In last week’s episode, Francis Dolarhyde was at his most sexy and most empathetic. This week… well, it’s Richard Armitage. The sexy never goes away completely, especially the more time FD spends in his skivvies… but this week, we spend a good deal of time with The Great Red Dragon, and while his methods may serve to douse the flames of my attraction, he doesn’t disappoint. He scared my pants off, and not in a good way. In quite a departure from the norm, there really wasn’t anything gory. Violence, yes. But mostly, the finest sort of suspense.
It was yet another superb performance by Richard Armitage. Through his use of facial expressions, body language, and voice alterations, there is a distinct separation forming between the times when Dolarhyde’s “Francis” persona is present, and the times when his “Dragon” emerges. The acting! Unbelievable! The further we go, the more I am able to appreciate what an incredible role this has been for Armitage.
Early in the episode, we are treated to another scene in Hannibal’s office. As it turns out, something I didn’t catch in the previous episode was that Dolarhyde wasn’t in Hannibal’s mind palace. He was physically in Hannibal’s office, using some sort of computer software to change only the caller ID to the lawyer’s office.
The conversations they are now having are, in both their minds, taking place from a doctor-patient perspective, but Dolarhyde, at least, is really in the room. I love these scenes between Mads and Richard. Dr. Lecter is quite adept at “handling” Francis Dolarhyde, manipulating him as easily as he always manipulates anyone in his sphere of influence. It seems that Francis seeks advice, the ear of a respected idol, as he tries to work through his conflicting emotions, and the new frightening division he’s experiencing between “his” will, and The Dragon’s will. Hannibal obliges him, to an extent, but always with his own agendas, and he is able to maneuver “Francis” out of the way and draw forth The Dragon in this early scene. Suggesting to Francis that he need not sacrifice Reba, Hannibal steers him in the direction of Will Graham simply by proposing that he can “toss The Dragon to someone else”… and immediately, The Dragon responds. The transformation is immediate, and I find the experience of watching this transformation unbelievably fascinating.
Screencaps of “Francis”
In the gallery above, I’ve put some edits of screencaps showing Francis, when he’s Francis. This one is often agitated, distraught. He is more earnest in expression. He frequently glances over his shoulder, watchful and paranoid that The Dragon might overhear him. His brow is often furrowed, almost perplexed. And his voice is higher, and far more timid. To my ears, his voice is rather sweet, and can sound intensely emotional, especially as he describes his life-changing experience with Reba, when he touched her, felt her heart beating, and the realization dawned that he was with a living, breathing woman.
Same Scene, Screencaps of The Dragon
Contrast the images of “Francis” with the images in this gallery. The Dragon. The Dragon sits tall, with his chin up, and an occasional slight tilt to his head, which puts me in mind of a predator. There is a gleam in his eye, an intensity in his gaze, sometimes delivered with a slight smile that I find bone-chilling. This one has a sinister confidence in his demeanor as he converses with Hannibal that Francis never shows. This one’s voice drops to a lower, more guttural tone that never fails to ratchet my fear and foreboding. Hannibal has just dropped a hint that The Dragon might focus elsewhere, and immediately the monster comes to the surface, with a picture of Will Graham in his mind.
This sets the stage for some remarkable suspense-building. Soon we see The Dragon in action, stalking Graham’s family. Amazing imagery, with some beautiful night shots of rushing water transitioning to the moon shots and then to the tree on which the predator carves his calling card as he lurks in the woods outside Will’s cabin, watching. Then the moon is shown again, waxing gibbous, eerily rotating … nearing full. And we know what is going to happen when the moon is full.
The romantic elements continue, but with an ominous new development. Last week, I was relieved that the sexy and emotionally riveting scene on the sofa was not polluted by Francis’ disturbing film footage. In Harris’ book, that scene actually had Francis taking advantage of Reba’s blindness by watching footage of potential victim-families, during Reba’s first visit to his home.
This week, the creators gave us that scene, and it was perhaps even more chilling than it was in the book, simply because in the book, this was the first time Francis had ever invited a woman over, and it was almost as if he didn’t know what else to do with himself, so he decided he’d roll the film. Yet, in this version, we know damn well what can happen when these two get a martini and settle on the couch, yet Francis chooses to watch his creepy footage rather than to focus his attention on Reba. The full moon is approaching, and The Dragon must be appeased. I suppose that one could make the argument that on the previous visit, there was time enough to explore the emerging romance, while now, with fewer days remaining before the moon reaches its zenith, Francis is feeling the pressure to, as Hannibal put it, give the Dragon something to focus on other than Reba. Whatever his reasoning, his impulse to watch his footage with his beautiful girlfriend relaxing trustingly against him, disturbed and sickened me.
