When confronted with the possibility of the death penalty, Will Graham doesn’t let up. He will plead innocence in his case, and he will not make a guilty plea bargain that would certainly keep him alive but in a perpetual state of second-guessing himself. If he has any shot at becoming the man he used to be – the man Jack Crawford used to see as a friend – he has to take it. Last week’s memory recall exercise was only the beginning – the first step. Now, awash with convincing clarity, he can begin the process of manipulating his manipulator. “I need your help,” Will tells Hannibal in broken speech. Is it enough to convince Dr. Lecter? Does it bypass Hannibal’s natural ability to sniff out deceit in a moment of pride? It’s Will’s only move at this point, and as we follow him back to his cell and see the shift from fragility to a face full of cold calculation, it looks like this first step is firmly planted. The only way to beat Hannibal is by first understanding him. And given that Will’s forte is stepping into the shoes of serial killers, he’s well on his way. Let the Hannibal games begin.
“Sakizuki,” like its predecessor, begins with a breathtakingly tense opening sequence. Not quite the technical masterpiece of “Kaiseki”‘s flash forward, this episode begins in gruesome fashion. After the surviving victim in the embalmer’s color palette rips himself free (how does this air on NBC?), there is a chase sequence through a small junk yard and a corn field, leading up to a cliff. In one of the corn field’s clearings, the serial killer gets a shot off with his rifle but widely misses his mark. Since we’ve spent so much time with Hannibal – always meticulous and uber-efficient – it’s almost an affront that this killer’s aim could be so off. Every detail like this matters, and this one is indicative of later in the episode when we see Hannibal incorporating the man into his own art piece. Though he may occupy the prime position at the center of the eye of bodies, Hannibal takes the man’s leg, emphasizing his imperfection. Hannibal, despite saying that he loves the man’s work, detests his carelessness. People like Hannibal feed off of competition, and this killer is only worth a meal’s worth. Indeed, if our survivor hadn’t clipped those jagged rocks on his way down to the river (in a horrific bit of sound effects), you have to wonder how the killer would be reacting. He’s careless enough to get himself into a situation in which he has to be chasing the guy at all. It’s a wonder that Hannibal shows so much feigned compassion to him as he’s injecting him and stroking his face through his plastic suit.
In that way, Hannibal is still somewhat of an enigma. I wouldn’t have put money on him going after Du Maurier, for example. But that’s exactly what he does. After being dropped as her patient and finishing up with the work on this murder case, he goes to Du Maurier’s place with the intent of murdering her. Her realizing that he’s dangerous creates a double-sided blind spot – one that he’s focused on eliminating. Luckily, for both the purposes of the story and the viewers who understandably enjoy seeing Gillian Anderson acting alongside Mads Mikkelsen, she makes it out of “Sakizuki” alive, leaving behind some of her perfume. Last week, I came away struck by the visual focus on kitchen-related scenery. “Sakizuki” highlights another aspect of Hannibal: his keen sense of smell. If it’s not the perfume, it’s the bottle of white wine he uses in his cooking or it’s the victim’s body as a catalyst for going to his mind scene (instead of settling on the term “mind palace,” borrowed from Sherlock, “mind scene” seems like a good substitute because of the internal rhyme with “crime scene”; that’s the excuse I’m going with, anyway). Hannibal still isn’t the the consultant savant that Will is (see, for example, how he stumbles around and bumps into Katz and co. in the episode’s most unusual visual detail), but he’s obviously not far off from being Will. Still, though, his completion of the killer’s work leaves enough residual clues that Will is almost immediately able to see Hannibal’s hand at work in the pictures Beverly brings to him.
It makes it hard for Will, who keeps seeing things that reinforce the notions he has about Hannibal. He, too, sees the “human suit” (unintentional Donnie Darko reference, there) that Du Maurier claims Hannibal wears. Yet, in order to play the game, Will has to say things like “I am the unreliable narrator of my own story.” He can’t even try to convince Alana for fear of showing any part of his hand. “You have an incomplete self,” she tells Will. “There are pieces of you you cannot see.” Later, Hannibal reiterates Alana’s theory: “You’re missing pieces of yourself. Careful what you replace them with.” There are people in “Sakizuki” who are missing pieces, literally and figuratively. Will isn’t one of them. Not anymore, at least (he’s replaced them with subjective truths that fuel his sanity). Looking at these exchanges of dialog and Will’s situation in general, it’s strange to notice how frustration can be such a powerful amplifier of sympathy. You’re used to seeing television shows put their characters into unfortunate situations to get you on their sides. But in Will’s case, the facts that he knows he’s right, we know he’s right and everyone else thinks he’s wrong create this grating effect that both makes it easy to root for will and outlines everyone else in a rather bitter shade of color. Does Beverly really need to hand Will files beyond an arm’s-length distance? She’s quick to enlist his help, but she’s reluctant to hit the reset button on the evidence in his case. She won’t even give him some privacy to peruse case files. So, while Hannibal might be building up Will’s character, it’s simultaneously taking issue with everyone around him in ways that create the expectations that people are going to need to earn their ways back into Will’s good graces. It can’t be enough to admit fault and try to move on, right? Whenever Will gets exonerated and the real killer is brought to justice, Will needs to be firm in his stance of disappointment and anger. His life is definitively unfair at the moment. Even Jack, who seems to be the one most troubled by how he’s let down Will, deserves to suffer the karmic retaliation.
Until then, though, Hannibal has free roam. We get some interesting bits of dialog where he’s concerned, but it’s hard to say what’s delivered in earnest. What do we make of his musings on God and existentialism? Is it to appease the killer’s views in the moments before his death – a token gesture of appreciation for the man’s artwork? “When it comes to nature versus nurture, I choose neither,” Hannibal says. “We are built from a DNA blueprint and born into a world of scenario and circumstance we don’t control.” How many times have we seen Hannibal try to control circumstance, though? Sometimes it seems like the only thing he does. He’s a genius when it comes to crafting scenarios for other people to see, hiding carefully the hinges and brushstrokes. The nature versus nurture comment makes sense, however. At times, Hannibal appears to do things reflexively. It’s not as if he was brought up to embody the evil he is or that it’s in his genes. It’s more likely that evil, as a state of being, is something Hannibal encountered at some point and adopted for his use. Like the people he meets, it’s something to manipulate to suit his needs. It exists outside him. It might always hover close by, but if evil were part of Hannibal’s nature, he wouldn’t be able to express or feel any kind of empathy. And the reason for Hannibal to exist is to show what happens in the one relationship in the world that could possibly make Hannibal empathize with someone. Natural evil – pure evil – is boring, anyway. There’s no question of intent. There’s no obstacle in understanding the thing for what it is. Hannibal, as stated, is still a mystery in many regards.
So is each of the other characters in this series. Du Maurier tells Will that “the traumatized are unpredictable, because [they] know [they] can survive.” We saw the perfect example of that last year with Abigail Hobbs, but most of the central characters – Will, Jack and Alana, certainly – are traumatized to the point of unpredictability. It is that impulsiveness that lets Jack unintentionally leave Will out to dry. It is that impulsiveness that gets the better of Alana, who lets her desires for Will guide her physically. It is what Hannibal does better than any other series out there – track that trauma in realistic and haunting ways. It is never glossed over. It is sometimes the stuff of nightmares. It is always a reason for viewers to keep coming back.
[Photo via Brooke Palmer/NBC]