Francis Dolarhyde makes his debut and drags Will back
Credit: Brooke Palmer/NBC
S3 E8
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Hannibal has always been a romantic show at heart, even if that heart has been skewered, grilled, and served as anticuchos. But the show has also always been Romantic with a capital “R”. Medieval violence and psychological horror pinned dead and lovely to a backboard of gorgeous, overripe aesthetics, circling around a consummate Byronic hero and his own personal Gothic monster and mixing classical imaginings of horror and terror into a thick, blood-crimson draught that sticks in the esophagus. It’s also rife with delectable dialogue nearly as purple as that previous sentence.

No doubt the Red Dragon will fit in perfectly here. William Blake’s poetry and artwork, with its awe-filled ruminations on God and death, are in the very syntax of Hannibal’s language. Of anyone on television, Bryan Fuller and his directors know how to frame fearful symmetry.

Francis Dolarhyde has been portrayed twice previously on film, once by Tom Noonan in Michael Mann’s Manhunter and again by Ralph Fiennes in Red Dragon. It’s amazing to think of the narrative elegance the show employed in taking two-and-a-half seasons to bring us to the very first page of Thomas Harris’ first Hannibal Lecter novel. This season has felt quintessentially different from the previous two, not only in dropping the this-is-my-design-of-the-week format but in the way that it feels comfortable embracing the source material full-bore and taking its sweet time. Now we get to see one of the core stories of the Hannibal canon and it will be interesting to see where this incarnation will diverge from its predecessors.

The most important difference is that Will Graham starts the tale as a fully realized, nuanced character whose psyche we’ve seen dissected, deconstructed, and reassembled over the course of more than thirty episodes. We get to see this cycle unfold around our Will (or at least Hugh Dancy and Fuller’s Will) which adds an extra level to the proceedings.

Time heals all wounds, so they say, and three years is a long time. Somehow Will has come out the other side of his traumas still retaining the capacity to love and care for others. I was honestly surprised to see that Molly and her son were a part of this telling, mainly because I wasn’t sure whether Will could ever reach a place where he could let someone else into his life. Of course the real problem is whether he can let a very certain someone out of his life. Hannibal has spent the last three years physically caged, but mentally free. Will’s babbling brook is now Hannibal’s Norman cathedral.

He avoided the death penalty by pleading insanity. Of course, the true terror of Hannibal is that he is terribly, terribly sane, only his version of sanity, as Alana puts it, defies categorization. I’ve no doubt Chilton, who got a bestselling book out of the situation, would gladly trade in his desire for revenge to realize his desire for addulation. Chilton dines with his patient, eating sweet blood pudding, and plainly prodding Hannibal with the assertion that he’s yesterday’s news. “Colons lose their novelty when overused,” Chilton says about his book-title choices, but I’m not sure how he would know that considering he’s perennially full of crap. However, he does bring up the sicko du jour, The Tooth Fairy, a new killer that’s full of vim and vigor and doesn’t cater only to a niche audience with its “fancy allusions, fussy aesthetics” *wink to the camera.

We get to spend some time with the Tooth Fairy, although he’s not a fan of that name. On the surface, he’s not that bad: Homeowner, keeps in shape, loves scrapbooking. Of course, he is also haunted by the rotted dentures of his grandmother and murders whole families and bathes in their blood in his quest to become the Red Dragon. So, you know, there’s that. He grapples with his twin selves in a fractured mirror — shot in Hannibal’s patented Kaleido-Scope! — and places shards in the eyes and mouth of his victim so he can see himself in their eyes. In a sequence that reads as a film-school student’s wet dream, he transforms into a projector, no longer a voyeur watching the happy family, but their very source and light.

This is the mind Jack Crawford wants Will to infiltrate. Again, three years is a long time, apparently long enough for Jack to stop feeling guilty about repeatedly putting Will in harm’s way. But it’s not just Jack that’s tossing coal into the Rationalization Machine, it’s Molly, who understands that Will will be haunted by the things he didn’t do should there be another murder. And so, say hello again to the pendulum.

Will limns the Red Dragon’s design amid the grisly environs of the Leeds home, finding a bitten Baby Bell and playing the murders back in reverse. Meanwhile, our favorite forensics duo Jimmy Price (excuse me, Special Agent Jimmy Price) and Brian Zeller are back on our screens and in our hearts as they lift a partial thumbprint from an eyeball and put together a casting of the Tooth Fairy’s eponymous chompers. They seem almost ecstatic to be back in the swing of things, although pretty much anyone would seem ecstatic opposite the hangdog moroseness of Will Graham.

Of course, Will eventually comes to the realization that he can’t get to the place he needs to be alone. He needs the help of the man who first brought him there. Or maybe he doesn’t need it, but wants it. After all, three years is a long time.

To paraphrase this last half-season’s patron saint: O Will thou art sick. And Hannibal Lecter is your invisible worm.

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