television criticism

I Myself Can Not: “Mukōzuke”

imyselfcannot

(in which Jason and Kate finally find one minor point of disagreement before discovering they have fused into a single living brain)

JASON: Hi, Kate! Let’s talk about body horror!

The effectiveness of body horror largely relies on the individual viewer–and if I haven’t made it clear, I find it extremely effective–but in general terms, it works by violating the idea of our physical self, which we, for obvious reasons, are very attached to. Body horror is typically more effective when it happens to a central character, or at least one that we relate to on something beyond a surface level. Seeing a total rando get his brain replaced with a beehive is upsetting, but the more we relate to a character, the more we identify with them, and the more upset we our by that violation of their physical self.

And so, as I predicted last week, the sight of Beverly chopped up and displayed like a Damien Hirst art piece hit me hard. Director Michael Rymer and the writing team delicately play both sides of Beverly’s fate: when we first see her, it’s a relief that she’s even recognizable, but as the shot plays out, we discover that she’s been sliced into pieces. Compared to some of the other deaths on this show, it’s still pretty tame, and I appreciate that the creative team didn’t feel the need to rub our noses in it. But they also didn’t miss an opportunity to lower our defenses and then twist the knife.

We get another display of this body horror principle later on, after Will has orchestrated Hannibal’s murder. In a brief dream sequence, Will collapses on the floor as antlers burst through his skin and cover his back. Given how well the show has used the stag symbolism (I loved that moment when Will sees the stagman figure lurking behind Beverly’s corpse), the implication of that moment is obvious. But even though we might morally know that Will has crossed a line, even if Hannibal totally deserves it, that brief yet vivid violation of Will’s body and the distress it causes him drives the point home in a visceral way.

Anyway, let’s talk about what’s really important: Freddie Lounds is in this episode! Oh, and Gideon’s back, too. That was a surprise. Will plays on Dr. Chilton’s oh-so-delicious vanity and gets the man he tried to kill brought in for questioning. I was under the impression that Will’s murder of Gideon was more than ‘attempted’, but it wouldn’t be the first time I misunderstood something. Considering that Chilton survived having most of his organs removed from his body, I’d say the bar is set pretty high for permanent death in the Hannibal universe. Except when it comes to Beverly, in which case you can just choke her out.

Sorry. Too soon?

There’s lot to talk about in this episode, and almost all of it was good. The one thing that didn’t quite work for me was the reveal of Will’s secret admirer. Turns out it was… an orderly in the hospital. Okay? Bryan Fuller says in this week’s Walkthrough that the whole secret admirer plot was built to get us to the moment where Will sends his new ally to kill Hannibal. The seams definitely show, but the end result was good enough that I don’t care.

This episode of Hannibal left me more excited than any other to find out what happens next. What can Jack and Alana actually prove about Will’s involvement in the attempt on Hannibal’s life? What will that mean for Will? What is Will’s next move? How will Hannibal react to having his closest friend try to murder him? When are the Vergers going to show up? When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?

I don't know if I'm really prepared to consider the implications of the way Hannibal is posed.

I don’t know if I’m really prepared to consider the implications of the way Hannibal is posed.

KATE: I don’t think Jack and Alana can prove much of anything, Jason. All of the conversations between Will and the orderly took place in the one room Dr. Chilton can’t spy on. Furthermore, Jack and Alana are already predisposed to believe Will. Alana has an obvious soft spot for Will and Jack, for all his misgivings, took Will to the scene of Beverly’s death so he could give Jack some input. He hasn’t said it out loud, but it’s obvious that Jack is leaning towards believing Will. Besides, most of the evidence at hand suggests the orderly was Will’s admirer and acting of his own accord. If it sounds kinda lame, that’s because it is. The characters on the show are almost too accepting of random serial killers and psychos, which is why I think Will is safe for now.

Of course, Hannibal is another story. Hannibal isn’t dumb and furthermore, he knows how crazy people think and operate. Naturally, I think Hannibal will be very suspicious of the orderly’s motives. How could he not be? He’ll probably (okay, he will) connect the attempted murder to Will, but there isn’t much he can do, right? Will is safely secure in prison. If Hannibal wants to keep up appearances, he can’t exactly openly attack Will. Will, for his part, knows what Hannibal is at this point. He knew Hannibal was the Chesapeake Ripper and he’s beginning to understand that Hannibal is something even worse. We’re half way through the season. There isn’t too much back and forth left to go on that, especially if we’re going to end up with Hannibal getting into a knife fight with Jack.

