26th Jul2015

‘Hannibal 3×08: The Great Red Dragon’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“There is no name for what this man is.”

Well, here’s a horse of a different color. Hannibal has jumped ahead three years, upending its status quo even as it calls back repeatedly to its pilot. Jack recruits Will to rejoin the FBI, Will visits Hannibal seeking an expert consultant, and Will visits a blood-spattered house and slips into the murderer’s mind. The game’s the same, but the players have changed. And what a difference it makes. Will, brittle and twitchy as ever, has found peace and family with Molly and her 11-year-old son. Hannibal, stripped of dignity and freedom as a result of his ploy to remain close to Will, is bumping up against the limits of his memory palace while a bitter Alana chafes at Chilton’s company at the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

Hannibal‘s head-first plunge into its adaptation of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon also introduces us to a new antagonist, the tortured and orally-fixated Francis Dolarhyde. Richard Armitage plays with his commanding physique to make Dolarhyde a figure of clockwork horror and pitiable derangement. Wordless throughout the episode’s course, Dolarhyde assembles himself before our eyes with skin-crawling slowness. Fixated on William Blake’s famous painting, ‘The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed In the Sun,’ he has the titular dragon tattooed on his back (the tattooing itself shown in uncomfortably sensual slow motion, the needle pulsing blood and ink into the air) and keeps himself honed to his physical peak with a grotesque exercise routine. His moments of fear and confusion, his haunting by the ambient growls and whispers of what sounds like an actual dragon(perhaps pursuing him from his last gig as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit), and his bizarre and beautiful vision of being subsumed by a film projector impart a distinctly unsettling visual and emotional texture to the character.




Armitage is spellbinding in his enactment of Dolarhyde’s physical tics and tremors. Moved to kill in rough sync with the lunar cycle and fixated on murdering happy families in their homes, he wears a set of snaggletooth dentures to bite his dead victims. This, sometime before the episode’s time frame, earned him the unwanted sobriquet “the Tooth Fairy.” In the grip of his murderous seizure he is wholly the beast, stalking naked and bloody through the snow, mouth agape, body convulsing. Will’s journey through the blood-spattered scene of his crime reveals a man living in a world literally fractured, positioning broken shards of mirror over the mouths and genitals of the dead so that his silence, his physical dominion, extends even to the sensations of others.

Will’s return to the FBI feels earned, but no less harrowing for it. The man has been through Hell and emerged with a clearer sense of his own moral boundaries. He has rediscovered his empathy just in time for Jack to demand that he use it once again to step into the skin of a killer. Restored to the bosom of his dogs and disinclined to return to the hunt, it takes Molly’s pointed and insightful advice to stir Will to action. Molly shows a keen understanding of Will by pointing out that if he hears the Tooth Fairy struck again, if he learns of another family literally torn apart, his own place of domestic peace will be poisoned for him. Will is uneasy in action, but passivity gives the world license to filter itself through him with ruinous results. Molly is a late player in the twilight of Hannibal‘s days on the airwaves, but Nina Arianda gives her an appealingly pragmatic ease.

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Chilton taking a moment of viewers’ time to take a jab at Hannibal‘s shaky ratings was gut-busting. At a private dinner in the asylum he mocks the good doctor with the knowledge that the Tooth Fairy has eclipsed his crimes. “You, with your fancy allusions and fussy aesthetics, will always have niche appeal,” Chilton drawls, licking his dessert spoon, “but this fellow, there is something so universal about what he does. Kills whole families. And in their homes. Strikes at the very core of the American Dream.” He’s right, too. Like all the best monsters, Dolarhyde is a psychological threat before he’s a physical one. He is a wolf to man, a promise that no bliss is secure, that no home is truly safe.

Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game of Thrones) directs with aplomb. His close-ups of Dolarhyde’s rippling muscles, his conflation of human flesh and mechanical processes, and his serenely barren shots of Will’s snowbound woodland retreat give the episode a feeling that slithers from icky to bleak with no seams left visible. His dissociative camera glides after Will on his trek through the house of the murdered family, frames with intimate ease the dual reality of Hannibal’s palace and his austere surroundings in the physical world, and stares unflinchingly at Dolarhyde’s derangement.

If this is Hannibal‘s swan song, they’d better bury the swan deep.


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