Hannibal S03E11: "The Number of the Beast is 666" At the start of this half of the season, Chilton said that the Tooth Fairy/the Great Red Dragon was a four-quadrant killer, whereas Hannibal was a little too niche for his own good. It was a sly bit of self-awareness on Hannibal's behalf, an acknowledgement that it is delightful and weird and as a result, caters to a small—albeit deeply devoted—audience. It was also an acknowledgement that by going into Red Dragon territory the show was entering perhaps its most commercial phase. It is, after all, adapting a novel that had been adapted twice before, and one that is focused on a serial killer who is tortured and very violent. He even leaves the show's now trademark murder tableaux, but they're nothing that are quite as ostentatious as a man in a tree or a human cello. (It also, I like to think, anticipated critiques of the first half of Season 3; Bryan Fuller and his team are too smart to not know that the first half of this season was going to maybe stretch things pretty far for audiences, even those who love the show.) "The Number of the Beast is 666" certainly felt like the clearest sign of Hannibal's desire to be, if not still fully itself, then at least a slightly more accessible version of itself, probably the version of itself that thrived before it stuffed a social worker inside of a horse. I'm not saying this as a criticism, but more to note that this week's episode made sure to explain things in pretty clear terms. The ambiguity that Hannibal so often rolls around in like a pig in mud wasn't really narrative or aesthetic this week; it was more simply grounded in the characters' moral ambiguity as Jack, Will, and Alana all but served up poor Frederick to the Dragon. Dude cannot catch a break. Again, this isn't a criticism, but rather a note of a shift in tone. Hannibal always liked to explain itself, but it tended to leave the last little bit of explanation hanging, lost to the quick cut to an act break or the end of the episode. This week, we received both visual and spoken confirmation of what Will saw when he looked at Molly, a bit of a hanging thread from the end of the last episode. He saw her changed in the way the Dragon changed Mrs. Leeds and Mrs. Jacobi, and now it was all he could see. We were granted it in a stylistic flourish of seeing Nina Arianda done up as a woman clothed in the sun, and then it was explained, aloud, as well. It's an odd bit of redundancy from the show, even if it made sense within its context for the characters to be, at this point, (mostly… again, poor Chilton) more forthcoming with one another. This also occurred with explaining the whole plot regarding luring the Dragon into a rash act and setting up Chilton as the patsy, or pet, as the case was here. Will and Bedelia discussed it in therapy (How lovely was it, by the way, that Will was now getting therapy from Hannibal's former therapist? Then again, she's the only one who would understand.) as Will pointed out that the Dragon always killed the pets first, and then, to drive the point home, Chilton said it again, as best he could anyway. One of these mentions would've likely been enough, but it again felt like a mix of Chilton wanting Will to know that he knew he got played—again, characters being more forthcoming with one another. This impulse for clear explanation wasn't an NBC thing because I doubt NBC truly gave a damn—if they had, the show would've never been as ambiguous as it was—so it felt like a conscious decision on behalf of the show. It's as if Hannibal was saying, "Yeeeah. The first half was maybe a little opaque. Let's map some of this out and make sure it comes across clearly." There's also the sense that this to-the-pointness mimicked the prose of a crime novel, and of all of the Hannibal Lecter novels, Red Dragon operates the most in that vein (save for the Dolarhyde flashback sections, of course, but even those can be a little clinical). So there's a bit of a prose tone sampling happening here as well, adding to the show's already extensive narrative sampling and remixing. I'm actually tempted to go back and see if this impulse has been here since we started this arc and I'm just noticing it now, or if this was just something of one-off occurrence. If it was a one-off occurrence then the over-explanation of things might be a way to call attention to the absence of Will, Alana, and Jack themselves not deeply interrogating their actions by making Chilton a target. After all, the three of them, more than anyone, know what it's like to both put a man on a hook and to be the man on the hook. Hannibal and Bedelia were both more than happy to call attention to it, but none of the trio seemed all that concerned by their actions. Jack just wanted to catch the guy, same as ever. Alana was long past the point of her moral quandaries, and Will was ready to go home. Add on the fact that none of them have ever liked Chilton, and well, there you go. The indifference to the whole affair was more than a bit surprising throughout the episode, which made Will's eventual realization of just what they had consciously