09th Aug2015

‘Hannibal 3×10: And the Woman Clothed in Sun’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“Did He who made the Lamb make thee?”

In the dark recesses of his attic, staring into a crack-crazed mirror, Francis Dolarhyde assembles one by one the parts of speech he’ll need to show himself to best advantage in his imminent conversation with a certain doctor. Re-approaching the Serial Killer Call, a stock element in crime procedurals, from Dolarhyde’s anxious perspective injects just enough humanity into the theatrical melodrama to completely and utterly sell the Miltonian horror of Hannibal’s vision of Dolarhyde as the Dragon.  As in ‘The Tiger,’ the poem by William Blake (who also created the paintings around which Dolarhyde’s psyche revolves) from which the episode takes much of its structure and subject matter, Dolarhyde is both observer and observed over the conversation’s course. His self is split into an anxious, fearful incarnation and the infernal majesty of his draconic avatar. Hannibal even quotes the poem by asking Dolarhyde if he believes that the God who gave Christ to humanity as a redeemer also fashioned Francis as a destroyer.

‘And the Woman Clothed in Sun’ is an episode deeply concerned with perceiving and being perceived as it relates to formulations and projections of identity. When Francis brings Reba to a snowbound zoo, giving her an opportunity to touch a tranquilized tiger, he opens a symbolic loop. Reba has never seen a tiger before. Led into the operating room, she quails at its smell and at its self-evident power until Francis convinces her to take advantage of the opportunity. Reba lays her hands on the tiger and asks that Francis describe it to her. The oversaturated orange of the big cat’s coat bleeds into the air around it just as Francis haltingly describes, burning bright as Blake would have it, but his words fail him when a transported Reba’s hand nears the tiger’s mouth. He agonizes in silence, terrified perhaps by the danger the cat represents and perhaps by how he mirrors those dangers.

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True to form, Reba and Dolarhyde’s subsequent romantic interlude sees her touching him in much the same way she approached touching the tiger. The tension, the sense of latent violence, is as intense with the man as it was with the best, but when morning comes and visions of heaven have faded, Dolarhyde in turn touches her as though she might incinerate him. He sees Reba as Blake’s woman clothed in the sun, a radiant figure paradoxically unable to perceive the radiance she wears. As Dolarhyde sees himself as Blake’s demonic Dragon, she is his prey and object and his ultimate destroyer as a Madonna and manifestation of the Judeo-Christian God.

Bedelia commits a similar contortion of perspective, selling a version of herself she knows to be false in a series of (presumably lucrative) lecture engagements. Her story, understandably, is well-known, and only Will knows that it’s phony as a three-dollar bill. When he seeks her out in private, aiming to discuss Hannibal and their shared past in hopes that it will show him a way forward, the explanation she produces for her tolerance for Hannibal’s crimes over the years is a tangled concept pulled off with flawless elegance. She explains that while she feels empathy, while she works to support and treat her friends and the people under her care, her first instinct is to crush that which shows weakness. She doesn’t, though. Instead, for the most part, she does as society expects of her and cares for the weak and downtrodden. Her unique turn of thought, though, let her sit at Hannibal’s left hand during his rampage through Europe without feeling enough horror to depart his company. It’s an explanation that makes sense of her character’s arc and behaviors without introducing new motives.

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The choice to explore the trauma of Bedelia’s relationship with her old patient is a perplexing one. The narrative throughline of the season’s back half is Dolarhyde and his becoming, and Bedelia’s past doesn’t even really echo the themes or images being developed there. It’s illuminating as to her psyche and self to watch her subtly crush Zachary Quinto’s agitated, aggressive psychiatric patient, but it’s hard to see what else it brings to the episode. Still, Hannibal is a show obsessed with time and with attempts to divine its influence and rewrite its passage and it’s ambitious enough that not every one of its detours down the shady avenues of the past can pan out entirely. Will’s conversation with Bedelia is barbed and quick, Bedelia quickly worming her way into Will’s weak spots by asking him how much his wife knows about how intimately he and Hannibal were connected. It’s a crack in Will’s new self-as-armor, a step up from what Bedelia calls his former psychic nudity in his interactions with Hannibal. In remaking himself, Will has shut and boarded doors behind which darkness still lurks. Hannibal’s ingenious discovery of Will’s and Molly’s address is a thread of that darkness reaching out to grasp and strangle.

The scenes in the Brooklyn Museum, coming after the brittle but tender humanity of Dolarhyde’s and Reba’s tryst, bring the Tooth Fairy’s compulsions back into the spotlight. Dolarhyde’s trembling transportation as an oblivious museumdocent extols Blake’s talents as a painter, the original Great Red Dragon before them, is magnetic. He kills the docent. He eats the painting, tearing strips from it with crocodilian shakes of his head, internalizing the power and significance he believes it to possess. “Even the best copies can’t do the colors justice,” the docent says before her death, and now Dolarhyde is the original.

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“Before Dante,” Bedelia lectures to a crowded and enthusiastic lecture hall, “we spoke not of the gates of Hell but of the mouth of Hell.” Seeing the glistening strings of spittle that stretch between the fangs of Dolarhyde’s misshapen dentures leaves little doubt as to whether or not said mouth is still around. Dolarhyde’s evil is primal, Biblical in scope and moment, and his oral fixation aligns him with Hannibal in that what he loves, he must consume if he is to be himself.

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