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Hannibal – Fromage (Review)

With Fromage, Hannibal walks a bit of a fine line. One of the obvious conflicts in the first half of the season was between the procedural “serial killer of the week” elements and the more intriguing character-driven parts of the show. I think that, past the half-way point of the first season, the show begins to balance those two aspects much better. However, Fromage can’t help but feel a little bit contrived. It relies a rather convenient overlap between Hannibal’s world and Will Graham’s investigation.

Still, it works quite well as a continuation of the themes hinted at in Sorbet, and takes advantage of the fact that the show has completely embraced its lead character’s darker side. If Entrée and Sorbet pushed Hannibal from the periphery of the story into the spotlight, then Fromage allows him to actively drive the story. It’s the show’s first serial-killer-heavy story that is driven more by Hannibal than by Graham.

Work and play...

Work and play…

To be fair, Sorbet did feature a serial-killer-of-the-week, but he was consciously pushed to the background to allow the narrative to focus on Hannibal’s own personal issues. In Fromage, the episode’s murderer directly overlaps with Hannibal. Tobias’ attempts to capture Lecter’s attention feel just a little bit convoluted, relying on a lot on his ability to read people and to predict how they will react. It feels as if the entire episode is just manoeuvring us to a point where we can have “serial killer vs. serial killer!”

To be fair to Fuller, the use of Franklin as a means to connect the two makes a reasonable amount of sense. The fact that we have spent an episode getting to know Franklin makes the development seem a little bit less contrived than it might otherwise feel. Similarly, it makes Hannibal’s swift off-hand neck-snapping murder of Franklin all the more effective. As Sorbet demonstrated, it’s fine to watch Hannibal casually kill people we don’t know or care about, but somebody we do know is a completely different matter.

Centre stage...

Centre stage…

While Franklin is hardly the most well-developed or engaging of characters on the show, his pathetic hang-ups can’t help but engender some small sense of pity from the audience. It’s not a massive moment, but the fact that it is handled so casually underscores just how dangerous Lecter can be. Indeed, the fact that Lecter seems to have killed Franklin just to rob Tobias of the opportunity is icing on the proverbial cake. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s a clever way of reminding the audience that having Hannibal Lecter around is bad news for the rest of the cast.

Still, as contrived as the set-up is, Fromage hangs together quite well. Part of that is down to the fact that the episode seems aware of what it’s doing. The title translates as “cheese”, and so it’s fitting that this is the most action-heavy, more-than-a-little contrived and downright bromantic instalment of the first season. The narrative logic isn’t as tight as in other episodes, but to fixate on that is to miss the point. The entire episode seems to be an excuse for some bromantic bonding and an action fight sequence featuring Mads Mikkelsen.

For whom the bell tolls...

For whom the bell tolls…

And, broadly speaking, it works well enough that Fromage can be forgiven its contrivances. Apparently the subplot involving Franklin and Tobias was supposed be about Benjamin Raspail and Jame Gumb. However, rights issues prevented that, forcing creator Bryan Fuller to come up with something just a little bit difference. The strokes of Fromage are drawn so broad that it kind of works. The episode powers along on the strength of the themes and the direction and the cast, compensating for the fact that it is neither the most fluid nor the most sophisticated episode to date.

It continues the theme from Sorbet, with Hannibal desperately seeking friendship. Naturally, Tobias is also desperately seeking a companion who shares his mutual interests. In Tobias’ case, those interests include turning human bodies into musical instruments. Hannibal has some wonderfully grotesque imagery, but the sight of the member of the “Baltimore Metropolitan Orchestra” transformed into a make-shift cello stands out as one of the more striking visuals of the season. (Right up there with “giant totem pole of men” from Trou Normand.)

Stringing Will along...

Stringing Will along…

Again, the murder fits within the themes established by Thomas Harris. Death is presented as something of a transformation. Whether the body becomes food (as it does for Hannibal) or a costume (for Jame Gumb) or even a vessel for the killer’s own transformation (for Francis Dollarhyde), Fromage reinforces the idea of human bodies as nothing more than raw material for some sinister purpose. “This is my design,” Will repeats over the course of the season, and that’s really what Thomas Harris’ serial killers are. They are chefs or tailors or artists. They just lack the empathy to consider their fellow human beings as anything other than meat.

