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Hannibal – Relevés (Review)

For a show about a serial killer and the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit, Hannibal is often surprisingly deep. That’s not much of a surprise, given the quality of the staff working on it, but the show is absolutely stunning meditation on identity and personality. In a way, that’s one of the smartest things about Fuller’s first thirteen episode season, building on the foundations set by Thomas Harris to construct something that fits quite elegantly while remaining its own distinct entity.

Relevés is the penultimate episode of the first season, and the point where – having used Roti to clear away some of the clutter – the show starts tying up a lot of those loose ends. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about the episode is the amount of suspense that Bryan Fuller and his staff can wring from the set-up – despite the fact that we know how this story ends, Hannibal manages to engage us so completely in the telling that what we already know seems almost irrelevant.

Things are heating up...

Things are heating up…

Identity ties all of this together. In a way, it makes perfect sense. After all, Will has a gift of “pure empathy”, the ability to wade into another person’s psyche and see the world from their perspective. Of course, there’s an inherent danger in Will’s adventuring. Jack asks Hannibal, “This dissociative personality state you said he goes into? Whose personality is it?” Hannibal helpfully answers, “He said he got so close to Garrett Jacob Hobbs and what he had done that he felt he was becoming him.”

While Hannibal’s answer is obviously self-serving, in that he’s framing Will for his own crimes, there’s also a hint of truth to it. Will has been feeling uncertain about who is, and has been afraid of losing either his grip or his footing as he ventures into the mouth of madness. Jack has repeatedly insisted that Will has the ability to find his way home. How much of that is based on honest assessment and how much is down to self-delusion is up to the viewer.

On the record...

On the record…

However, it’s clear that Will needs something to help bring him back from these trips into the void. He needs a rope he can follow, a light he can reach towards. That’s why Will’s lost time is so upsetting and confusing. It interrupts the continuity of his identity. It creates a gap in his train of thought. Memory is, of course, distinct from history. Memory is something internal, a thread woven into the fabric of self, even more powerful than external events that can be pushed away into the distance.

Georgia and Will consider this distinction in the prologue, as Georgia struggles with her amnesia. “I don’t want to remember,” she tells Will. “You know what did, Georgia,” Will reminds her. “But I don’t want to remember it,” she replies. Knowing and remembering are different things. Knowing is somehow more remote. Georgia knows the crimes she committed, but it’s too much to deal with remembering them – because then they cease to be external events. Instead, they become part of her own self-identity.

Hold on in there...

Hold on in there…

Will’s gaps in memory create a break in the chain, an absence that has to be filled by drawing on something other than his own internal account of events. He has to piece together the events by intuiting and guessing. Since Will’s head is a very dark place, he fills those gaps with very dark thoughts. Which is – largely thanks to Hugh Dancy’s superb performance – one of the more wonderfully evil parts of Lecter’s scheme to frame Will. Really, there isn’t too much work involved on Lecter’s part. All he has to do is just encourage Will to fill the increasing gaps in his memories with dark thoughts and run with that.

After all, at the heart of Hannibal is the tried-and-true suggestion that perhaps there’s very little difference between those who are monsters and those who fight monsters. What makes Hannibal so fascinating is the skill of the execution. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen are completely invaluable to the show, providing two of the strongest lead performances on American television. This is particularly notable because both actors inherited the roles from multiple performers, and are putting their own unique twist on each.

Identity crisis...

Identity crisis…

One of the strengths of this first season has been the fact that Fuller hasn’t been too coy about all these twists and turns. Aware of how much we know this mythos, Fuller is smart enough to lay quite a few of his cards on the table up-front. He makes it clear to the audience that Will is not actually going crazy, even if Will himself has his doubts. We got to see Hannibal murder Sutcliffe, for example, just as we see him kill Abigail Hobbes here. Fuller knows that the audience won’t buy any of this suspense or ambiguity, so he doesn’t even try.

There are a very fiendishly clever twists along the way – what Hannibal has been doing with the fish hooks, for example – but it’s mostly a question of how, rather than who. Which is a very smart move when your show’s main selling point is a prequel to a larger story about a cannibal named Hannibal. It’s just astonishingly well-constructed television, on a purely mechanical level. I’ll admit to having my doubts about the first few episodes, but Bryan Fuller has turned Hannibal into one of the best shows on television.

