This week’s Hannibal was downright incredible. Francis Dolarhyde, in all his muscular glory, has curled my toes in a good way in the past, and has given me creeps and brief thrills of horror along the way. But this episode surpasses everything that came before in terms of the intensity of performance. And while I was certainly on the edge of my seat during several sequences last week, Episode 12 all but electrified me with fear. Well done, Mr. Armitage!
A strong episode from start to finish, from my perspective. Will Graham is now having visions of himself in Great Red Dragon Wings, as he in previous seasons envisioned himself in Raven Stag Antlers. He is dreaming visions of himself with outspread wings, standing over his own wife with the mirror shards in her eyes and mouth in the same type of crime scene as that left by The Dragon. It occurred to me that while Hannibal certainly does have “agency in the world” and has manipulated Dolarhyde like a malevolent lover bent on revenge, I’m not certain he’d like this new development. After all, when Will has started identifying so closely with a killer as to take on his own set of antlers/wings in the past, it has turned into almost a love story. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of this ultimate revenge: Will might fall in love with Francis Dolarhyde (what’s to stop him? FD is hellishly sexy, Will apparently craves darkness and danger, and as we’ve seen all season long, part of FD actually might want to stop, as Hannibal never has!)
OK, so that scenario works better for an Armitage fanatic than the average Fannibal, who seems to adore the twisted love relationship between Lecter and Graham. I doubt that will happen. In fact, the writers gave a nice nod to all the Hannigram shippers in the conversation between Will and Bedelia in the opening scene, when Will asks her, “Is Hannibal… in love with me?” Her answer, delivered in such measured tones, conveys her underlying displeasure with the answer. I think before Graham came along, Bedelia enjoyed these distinctions herself: “Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you… and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes.”
While Will is exploring love themes with Bedelia, and Hannibal is exploring religious themes with Crawford, we see that Dolarhyde is again in his attic, kneeling before The Great Red Dragon painting in what at first appears to be a worshipful manner. The echoes of Hannibal’s last words to Crawford appear to be a foreshadowing that does not bode well for Reba: “All Gods demand sacrifices.” Then his posture changes, and he curls over as if in pain, and we soon see dual images of his hand clawing the painting, then clawing the tattooed image of the painting on his back. Blood drips down the image, then the opening credits roll.
I felt that this scene was meant to convey that the battle still rages within Francis Dolarhyde. The Dragon does certainly require a sacrifice, and what would be more fitting than to devour The Woman Clothed In Sun? Yet, Francis has only the desire to protect Reba. He’s tried to ingest the original painting, and offer up a different family, but neither of these efforts were successful. Now we find him trying to shred the framed painting in his attic, and even the tattooed reproduction on his back. We’ll never know if he would have been successful, however unlikely that seems, because in an effort to bait the unsub into a trap, the FBI is about to infuriate and “wake The Dragon”… with ghastly consequences.
Will, Alana and Crawford decide to use Freddie Lounds and her tabloid “Tattle Crime” to write an insulting article about “The Tooth Fairy”, hoping to draw The Dragon into an attack against Will Graham, the face of the investigation. Alana points out that it feels like a trap to her, and probably will likewise feel like a trap to the unsub, and they all agree that by incorporating comments from a psychiatric professional, they may lend some level of credence to the article. When Will asks Alana if she’s volunteering, she responds that she’d have to be a fool to put herself in such a situation.
The next image we see is Chilton. More of that Hannibal humor, obviously implying who the fool (or patsy, as it turns out) must be. Chilton is alternately whining and shouting at Hannibal, enraged that Hannibal has so easily refuted Chilton’s book, his work that painted Hannibal as insane before the psychiatric community, by publishing brilliant work of his own. I particularly enjoyed Hannibal’s demure humor here, when Chilton groused and mewled about Hannibal intentionally humiliating him and treating Chilton as if he were Hannibal’s “nemesis”… Hannibal’s reply, with a startled little snicker “No! No, ‘nemesis’? No.” was so subtly derogatory, but went right over Chilton’s head. After bitching at Hannibal for a few more minutes, he exits, and Alana is waiting for him, ready to offer him the opportunity to lend his expert opinion to the bait article for The Dragon. Chilton gladly accepts, unknowingly sealing his own doom.
