Although I’m still not entirely sold on the second half of this season of ‘Hannibal’, the latest episode diverges from – or plays around with the details of – previous tellings of the Red Dragon story enough to feel like a decided improvement over the prior episode. I really hope that show-runner Bryan Fuller has an interesting end-game planned for this.
The episode opens with fallout from Will Graham’s brief confrontation with the Dragon killer at the museum. The museum docent is still alive. Dolarhyde only knocked her unconscious but didn’t kill her. From this, Alana theorizes that the killer (they don’t know his identity yet) may be trying to stop himself, as if he’s fighting his compulsions to murder. Will believes that Hannibal, who directed him to the William Blake connection that led him to the museum, deliberately sent him into a trap to run into the killer there. He also feels certain that Hannibal knows the killer’s identity and may have even treated him as a patient.
Still pretending to be his lawyer, Dolarhyde calls Hannibal again. He says that he’s frightened of the Dragon, which has commanded him to murder his girlfriend Reba. But Dolarhyde has feelings for Reba and doesn’t want to harm her. Lecter suggests that he may be able to toss the Dragon to someone else – Will Graham, for example. Speaking of Will’s family, he counsels Dolarhyde to “Save yourself, kill them all.” That’s a familiar line from the Thomas Harris book, repurposed into a slightly different context here.
Likewise, the episode plays out the famous scene where Dolarhyde watches 8mm footage of victims he’s stalked while his blind girlfriend unwittingly sits and chats with him. This time, however, the footage is of Will Graham’s wife and stepson. (Incidentally, if you’re wondering why Dolarhyde is shooting this stalker footage on film when any modern video camera or cell phone would be much quieter and more compact, it’s because he’s using specialty film designed for extreme low light photography so that he can spy on his victims at night. Video still sucks under those conditions.)
At the Graham house, Will’s dogs all fall very sick. His wife Molly leaves them at a veterinary hospital and worries that she may have given them food poisoning with the cheap dog food she’s been feeding them. She asks her son not to tell Will about this, because she doesn’t want him to worry about the dogs (or blame her) when he has more important things to deal with. Of course, we in the audience already know that Dolarhyde has poisoned the dogs. It’s part of his M.O. to eliminate pets that may alert his victims when he comes back later.
Will visits Hannibal in prison and accuses him of setting him up. Hannibal insists that he doesn’t know the killer’s identity. However, he does know who the next victims will be, and will not tell Will.
In a very suspenseful sequence, Dolarhyde enters the Graham house at night. Molly wakes up and senses that something is wrong. She sends her son out of his bedroom window and tells him to run into the woods. She and Dolarhyde skulk through the house playing cat-and-mouse. Eventually, she sets off a car alarm to distract him and runs. She and the boy flag down a car on the road. Dolarhyde runs after them shooting his handgun. He kills the driver and hits Molly, but she’s able to speed away.
Will races to the hospital as soon as he hears the news. His stepson Walter is OK. Molly is in surgery but is expected to survive. Will has a heart-to-heart with Walter, who asks him if he’s going to kill the man who attacked them. Will says that he wants to capture the man and send him to get treatment. When the boy reveals that he has read Freddie Lounds’ articles, Will admits that he spent time in a mental institution himself. Walter says that he wants Will to kill the man.
Jack asks Will if he needs to take time off from the case to be with his family. It’s a disingenuous question. He knows full well that Will can’t go home until the Red Dragon is caught or captured.
Alana figures out how the killer has been communicating with Lecter. She calls Lecter’s lawyer and confirms that he has had no recent contact with his client. Jack appeals to Hannibal’s vanity and need to remain relevant. He wants Hannibal to stall on the phone the next time the killer calls so that they can trace the call.
Having failed to kill the Graham family, Dolarhyde imagines himself having a fight with the Dragon, and literally beats himself up for his inadequacies. He later has an emotional breakdown in front of Reba, tells her that he’s afraid he’ll hurt her, and breaks up with her. He believes that he needs to do this to keep her safe. She’s kind of pissed.
Dolarhyde calls Hannibal again. This time, Jack and Alana listen in on the call. Hannibal keeps Dolarhyde talking for a couple of minutes, but then warns him that their conversation is being monitored and hangs up. Dolarhyde, who’s been making these calls from Lecter’s old office, clears out before the FBI arrives.
As punishment for his betrayal, Alana has Hannibal restrained in a straightjacket and face mask – an iconic image for the franchise that’s been toyed with by the stylized appearance of the mask here – while his room is stripped of its amenities and Hannibal’s comforts.
Molly wakes up in the hospital and talks to Will. She recognizes the irony that she encouraged him to take this case, and tells him that he needs to see it through now or they’ll never feel safe again.
Will talks to Hannibal once again. Hannibal freely admits that he sent the Dragon to murder Will’s family. He has nothing to gain by lying or withholding that information anymore, and nothing to lose by divulging it. However, for as duplicitous as Hannibal might be, he drops a clue to help Will understand that the Dragon doesn’t consider himself to be murdering his victims, but rather changing them into something new. This is an important element of the killer’s psychology.
In addition to the central suspense set-piece, this episode offers a strong amount of psychological complexity while toying with some of the familiar aspects of the story. It may not be my favorite episode of the series, but I feel at least a little more comfortable with the direction the season is taking than I did a week earlier.