I have to disagree with you on the reveal of Will’s admirer. Yeah, he was basically a plot device, but the actor really carried the performance from an obvious plot development to something more. He was creepy, he was effective and furthermore, he’s one of the only people around who has been able to get a drop on Hannibal. After Beverly’s death, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little happy that Hannibal got taken down a notch. It was interesting, both in terms of character development and audience catharsis. How will Hannibal react to a near death experience? How will this play into his relationships with Alana and Jack? Why is no one else concerned that every agent in the FBI is continuously attacked and targeted? How are there so many serial killers in the greater DC area? Seriously, I know I mention this a lot, but it isn’t any less true. Anyway, right until the end, I was thinking that Hannibal and Will’s admirer were working together out of a shared admiration for Will. I was wrong, of course, but hey! Of course, then there’s the reveal that the orderly didn’t kill the judge in Will’s trial. Huh. So was it Hannibal? Or is there a third killer out there?

It may be that I spent most of this episode in an emotional coma after the Beverly reveal or that we share the same brain, but you pretty much covered my thoughts on this episode, Jason. Literally, every point you raised mirrors my notes. The only thing I would want to add are some thoughts about Beverly’s death and discovery. We went from heavy organ in the last episode to a lot of bongos in this one. I have no analysis to offer here, aside from the fact that both instruments were used in an extremely jarring way to different effect. It made for an interesting contrast between the tone of last week’s episode and this one.

I only have one last point to offer, which is to say that I have a lot of logistical questions. Why is the observatory such a serial killer hotspot? Does anyone actually work there or is it just a depository for horribly dismembered corpses? Does Hannibal have a source for life size human microscope slides? He can’t just have those gathering dust in his basement. Furthermore, where did Hannibal get his industrial human saw? Even if he did, how did he transport the Beverly slides to the observatory? I can’t see Hannibal driving a pickup truck. Can you? CAN YOU?

I Myself Can Not: “Sakizuki”

imyselfcannot

(in which Jason and Kate talk about Hannibal while Jason idly wonders if he should find a new picture of himself for the header, one where he isn’t three weeks into another failed attempt at growing facial hair)

JASON: I have a lot of stuff I want to say about feminism and world-building, but first I need to stop dry-heaving over that first scene.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously, the only notes I wrote for that cold open were “GAHHHH” and “guhhhhh,” because… well, GAH. When this episode opened on a shot of the silo, I was hoping that the victim who woke up at the end of last week would already be dead, just so we’d be spared the agony of watching him die. No such luck, however, as the show then cuts to a shot of the human mosaic and it is clear that only moments have passed. And then…

Look: body horror is one of my things, and when I say ‘things,’ I don’t mean “things I enjoy” or “things that I can watch without feeling sick” — as a mater of fact, I mean the opposite of those two things. You even warned me ahead of time that it would be hard to watch, but until I saw Roland Umber pulling himself free from the mosaic and tearing off chunks of skin, I guess I didn’t believe you. I was eating dinner when this episode started, Kate! The third most important meal of the day!

Aside from being an wonderfully-executed example of something I never want to see again, that opening scene was as tense as anything that’s ever been on the show. Roland ducks in and out of cars while the killer pursues him, and then they end up in a corn field with the killer’s flashlight as the only source of light. Of course, there’s no way Roland is going to make it out of there alive, but even after he hit those rocks on the side of the cliff, I held out hope right until his body re-surfaced. Sorry, Roland; your superpower of having a slightly above-average tolerance of heroin couldn’t get you out of this one.

As usual, I have more stuff on my mind than I could ever hope to whittle down into a single review, but since this episode put a spotlight on Dr. Du Maurier, it seems like a good opportunity to discuss the show’s female characters. Namely, the fact that they exist. Alana Bloom (who appears only briefly in this episode) is an expanded and gender-flipped version of a very minor character from the books named Alan Bloom, and Freddie Lounds is, of course, the gender-flipped version of Frederick Lounds, a character who’s prior portrayals still make me too sad to think about, so let’s not focus on that right now. The point is, Bryan Fuller made it a point to add more female energy to the show, and he’s stated in interviews that this was his motivation for turning Frederick and Alan into Freddie and Alana.

It goes further than that, though: if I remember correctly, the CSI characters in Hannibal were just one character in Red Dragon, and that character wasn’t a woman, much less a woman of color. And then there’s Cynthia Nixon! I’m only familiar with Nixon through the very little I have seen of Sex And The City, but so far I am loving her in this. Her fierce persona is second only to her fantastic Hillary Clinton hair. Trivia: Nixon’s character, Kade Prurnell, is an anagrammed version of the character Ray Liotta played in the Hannibal movie, Paul Krendler! This doesn’t exactly bode well for the ongoing copyright issues that will someday stop this show in its tracks… but we’ve got a ways to go before that’s an issue.

