“We’re all making our way through the inferno.” Ain’t that the truth. The entire story of Hannibal has been about its characters making their way through the personal hells and demons threatening to consume their well-being, some more than others, in the case of Francis Dolarhyde and Will Graham. Perhaps Hannibal Lecter finds himself fascinated by Francis because he sees a kindred spirit in the Red Dragon; both are motivating manipulative forces in the minds of their prey, with Hannibal frequently taking on the form of the stag. Lecter’s presence remains an influential one, even though the stag hasn’t appeared much recently. Will wouldn’t like to believe it, but if his most recent actions are any indication, then Lecter has more control of the situation than he’d like to admit.
Hannibal has referred to Will as the lamb lined up for the slaughter on more than one occasion during this Red Dragon arc. Will has managed to evade the good doctor’s mental maneuvering for some time now, with only Lecter’s orchestration of the Graham family assault nearly succeeding, but the scheme he conceives to entrap Dolarhyde in “The Number of the Beast is 666” reveals a more cunning side to his methods than previously shown. Will puts together a hit piece on the Tooth Fairy with the help of Dr. Chilton in Lounds’ trashy publication, knowing full well that he’d be dangling out Chilton into the wind as bait. As Bedelia says to Will in one of their sessions together, “Hannibal Lecter does have agency in the world…he has you.”
Dolarhyde’s kidnapping of the narcissistic Chilton brings out the wrath of the Dragon in ways that Chilton could not have imagined, as he’s forced to see the disturbing crime scene photographs and endure the painful anticipation of what Dolarhyde will do to him next. The Dragon, feeling like his image has been diminished by his crude association with the Tooth Fairy name, comes out in full force as he intimidates Chilton into nothing but a bundle of fear and pain. The deep voice that Richard Armitage employs when conveying the Dragon persona hasn’t always been successful. It occasionally came off more silly than terror-inducing, but it works to great effect during this sequence, which is another example of how sometimes the most disturbing material is anxiety over what’s to become of the characters, even ones as smarmy as Chilton.
Yet, for a man that’s imprisoned, Hannibal gets arguably the grossest moment of the episode when he slurps up the bitten-off Chilton lip sent to him by Dolarhyde. It’s so casually done, too, as if it were a delicious strand of spaghetti. For such an overall dark episode, there are plenty of moments that allow for some tongue-in-cheek fun. Watching Hannibal’s subtle smirk at Chilton’s frustration, delighting in the opportunity to get under the skin of his nemesis, is particularly enjoyable, as are just about any scenes involving Freddie. In an early scene, Bedelia and Will gauge how their relationships with Hannibal post-arrest have changed, and she provides the wicked double entendre, “He’s in no position to eat me now.”
Will later asks her, “Is Hannibal in love with me?” Previous episodes have shown sides of Lecter that align him with scorned lovers striking back at the partners who wronged them. The aggression has resided in him, but that’s because now he’s having too much fun playing with his prey like a cat and mouse as the push and pull between the FBI and their target heats up. He’s the first one to notice that on the inside, whether subconscious or not, Will was playing chance with Chilton’s life after the assault on Molly and Walter in the prior episode shook him up. Hugh Dancy’s performance as of late has shown an overall tighter resolve in the broken man trying to keep things together, but even he has to let out his emotions when faced with the audio of Chilton’s maiming. As the Red Dragon approaches the moment of his final becoming, Will must keep the stag at bay before he lets it consume him.
EPISODE RATING: 10/10