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Hannibal – Trou Normand (Review)

Trou Normand has a rather beautiful twist, and one which caught me – and, I suspect, a significant portion of the audience – completely off-guard. It’s not overstated or overplayed, but it manages to pack one hell of a punch. It fits surprisingly well with everything we know about the show and the characters who inhabit it, while still serving as something of a game-changer. It doesn’t change the rules of Hannibal too much, but only because the show has been so dedicated to playing with audience assumptions.

In any other show, Abigail Hobbs would be the victim that Will Graham so desperately needs her to be. Jack Crawford’s cynical suspicions would prove to be as completely off-base as his absolute faith in Hannibal Lecter. It would provide a nice moral victory for Will, even if only the audience ever knew about it, and serve as foreshadowing to Jack’s only blindness. It’s a neat narrative hook, we’ve become so subconsciously familiar with the way that these sorts of narratives work that we have come to expect it.

However, Hannibal isn’t any other show, and it demonstrates it by pulling off a particularly shrewd (and nasty) character twist.

A monument...

A monument…

To be fair, Abigail Hobbs is still a victim here. She makes it clear that she was helping her father lure in his victims as a means of self-preservation. She subconsciously knew what Will suspected – these girls were surrogates for her. If Garrett Jacob Hobbs couldn’t satiate himself with them, he’d eventually turn on his own daughter. So Abigail doesn’t suddenly become a monster or a serial killer. However, the suggestion that she is a complete innocent in all this is rather smoothly and effectively washed away.

It’s a brave little twist, as it undermines a lot of what the audience takes for granted. Still, it fits surprisingly well with the themes of the show. Hannibal is a story that is very much about identity. Will’s empathy renders his own identity particularly vulnerable, but Hannibal also masks his own core identity with a well-crafted persona. Abel Gideon finds his own identity washed away in an attempt to find a convenient scapegoat for some heinous crimes. The examples keep mounting and mounting, particularly as the show builds towards its first season climax.

Things are getting dark...

Things are getting dark…

So it shouldn’t really be a surprise to find out that Abigail Hobbs is not who we thought she was. More to the point, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Abigail Hobbs is not who Will thought she was – or who Will wanted her to be. “You choose the version of the truth that suits you best, and you pursue it pathologically,” Will accuses Freddie Lounds, but it doesn’t seem too different from what Will does. He wants to believe that Abigail is innocent, so he refuses to consider any alternative.

It’s an important moment for Will, demonstrating that his gift isn’t entirely objective. It can be clouded and obscured and coloured by other factors. After all, Hannibal was able to hover around him for ages without being discovered. Will has been on shaky ground since the season started, but the show has been pushing him to unravel over the last couple of episodes. Discovering how deeply and completely he was mistaken about Abigail Hobbs is crucial moment, one which sets the stage for more forthcoming errors in judgement.

Body of evidence...

Body of evidence…

Rather tellingly, another mistake of identity is at the heart of the episode’s serial killer of the week. I’ve come to appreciate the less intrusive procedural plot lines, and I think that Hannibal is coming to balance these murder investigations better with the demands of character development. The serial killer of this week amounts to little more than a grotesque graphic, a thematic overlap and a wonderful cameo from Lance Henriksen. It doesn’t eat up any more space than it has to, but it also doesn’t feel completely superfluous.

Playing into the themes of the episode – about dysfunctional parent-child dynamics – we discover this week’s serial killer has made an error. “I’ve secured my legacy,” he boasts to Will and Jack as he described murdering the child of a former lover who ran off with another man. Then Will drops the bombshell. The killer accidentally murdered his own son, in a dramatic case of mistaken identity. In seeking to secure his legacy, he brutally undermined it. (It also serves as a nice piece of foreshadowing concerning Hannibal’s own paternalistic ambitions.)

The bodies are stacking up...

The bodies are stacking up…

The casting of Lance Henriksen, even for a single scene is another casting coup for a show that has managed to carve out a pretty fantastic ensemble and supporting cast. Gillian Anderson and Eddie Izzard are among the show’s recurring guest stars, and it’s amazing the calibre of performers that Fuller seems able to rope in for fairly small roles. Henriksen’s performance here is wonderful on several levels. On the most basic surface level, he’s just a fantastic actor. Given how short his appearance, he makes quite an impression.

He embodies the sort of “serial-killer-as-wannabe-god” vibe that Harris frequent channels into his work. When he’s found by Will and Jack, be boasts that it was only “because I let you.” When asked to provide a motivation for his crimes, he positions himself as an arbiter with absolute authority. “I killed Joel Summers, because he was never meant to be.” Again, his crimes are the ultimate expression of self-interest, with bodies serving as nothing more than “raw materials” for his design. “I had every reason to kill the others. They just had no reason to die. They never saw me coming, unless I wanted them to.”

His heart is Black...

His heart is Black…

The casting of Henriksen is also a wonderful touch because of his association with Millennium, the underrated Chris Carter television show. Henriksen was the lead character in the show, which served as one of the earliest (and most unique) serial killer procedurals. In many respects, Henriksen’s Frank Black served as a spiritual successor to the version of Will Graham seen in Red Dragon, a profiler with too much empathy. Things have come a full circle, and he can be seen as a forerunner of this iteration of the character. It’s a small touch, but the casting of Henriksen is inspired.

Trou Normand continues its exploration of Hannibal’s troubled interpersonal relationships. Building on his own sense of isolation and his lack of true friends, he confesses that he has thought about having a child. Fittingly, Hannibal seems to construct his own dysfunctional family filled with broken individuals. As warped and manipulative as his relationship with Will might be, it’s hard not to feel that at least some of Lecter’s affection for the agent is genuine. Mikkelsen keeps Lecter hard-to-read and almost inscrutable, but there are hints of genuine concern in his appeal to Will’s health. “I’m your friend, Will. I don’t care about the lives you save. I care about your life.”

Sensing a cover-up...

Sensing a cover-up…

Hannibal seems to have a weird family unit planned for the three of them. He and Will will serve as fathers to young Abigail Hobbs. Trying to bind them together through lies and secrets, Hannibal pleads to Will, “We are her fathers now. We have to serve her better than Garrett Jacob Hobbs.” The desire to leave a legacy is a strong biological imperative, and it seems that even Lecter must respond to it in his own deeply disturbed manner.

In the early episodes, it seemed like Lecter was treating Abigail as a stand-in for the lost little sister from Thomas Harris’ novels, but now he seems to be treating her more as a surrogate daughter. Then again, Harris seemed to relish exploring Lecter’s skewed and warped familial stand-ins, with the controversial last few chapters of Hannibal turning Clarice Starling into both a stand-in for Lecter’s younger sister and his lover. Who is to say that – to Hannibal’s warped mind – Abigail can’t be both younger sister and daughter figure?

It all comes crashing down...

It all comes crashing down…

(Incidentally, in a nice touch, Hannibal “christens” his new surrogate family with a dinner at his place. Although he’s served food to Will before, way back in Aperitif, this is the first time since we’ve seen him start killing. Incidentally, there’s a nice little moment where it looks like Abigail is realising what she’s eating. After all, her father served human meat, and so she knows what she’s eating. Kacey Rohl is, like the est of the cast, absolutely superb.)

Trou Normand sees the show preparing to enter its end game, sweeping into the last third of the season. (If you prefer to think of the season of the show as a movie, with Fuller teasing an entire season based around Red Dragon, then I guess we’re entering the all-important third act.) Things are not as they appear. People are not who they claim to be. Given that Will relies on others to define his identity, that does not bode well for our central profiler.

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