Onward, the plot moves, building tension with each scene. Although I’m planning to confine most of my remarks to the Armitage scenes, as a veterinarian myself I was a bit amused with the immediate jump made by the onscreen vet to the “canned dog food from China” as the source of the dogs’ illness, though she did redeem herself by asking for a sample to test. Yes, there have been confirmed incidents in recent years of melamine and other compounds added to some brands of food and treats manufactured in China or using ingredients imported from China… but there are so very many other possibilities, from the dogs consuming some rotten nasty thing they found in the woods to some form of malicious poisoning (which should have been brought up and might have saved everyone a great deal of terror had the possibility been entertained!) Anyway, I understand they didn’t have the time to devote to a thorough veterinary consult, but I had to just comment that my B.S. meter went up a tick during this scene. And while we’re on this topic, one other thing that bothered me was why they didn’t have Will sit down with a sketch artist, after his elevator encounter, and get a poster circulating!? Tsk, tsk.
These, however, were minor concerns, and easily forgotten as the episode moves through a scene between Hannibal and Will in which Will confronts Hannibal about intentionally throwing him into the direct path of the unsub, not realizing how much more that Hannibal has already done! He implores Hannibal to help him stop The Dragon from harming an unsuspecting family, and Hannibal replies, with his classic mixture of candidness and obfuscation: “They are not my family, Will. And I am not letting them die. You are.” And without further ado, the episode enters one of the most tautly thrilling sequences that Hubby and I agreed we have ever had the pleasure of watching.
“Holy hell! I think I just held my breath for too long!” was Hubby’s comment, and I realized that even after having already watched the episode twice the day before, I’d done so as well. Every aspect of Dolarhyde’s home invasion, from the opening sequence, as Dolarhyde inserts his biting dentures with a throaty hiss, then dons a black nylon-style mask in a nod to the Manhunter/Noonan version of the character, to the cut to the now full moon, ratchets up the terror. Despite having some assurance (from the source material) that Will’s family would evade the brutal murder intended by Dolarhyde, I know that occasionally Hannibal writers change things up. And while I knew from Richard’s own comments that there wouldn’t be an overt scene of violence done by his character in the series, I wasn’t completely sure that Will’s loved ones weren’t about to die. I could well imagine Dolarhyde entering the room, the camera cutting to a scene of the outside, and blood suddenly splattering the window in slow motion, or some such.
I loved this scene- the mounting dread as he steps purposefully, slowly along the floorboards, and the wood creaks, alerting Molly to the intruder. Nice footwork, Mr. Armitage! Every carefully placed step screams his menace; every pause as he stops to listen sings their peril. After his stealthy approach, the killer discovers empty beds, and the action picks up, his movements now rapid yet every bit as chilling as he searches the house, checking under beds, then moving quickly along as he now begins to hunt for moving prey. The scene direction, as he steps outside, with Molly directly under his position, crouching under the deck, and Walter in a precarious position hiding behind the car that the predator is now assessing, was thrilling, and his immediate and ruthless response to the car alarm, firing rapidly shot after silenced shot while advancing upon the car, showed the character in a chilling new light. Ultimately, the mother and child make a narrow escape, and I loved the final images as the beast stands alone in the road. It’s a cold night, and his breath fogs the air around him like smoke, in yet another visual Dragon reference. Dolarhyde, chest heaving, lowers his gun and then howls his fury at the moon. No matter Francis’ struggles, when The Dragon is upon him, he’s all business. A formidable adversary, whether to his victims, his pursuers, or to Francis himself.
This becomes all too clear the next time we see Francis Dolarhyde. The battle in the attic! This scene had to be one of the finest performances by Armitage of the entire series, if not his career. While watching, I was blown away by the physicality and brutish violence done to himself, as The Dragon comes across Francis, who is again to be found stirring my reproductive juices by doing a lovely handstand in the attic. We have a glimpse of The Dragon using his tail to knock Francis’ hands out from under him, then the Dragon circles, though we can’t really see him. But we know The Dragon is there, from Francis’ counter moves, alert and panting, as he springs to a crouch, turning around as he waits for The Dragon’s next strike.
