Hannibal Lecter is a monster, no doubt about it, but he’s also a charming monster with a refined culinary taste. All Lecter adaptations have toed the line between Hannibal-as-villain and Hannibal-as-antihero, presenting him as the most calculatingly manipulative and cunning man in the room while also maintaining a hypnotic allure around his actions, particularly in his infamous Anthony Hopkins variation. In comparison, Hannibal hasn’t so much toed the line as it has merrily danced from end to end while taunting spectators as it practically elbows the audience into admitting that they love seeing Hannibal do his thing rather than be repulsed by him. It’s especially easier to do this when even more despicable scum of the earth like the incestuous Mason Verger surround him.
Not even Mason’s darkly funny streak can conceal the ugliness seeping out of his pores, and the final showdown at his mansion in “Digestivo” brings forth his deepest, darkest features. Joe Anderson’s take on Verger has been markedly less flamboyant than Michael Pitt’s, which can be attributed to his bed-ridden situation and heavily made-up face, but Anderson’s Verger cooked up some delicious hamming in his last hours. Speaking of ham, in Mason’s most Grand Guignol moment yet, Margot and Alana find one of his prized pigs as the surrogate mother for the Verger child in a haunting display of red light. Their revenge on the twisted psychopath, covered in the blood of Cordell’s sliced-off face, couldn’t have been more phallic-ly appropriate as they hold him underwater just in time for the eel to worm its way into his mouth.
“Digestivo” plays things rather subdued for an episode with a lot of material to pay off, replacing assaultive sound and fury with the disturbing beauty of body horror. Even Hannibal’s assault on the guards is left mostly to the imagination so that we are left to absorb and bask in the funhouse of ick. In another display of subversion, this sequence concludes with Hannibal carrying Will in his arms like a romantic savior just as he did with Clarice in the Hannibal novel. But the “romance” is not to be, as Will finds it in himself to finally break away from Lecter for good. “Digestivo” further toys with the notion of blurring the two men together when Will bites a solid chunk out of Cordell’s face–but ultimately the tortured Graham sees fit to cut everything between them for good.
Backtracking to a prior point, the gender subversion in “Digestivo” goes further than simply tweaking an old Lecter mythos image. The women in this world are clearly presented as the ones in control of the situation, and even when Margot asks Hannibal to take care of Mason for her, Hannibal declines and says that this is her fight, not his. Hannibal has no problem being a knight in shining armor for Will, but he understands that he needs to let Margot (and Alana too) assert her dominance. And then there’s Chiyoh, ever the convenient deus ex sniper machina, sliding around the edges of the conflict, keeping a watchful eye on her Hannibal. Aside from shedding light on Hannibal’s past in the early going, Chiyoh’s presence in the story has become increasingly perfunctory, and she only exists at this point to pop up when the protagonists need to get out of a tough spot. The final shot of her walking out into the night snow suggests she’ll still be out there somewhere, but its hard to figure out where she would fit into things (if at all).
“Digestivo” is the end of an era of sorts for Hannibal, which has now transitioned out of the prequel stage (kind of sort of, given that the show shifted the events of the Hannibal novel to just now in the timeline) and fully into the realm of Thomas Harris’ original stories. The second half of this season will conclude with a retelling of the Tooth Fairy/Red Dragon case, and it will be interesting to see if fully diving into pre-existing material will dull the inventive imagination of these early seasons or if Bryan Fuller and co. will successfully contort Harris’ work into their distinctive sensibilities. Because often times its better to delight in a little wickedness.
EPISODE RATING: 10/10