In the next scene, Freddie Lounds meets with Will, Chilton, and Crawford to derive as much inflammatory material for her article as possible. Chilton makes statements such as “The Tooth Fairy’s actions indicate projective delusion compensating for intolerable feelings of inadequacy.” Will adds “Not only is The Tooth Fairy insane… he is ugly and impotent.” Chilton goes on, “There is a strong bonding of aggressive and sexual drives that occurs in sexual sadists at an early age,” and Will says, “He’s a vicious, perverted sexual failure… an animal.” And so on. At the end of the session, Will invites Chilton to pose in a photograph with him, and intentionally puts his hand familiarly on Chilton’s shoulder. This small gesture, as Will later realizes and struggles with, made Chilton on par with a family pet in the eyes of The Dragon, thus making Chilton, like the family pets, The Dragon’s first target.
Dolarhyde is seen driving, glowering down at an issue of Tattle Crime, Will is seen making himself visible about town under the surveillance of snipers, and moments later, it is Chilton who is snatched from a parking garage, his two bodyguards dispatched with dizzying speed. What follows is one of the most spine-chilling scenes I’ve ever watched. Armitage was masterful. It’s almost impossible to convey the level of menace he projected, or the sickening sense of dread that rose in me as the minutes ticked by.
The scene began with a brief flash of humor, as Chilton is shown gagged and blindfolded with a panty liner. A panty liner! What could more succinctly convey The Dragon’s disdain for his captive? I think what was so very chilling at the beginning of the scene was the measured, false solicitude and the almost polite address afforded his victim. After very gently removing the mouth gag and blindfold, awakening Chilton with sniffing solution, Dolarhyde asks, in the gravelly tones of The Dragon, “Would you like a blanket? I’ll get you a blanket.” He gently places a blanket around Chilton’s shoulders, and gives a little press of his hands on Chilton’s shoulders in what should normally be an affectionate, reassuring gesture. Instead, I started to squirm with foreboding. Chilton soon realizes he’s in a tremendous amount of discomfort, and asks, in a childishly high tone, whether he’s been burned. The response serves to mount the sense of terror even more, as The Dragon repeats the word “Burned” several times, turning it over and over in slightly different cadence each time. I could almost hear the wheels turning in his head… Burned. A fitting conclusion. A Dragon’s Prerogative. Burned. Yes. But eventually he answers, “No. You just rest there.”
Something in the performance and the cinematography was incredibly effective at de-humanizing Francis Dolarhyde, the one who I’ve felt such tremendous empathy for in previous episodes. Not in this scene. Everything about him, to me, read as “Other”- it was as if Chilton was at the mercy of a beastly, almost alien being, someone or something with whom we could no more relate than we could understand the mind of a velociraptor. The calm, but absolutely predatory movements of Dolarhyde, the tilted head, the guttural sounds. The camera angle looking up at Dolarhyde looming over Chilton was toe-curling. The focus would shift between Chilton’s petrified face, and The Dragon’s ominous visage.
Chilton’s initial foggy confusion ends after he asks what he is doing here, and his captor replies, after a deliberate pause, “Atoning, Dr. Chilton.” The poor man realizes he is glued to his seat, and immediately begins to tremble, attempting to convince The Dragon that he hasn’t seen his face, couldn’t identify him. “Do you know… who… I am?” Chilton stutters out that he doesn’t know, or want to know. The Dragon goes on, “According to you, I am a vicious… perverted… sexual… failure. An animal. You know now, don’t you?” Armitage delivers these lines so slowly, with such carefully restrained fury. This was so effective at mounting the tension, building the horror. Chilton babbles on that he wants to understand, that he wants his readers to understand!