I thought the scene was brilliant, from a performance standpoint as well as cinematography. I did my best to get some screencaps of this scene, but the action was so fast and intense that most of the screencaps were blurry. The Dragon pummels Francis, but of course he’s the same person, and sometimes we have brief glimpses of the Dragon, or the battle from Francis’ perspective, while other times we step outside of that perspective and see glimpses of what’s really happening… Dolarhyde is leaping around, rolling, dodging blows and simultaneously pummeling himself. The footage was certainly shocking to me… I wondered if this was the instance that caused the crew to gasp, or if that is yet to come. At the end of the scene, Francis lays on the floor, exhausted, broken and bloody.
The next time we see Dolarhyde, he appears with cuts and bruises on his face, wings behind him, and appears to be the victorious Dragon. He is waiting in Reba’s dark room, with an air of sullen menace about him. There is a way he is holding his lips that was an entirely new look for Armitage, and I immediately thought he looked like a young Michael Douglas for a few moments.
I was terrified for Reba when she came in, because Dolarhyde appears to be in Dragon mode, and remains silent and still when she greets him. When he does finally speak, it’s in the guttural, low register of The Dragon. He asks her, “Do you remember… the light? Is it worse to have seen it, and lost it?” I loved this line, because his threatening tone and sinister demeanor indicate it is the Dragon speaking… and it occurred to me that the question may have been posed as much to Francis as it was to Reba. This scared me, and Reba also immediately picks up on the strangeness of this address, and asks him what’s wrong. As she approaches him, seeking to comfort him and reassure herself, he suddenly seems to snap out of it, and a completely distraught Francis emerges, a tortured look coming across his face as he crumples over, starts to cover his face with his hands. He confesses that he doesn’t know what’s happening to him, that she threatens him, and she cradles his head against her for a moment, before he gasps and jumps backward as if she’s seared him. She moves forward again, this time reaching to caress his face.
I loved these moments between them. The chemistry is palpable. He is completely torn, frightened of her, frightened of himself. He’s just lost a battle with The Dragon, been completely humiliated, and The Dragon is always there, lurking in the periphery of his mind. The only way he knows how to protect her is to break it off, yet part of him is so drawn to her, still so fascinated and in love that he steps toward her inadvertently as if he wants to hold her again. When she lifts her chin and tells him to go, I felt as if another battle is wrought on his face, and the sinister aspect begins to return. It’s as if neither Francis nor The Dragon is really ready to let her go, each for their different reasons. Francis still craves and desires her, and The Dragon still hopes to eliminate the threat she poses.
In the next scene, a tormented Francis calls Lecter. After the incident at the museum and Dolarhyde’s attempt on Will’s family, the investigators finally cued into Hannibal’s involvement and have decided to try to use the relationship between Hannibal and the Red Dragon to get a trace on his location. Alana and Jack Crawford have arranged for a wire tap/phone trace and have advised Hannibal to keep The Red Dragon on the line for as long as he can. When Hannibal answers the phone, there is silence on the line, so Hannibal speaks a few lines about his Becoming, and about how The Dragon is his “higher self”. Instead of drawing out the Dragon, though, it’s Francis who finally answers. “If… I am not as strong as The Dragon… she will die. I have to think. I need to think. I… told her… that I can’t be with her.”
Hannibal smoothly adjusts, and now addresses Francis. “You are almost blind to your own true feelings. You are no more able to express them than a scar can blush.” Francis relates his fear that Reba might come to the house, and what will happen if The Dragon, who he seems to believe resides in the attic, “comes down” while she is there. Then, in a moment that gave me chills, a tendon pops out on Dolarhyde’s neck, and the low, awful voice of The Dragon answers Francis’ question. “You KNOW! How easily she would TEAR!” Francis glances fearfully over his shoulder, and Alana’s eyes widen a fraction at this vocal transformation. It’s another incredible moment for Armitage. Moments later, Hannibal ends the call abruptly with “They’re listening!” Dolarhyde’s eyes flare, and he leaps into action, narrowly escaping before the FBI team reaches Hannibal’s abandoned office.
That about sums it up. The Beast was never completely out of the picture in the previous episode, but he was subdued enough to draw me in and make me care for Francis. This has not changed, but Episode 11 brings The Beast again to front and center. This battle being waged internally in Dolarhyde is at the center of the story, and as it was what I found most gripping and fascinating when I read the book, I couldn’t be more impressed with how it is unfolding onscreen. I love the writing, cinematography, and most especially Richard Armitage’s performance. Another brilliant episode.
My biggest complaint is that there are only two chapters left.