The first thing I noticed about last night’s Hannibal episode, titled “Fromage” (you know, like cheese) was that it was only forty-five minutes long and featured only a single, brief commercial break. It’s no secret that Hannibal hasn’t been doing that great in the ratings, and the absence of commercials seemed to solidify both NBC and advertisers’ lack of faith in the show. Though Upfronts are over and NBC has already announced its fall schedule and series cancellations, the fate of Hannibal has remained a mystery. It’s a unique property as it co-financed internationally, so many analysts speculate that if NBC does cancel the show, it may find a new life on Cable or on a streaming service such as Netflix or Amazon.
Either way, “Fromage” was a great episode. Last week I called “Sorbet” filler, and while it was, it was great filler. “Fromage” is more of a killer of the week episode so it doesn’t feel like the show is stalling. And man, what a killer of the week ep it was, killer vs. killer I should say. “Fromage” succinctly tackled the question of “can serial killers make friends?” in a single, tightly-plotted episode. Dexter took an entire season and gave us one of its worst characters and performances, courtesy of Jimmy Smitts.
Hannibal is a completely fascinating character. He seems to open up to Gillian Anderson’s Dr. Du Maurier, and one imagines he’s made a real connection with her as he got so close she tried to refer him to a different psychiatrist, just as he does to Franklin moments before the rube’s unfortunate demise. But I can’t help but feel like Du Maurier is just another shield Hannibal employs to keep the authorities off his trail, another thread woven into in the human mask he wears (it’s even implied that Du Maurier suspects Hannibal of being a psychopath*). Hannibal tells his psychiatrist he feels responsible for Franklin’s death mere days after breaking the man’s neck himself, and I’m not sure if he’s suffering from some sort of cognitive dissonance or if he’s just saying what is expected of a normal person. Really, he seems to only bring Franklin up to segue to Will, the man he actually wants to be friends with despite the pair’s completely opposite personalities.
This is the theme that underwrote “Fromage” and Bryan Fuller and co. tie it into the episode seamlessly. There’s this sense that deep down, Hannibal is impossibly lonely, but not in the sappy, introspective way Dexter is (which is why Dexter is such an unrealistic character- a sociopath with feelings); Hannibal is like Spock- he experiences emotions but he doesn’t know what they mean or how to deal with them. When Tobias, a fellow killer, offers his hand in friendship Hannibal refuses and not because, as it would be with unrealistic Dexter, Tobias’ sickness reflects his own and makes Hannibal disgusted. It’s more because a) Tobias is a liability as he knows Hannibal’s secret and b) Tobias is only attracted to Hannibal for the same reasons Franklin is. Tobias and Franklin are obsessed with Hannibal because he’s a psychopath, but Hannibal believes Will’s ability (which is seeming more and more like a superpower) allows the profiler to understand him, not necessarily accept him, just get him. Will gets Hannibal, even if he doesn’t realize it. This is the heart of their relationship, and the root of why it’s so intriguing for viewers like me.
Meanwhile, Will is completely unraveling which story-wise, is a good thing. Will wouldn’t be interesting if he was just a serial killer-hunting superhero, but his wonky mental state means that eventually he’ll have to have a total meltdown. Like with everything on this show, I’d prefer it if that happened sooner rather than later. If Will is hearing rats in the walls and trying to mack on Dr. Bloom for the next five episodes he’ll start to wear the audience down and become grating.
The same goes for the Chesapeake Ripper A-story. If I had to guess, Hannibal will be unmasked in the season finale, that seems pretty inevitable at this point. There’s four episodes before the end, and they’re on very shaky ground. Bryan Fuller is clearly wildly talented, so I trust him… but the four eps leading to the finale could either be extremely frustrating or totally awesome. As long as it never veers into “hard to suspend your disbelief” territory, I’m fine with dragging the Chesapeake Ripper thing out til the finale. But the noose is tightening, so if there’s deus ex machina or other obnoxious plot points that allow Hannibal to keep slipping out from under the FBI’s nose, the show will start to slip into dumb Dexter territory. The problem is that Hannibal seems to be on the razor’s edge after this episode- his fight with Tobias is suspicious and Jack didn’t really buy it. How much longer can he realistically avoid detection?
Even if the story is stretched out until it’s brittle and dry, I know it will at least always be entertaining… in a nightmare-inducing kind of way. Fuller is a master of creating horrifying, gory imagery that is also surprisingly beautiful, yet haunting. Each week the show outdoes itself and I think the man-cello from “Fromage” may be the most disgusting and bizarre kill yet. The creepiest part? When Will, during one of his hallucinatory trances, plays the man-cello while the ghost of Garrett Jacob Hobbes applauds from the stands.
Speaking of Hobbes, where’s Abigail? She seemed like such a big part of the show when she was introduced but has been absent since “Ceuf,” the episode that was pulled by Fuller and NBC. I suppose it’s hard to elegantly work her into the story, but as Dr. Bloom is still not much more than a love interest for Will, I miss having an interesting female presence on the show. Gillian Anderson is great as is her character, but she’s a minor supporting character so I still detect a female vacuum on Hannibal. And god, can we have as little of these lab techs as possible from now on? I hate all three of them. Why does every goddamn cop/FBI show have to have quirky, strangle-worthy lab tech characters? Is that like, a network mandate? ‘Cause it’s frakkin’ infuriating. At least on The X-Files their lab techs were paranoid hippie conspiracy theorists.
The preview for next week implies Will may finally uncover Hannibal’s secret. If that’s the case, I may be completely wrong about them dragging that plotline out until the finale.
*This is a minor complaint, but it’s bugging me that these criminal psychologists and FBI profilers keep using the term “psychopath,” which as I understand it, has become an antiquated term in the field because it’s too similar to psychoticism. The correct term is sociopath, which is interchangeable with psychopath but more commonly used in modern day psychological parlance. So Bryan Fuller, stop having your genius criminal profilers use it. Authenticity, brosef.