“Tome-wan” is a bit of a revelation, even as far as Hannibal episodes go. Something I’ve more or less just taken to be fact is that television is at its most successful when it fools the viewer into forgetting that he is watching television in the moment. Yet, “Tome-wan” impresses me because of how perfectly crafted and executed it is, and how it draws attention to itself because of that. Maybe this isn’t the case for other viewers, and I actually hope that’s true–that this is an episode that’s so engrossing that you forget where you are and what you’re doing. But I’m happy to champion it in admiration of how television-y the whole experience is from the perspective of someone who probably watches too much of it.
Structure is the first thing that jumps out in the episode. The first half of “Tome-wan” is vintage Hannibal to me; like the first season, it excels and revels in quieter moments. Most of the first twenty or so minutes consists of conversations between two people: Will and Bedelia, Jack and Bedelia, Will and Jack, Hannibal and Mason and, of course, more than one instance of Hannibal and Will. Director Michael Rymer uses plenty of close-ups and refrains from cutting too quickly between lines of dialog in order to draw out the tensions and subtexts in certain scenes. Most notable is the conversation between Hannibal and Will in which the latter explains how the doctor has taken everything important away from him: “You don’t want me to have anything in my life that’s not you.” In this sequence, we flit back and forth to shots of the two characters that are partially obscured by the back of the other’s head. Their faces occupy just a small portion of the screen, covered by what we’ve been asked to believe is their physical (and personal) complement. It’s a beauty to witness if just by how much it contrasts to these other conversation sequences in which there’s a more deliberate separation between characters (the table between Bedelia and Jack or the various furniture Mason puts between Hannibal and himself).
And like any work of fiction worth its weight in payoffs, the second half of the episode is build-up to a climax that pretty much redefines that word. It’s just kind of awe-inspiring how you can watch that first half and think you’re getting one version of Hannibal and then see a completely different version of the series in the third act–one that it also excels at, because why wouldn’t it? Rymer nails these scenes as well, most notably in Mason’s drug-induced state and in–there’s no way of putting this lightly–the face-cutting scene. The stylization of the drug scene took it even beyond the level of “Takiawase,” which also featured Darren Aronofsky-like directing (though, curiously, Rymer did not direct that one; David Semel did, which shows how well these directors work in helping to create a general visualization of Hannibal) when Chilton was trying more experimental forms of treatment. What is there to say beyond the obvious? The boar’s head: fantastic. Pitt’s performance: fantastic. The decision to drown out Hannibal’s dialog, because that wasn’t the point: fantastic.
Even more impressive was the second of the scenes mentioned, which begins with a slow walk up to Will’s doorstep, where Winston (clearly not a fan of human flesh) is waiting for him. I continue to be confused about how the ratings system works on network television, because so much of Hannibal really, really doesn’t seem like it should be allowed to air on NBC, even in a 10 o’clock slot on a Friday night. But here we are…watching Mason cut off pieces of his face…and even eating one of them (“I’m full of myself!”). The lighting in this is absolutely spectacular, taking a cue from the less-is-more approach to Randall’s man-bear rig. The little flashes we see of Mason’s teeth and strips of cheeks (and that part of his nose) are terribly effective because of obscurity. If Pitt has been channeling the Joker (and the more I’ve seen of it, the more I think it’s Mark Hamill’s Joker as much as it is Heath Ledger’s), then this is an unfortunately coincidental nod to Two-Face. Apart from how it’s shot, this is a fine creation on Fuller and his team’s part, since we don’t get to see this in real time in Harris’ novel. In a season that has certainly had its share of gruesome tableaux and vivid images, this has to stand as the most memorable.