“Do you feel… privileged?” The Dragon inquires. Chilton is by now stammering, panting, and he latches on to this question to try to establish a connection with his captor. He garbles on about feeling privileged, yes, but admits that, “Man to man, I am scared!” Here is the next moment where chills raced down my spine, when The Dragon repeats the phrase, “Man… to man.” By this time, I was fully aware that the one we are seeing here is as far from a relatable “man” as can be, and the next lines confirm everything that I have already been feeling simply on the basis of Armitage’s almost preternatural performance, hovering over Chilton in his black nylon mask and his kimono. “You use that phrase to imply frankness. But you see… I am not a man. I have Become… Other. I am more than a man. Do you think… ‘God’… is in attendance here? Are you… praying to him now?” Chilton falters and stammers on, admitting we pray mostly when we are scared, and that he ought to. “You ought to. There are so… many things… that you ought to understand. And in a little while… I will help you understand.”
Chilton begins to truly panic now, as Dolarhyde turns him around to face him, directs him to open his eyes, and viciously threatens to staple his eyelids to his forehead if he does not. The tension has now been ratcheted up to an almost unbearable degree, with the viewer beginning to almost hyperventilate along with Chilton, when suddenly, “Ding Dong”… the doorbell rings! It’s Reba! With a container of soup for D, after he’s called in sick to work! Dolarhyde threatens Chilton that he will kill the woman if he makes a noise, and now he lets her in.
We finally hear a touch of humanity in Dolarhyde again, when he speaks a few lines to Reba. She asks if she may come in, and states that she won’t be long, has asked her taxi to wait (possibly saving her life). When he says to her, “You shouldn’t be here,” it does sound like Francis’ voice instead of The Dragon, and his shoulders are slightly slumped, chin down, in Francis’ mannerisms. She gives him the soup, then tells him, “I… I didn’t come… just to give you soup, D. I guess I’m guilty of liking you. Demonstrably guilty. And I know you like me too.” Francis hesitates, but offers, “I do.” She goes on, admitting to having more than her share of “cripple’s anger”, and tells him that she hopes neither of them are so scarred by life, that they are not capable of love. At one point, as if sensing there is something strange going on in the room, she does turn around, almost as if scanning the room for another person, and to Chilton, I have to give credit for more fortitude on behalf of an unknown woman than many would have been capable of, because he does, indeed, look on in total silence. It was interesting that when she turned toward Chilton, Dolarhyde’s Dragon starts to emerge. He seems to expand in size, his chin lifts, and we sense that he may spring at any moment. I held my breath. When Dolarhyde does not give Reba any further encouragement or acknowledgement after her speech, she says, with a heartbreaking look of disappointment, “Enjoy the soup.”
With Reba safely on her way, The Dragon resumes his program. He will now make Chilton understand the things that he ought to understand. The projector is on. Dolarhyde shows his terrible slide show. “Look! Do you… see… now? Do you see? Do. You. See!” He repeats the line over and over, his madness and passion overflowing, and each time he says it, it comes out differently, with emphasis on “Do” or “You” or “See” varying with each repetition. I was absolutely gripped with the verbal performance here. Finally, The Dragon unleashes his towering fury, all the more effective as it boils over after simmering under the surface for all this time. The escalation of his voice is thrilling, and hellish. “You… said… that I, who see more than you, am insane! I, who have pushed the world so much… further than you, am insane! I have dared… more than you! I, The Dragon! And you call me… insane! Before me, you are… a slug… in the sun! You are privy… to a Great Becoming. You recognize Nothing! It is in your nature to do one thing correctly, and before me, you tremble! ‘Fear’ is not what you owe me! You. Owe. Me. AWE!”
After this electrifying speech, culminating in Dolarhyde removing both the face mask and the kimono to stand before the projector, naked, the lights come up, and he stands very calmly in front of Chilton, looking handsome, almost reasonable, and friendly again. He has a thermos of ice, and gives every impression that Chilton will now be released. He circles around to his video camera, and directs Chilton to make a statement for the camera, indicating that they are almost through. Chilton complies, and Dolarhyde praises him. As you can see in the images below, he is once again almost unbearably sexy.
Yet the camera is still rolling. And the sexy is about to change. Dolarhyde allows Chilton a few moments of relief, then, as if it were a mere afterthought, he suddenly muses that there is one more thing he could do, to help Chilton understand, and “Remember!” He dons the mask and then the teeth, Chilton begins to panic, and then, in an incredibly rapid, gracefully animalistic movement, FD crawls over the back of the sofa, descends upon Chilton, and bites the man’s lips off in the most gory, bloody way imaginable. This was the moment, apparently, that caused the crew to gasp aloud, and it was a moment that I couldn’t bring myself to screen cap, and never want to see again!
