last word in the mind of Will Graham,” Will lures. “God, you could dine out on that for years.” In exchange, Chilton promises not to discuss Will or his therapy with Dr. Hannibal Lecter. “Tell him that you’ve decided I am no longer any of his business,” Will instructs. “I am now under your exclusive care.”

We do not see Chilton assent to this arrangement, but we assume he does, given we next find Will undergoing a narcoanalytic interview. Chilton, however, immediately breaks his end of the bargain. He simply cannot resist gloating, not only divulging details about Will’s latest treatment but also implicitly accusing Hannibal of medical malpractice. “What Will Graham suffers from may not be a single condition, but a continuum of illnesses, all with different neurological mechanisms,” Chilton informs Hannibal. “Some naturally occurring; others appear to be induced.” Chilton soon makes the implicit explicit. “I have been thinking about the possibility that you may have been psychic driving Will Graham all along,” he says. “You are not the only psychiatrist accused of making a patient kill. We have to stick together.”


Into the Woodshed

“I didn’t kill anyone,” Will tells Hannibal in “Savoureux.” “Someone is making sure no one believes me.” By the end of the episode, Will is “almost certain” he knows who that someone is. Even before a recovered memory of Hannibal forcing Abigail’s severed ear down his throat removes any doubt, Will spends much of “Kaiseki” asserting his innocence—and Hannibal’s guilt—to anyone and everyone who comes to visit him at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Even Hannibal himself. “What you did to me is in my head and I will find it,” Will declares. “I’m going to remember, Dr. Lecter, and when I do, there will be a reckoning.” 

Crying “Hannibal,” however, proves an ineffective exoneration strategy. In the absence of evidence proving either Will’s innocence or Hannibals’ guilt, Jack and the rest of Team FBI are done listening to his allegations. “We investigated your claims about Dr. Lecter, Will. Thoroughly. We went over every fiber of every stitch of clothing. We took his DNA. We took his fingerprints. We found nothing,” Jack tells Will, exasperated. “I can’t hear this anymore.”  

So in “Sakisuke,” Will tries a new approach. Operation Damsel in Distress, we might call it. Before, Will professed clarity in who he is. Now, he is “the unreliable narrator of his own story.” Before, he was indignant and defiant. ”The light from friendship won’t reach us for a million years,” Will snaps at Hannibal in “Kaiseki.” Now, he characterizes himself as afraid and confused. Described in the script as appearing “wrung-out” and “haunted” (Final Shooting Script, 4), Will makes an emotional plea for help—from fucking Hannibal, of all people. 

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A Thousand Ghostly Fears

Will Graham confounds me. Sometimes I watch an episode and take in his behavior, and derive such a sense of clarity I could sing my certainty from the rooftops. Other times, I watch an episode and find myself totally befuddled by what Will’s thinking or what’s motivating his actions. I mean, I want to make it clear that I think the show intends for me to swim in this cove of confusion; I think Will spends most of the series swimming there himself. But since joining Twitter, I’ve come to ponder the riddle of Will Graham more than ever before. Let me explain.

Folks on Twitter, or at least our little corner of it, seem pretty clear on what makes Will Graham tick. They’ve got a multitude of scenes they can call on at the drop of the hat to explain their perspectives, pieces of evidentiary dialogue straight from Will’s mouth, so persuasive they’re almost gift wrapped for viewers trying to figure Will out. It’s interesting to see and a lot to take in, the enthusiasm behind so many people’s solid understanding of what Will wants, needs, and feels in the innermost nooks of his heart. Just as Will envies Peter Bernadone’s hate for his manipulative social worker, I envy these fan’s certainty of Will Graham. Because I, for one, have never shared in this certainty.

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Gives You Well

I have written before about Will’s “pregnant” choice of words. And this exchange from “Kaiseki” offered another loaded phrase to pore over: “I hear Hannibal’s voice in the well of my mind.” The “well of my mind.” 

As viewers, we are no strangers to Will’s consciousness. We access it regularly via his empath visions, dreams, and hallucinations. And, beginning with this episode, his memory palace. As a result, we—like Will—already conceive of his mind as a figurative place. It is no longer purely subjective or formless; it has shape. Outside of empath visions, Will typically envisions this space in the natural world. The script for “Aperitif” describes Will’s dreamscape as a “misty forest” (Final Shooting Script, 19), whereas in “Kaiseki,” his memory palace takes the form of a river flanked by “tall, mature pines” and a “snow-capped mountain range” (Final Shooting Script, 5). 

In this conversation with Alana, however, with just one word—”well”—Will (and, by extension, writers Bryan Fuller and Steve Lightfoot) not only gives shape to his consciousness but also depth and meaning. Wells are the means by which we retrieve Earth’s most essential natural resource: water. They are how communities form and survive. In short, wells are a life force. 

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