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Hannibal – Buffet Froid (Review)

Buffet Froid is the most strikingly horrific episode of Hannibal to date. Of course, the show is very much a horror story and enjoys its fair share of grotesque imagery. This is the series, after all, that gave us the makeshift angels, the do-it-yourself cello and the human totem poll. However, Buffet Froid plays most obviously on the imagery and iconography of horror. This is the episode where people have no faces and skin comes off at the slightest touch and the serial killer is waiting for you under your bed.

As you might imagine for a show with such complete control of its own atmosphere, Buffet Froid works very well indeed – providing what might be the most horrific episode of the show to date.

The doctor will see you now...

The doctor will see you now…

Then again, it makes sense. Georgia is a killer who considers herself to be the living dead. She sees herself as a creature out of a horror film. She sees others as creatures out of a horror film. Since Will’s main gimmick is empathy, it makes sense to see the world similar to how Georgia perceives it to be. That said, as interesting as Georgia’s world view might be, it can’t help but feel just a little bit problematic.

One of the shrewder decisions that the show made relatively early on was to push the procedural elements into the background, however this has meant that the serial killers on the show have become just a little more abstract and a little less well-defined. In Trou Normand, for example, we were expected to believe that Lance Henriksen could erect a human totem pole in the middle of Winter without catching pneumonia. Here, a woman dealing with mental illness and a pretty serious physical illness is able to stalk Will Graham across half the country.

A good cut...

A good cut…

Of course, this is the kind of thing you really have to go with to get the story to work. After all, I can’t imagine that Buffet Froid would work better with some expository scenes explaining how Georgia managed to track down Will despite the obvious physical and mental hurdles to her pursuit of the agent. I’m not a big fan of the procedural elements, but there’s a point where the serial killers cease to be human and become something far closer to horror movie monsters.

That said, I suppose it fits with the world of Hannibal Lecter. Lecter himself exists as something half-way between a conventional serial killer and something altogether more supernatural. His ability to manipulate others, to predict and guide their actions, often seems like more than just good psychiatry. His awareness and his strength occasionally seems unnatural, his slight of hand impossible and his awareness beyond human. Lecter might look and act like a person, but those who have seen the character in action can’t help but suspect there’s something more at work here.

She's under the bed!

She’s under the bed!

The show itself has alluded to it quite a bit, pointing out Lecter’s hyper-advanced senses. Smell is closely linked to taste, but it’s also associated with hunting and other predatory behaviour. Lecter’s heightened nasal ability is mentioned here, with the psychiatrist literally able to smell the “fevered sweetness” of Will’s weakness. His old colleague, Dr. Sutcliffe, even points out how absurd that must seem. “So your sense of smell has gone from calling out a nurse’s perfume to diagnosing auto-immune disease?”

You could make an argument that these latest episodes really seem to be just extrapolating outwards from that – a sense that we’re operating more under the rules associated with horror films than the more rigidly-defined police procedurals. So far, Lecter’s manipulations and schemes have all seemed relatively small compared to the conduct of the show’s serial killers. His lies to Jack Crawford in the wake of Tobias’ attack on his office in Fromage, or even his phone call to Garrett Jacob Hobbs in Aperitif all seemed like small fry compared to the type of manipulations the character capable of.

Doesn't scan...

Doesn’t scan…

Buffet Froid invites us to see one of Hannibal’s gambits in action. The show seems to be slowly building the complexity of his schemes and machinations. I like that the show doesn’t treat the characters around Hannibal as simple objects trapped inside his elaborate life-size Rube Goldberg machine. It’s easy to make a character look smart if you cast his opponents as idiots. While nobody really suspects Hannibal at this point, Abigail Hobbs is beginning to get a sense of what he is and Jack Crawford seems to have some lingering doubts over the incident in Hannibal’s office.

Here, Hannibal’s gambit isn’t extraordinarily complex, but it does rely on the character’s skill at manipulation. He convinces Sutcliffe to cover up Will’s illness temporarily in order to allow them to study it. It appeals to Sutcliffe’s ego and vanity, and his character is established quickly enough that it doesn’t seem too convenient that Lecter could sway him so easily. After that, the brutal murder of Sutcliffe seems like the next logical step.

Blood work...

Blood work…

Indeed, the arrival of Georgia at Sutcliffe’s office doesn’t feel too contrived. Even if the authorities didn’t accept Sutcliffe as a victim of Georgie, perhaps if she hadn’t been nearby to provide evidence, Hannibal had a fairly convenient scapegoat handy nearby, receiving a brain scan. The show has done an excellent job building Will Graham’s illness and difficulties up over the past eight episodes. It feels like a very logical and organic development.Will’s illness is also an example of Fuller cleverly playing with the mythos surrounding Thomas Harris’ work. There have been constant references to the films and the books featuring Hannibal Lecter seeded throughout these episodes, often unobtrusive and well-constructed, fitting into the narrative rather than distracting from it. Here, for example, Will’s manner of talking himself through the crime scene recalls the way that Ed Norton and William Peterson did when they had the role. When Will grabs Georgia, her skin comes right off, “like she was wearing a glove.” A glove made of flesh, evoking Buffalo Bill’s “person suit.”

That's going to be murder to clean...