“Tome-wan” is more than just cleverly plotted and shot, though. Another surface-level thing in its favor? The return of Gillian Anderson as Bedelia Du Maurier. In an episode that doesn’t feature Alana Bloom at all, threatening to focus almost entirely on male characters (Margot gets a great scene at the end of the episode, but she’s mostly a non-presence on-screen), Du Maurier’s conversations with Will and Jack are some of the most powerful through the brilliance of Anderson’s performance. One thing I don’t like about television a lot of the time is how the opening credits function, often removing the joy of surprise from seeing a character you don’t expect to see. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time Hannibal has pushed the “Special Guest Appearance” credit to the end of the episode, allowing the first scene we see Anderson in to have the effect it is probably intended to have. Her dialog doesn’t necessarily give us much more information than we already have about Hannibal and what he’s doing to Will, but she does shed some light on the events of her past, in which she was persuaded (not coerced; Hannibal doesn’t use coercion) to kill one of her patients, albeit partially out of self-defense. As she turns her gaze to the mirror that Jack is on the other side of, the weight of those events and the realization of what Hannibal had done to her wash across her face in something that is more complicated than guilt and regret. She feels so out-at-sea, and I wonder if she has much of a place in the series now that her contribution to the case has come to a head and she has admitted what she’s done. Of course, I’d love to see Anderson on this show for its whole run, just as I hope there is some way of incorporating the Verger siblings into the theoretical seasons three through five (the events of Hannibal, the novel, are meant to be this TV series’ sixth season, which is when Harris uses the characters in his narrative). But Fuller seems to have a good grasp on when to keep and cut loose people, so if she’s used as bait and ends up not making it out of the finale, I still think she’ll have served this season and this series incredibly well.
There are so many different, interesting ideas thrown around in “Tome-wan” that it’s almost intimidating to even begin addressing. The first major one, for me, is when Hannibal and Mason are talking about Margot. H: “Margot’s happiness is more important than her suffering.” M: “You say that as though the two are mutually exclusive.” H: “I believe they are.” There’s plenty that’s been written about tying suffering to happiness, but it’s interesting that Hannibal says he thinks they can’t co-exist. He’s been a character who has had the capacity to find beauty in nearly every situation, so I wonder why suffering is so specific that it has to exclude pleasure for him. Later, Hannibal speaks to Margot: “This won’t make you human, Margot, so much as give you the ability to make yourself human and move on.” I like that idea of being given the ability to make oneself human, and moving on clearly has a place this season in Hannibal, since characters have either had to move or or feign moving on to reach a goal. Hannibal hasn’t removed part of Will in the same way that Mason has done to Margot, but Hannibal’s removal–which is psychological–might be even more terrifying to behold. Loneliness also plays a role in the episode, as it is featured in more than one discussion. During a Will-Hannibal conversation: “You’re as alone as I am, and we’re alone without each other.” Shortly thereafter, Bedelia to Jack: “Nothing makes us more vulnerable than loneliness.” For my money, loneliness is the key experience that explains a lot of how humans interact with each other. The need to alleviate loneliness is almost as natural as the need to procreate, which is a process that doesn’t depend on the other person for emotional connection. Hannibal’s driving force behind doing what he’s done to Will might be explained by loneliness, but I would hesitate to call Will lonely at this point. He may be baiting himself to some degree, but he’s far from totally vulnerable and seems to be acting with the idea that all of the victims of Hannibal Lecter are there with him, urging him to catch the man and put him away for good.
– Like I said, too much to talk about here, so I’ll just start shotgunning it: “I have an understanding of your state of mind. You understand mine. We’re just alike. This gives you the capacity to deceive me and be deceived by me.”
– “I was curious what would happen.” Great echo of that line, which Hannibal has already used.
– “Mason is discourteous, and discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me.” And: “Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude.”
– The pig pen sounds a lot like the Velociraptor cage from Jurassic Park. The visual parallel to lowering food into each works well, too.
– Mason criticizes Hannibal’s sketches. Mason puts his shoes on Hannibal’s desk. Mason stabs Hannibal’s chair. Twice. Probably not great ideas, Mason. Probably not.
– “Don’t let empathy confuse what you want with what Lecter wants.” I especially like that Jack refers to Hannibal by his last name here to distance the familiarity he has with the man who considers Jack a friend.
– “Every moment of cogent thought under your psychiatric care is a personal victory.” Preach.
– W: “There’s no mercy. We make mercy–manufacture it in the parts that have overgrown our basic reptile brain.” H: “Then there is no murder. We make murder, too. It matters only to us.”
[Photo via NBC]