Even the devil has an origin story. And, like Hannibal, the one place he can never go is back home.
The trouble with filling in the blanks of a villain’s past is that those blanks are often part of what makes that villain so effective. The unknown and the incomprehensible are the dark soils in which our depictions of evil take root and once you start digging around looking for whatever decomposing skeletons are making the earth so rich, you threaten to kill the whole tree. (So I guess in this metaphor, the source of evil is nitrates?) Darth Vader’s black-as-space exterior and gas-mask helmet were inscrutable—he didn’t just use the Force, he was a force. But the prequels cut the character off at the knees in more ways than one. The revelation that the creation of this force wasn’t motored by anything so abstract as evil, but rather pouty teen angst, made him slightly more understandable and vastly less interesting. Once you start chipping away at the monolith, you better make sure there’s something more left over than a pile of rubble. That’s also the reason Christopher Nolan decided to turn the Joker’s origins into a shell game in The Dark Knight. The “what” of a villain is, at least on the surface, always easier to make work than the “why.”
That was the trouble with Hannibal Rising. It’s unclear whether Thomas Harris wrote it because of a De Laurentiis ultimatum—“I swear, we’ll get Ratner to write it!”—but if a room is always scarier with the lights out, the prequel novel took a flashlight to every closet and crawlspace of Hannibal’s past. Harris himself is too canny to be so reductive, but the general vibe readers took from the story of Hannibal’s teen revenge-tale is, “Oh, he eats people because Nazis made him eat his sister.”
It’s clear that Hannibal‘s third season, now on its third episode, is embracing the Rising mythos rather than shying away from it. But it’s still more of a side-hug. Rephrasing a line from The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal tells Du Maurier, “Nothing happened to me. I happened.” That is to say, don’t let all this talk of Mischa and personal atrocities fool you, Hannibal Lecter is not a result of simple cause and effect.
But if Hannibal remains unknowable to us, that’s not stopping Will from exploring the cobwebbed recesses and closed-off wings of Hannibal’s memory palace. “Secondo” refers to both the main course of an Italian meal and the second part of a musical piece. It also comes from the Latin Secundus, or, “He who follows.” That would be Will at this point. Will isn’t going on the Hannibal History Tour just so that he can track his location, he’s following him so that he can find his chewy center, inhabiting his past so that he can better know his nakama. As Sun Tzu advises, know your enemy. But knowledge is the first step to understanding, which is the gateway to true empathy, and throughout the series it’s been difficult for the audience to find the line between Will’s empathy and, well, love. Difficult for Will, too.
That’s because Will groks Hannibal, just as Hannibal groks Will. “Grok” actually has its own entry in the OED—“to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with”—but the real meaning as per my favorite Martian, Valentine Michael Smith, is something deeper and more spiritual. It requires a subsumption and thus, presumably, a consumption. Du Maurier compares their mutual betrayal last season to love, too. Betrayal requires a real connection at some level otherwise it’s just manipulation. All the great betrayers of history (Brutus, Judas, Lando) were sacrificing a siblinglike friendship in return for recompense or expediency. Hannibal and Will’s relationship is the same. As Jack—alive and well in the cathedral, a third voice is added to the fugue—points out to Pazzi, Will understands and accepts Hannibal. That’s a feat likely none have accomplished since dear departed (and ingested) Mischa.
RIP. The only thing missing from Castle Lecter is a dark and stormy night. We’re conditioned from books and movies to know that this is the kind place where monsters are made, the Gothic horror that birthed a Gothic horror. Will’s tromp through the grounds runs him up against Chiyoh, the castle’s current groundskeeper, as well as her prisoner, a shivering broken memory of the man who Hannibal says killed his sister. Or rather, like Will and Hannibal, they are each other’s prisoner, since she is yoked by her responsibility for his life. In Rising, Chiyoh is the maid and understudy to Hannibal’s aunt, Lady Murasaki, but it seems her role has been evolved and expanded for the series. Will lets loose the ragged man in a test of her will—an action akin to what Hannibal would do and another way Will is inhabiting his history—and she kills him. (Usually people die from getting a chicken bone stuck in their throat, not in their neck.) With nothing else to dedicate her life to, she joins forces with Will to seek out Hannibal so that he may write an ending for their stories. Meanwhile Hannibal appears to be getting bored and anxious for the hunt to start in earnest. He serves the churlish Professor Sogliato some prosciutto all’uomo and punch romaine, a drink served to the more upscale passengers of the Titanic. But it isn’t an iceberg Sogliato has to worry about so much as an ice pick, which is left to Du Maurier to remove in a coup de grace.
The snails return this episode, just as Bryan Fuller promised. It seems lil’ Hannibal’s cochlea farm has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The little buggers drape their slime over every inch of the Lecter family wine cellar-cum-dungeon. Snails might not seem like a particularly romantic creature (unless served in butter at some mood-lit bistro in Paris), but in reality they’re nature’s Cupids. Certain snails reproduce using a “love dart,” a chitinous harpoon shot into the flesh of a potential mate as an act of courtship. [All together now: Awww!] Snail foreplay takes awhile, as you can imagine—up to six hours, according to the Wikipedia page for snail sex that I now have logged in my browser history—and Hannibal and Will too have been circling each other at a similar pace. Hannibal’s love dart took the form of a linoleum knife, but it marked Will as his just the same.
Forgiveness, understanding, acceptance, empathy, love, grok—these are all different facets of the same ruby. Of course, in order for Hannibal to fully grok Will, he must do it the Martian way. Or (when in Rome!) the Catholic way. A true communion. Hannibal comes to the inevitable realization that the only way he can truly forgive Will is to eat him, an act that’s for once not out of dominance, but pure terrifying love.