If the sitcom, which requires that characters return endlessly to a status quo, is the most conservative television genre, the serial killer series is surely number two. Shows like The Bridge, The Following, and Aquarius (which has other problems) drive powerfully towards confrontation, but balk at conclusion. In the latest episode of Hannibal, this structural problem gets driven home with extreme prejudice as our antihero evades death at the hands of his faceless but potent enemy. On a show that traffics in broken and disassembled bodies, Hannibal’s is clearly sacred. The stakes are increasingly unclear.
“Digestivo” begins where “Dolce” left off, with Hannibal and Will Graham in the greedy hands of Mason Verger, who wants to eat the former and steal the disturbingly perfect face of the latter. It’s grisly stuff and Verger goes full Bond villain, explaining it to his would be victims before they escape by leveraging Verger’s sister, who he has defiled physically and psychologically, against him. The evil millionaire ends up in agony, Will ends up in (one hopes) some sort of extended care facility, and Hannibal ends up in custody. Finally.
Silence of the Lambs is by far the best cultural product featuring Hannibal Lecter. And this is true for a reason: Fundamentally, the murderous psychologist is a mental combatant. Yes, the show has made him into a sort of sculptor of human flesh, which is cool and gross in equal turns, but the heart of the character is the guy twisting the rhetorical knife, not the real one. The show has taken great pains to portray Mad Mikkelsen’s Hannibal as an apex predator — in part, presumably, because that’s what Mikkelsen looks like — but the nature of that predation has remained unclear. Does Hannibal have a physical or psychological compulsion. Historically, it’s been the latter, and that makes for better storytelling because it doesn’t ask the audience to believe Hannibal might die.
Hannibal is not going to die. Well, he wasn’t before the show got canceled anyway.
Which brings us to the show’s future, which surely involves a Red Dragon and a lot of actors reading William Blake in a ponderous tone of voice. The show is now offering something a little different than the best art direction on television: We’re getting front row seats to the performance Hannibal is going to put on for his captors, the one he’ll use to dominate them from behind bars.
We’ll always have Florence, but this is definitely a positive development for the show, which hasn’t yet found an alternative distribution channel. At least we’ll get to enjoy the very best of Dr. Lecter before the network delivers the blow his foes couldn’t.