Empathy is necessary for just about any functioning relationship, and it lends some small sense of tragedy to Hannibal’s isolation. As his psychiatrist notes, he can’t trust other people – and that’s a necessary stumbling block to the connection he seems to so desperately seek. It seems that majority of Hannibal‘s serial killers are people who can’t see past their own wants and desires. In a way, they are the logical extension of the moral philosophy that de Maurier outlines to Hannibal.

Snow escape...

Snow escape…

“Every person has an intrinsic responsibility for their own life, Hannibal,” she assures him. “No one else can take on that responsibility. Not even you.” It’s easy to see how that sort of individualist philosophy can lead to the sort of warped behaviour we’ve seen on the show, where human bodies are collected and harvested for whatever purpose the killer has in mind. Hannibal might be “curious” about “the possibility of friendship”, but it’s really an academic question, despite the sense that his relief at Will’s survival might be genuine.

It also raises the possibility that Lecter’s fascination with Will Graham’s empathy is not merely idle curiosity. Does he secretly hope that Will’s super-empathy could help compensate for his own complete lack of empathy? Instead of meeting in the middle, like ordinary people, does Hannibal hope that eventually Will might be able to join him completely? Of course, it’s a complete fantasy, and one suspects that Hannibal is rational enough to realise that, but it does offer an explanation for Hannibal’s curiosity about Will’s gift, beyond simple scientific interest.

He's been quite patient with Franklin...

He’s been quite patient with Franklin…

Still, Fromage is probably most memorable because it allows Mads Mikkelsen to let Lecter out of his cage a bit. Mikkelsen has been incredibly restrained as Lecter, with the show consciously steering clear of the overstated performance quirks that the audience will associate with Anthony Hopkins’ take on the character. For the most part, Mikkelsen has been somewhat dour and dignified, occasionally brutal. We know that Hannibal has a coy and playful side – after all, he has spent the last two episodes playing with Jack Crawford’s sanity – but Mikkelsen hasn’t really had an opportunity to bring it to the fore.

Fromage affords Mikkelsen the opportunity to really cut lose in the role, and to give us a glimpse at a less refined and restrained version of Lecter. Part of this is because Lecter can be more honest with Tobias than the rest of the cast, but part of its also because the final part of the episode features a fairly kinetic fight sequence between Hannibal and Tobias inside the psychiatrist’s office. One of the more interesting facets of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter was the delicate balance that existed between the sophisticated exterior and the more animalistic urges that seemed to drive him. We catch a brief glimpse of that here in the confrontation with Tobias.

He's a bloody mess...

He’s a bloody mess…

Of course, Mikkelsen is not Anthony Hopkins. The show has spent a great deal of effort making that clear to the audience, to the point where they even hired Eddie Izzard to come in and do his own version of an Anthony Hopkins impersonation. The script allows Mikkelsen to be playful, but his delivery is a lot less camp than some of Hopkins’ performance choices. Instead, Mikkelsen seems rather wry and detached. “I didn’t poison you, Tobias,” he matter-of-factly states. “I wouldn’t do that to your food.” Hopkins would have cooed the lines teasingly, flashing a cheeky grin at the end. Mikkelsen’s delivery is deadpan.

Still, Fromage is very much about the show learning to have fun with the character of Hannibal Lecter. Perhaps most obviously in the decision to set the last few minutes of the episode to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, as played by Glenn Gould. Although Bach’s score might be one of the most respected musical compositions in the world, it is linked to Hannibal Lecter in the pop culture consciousness. Most obviously, it was the music used during Lecter’s escape in The Silence of the Lambs, the audience’s first real glimpse of the character’s brutality. As such, its use here feels strangely appropriate.

Hugh Dancy gets his "Jodie Foster at the climax of Silence of the Lambs" on...

Hugh Dancy gets his “Jodie Foster at the climax of Silence of the Lambs” on…

Fromage isn’t the strongest episode of the season, even if it is the most action-packed. It’s a nice demonstration of the fun you can have with the character of Hannibal Lecter, even if lacks some of the depth or nuance of the surrounding instalments.

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