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Hannibal – Roti (Review)

Roti is the point where Hannibal really starts to gear up for its finalé. The decision to thematically name each of the first season’s episodes after a part of a meal seems oddly appropriate, as the whole season can be seen as a banquet, each of the courses painstakingly prepared to ensure a rich bouquet of flavour and a pleasing array of tastes. Each course is individual, and yet it remains part of the whole. It’s all one gigantic and enjoyable experience, just broken down into sweet digestible chunks. Each serves a clear purpose, like a chapter in a book, or a course in a meal.

Roti features the return of Abel Gideon, the show’s obvious homage to Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Doctor Hannibal Lecter. It also positions Will precisely where he needs to be for the first season’s rapidly-approaching climax.

A piece of the action...

A piece of the action…

Gideon really is like a gigantic shout-out to the screen persona crafted by Anthony Hopkins, isn’t he? I mean, Entrée was hardly subtle about it, what with his cell in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, his introduction attacking a nurse and the sheer Britishness of Eddie Izzard. However, Roti layers it on just a little bit heavier. Gideon is introduced playing mind-games with both Chilton and his staff, and manages to escape from custody with almost supernatural ease.

Throughout the episode, Gideon is presented as a camp and theatrical serial killer, fond of tying up helpless victims so that he may savour incredibly cultured means of torture and violence. Doctor Carruthers is tied up so that Gideon can introduce him to the art of the “Columbian neck tie”, while he also finds time to poke around in Doctor Chilton – much like Chilton poked around inside his own head. He savours his violence in outlandish and over-stated ways.

Blood work...

Blood work…

Indeed, even his pursuit of Doctor Chilton as the man who tormented in captivity feels like a clear acknowledgement of the big screen version of Hannibal Lecter. In Harris’ novels, Lecter was content to leave Chilton living in constant fear. It’s only in the film versions of The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal that we get a sense that Lecter has helped himself to a slice of his former caretaker. (“I’m having an old friend for dinner,” Lecter boasts at the end of The Silence of the Lambs.)

The obvious “morals” of Gideon’s murders, coupled with the psychopath’s attempts to savour the suffering of his victims and his campy sense of humour (“please deliver to the Red Cross,” he requests of one victim’s blood), can’t help but call to mind Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter in Hannibal, where he ties up both Pazzi and Krendler in order to serve them their just deserts – in a theatrical and brutal manner. Indeed, Roti pust Eddie Izzard’s pseudo-Hopkins in the same room as Mads Mikkelsen’s Doctor Lecter, allowing the audience to get a clearer sense of contrast between what Lecter has been (Izzard) and what he is now (Mikkelsen).

There's a new Hannibal in town...

There’s a new Hannibal in town…

As such, it’s no surprise that Roti features the death of Abel Gideon, allowing the show to finally put to rest to spectre of Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins’ portrayal was iconic and influential – his take on Hannibal remains one of the most memorable villains ever committed to celluloid. At the same time, Hannibal needs to be its own thing, to have its own unique identity. Bryan Fuller has been toying with this idea all along, including hints that this version of the Hannibal Lecter story will be “the same… but different.”

Gender-swapping Freddie Lounds was one rather obvious example of Fuller distinguishing his work from the course material. Introducing a very Lecter-esque villain and killing him before the last two episodes of the season is another example. Interestingly, Roti stops just short of killing off Frederick Chilton – which would arguably have been one of the most obvious ways to divorce the show from its source material. Killing off one of Lecter’s foils before he even has a chance to know Lecter as a patient would be a gutsy move. (It still might be.)

Looks like he needs a doctor... just, er, none of the ones on this show...

Looks like he needs a doctor… just, er, none of the ones on this show…

Roti teases the possibility, with Gideon taking out quite a few of Chilton’s internal organs. It’s notable that – compared to some of the more grotesque and artful murders on the show – Gideon is rather bland. He simply disembowels Chilton. He murders Doctor Carruthers in the style used by drug enforcers. There’s no real art here. It’s just a generic slasher – arguably a criticism of the eventual path of the later Hannibal movies, most notably the dire Hopkins-less cash-in Hannibal Rising.