Hannibal shortly thereafter receives a package containing Chilton’s lips, with the scrawled note “With these he offended me.” Hannibal thoughtfully allows the FBI to keep one of the lips for analysis, and eats the other lip. Hannibal received one gift, and the FBI received another. The FBI receives the video recording made of the trembling Chilton under FD’s direction. “I have had a great privilege. I have seen with wonder and awe, the strength of The Great Red Dragon. All that I said was lies from Will Graham. I have blasphemed against The Dragon. Even so, The Dragon is merciful. Because I was forced to lie, he will be more merciful to me, than to you, Will Graham. Reach behind you, and feel the small knobs on the top of your pelvis. Feel your spine between them. That is the precise spot where the Dragon will snap your spine. There is much for you to dread. From my own lips, you will learn a little more to dread.”
After another session with Bedelia, in which Will and Bedelia discuss the placement of Will’s hand on Chilton’s shoulder in Freddie Lounds’ photograph, both acknowledge that doing so put Chilton at great risk. Bedelia suggests to Will that he may as well have struck the match himself. Throughout this conversation, we see flashes of the greatly disfigured Chilton being doused in lighter fluid, set aflame, and rolled away in a burning wheelchair. We soon learn that Chilton, amazingly, survived, though burnt to a unrecogniseable crisp, and awaits Will Graham in the ICU. Chilton is able to speak, though garbled, and though Crawford is present and can’t understand a word he says, Graham seems to intuit exactly what he says. “He said, ‘You set me up. You knew it. You put your hand on me in the picture like a pet.'” And, when Graham asks if he has any information that could help them, “A black woman- she’s blind.” This is indeed a lead, and I suspect that Dolarhyde must also have realized that Reba’s existence is now a tangible threat.
In the final scene, which came as a surprise to me, we now see Reba is bound and gagged in Dolarhyde’s van. He arrives at his house, carries her inside, and gently lays her down. As he is carrying her, he looks down at her with a mixture of tenderness, and ravenous hunger. Despite the fact that he’s abducted her, there is just a moment there, when I hoped that all would be well, because of that look, and the gentlemanly way that he asks her if she will be good, if he unties her. Then I remembered how kind and considerate he appeared with Chilton at the beginning, offering the blanket, and speaking so politely. Dolarhyde unties her, and allows her to speak briefly, as she tells him how scared she is, that she never wanted to hurt him, then pleads with him to please be friends, and forget about this. He interrupts her harshly, telling her to “Shut up!” (something that the Francis she has known would never do). He tells her he is about to tell her something of great importance, “Sermon on the mount important”… and asks her if she knows about what remarkable events happened in Chicago and Buffalo. Leeds and Jacobi. As the horrific truth begins to set in, he asks her if she knows what “they called” the being who visited those people, and when she starts to answer “Tooth Fairy”, he grips her chin violently and says “THINK! And answer correctly!” She stammers out the correct answer, The Dragon… and backing away with wings unfurled, he tells her, “I. AM. The Dragon.”
What a cliffhanger! Now that he has abducted Reba, it feels as if the battle for Francis’ humanity has been fought and lost, and all that remains is for him to be caught and stopped. Flawed, beautiful creature that he is, of course we’ve known all along that his crimes are too horrific, his evil is too entrenched, for any other outcome. He’s shown himself to be very cagey in the past, and I have no doubt that the finale will be a real thrill ride. I don’t know whether to hope that there is some small redemption to be found for Dolarhyde in the end… or if it will be nothing but a relief to me to see the Dragon defeated.
Who knew Richard Armitage could channel such absolute menace? Such wrath? When I first wrote about this role, I said that I had no doubt that Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde would scare my pants off… but until I actually experienced it this week, I really had no idea of the level of fear he would be capable of generating in me! Every week, his performance seems to eclipse in some way the performance of the previous week. It’s been a remarkable ride. The finale is almost upon us, and I know I’ll be devastated when the performance is over, and these weekly highs will have come to an end.