That’s going to be murder to clean…

Will’s encephalitis is a reference to the real-life affliction of John Douglas, the profiler who inspired Thomas Harris’ Will Graham, as Bryan Fuller concedes:

Well, it was something that John Douglas, the criminal profiler that Thomas Harris based the character of Will Graham on, I was reading about him, and he suffered from encephalitis. I believe they were investigating a case—it may have been the Green River Killer, I’m not exactly sure—but he was in Seattle, I think, with a few other investigators, and they had all met for breakfast, and he didn’t show up. They went to his room looking for him and they found him catatonic, on all fours, staring in the middle distance, surrounded by all of the crime scene photos, and the other investigators were like, “Oh my God. It finally happened. He snapped. He was just saturated with the evils that men do and went away in his brain.” They got him to the hospital, and one by one, all of his organs were shutting down. They were hooking him up on machines, and they couldn’t figure out what he was suffering from or what was wrong with him, until they finally diagnosed encephalitis and figured out what was wrong and were able to treat it.

Hannibal has been quite willing to play with its predecessors and inspirations, and this just feels like a logical extension of that, a way of connecting Hugh Dancy’s version of Will Graham directly back to his source.

Ticking over...

Ticking over…

Of course, Will fears that he is becoming unhinged, unanchored.  All those fears that the team felt for John Douglas play through here, as the people around Will begin to worry that he has simply swallowed up too much of the evil of the world around him. Once again, Hannibal works so well because it never quite forgets about the characters who exist around Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, and what this means for them. The show has struggled to figure out how Alana Bloom fits into the scheme of things, but she finds her place in these last few episodes as the only person who seems to have Will’s best interests at heart.

Similarly, Jack Crawford remains true to himself. There’s a sense that he’s not just lying to and manipulating Will to his own ends, he’s trying to construct a version of reality which helps him rest easy. Jack feels that Will does good work in the field, so it’s in his interest to keep Will out there. However, he finds a way to dismiss all the warning signs about how this is damaging Will’s psyche. It seems like he’s more interested in convincing himself than in convincing Will – more hopefully of finding a way to make this potential loss of another promising agent not his fault.

Wet work...

Wet work…

“You reconstruct the thinking of the killer,” he assures Will. “You don’t think of yourself as the killer.” When Alan comes to him with concerns, he tries to dismiss them by suggesting that everything will be okay if Will is left to his one devices. “He will always fight his way back to himself.” It’s a way of releasing himself from any responsibility for Will’s problems. It’s on Will to find his own way back to where he belongs, because it suits Jack to think he can’t really do much to help.

At one point, Jack even tries to argue that the job is good for Will. “Let me tell you what I think,” he begins. “I think that the work you do here has a created a sense of stability for you. Stability is good for you, Will.” Jack’s very clearly trying to convince himself more than Will. “Stability requires a strong foundation,” Will replies. “My moorings are built on sand.” I quite like how even the show’s poetic dialogue and metaphors are drawn from Harris’ work, with Will’s “built on sand” comparison feeling like a reference to his boating life in Florida at that start of Red Dragon.

The doctor is out...

The doctor is out…

Buffet Froid underscores just how warped and damaged all the major players in the show are, effectively demonstrating how Hannibal‘s ensemble seems to be group therapy for murderers and killers. Now that Hannibal himself can admit to having taken a life, he can talk about it with Will. Their concern for Abigail Hobbs is built on her involvement in her father’s murders. Even Jack Crawford is haunted by the promising young recruit who lost her life because he encouraged her to work outside the system.

“We both know the unreality of taking a life,” Hannibal coaxes Will during their therapy sessions. “Of people who die when we have no other choice. We know in those moments that they are not flesh, but light and air and colour.” It’s a nice little line which really explains the difficulty that Hannibal has with empathy – and thus his fascination with Will’s “pure empathy.” Will’s response is also quite telling, “Isn’t that what it is to be alive?” Hannibal just doesn’t understand that.

Windows to the soul...

Windows to the soul…

I like how the show has been willing to explore and suggest Hannibal’s world view without being too on-the-nose about it, or without robbing the character of his mystery. Reducing a memorable pop culture villain to a convenient sob story is an easy way to neutralise any of their charm and intrigue. It’s hard to satisfy an audience’s curiosity about a mysterious character without either being frustratingly oblique or overly detailed.

Once again, Mads Mikkelsen demonstrates that he’s putting his own stamp on the title character. His style remains worlds apart from that of Anthony Hopkins, even if there are occasional reminders of the fact they are the same characters – lines that would fit either iteration of the character, but delivered in the inimitable Mikkelsen style. Discussing the fact that Georgia can’t remember anything of the brutal murders, including one she saw Hannibal commit, Will wonders, “How much do you think she’ll remember?” Lecter deadpans, “Well, I sincerely hope, for her sake, she doesn’t remember much.”

Face-to-what's-left-of-face...

Face-to-what’s-left-of-face…

Hannibal is reaching its stride at this point, even if the shift away from the procedural aspect is beginning to leave the killers-of-the-week a little underdeveloped. Still, Buffet Froid is Hannibal as out-and-out horror, embracing a genre that has been an essential ingredient in the season so far and pushing it to the foreground.

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