Saturday, July 25, 2015

REVIEW: 'Hannibal' - The Story Moves Forward Three Years as a New Serial Killer Debuts in 'The Great Red Dragon'

NBC's Hannibal - Episode 3.08 "The Great Red Dragon"

Hannibal has been under lock and key for three years at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, when a new villain arises in Francis Dolarhyde, also known as "The Tooth Fairy." As the investigation unfolds Jack approaches Will to help catch this vicious serial killer who is targeting families.

After three seasons, the hunt for Dr. Hannibal Lector is over. But now, the hunt for Francis Dolarhyde begins. It's an investigation that is bound to bring all the important players of the series so far together again. All of the main characters have settled into new lives after Hannibal's capture. After Hannibal surrounded, the show jumps ahead three years. Jack is once again an agent in charge at the FBI. Alana has taken over control of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Dr. Chilton has published his book about Hannibal the Cannibal. Hannibal has successfully avoided the death penalty by winning an insanity case because most psychiatrists just want to label him and be done with it. And most importantly, Will has completely left his work of serial killer profiling in order to have a makeshift family with a wife and a son. All of the characters receive a significant amount of change. The substantial time jump means such changes can occur. But the story has to pick up again quickly. So the audience doesn't really get a glimpse into what these characters' lives were like before the craziness of the world starts effecting them again.

The transitional hour opens on Francis Dolarhyde and not any of the familiar characters. He is going to be the show's new big serial killer for the remainder of the third season. He has significant importance in the books by Thomas Harris. He is the person who uproots the "perfect" lives the characters have been living in a post-Hannibal world. Richard Armitage gives a very physical performance in his first episode of the show. The character doesn't speak at all in this hour. That means his actions and the way the camera films him have to show the audience what kind of a person he is. The opening sequence is very effective and very chilling. Through the use of the score, Armitage and the creative team are able to make the twitching of a body part frightening and alarming. There's a strong physically to this character. He is incredibly fit but also very demanding of his body. He contorts and puts pressure on himself. But it also comes across as a way of control. Francis has a meaningful change once he gravitates onto the idea of "The Great Red Dragon." He is essentially molding himself off of this mythical creature. He becomes obsessed with it in a way that completely absorbs his life and turns him into the killer that Will, Jack, Chilton and Hannibal are so fascinated by.

The most interesting part about the introduction of Francis Dolarhyde though is how he effects Will's mindset in a time where he truly is at peace. The audience never gets to see a happy and smiling Will. He doesn't pop up in the episode until it is almost halfway through. That re-introduction only comes because Jack is visiting him at his new house. A place where he has built a new and better life but one that is just as easy to corrupt by the old world through Jack and Hannibal.

However, it also offers up the strongest depiction of Will as a character this season. The show is frequently at its best when Will has a clear character through-line. The stuff in Europe earlier this season was a bit murky in that regard and slightly less effective than the show usually is when it goes into that avant garde, dream mode. But now, the narrative is embracing the investigative side of its identity once more. Agents Price and Zeller make their first appearances of the season. But more importantly, so does the swinging pendulum that gets Will into the mindset of the serial killer he's tracking. I didn't realize how much I had missed that device until it occurred here. It has always been a fantastic physical representation of the change Will is undergoing in the moment. But here, it actually has a much more significant weight to it. This is something that Will hasn't done in a long time. Both because of his own choosing as well as his earlier devotion to tracking Hannibal.

It also takes much longer for Will to actually get into that state of mind. He shows reluctance when Jack first approaches him for this investigation. "The Tooth Fairy" - as Dolarhyde is becoming known as - is a case that has intrigued him. But it's also a case that connects him to the monsters of his past. He doesn't want to become that morally corruptible person again. He has found happiness. Molly telling him he needs to do good was enough to get him to go. They both are aware that he won't return as the same person. And the episode allows that thought to linger for a moment before he leaves. When he arrives at the crime scene, Will actually has to walk through the home and see the monstrosity that took place before he puts his serial killer cap on. He notices all of the details of what happened as well as reads the file about the details that aren't apparent to the regular eye. He then closes his eyes and escapes to the evilness of his mind once more.

It's a significant moment for the character. He is back helping the FBI with a case just like he was when Jack first recruited him in the pilot. But now, he has so much more experience over what this approach can do to himself. He nearly lost himself when it came to tracking Hannibal. He had to make the conscious decision to severe that tie before it completely dominated his life. Even though he has successfully spent all of these years away from Hannibal, he still knows that the two will have to speak once more. This case is so demented and twisted that Hannibal's counsel may be something that Will needs. It's a narrative decision that propels the final act of the story.

Hopefully, it will make things more interesting at the institution in the future than they were in this one. Alana and Chilton are great but their interactions with Hannibal weren't all that special. Why did it take Alana so long to tell Hannibal that the wine was how she was able to track him in Italy? Or was this just the first opportunity she has taken to see him now that he is officially a member of her institution? Hannibal's dream palace continue to make compelling moments for him. Just because he is trapped in one room doesn't mean he can't escape to the glories of the outside world every now and again. In fact, whenever he meets with a character he envisions them in some completely different location. That helps the audience get into the mindset of where Hannibal is right now. But it doesn't explain why Hannibal is as fixated on the Francis Dolarhyde case as every else. Chilton may be right in saying that Hannibal is no longer the chief focus of the serial killer community. But is that enough to explain the importance of this story to Hannibal? We'll just have to wait and see what his end goal is with Will and Francis.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Great Red Dragon" was written by Nick Antosca, Steve Lightfoot & Bryan Fuller and directed by Neil Marshall.
  • Hannibal may be able to bond with Francis Dolarhyde more than anyone else because he knows that he doesn't like the name, "The Tooth Fairy." But Francis also appears to be a big fan of Hannibal as well - placing his newspaper articles next to Hannibal's in his scrapbook of serial killing.
  • Hannibal isn't willing to let Alana forget anytime soon that he took the fall for killing Mason Verger even though she (and Margot) actually did.
  • That was probably the most artful delivery of Will saying "This is my design" the show has ever done. It was just a perfect way to end that entire sequence. The imagery alone was some of the hour's most successfully provocative.
  • Agents Price and Zeller have never been a whole lot more than amusing background characters. And yet, their presence helped bring back the focus of the narrative investigation. Plus, their brand of humor is always nice in a show that is incredibly dark.