Monday, June 15, 2015

RECAP: Hannibal 3x02 - The Journey to Forgiveness

Like I told you all last week, we've got a guest coming in to recap Hannibal for us all! So a big KMWW welcome to Kyla Furey, aka my awesome roommate and partner in crime.

It’s probably for the best that not every show on TV is like Hannibal. But man, am I ever glad that one of them is. Listen, I’m going to recap this episode here for you, but the best I can give you is a series of things that happen. It’s not going to be able to capture the beautiful, strange art that is this show, and that’s as it should be. 

Television is a visual medium. If I could encapsulate it simply by writing down the events that occur, it wouldn’t exactly be making the best use of its form, now would it? I highly recommend that everyone go out and watch this beautiful strangeness for themselves. Or at the very least find some gifsets.

Someone on Tumblr described this episode as “where Will argues with himself over how much he loves Hannibal,” and yeah basically that’s it that’s the episode. After opening with an incredibly distressing flashback to the most literally gut-wrenching scene from the Mizumono finale last year (thanks, show, I really needed that reminder of all that time I spent curled up crying on the floor), we learn just before the opening credits that Will and Abigail are both still alive.*

Or do we? I was suspicious from the beginning about Abigail’s presence in this episode. Will is our most hallucination-prone character, and on a meta-level we were told that not everyone who was left bleeding at the end of last season would survive. Jack and Alana still have roles to play, arcs to redeem, but Abigail was the logical choice for cutting out of the land of the living (not being a character of any significance in the books). 

So while I desperately wanted Abigail to be alive - I felt sorely used after last season when she was brought back only to be immediately taken from us again, and wanted a more fleshed-out role for her - I also couldn’t bring myself to fully believe it.** 

Will talks with Abigail about whether she can forgive Hannibal, and also about the nature of morality, God and the afterlife. And remember, since Abigail is likely a hallucination at this point, we can interpret any conversation Will has with her as one he is having with himself. 

He refers to his belief in the afterlife as ‘closer to science fiction than anything in the Bible’ and describes the branching universe theory where every decision that can go differently does go differently in some infinite universe of parallel dimensions. Everything that can happen does happen somewhere, and so the things that have happened here are just the inevitable result of being in the world that we happen to be in. In a way, no one is ever at fault. Perhaps what happened in that bloody kitchen was simply meant to be?

After everything he’s done, does Abigail (Will) still want to go to Hannibal? 


I particularly loved their opening scene together because Abigail seems frustrated with Will, berating him. Through her we get Will’s guilt: “Why did you keep lying to him?” and “How could you betray him like that?” Her admission that she wanted to go with Hannibal, despite knowing it was wrong, that she still does, becomes his admission.

Will recalls that Hannibal told him about the Norman chapel in Palermo, Italy as a place of significance for him. Having little else in the way of leads, Will hares off to Italy. He brings Abigail, another hint that she’s probably not real, and their talks about God and the afterlife continue, muddied by the Christian setting they come to. 

Abigail wonders if Will thinks Hannibal is God, but Will says that Hannibal would have more fun defying God than being him. He puts himself into one of Hannibal’s fantasies where the chapel roof collapses on all of them. What Hannibal and God care about is elegance, Will says. “Elegance is more important than suffering. That’s His Design.”

Hannibal’s design soon becomes apparent as the human heart sculpture from the end of the previous episode appears in the chapel shortly thereafter.*** The Italian police question Will, presumably because he kept standing at the edge of their crime scene staring at it in silence like a crazy person. At headquarters he meets Inspector Pazzi, another detective with a long history of chasing Hannibal. They discuss prayer, because of course they do. 

Pazzi says that prayer “leaves you with the distinct feeling you’re not alone.” It seems he means to relate himself to Will, but it also serves as an interesting parallel relating Will to Abigail, who appears immediately following this statement and then disappears again. His holding on to her is a sort of prayer, in his own way.

Pazzi compares himself to Will and Will’s empathy - I’m skeptical, since Pazzi seems fairly sane, all things considered - and shares his Hannibal-chasing history with Will, including an old photo of Hannibal when he was younger. It becomes clear that Hannibal has been pulling shit for a LONG time. And has been just as hard to catch; as they return to the chapel, Pazzi shares the story of how Hannibal escaped suspicion back in the day, the same way we’ve seen him do in the series so far.

Will gets photos of the current heart-sculpture crime scene (the real thing having been cleaned up by this point) and does his empathy thing, leading to one of the creepiest tableaus the show has managed thus far. The torso used in the heart’s creation unfolds, grows hooves from the ends of its severed limbs, and begins to stalk towards Will, growing sharp, thorny antlers from the open end of its neck where the head should be. It’s tough to describe just how gruesome and clearly menacing this specter is. The antlers are both hands and weapons, reaching for Will, seeking to impale him.

The contrast to the Ravenstag from previous seasons is pointed (if you’ll pardon the pun). The Ravenstag was a majestic beast, dark and ominous but rarely overtly threatening (and towards the end, responding to Will’s intentions and sometimes even doing his bidding), It represented Will and Hannibal’s relationship, their connection to each other. At the end of Mizumono we saw it die, bleeding out on the floor in the wake of Hannibal’s departure. 