or subconsciously done all the more emotionally taxing. It wasn't just his response to the video that brought this taxation about for me, either. No, really, it was how Will refused to look at the burned wreckage of Frederick Chilton. It wasn't the state of Chilton's scorched body that caused Will to avert his gaze but the fact that Will knew he was responsible for it, and he had perhaps realized just how far he's fallen once again. Not to mention how he and the others nicely played Chilton to a punishment that Hannibal would approve of ("Wood burns because it has the proper stuff in it."), something else that was pointed out for us. Now you're just like, "But, Noel, what about everything that happened in Dolarhyde's house? Wasn't that great?" It was so great. Like, way too good. Last week, I touched briefly on how well I thought Richard Armitage was doing with Francis Dolarhyde, and that continued here, but in a different way. We've seen him as Dolarhyde for pretty much the entirety of the run so far, but this was the first time we've been granted an extended experience with Armitage as the Great Red Dragon. So much of what Dragon should be is defined by what Dolarhyde isn't in front of others. Confident. Deranged. Arrogant. Demanding. Raspy. Contemplative. So it's important that we've seen Dolarhyde, mild-mannered photo and video lab technician, struggle with the Dragon before it's essentially unleashed and had nearly completed its becoming. That contrast was necessary so that this moment was horrifying for us as much as it was for Chilton. Glimmers of Dolarhyde couldn't come out, or it would break the illusion. It's why as the Dragon touched Chilton, it was horrifying for all the obvious reasons, but weird because that body was a body that we've watched refrain and pull away from physical contact. Here, it's sensual and controlled. Even when Reba stopped by to drop off soup, it's not Dolarhyde who answered the door but the Dragon playing Dolarhyde. Armitage simply got it. Really, though, it's Raúl Esparza's episode. I have a widely acknowledged soft spot for Hannibal's Frederick Chilton, and it's mostly due to Esparza's performance. He makes the weaselly, maligned, self-important psychiatrist so darn likable—making him the canary in the coal mine about Hannibal in Season 2 certainly helped as well—that watching Chilton get played again by his betters was pretty horrible. His interactions with Hannibal in this episode were a really great summation for the character. I loved how Esparza just whined out, "This was quantifiably bitchy!" and "Of course it didn't! I was lying! On your behalf! To save your life!" while still getting some measure of satisfaction that Hannibal's locked up. It's never enough for Chilton, but nothing ever is. Then there was just everything about his scene in the Dolarhyde home. Esparza had to be on since the camera didn't break away from him too often (and wisely left the Dragon largely out of focus, a fuzzy threat that we can't quite see to emphasize how Chilton simply couldn't see—and didn't want to see!—him). Esparza was more than up for it, though. It was a long sequence, an intense sequence, as we watched Chilton go through every possible gambit that he thought would spare his life. Ignorance and confusion. Assurances. Bargaining. Placating. Pitiful attempts at creating empathy. And while the words come as fast as furious as they could, they were choked by a harrowing amount of fear. Esparza's voice was on the verge of wailing, he's constantly swallowing, and he let us see Chilton's gears turning as he tried to figure out a way to escape. It's positively childlike, and it's really captivating. Without Esparza and Chilton as its center, this sequence could've faltered, or easily have become overshadowed by Armitage's performance. Instead, there was a nice balance between the two actors. And given everything else this show has put Chilton through—having his organs removed, getting framed as the Chesapeake Ripper, getting shot in the face—it was all the more terrifying and exhausting (in good ways) to watch the show exact one last bit of torture on the pompous peacock. À LA CARTE – Hannibal slurping up Chilton's lip was just the most amazing cutaway gag (HA!) of the year. – Was so glad to finally get Dolarhyde's kimono. I have been waiting on it. – Since I did three solid paragraphs about the novels last week, I skipped over that this week, but I appreciated how the show, having already pulled the Freddie/Freddy Lounds fiery wheelchair bit in Season 2, did it again but here used as a commentary on Will and Jack's methods for catching killers (which was also explained to us…) instead of a bit of psych-out for the book readers. Sly, sly stuff. – Also regarding the novel: it's wonderful how so much of novel Freddy Lounds' dialog slipped so easily into Chilton's mouth during his sequence with the Dragon. – "They cry when they do not like the stewed apricots." – "I. Am. The Dragon." is apparently never going to be not ridiculous. What did you think of "The Number of the Beast is 666"?
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