23rd Aug2015

‘Hannibal 3×12: The Number of the Beast is 666′ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“You owe me awe.”

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Mouthing off has never been rebuked in so direct a fashion. In ‘The Number of the Beast is 666,’ Dolarhyde gets his borrowed teeth into Dr. Chilton’s much-abused flesh. The Dragon may use dentures to disguise his bite pattern and to make his bite more painful, but they also perform a powerful transubstantiation (something always on the show’s mind) by transforming his mouth into a proxy for Hannibal’s. The doctor wields Dolarhyde like a foil, goading Will toward murder and insanity while taking petty revenge on Frederick, a man defined in large part by how out of his depth he nearly always is. This is the close of his three-year opera. He has allowed Will to build a life and now, the Dragon’s reins in hand, he’s preparing to burn that life to cinders so that Will can rise from the wreckage as a monster worthy of the strength of Hannibal’s feelings for him.

“Is Hannibal in love with me?” Will asks Bedelia, a spectacularly poor choice for a new therapist. Bedelia confirms what anyone who has a Tumblr account could have told him: yes, deeply. The answer, and Bedelia’s cruel inquiry as to whether or not he returns Hannibal’s feelings, is a maggot eating at Will’s conscience for the rest of the episode. Hugh Dancy’s performance has grown on me tremendously as the series has gone on, and his breakable rage and irritation in season 3 are beginning to show the rough outlines of Hannibal’s re-emergent master plan. Near the episode’s opening Hannibal and Jack discuss the furor of the Dragon’s continued rampage, but it’s not the Dragon Hannibal counsels Jack to fear. It’s the Lamb, the true harbinger of destruction and rebirth in the Book of Revelation. Watch out for the quiet ones.

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The answer to the question of whether or not Hannibal acts alone in goading the Dragon depends on where, exactly, the bounds of Hannibal’s agency end. Will framing Chilton, marking him as a pet for the Dragon to maim, isn’t the first time we’ve ever seen Will use people in a lethal capacity. He manipulated Chiyoh in a similar way back at the start of the season, and the grim air of conspiracy between Will and Jack when the former poses with a smiling Chilton after Freddie Lounds takes dictation on their attack piece aimed at provoking the Dragon into coming after, ostensibly, Will makes the whole thing feel like an ugly piece of shadow theater. Hannibal runs through Will like poison, shaping his conscious and unconscious actions for the worse.

Will is palpably boiling over, consumed by visions of his wife dead by his hand and wearing the faces of Mrs. Jacobi and Mrs. Leeds. Overwhelmed, he pulls at the skin of his own face like he’s trying to find something different beneath it. In his interview with Lounds he lets loose a volley of deeply personal insults aimed at the Dragon, confident thanks to his huge capacity for empathy that some, at least, will find their mark. “He’s an ugly sexual failure,” he snarls, forcing a rattled Chilton to translate his verbal attacks into psycho-babble fit for a slickly professional interview. “He’s impotent. He comes from a house of incest.” For all his talk of getting help for the Dragon, he knows what he’s buying when he attacks the man so bluntly.

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“I have seen a lot of hostility, but this was quantifiably bitchy,” says Chilton, waving an article by Hannibal which refutes his entire best-selling book and makes him appear a fraud and a liar for supporting Hannibal’s bid for legal insanity. The doctor’s last hours as a man with skin resemble a pinball’s course through a machine full of bumpers made of hammers and broken glass. Hannibal shows him a noose for his professional career like a smug car salesman on the showroom floor, Jack and Will deftly sucker him into laying himself on the altar, and finally the Dragon kills his escort and hauls him from his car.

From the moment Chilton wakes in Dolarhyde’s lair to the moment Dolarhyde comes spider-quick over the couch to tear his lips off of his face, Raul Esparza is tremendous. He’s always been the weakest of his circle, a coward and an intellectual lightweight who hides his deep-seated (and partially justified) feelings of inadequacy behind a facade of smirking insolence. Now his repeated maimings have left him too frightened to contemplate another. He trembles and pleads in Dolarhyde’s seething shadow, finding a vein of lickspittle eloquence he hasn’t always been able to tap in extremis. “Am I burned? I hope I am not burned,” he slurs with prophetic unease when he wakes to find himself glued to a wheelchair in Dolarhyde’s living room. The close focus on his skin stretching as he attempts to pull away from the chair is just one of the uncomfortably intimate touches by director Guillermo Navaro, as are the shots on Dolarhyde’s powerful hands on Chilton’s trembling shoulders.

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The line around which the entire exchange turns isn’t Dolarhyde’s famous “You owe me awe,” though, but Chilton’s answer to whether or not God will help him if he prays. “I don’t know,” he sobs. “I do not know, I do not, I do not think about it after I ought to.” He’s seeing his own ratlike nature in the cold light of being forced to interrogate himself while at his lowest point, becoming conscious of the habits that have driven him to repeat his mistakes. If there is grace, it is not found in moments such as this one. That he backpedals and begins, if frailly, to believe that he will be released with nothing worse than a rash and some raw skin, makes it so much worse. I can’t stress just how grisly Dolarhyde’s assault on Chilton is. Who Bryan Fuller killed (and then wrapped in a cocoon of rejected scripts and hanged in the lobby) in the Standards & Practices office at NBC to get that bloody mess on network television, I have no idea.

Chilton’s final escape from the jaws of death is unbearably cruel. He survives his mauling and immolation, but he is hideously burned from head to toe and left almost incapable of speech. As Jack puts it, “He’s trashed. You’d better get yourself ready for this.” Chilton knows, too, that Will dangled him for the Dragon to devour. He points out the aimlessness of it, the lack of profit for the investigation, and accuses Will of having done it out of curiosity. Hannibal certainly seems gleeful enough about the outcome. Chilton’s long litany of offenses against him, the latest of which is a delightfully spiteful monologue about Chilton’s willingness to subject Hannibal to rape and stewed apricots, are finally answered. His moment of gloating eye-contact with Alana as he slurps down one of Chilton’s severed lips, sent as a love letter by the Dragon, is as darkly hilarious as the show’s ever been. The brief, flat cut to the moment and then back to a chuckling Hannibal held in restraints is stupendous.

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‘The Number of the Beast is 666′ is an hour of horrors personal and grandiose, a stunning theater of gore and highwire tension. From Chilton sweating bullets while Dolarhyde and Reba talk about soup to the Miltonic visions of the Dragon and his victims, it’s an episode which promises a bloody, squirming, horrid finale to an irreplaceable series. Next week’s ‘The Wrath of the Lamb’ is more than likely the last time we’ll see Hannibal on the air. It’s a huge loss for television, the worst since Deadwood got the axe way back in 2006, but the journey has given us wonders and horrors the likes of which we’ll never see again. For three years we’ve been Dante’s pilgrims traveling through Hell, and next week we’ll be privileged (hopefully less directly than poor Frederick) to see this whole grisly carnival come to an end.

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