Let’s not forget Dr. Du Maurier, the only person in the world who believes Will Graham and who I absolutely thought was going to die in this episode. Luckily, she only caught a minor case of the Actor-Has-Other-Projects disease, and Fuller says he wants to bring her back as soon as possible. But here’s the thing: even if he doesn’t, he and the other writers have a full roster of female characters the can keep exploring! I don’t know much about Bryan Fuller’s beliefs in regards to feminism, but despite the fact that Hannibal is a show centered on the relationship between two men, it offers a corrective to the major problem of female representation in popular culture: namely, the fact that there are hardly any female characters at all. This is a subject for a much longer rant, but it’s not about having more “strong” female characters — it’s about having more female characters, period. Of course, you also want them to be interesting characters, and Fuller isn’t doing a half bad job at that, either.

Kate, I imagine you’ll be sympathetic to my thoughts on the subject, but still, I apologize for getting distracted that I left 80% of the episode untouched. Was your reaction to the opening scene as strong as mine? How did you feel about Will Graham’s solemn intonation of “one of these things is not like the other?” Is Will’s trial going to have a strong emotional impact on me than any real trial I’ve ever seen?

Look, thinly-veiled death threats are a normal part of any healthy psychiatrist/patient relationship.

Look, thinly-veiled death threats are a normal part of any healthy psychiatrist/patient relationship.

KATE: You know what, Jason? Looking back on last week’s review, neither of us brought up the human mosaic! What’s up with that? It’s like forgetting about the human mushroom garden from season one! Huh. It completely slipped my mind until the opening shot of this week’s episode. That was probably for the best, all things considered. Roland’s last minutes on earth were gripping, disturbing and disgusting. Hannibal is a show that prides itself on arresting imagery and this was no exception. I’m still not sure what was worse—watching Roland peel himself off of the human mosaic or watching Roland realize he’d have to peel himself off in order to survive. I didn’t think he’d make it to safety, but I did admire his will to live, even if it ended with him floating down river split in half.

It’s safe to say we’re on the same page about body horror, Jason. Hannibal’s heart to heart with the mosaic killer, as he lies sewn and glued into his own masterpiece, was just…creepy. They might as well have been two neighbors, comparing different brands of lawnmowers! It also felt a little off, if only for the reason that Hannibal isn’t that big on influencing people directly. He talks people into believing what he wants them to believe from a distance, not in the middle of a crime scene. And because Hannibal can’t leave without a trophy, the audience is treated to a lovely sequence of Hannibal preparing a human leg for dinner. I may be wrong, but is the first time we’ve seen Hannibal definitively consume human flesh? This is our first trip to Hannibal’s memory palace, even if it reads more like an ability to detect other serial killers via smell-o-vision.

Strangely enough, I haven’t put much thought into the show’s female characters, aside from the fact that they gender swapped two of them. I think that’s a credit to the show. Most television has very few female characters, let alone main characters that have actual personality. Alana started off her run as a vague love interest for Will, but she’s also shown she’s intelligent and has a spine. It’s a similar story with Beverly’s character. She began the show as a sidekick technician in the lab; now that Will is in jail, she’s quickly become the lab’s most valued member. In fact, she reminds me a lot of Will. Not only can she pick up random bits of information no one else sees, she’s also learning to connect it to larger patterns that save lives.

This brings me to my main point, which is that the show is very focused on how relationships play off and/or mirror each other. For every Hannibal and Will, there’s a Hannibal and Dr. Du Maurier. Granted, that’s the most obvious mirroring going on here, but did you notice how Beverly has started using Will for unconventional advice, much like Will sought Hannibal? I may be (and probably am) grasping at straws, but with Will stuck in jail, Beverly is the only person on Crawford’s team who thinks outside the box. She may believe Will is guilty, but not enough to stay away from utilizing his skills, so how insane could he really be? This brings me to my other point. It can’t be a Hannibal review without me bringing up something to compare to the source material. Beverly and Will have a certain je nes sais Clarice/Hannibal vibe. I mean, did you see the way she passed him the case info on her visit? It’s the same shot from Silence of the Lambs!

So, I have a couple of stray thoughts about this episode that are neither here nor there:

What do you think Hannibal eats for breakfast? How many plastic murder suits do you think he owns? Where does he get them? Why did Dr. Du Maurier leave Hannibal her perfume? Is it because Hannibal likes to sniff things? Did you see how he sniffed the corpses? How did no one else in the lab see that? AHHHHH. Jason, in a way I’m glad we don’t watch these shows together. I think our combined Hannibal insanity would be a little much for anyone else in the room.

JASON: I totally saw the way she passed him the case! I meant to ask if you thought it was intentional, but I see I need not have bothered! Glad to know we’re on the same page, Kate, quite glad.

(random reminder that Kate co-hosts a podcast about alcohol and pop culture, which makes it my number-one podcast of all time)