Now, what is this new monstrosity that arises in its place? This is no elegant beast but a misshapen and aggressive monster, thin as a corpse and horribly deformed. It does not calmly watch Will from the shadows as the Ravenstag did; it actively attacks him. What does this mean for Will and Hannibal’s relationship, I wonder? I suppose only time will tell.

Abigail brings Will out of his empathic hallucination just before the beast reaches him, and Will soon calms enough to be self-deprecating about the encounter. “I do feel closer to Hannibal here,” he says, voice laced with self-directed condescension. “God only knows where I’d be without him.” 

Where indeed. Home with your dogs, probably, sane but also lonely. Will understands that this heart is a valentine meant for him, but that it is also a gruesome joke, a trap meant to pull Will in and twist him up inside. “Do you still want to go with him?” he asks Abigail (himself). And again, the answer is still yes. After everything, still yes.

But before Hannibal can re-enter Will’s life, Will has to admit to himself, fairly and truly, what happened back in Baltimore, and his desire to see Hannibal in spite of it all. And that means accepting the truth about what Hannibal did to Abigail. Accepting that she’s dead, and that even so, he wants to go to Hannibal anyway. In a heart-wrenching musing, Will wonders about a world in which they left together, “like we were supposed to.” A world where no one had to die.

Will apologizes to Abigail for failing her, and accepts the truth of what happened.**** He doesn’t say that he’s sorry, but you can feel the apology in him, for not being able to protect her, for not being able to make a place for her, for getting her killed in the crossfire between himself and Hannibal. She disappears, the hallucination that we suspected her to be. As Will sits broken on the steps of the chapel, we see this acceptance bear fruit: Hannibal is watching him, the man’s first appearance all episode. Now that Will has accepted the truth about him, he manifests.

Will remains in the chapel until the re-appearance of Inspector Pazzi. Will warns Pazzi off the pursuit of Hannibal, warns him about the likely threat to Pazzi’s life, but Pazzi is convinced that the man that Hannibal would send his heart to is a lead worth pursuing. Will uses his super Hannibal-sensing powers to determine that Hannibal is still in the church, lurking in the catacombs beneath the building. He and Pazzi explore the catacombs together, until Will gets frustrated with this company and tells Pazzi to go back. Pazzi accuses Will of being already dead, but does leave.

Once again, pushing other people away seems to bring Hannibal closer to Will, as we see that his instincts were right and Hannibal is indeed watching them both in the dark tunnels. Will whispers aloud his confession: he forgives Hannibal. Hannibal hears it, but does not respond. At least not yet. And there we end for the week.

This episode is Will’s journey to Hannibal, both physically and metaphorically. No matter how close he gets to Hannibal’s actual location, Will cannot truly meet the man on even terms until he accepts what Hannibal has done and forgives him. 

“Forgiveness is a conscious and unconscious state,” as Bella put it last season. Forgiveness has to happen to Will, but it must also be something that he actively performs. Understanding that his feelings are still there in spite of the man’s atrocities must be hard on Will; even Will himself doesn’t seem to know where they will go next. But now, at least, Will is prepared to find him.

* Will wakes up via this incredibly beautiful sequence of shots involving him drowning in blood and then his face coming together out of the shattered fragments of a porcelain teacup. It made clear why Bryan Fuller referred to this episode as the ‘artsy-fartsiest’ episode they’d ever done. The low budget on this show means that not every shot is a homerun; one or two of the blood waves look fairly badly green-screened. But DAMN was that sequence gorgeous overall. Like, this is why I watch this show. This is the thing you don’t get elsewhere on TV.

** “I hope some other worlds are kinder to me,” she says in response to Will’s rambling about how their story might have gone differently. I hope so to. This is an interesting commentary on the show’s relationship with its fans, though. Whereas in something like Supernatural they make a clear distinct line between canon and fandom - “you have your story, we have ours” - here fandom is presented as a sort of expanded universe. Everything is canon, in some world. Everything exists as part of a continuum, and the show is just one world where it happened to go this particular way.

*** The heart is skewered on three swords, and people have pointed out that this is likely a direct reference to the “three of swords” tarot card, a card with three swords piercing a heart, which specifically represents hurtful betrayal and rejection of love. Just another one of those beautiful little gems this show leaves for those who look carefully.

**** Another one of the truly gorgeous sequences in this episode, where we see side-by-side the process of Will’s surgery in the hospital and Abigail’s embalming. The two are mirrors of each other, with Will coming back closer and closer to life even as Abigail descends into death. It’s another visual that really sticks with you, from an episode chock full of them.

On a show with this much gore and beautifully shot viscera, they blur out boobs? Lame.
Kyla Furey is an independent game designer and writer. She is also one of the hosts of the game-analysis podcast, Feedback Force, and hosts a weekly Saturday night game livestream on Twitch TV. She enjoys the surreal and the moody in her media, hence her great love of NBC’s Hannibal. You can follow her on Twitter @Kyla_Go where she livetweets Hannibal on Thursdays at 10pm Pacific.

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