19th Jun2015

‘Hannibal 3×03: Secondo’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“This room holds sound and motion, great snakes wrestling and heaving in the dark.”

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One by one the figurative dead are passing through the mouth of the cathedral at Palermo and into the vastness of Hannibal’s palace. What they seek there differs from person to person. Inspector Pazzi sees a chance to recapture glory by snaring Il Mostro. Will chases phantoms in a labyrinth of his own devising. Jack is there to collect the man whose imagination and sense of self he blames himself for breaking. “Not my house, not my fire,” he tells Pazzi when the other man suggests they salvage their careers together by diving into the unknown in search of Hannibal.

Jack understands that Hannibal cannot be pursued by conventional means, just as he cannot be moved by conventional praise. To untwist the knot of Hannibal’s life is to watch cells divide in a petri dish; the processes may be recognizable, but that doesn’t mean they’re illuminating. That’s the real brilliance of ‘Secondo,’ an episode which peels pack the layers of Hannibal to reveal an infinity of evil instead of any sole defining cause or reason. ‘Secondo’ posits a formative crux, a cannibalistic killer who took Hannibal’s beloved sister from him and set him on his monstrous path, and then the curtain is pulled back on empty air. There’s nothing to the story, just another of Hannibal’s lies and the sound of serpents wrestling in the dark.

The Lithuanian locale for Hannibal’s childhood home, a sprawling and ruinous manor secluded within a mountain forest, is breathtaking to say the least. The antlered branches through which Will’s lonely flashlight sweeps suggest Hannibal’s gaunt, ink-skinned wendigo avatar(until they actually become it, for a moment) and the snail-filled undercroft and fountain give the impression that this place is being eaten out of time and space. Ghosts echo all around it, from the enigmatic Chiyo and her deranged prisoner to the phantom Hannibal will summons up from his inner consciousness to question, or perhaps just to converse with. “All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story,” Chiyo tells Will. He doesn’t need to be told; his internalization and fictionalization of the people he loves, however complicated that love may be, is already an ongoing process.

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Chiyo’s prisoner provides an opportunity to explore her as a character, to plumb Will’s motivations and emerging self-knowledge, and to look down the bottomless hole that is Hannibal’s past. “We have been imprisoned by each other for a long time,” she tells Will after he comes upon the man in the cellar of Hannibal’s home. The prisoner is gaunt and filthy, confined to a cell he’s bedecked with doll-like fetishes composed of straw, snail shells, and other refuse, but his true anguish stems from lack of human contact. Chiyo doesn’t speak to him or meet his gaze, and years of total isolation have left him desperate and unhinged.

The deeper Will goes into Hannibal’s memory palace, both in visiting its real-world inspirations and in welcoming Hannibal’s ghost into his mind, the less distinction there is between him and the vast, airy mental landscape of death in which he travels. When he frees the prisoner, conscious that Hannibal’s story about the man having eaten his beloved sister, Mischa, is a falsehood, he sets in motion a bloody chain of events. The man returns to his cell in order to ambush Chiyo, who kills him during the ensuing struggle by driving a bone fragment into his neck in a scene that establishes its own irreversibility even as it unfolds.

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“You wanted this,” Chiyo says. “He would be proud of you.” There’s truth in that. Will, like Hannibal, was curious as to whether or not Chiyo would kill in defense of her life. He simply chose a quicker route to test her, substituting deadly threat for long imprisonment. He protests the accusation, but only for a little while. In the end he accepts his actions and leaves the dead man’s body ensconced in a moth-like carapace echoing his own makeshift dolls and charms, a symbol of the transformation death brings and of his own metamorphosis into something more closely resembling the man Pazzi posits as the God of his universe.

Hannibal’s and Bedelia’s series of dinner parties and intimate moments has its sobriety and its murky metaphors, too. Bedelia asking Hannibal “What happened to you there?” when he reveals his unwillingness to return home and his response, “Nothing happened to me. I happened.” is a chilling sequence made worse by the visual bridge between Chiyo’s massaging of a dead pheasant’s feathers and Hannibal’s shampooing of Bedelia’s hair. All people, even the ones he deems interesting, are food to his man. Ego homini lupus, eh?

“How did your sister taste?” Bedelia asks before slipping under the water of the bath. Hannibal regards the surface in silence. Their conversation at the episode’s close suggests that when Hannibal feels love he must internalize it through ritualistic consumption. This both saves him the chaos of its uncontrollable influence on his heart and ensures that those things he loves best come to stay forever in his memory palace, under his rule. Hannibal’s humanity is not to be found in his past or in his connections. Where it is, of course, is in his sense of humor.

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Nothing else on television this year, except later in this same episode when he makes a cannibalism joke and then looks right into the camera like Jim on The Office, has made me laugh as loudly as this did. Hannibal‘s grasp on black comedy has really matured over the years. “The lamb must be newly slaughtered,” Hannibal tells his guests as Bedelia rolls her eyes and passes up human arm in favor of shellfish, “the organs cooked the same day. I always oversee this process personally.” You can almost imagine the supernatural powers needed to keep a straight face while delivering that kind of double entendre. I wonder if he’s ever lost it and started cackling during a pun.

In the end, Hannibal requires no dark origin story, no inciting trauma, in order to become a human antagonist because he already is a human antagonist. His affinity for play, his frustration with those who bore or irritate him, and his genuine love for music and food all serve to remind at every turn that he inhabits humanity intimately. He’s monstrous, yes, and the true horrors at the heart of him may well be unfathomable to people outside his unique perception of reality, but the wendigo of Will’s visions is only a lens through which to make sense of his vast capacity for manipulation and violence.

It’s easier to invent a monster than it is to admit what humans can do to one another.

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