02nd Aug2015

‘Hannibal 3×09: And the Woman Clothed With the Sun’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“I know what you’re afraid of. It isn’t pain or solitude. It’s indignity. You’re a little bit like a cat that way.”

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He’s been dragged through the tabloids, stripped of his fancy clothes, and deprived of his mystique in the eyes of the public and of his former victims, but even a Hannibal dressed in pajamas and locked away behind steel and fiberglass is a figure of Satanic stature. If he has more time to make catty comments about Will’s aftershave and Alana’s love of “a good finger-wagging,” it’s just his inner feline sharpening its claws. For all that ‘And the Woman Clothed With the Sun’ introduce’s Francis Dolarhyde’s voice(a tremendous performance by Richard Armitage. His tortured rasp is in a league with Tom Hardy’s muffled and ecstatic Bane) and his scorchingly plain-spoken love interest, it is very much Hannibal’s hour of television.

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Season 3’s ninth outing contains no deaths and no moments of shocking upset. It’s even comparatively light on gore, with the exception of Will’s disturbing vision of Molly subjected(at his own hands) to the Tooth Fairy treatment. Hannibal has always done beautifully in the slow lane, and ‘And the Woman Clothed With the Sun’ is a quiet work of breathtaking craftsmanship and exquisite attention to detail. Its blend of the real and grounded with the nakedly hallucinatory is a flawless bow on keeping its procedural elements in the same visual ballpark as its philosophizing. It also shows just how strong Hannibal’s influence is on those around him. Even when Will has his guard up, the sinister Virgil of Hannibal’s voice draws him deeper and deeper into visions of Dolarhyde’s mind until he stands naked and trembling in the snow, his body sheeted from head to toe in blood rendered black by moonlight.

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Intercut throughout the episode are vignettes dealing with Abigail Hobbs’ time as Hannibal’s hostage. Aside from giving us time with visuals like Hannibal and Abigail collaborating to spray her blood all over Will’s house, these scenes further flesh out the climax of ‘Mizumono,’ returning again to what is becoming a pitch-dark singularity in the series’ liminal space. The relationship between Hannibal and Abigail is mercurial and intense, Will’s and Hannibal’s erstwhile connection filtered through the lens of parenthood. Much of the terror Hannibal generates comes from his superhuman ability to be anywhere, to reach anyone, and to pull off really next-level craft projects in impossible timeframes and with no access to a Pottery Barn. Seeing the curtain pulled back, watching him interact with Abigail in the twisted mold he conjures for father and daughter, achieves the rare feat of making the known scarier than the unknown. Hannibal really, truly can feel a myriad different things at once with equal intensity and no apparent internal contradiction. He can love Abigail as he plans to kill her, and for him the two things are one.

“That isn’t love,” Abigail tells him when he tells her that her father cut her throat only out of love. Hannibal evades the issue by giving Abigail a murder by proxy, letting her slit her father’s corpse’s throat with the bone-handled hunting knife he made for her. It’s sober awakening to a unique brand of adult. If Hannibal is adept at guiding people out of childhood and into the wilderness, Francis Dolarhyde is locked up in the prison of his own minority. Visions of a Kafkaesque dinner table intrude on his private viewing of hand-shot footage of his murders, driving him to groan and clutch his head. Hannibal posits that Dolarhyde kills happy families to take from them what he cannot otherwise possess, a grisly form of arrested development in desperate need of an outlet.

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Dolarhyde’s tenuous move in that direction, his awkward courtship of Reba McClane(a studied and bluntly playful Rutina Wesley), is equal parts genuine and unsettling. The show has always had the infinite possibilities of human connection, for better and for much, much worse, at its heart, and there’s something of Will’s twitchy efforts at friendship in the way Dolarhyde protects himself. It’s also another way to show his diametric opposition to Hannibal, his fumbling attempts to find companionship so different from Hannibal’s suave and easy manipulation of those around him. The transformation offered by a connection to Reba, who declares that she likes Francis for the lack of pity he shows for her blindness because “pity feels like spit on my cheek,” is a mundane one set against the metamorphosis into which Dolarhyde is entering.

There, too, as in the transitory nature of Hannibal’s trophies(flesh) and the permanent nature of Dolarhyde’s(film), Francis and Hannibal diverge. When Will glimpsed Hannibal’s true nature, the ink-skinned wendigo, it was a revelation for him, a mystery unraveled. When we see the first sign of Dolarhyde’s other self, his draconic inner monster, it occurs in isolation. Dolarhyde is unknown country even to himself, his spiritual and mental transfiguration a process as out of his control as Hannibal’s artisanal murders are managed and perfected down to the last detail. The call between the two of them at the episode’s close just skirts corniness to deliver a satisfying  bone-deep thrill.

The episode’s tone is subdued, but leavened with the usual mix of crude punning(Molly’s joke about ‘feeling Randy’ is particularly great) and wry humor. Will’s revelation that Freddie Lounds referred to he and Hannibal as “murder husbands” in her tabloid paper is pure hilarious fanservice while Jimmy Price(Scott Thompson) and Brian Zeller(Aaron Abrams) are as delightful as ever as forensic coroners/a bickering married couple, and the show’s picture of a bored Hannibal sniping at his former friends is as snicker-worthy as it is discomfitting. When it comes to showing Hannibal’s humanity the show walks a fine line, offering glimpses of a vulnerability as peculiar as the rest of his self-image, but the moment in which Alana compares him to a housecat and threatens to take his toilet away from him if he hurts Will again is a picture of the Devil peeved and made small. He can bend reality, he can stretch the borders of his memory palace into a grotesque reflection of the world, but he’s also got to contend with the infuriatingly banal terms of his imprisonment.

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‘And the Woman Clothed With the Sun’ is a murmurous rabbit hole of an episode. Everybody’s wandering into the dark, a collection of disparate people leaving warmth and safety behind for blood, metamorphosis, and the pleasure cats get from teasing mice with the knowledge of mortality. Out there in the dark, known to Dolarhyde’s subconscious mind and perhaps to Hannibal’s conscious one, is a secret. If happy families are all alike, how does the Tooth Fairy pick his marks?

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