Any way, we’re informed that Chilton is close to death, but he seems to hang on in there, against all odds. Apparently the show will only bend the story so far, and will only make so many changes to the core narrative. (Of course, Raul Esparza has been confirmed as a series regular for Law & Order: SVU next year, so make of that what you will.) One of the fascinating parts of this first season has been watching Fuller define the relationship between his show and the various other iterations of the Hannibal Lecter mythos.

Tied up nicely...

Tied up nicely…

The fact that Fuller’s willing to signpost several plots ahead of time – teasing the inclusion of Mason Verger or Francis Dollarhyde, for example – suggests that he recognises the appeal of a familiar plot structure. He doesn’t necessarily want to reinvent the world from the ground up in an “anything can happen” kind of way. It is – to pick wilfully absurd examples – unlikely that aliens or zombies or government conspiracies will appear, or that the show will veer too radically from the outlines established by previous entries. At the same time, Fuller has found wonderful room to manoeuvre within the space that he has.

Part of doing that involves killing off Abel Gideon. Roti has Mad Mikkelsens’ Lecter play against this out-dated version of Hannibal Lecter. Gideon is an insult to Mikkelsen’s Hannibal, a potential threat to his identity. Both claim to be the same man. In a show so fascinated with the idea of identity – perhaps reflected in the show’s desire to set its own – the fight for a particular identity will inevitably become vicious. Lecter and Gideon cannot exist within the same story, as much as Gideon might want to be Lecter.

Seizing the moment...

Seizing the moment…

And so the episode plays the two off one another. And, unsurprisingly, Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter wins. More than that, though, he wins without breaking a sweat. He’s able to effortlessly manipulate events from the sidelines to get pretty much his ideal outcome. Gideon, the man who tried to steal his identity, is dead. Will Graham is very clearly coming close to the edge. One of the things I have really appreciates about Hannibal has been the skill with which Lecter has been able to manipulate those around him, but without making the supporting cast look stupid for trusting him.

Once again, we get a bit of insight into how Hannibal operates. Discussing the Gideon situation with Chilton, he offers his own advice on skilfully manipulating another individual. “Once a patient is exposed to the means of manipulation, it becomes a lot less effective,” he explains. “The subject mustn’t be aware of any influence.” Hannibal really is running rings around Chilton, even when they aren’t in direct competition.

Upping the ant(l)e(r)...

Upping the ant(l)e(r)…

Once again, we get a sense of the contempt which Lecter has for other people. “I have no interest in understanding sheep, only eating them,” he remarks. When Will starts having a mild seizure in the dining room, Gideon seems a bit shocked about how blasé Lecter is about the whole thing. “That doesn’t seem to bother you,” Gideon remarks. “I said it was mild,” Lecter repeats. Indeed, even Gideon gets to articulate the weird sense of god-like-ness that psychopaths tend to feel, looking down on mere mortals as nothing but clutter. Playing into the season’s theme of “raw materials”, Gideon jokes about patients being nothing but “a lump of meat that [he’s] about to reorganise.”

The production design on Roti is quite stunning. It’s directed by Guillermo Navaro, who seems to be the show’s strongest director when it comes to sheer visual style. He is the director who gave us the man-made angels in Coquilles and the human totem pole in Tout Normande, some of the most striking imagery of the season. While Gideon’s crimes feel rather generic (and undoubtedly they’re meant to), Roti is just dripping in style, as Will sinks deeper and deeper into his illness.

Snowed under...

Snowed under…

In particular, the hallucinogenic scenes are quite eerily beautiful, whether it’s the briefing room filled with macabre hunting trophies or Will’s late-night nightmare including a melting clock and a literal water bed. There’s something almost haunting about the imagery, something surreal and grotesque, suggesting that the real horrors are those locked up inside Will’s own mind.

Roti feels like good housekeeping. It’s the show straightening out all of its loose ends before heading into the final two episodes of what has been a pretty tremendous season. It’s an attempt to finally put some distance between itself and its predecessors, vanquishing the last lingering spectre of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter before Mads Mikkelsens’ take can have its moment in the sun.

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