Where there's a Will...

Where there’s a Will…

That said, despite his lack of ambiguity over the whole “is Will Graham a killer plot?”, there is something quite wonderful about the way that Fuller ties Graham’s darker impulses into his fishing. In the novels, and in the show, Will’s dreams of Florida are his most sacred and personal places. Throughout the season, he’s made constant allusions to it as some sort of ideal. So Abigail scores some massive points when she finds a way to corrupt even that. “Do you ever hunt?” she asks Will. “I fish,” he replies. She counters, “It’s the same thing, isn’t it?”

And, despite the fact it’s completely candid about Will’s guilt, the show has its fair share of compelling mysteries – but they are mysteries that tend to extend from character rather than events. We’re still wondering about Hannibal’s relationship with Doctor Du Maurier. Once again, Fuller cleverly plays on his audience’s familiarity with the source material to save awkward exposition. Recounting the details of the attack that drove her to retire, she explains how her attacker met his own end. “He swallowed his tongue while he was attacking me.”

Now I see how DuMaurier keeps her composure.

Now I see how DuMaurier keeps her composure.

Given that we know Hannibal is well capable of doing such a thing, it’s a very clever way of foreshadowing and hinting at his involvement in the attack, without confirming anything one way or another, or without relying on stilted dialogue. Hannibal is a show packed with intriguing character relationships and dynamics, one that counts on its characters to reel the viewers in. After all, barring a pretty crazy left-turn, the show’s big moments are set years in advance. If Hannibal runs four years without putting Lecter in a cell in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, we’ll all be very disappointed. So the hook has to be more than the simple flow of plot points.

The show continues to an excellent job with Lecter himself. If you reveal too much of the character, and expose too much of his back story, you run the risk of reducing him to a simple screen slasher. However, Hannibal has been a bit shrewder in its explorations of Hannibal. Without resorting to the sort of Freudian origin story that Thomas Harris offered in Hannibal, the show has instead explored his motivations and his opinions.

The bad doctor...

The bad doctor…

Rather than suggesting that Lecter kills to help him cope with some childhood trauma, or as a result of learned behaviour, the show instead suggests that he’s something of an experimental individual. His violence and his brutality are all motivated by curiosity – a desire to wind people up and to watch what happens. In a way, you could argue that it’s a very practical form of psychiatry. Finally allowed to be completely candid with another character, he tries to justify his actions to Abigail Hobbs.

When challenged about his decision to murder Abigail’s friend, he explains, “I was curious what would happen. I was curious what would happen when I killed Melissa. I was curious what you would do.” All the dead bodies that seem to pile up are nothing but raw materials in his own vitally important scientific research. “I wanted to see how much like your father you were. Nicholas Boyle was more important for you gutting him. He changed you, Abigail. That’s more important than the life he clamoured after.”

The killer outside...

The killer outside…

There’s something very detached about this, and one gets a sense that there’s something very wrong with a world where Will’s empathy is a vice and Hannibal’s cool detachment is a virtue. Indeed, roles are so strictly regimented that Will apparently can’t be a friend to Abigail and an investigator at the same time. “You trying to be her friend impacts the case against her,” Jack insists, at a time when Abigail really needs somebody to listen to her. Hannibal’s relationship with DuMaurier is so rigidly structured that she has to clarify from which position she is speaking at a given moment. (“I’m stepping out of my role as your psychiatrist and speaking to you as a colleague.” But never friend.)

It lends an air of tragedy to the whole show, creating a sense that Will really is at a disadvantage here, and that something which really should be a gift – the ability to empathise with his fellow man – has become a curse that threatens to slowly swallow him up. The first season of Hannibal has been tremendous thus far, and the penultimate episode is no exception, developing and building on the themes suggested over the previous eleven episodes.

2 Responses

  1. It was really hard watching everything amass into an insurmountable amount of evidence against Will. Few shows had me on edge this year as Hannibal

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