Unless some other broadcast network or streaming content provider comes through with a last-minute Hail Mary, we are on the verge of the series finale for ‘Hannibal’. While it hasn’t always been a perfect show, and this third season in particular has been pretty bumpy, it’s still just about the most daring thing on television right now. I will miss it.
The penultimate entry, episode ‘The Number of the Beast is 666’ opens with Will talking to Bedelia again. Is this a therapy session? Will has a really lousy track record with picking therapists. Bedelia makes explicit something that had been subtext. She says that Hannibal is in love with Will, and Will in turn aches for him as well, no matter how much he refuses to admit it to himself. We’re not talking romantic love or sexual attraction here. The bond they share goes deeper than either.
Will, Jack and Alana concoct a plan to lure out the Red Dragon. They enlist the help of Freddie Lounds to write a new article in which Will will badmouth and insult the killer, returning to the use of the “Tooth Fairy” nickname and implying that he’s both gay and sexually dysfunctional. The idea is to enrage the Dragon into trying to kill Will, so that they can draw him into a trap.
To provide some semblance of medical legitimacy to the claims, the article will require testimonial from an expert psychiatrist. Alana declines to do it herself, but Dr. Chilton is up for anything that puts him in the spotlight. He imagines the acclaim he’ll receive and the book deals he’ll negotiate after he’s helped to capture the notorious Red Dragon. Freddie takes a photo of Will and Chilton together, making sure to keep a fountain visible in the background that the Dragon can use as a landmark to find Will’s hotel room, where a S.W.A.T. team will be waiting.
In the meantime, Chilton pays another visit to Lecter. He’s quite upset that Lecter has published a series of articles in psychiatry journals (which run them for the novelty value) that refute all of the (admitted) lies in Chilton’s book about Hannibal the Cannibal. Chilton feels that he did Lecter a big favor by painting him as insane, an act that spared him from the death penalty. Lecter feels no sense of obligation in return. Chilton taunts him about what will happen to him in prison when he gets old and feeble, especially after Alana Bloom retires and her successors revoke his privileged treatment.
Later, Chilton heads to a parking garage with two bodyguards in tow. Dolarhyde makes quick work of them and grabs Chilton. He has seen through and ignored Will’s trap.
Chilton wakes up in the Red Dragon’s house. He says that his back hurts, and it appears that his skin has been glued to a chair. When he realizes what’s happening to him and where he is, Chilton desperately tries to talk his way out of the situation. The Dragon turns him around to look at his face, but Chilton doesn’t want to see it (because he doesn’t want to be able to identify his kidnapper). Just as Dolarhyde is about to remove the mask he’s wearing, suddenly he’s interrupted by the doorbell.
It’s his blind girlfriend Reba. She’s brought him chicken soup because he called in from work claiming to have the flu. In a delightfully twisted bit of comedy, Chilton is forced to sit silently while the two have a conversation, and Dolarhyde (in full Red Dragon get-up) tries to usher her out the door so he can return to his serial killing. This little flourish is a fun diversion from the source material. I wish we’d see more like it in this section of the season.
After Reba leaves, Dolarhyde gets back to business. He shows Chilton his face and his Dragon tattoo, and forces him to watch a slide show of photos of his victims, including the magazine shot of him and Will. Just as his situation seems truly dire, however, Dolarhyde gives Chilton a little hope by implying that it’s not his plan to kill him. He turns on a video camera and makes Chilton read a prepared statement (which we’ll see later). Lest he feel any relief, Dolarhyde then puts in his monster teeth and takes a big bite out of Chilton’s face, tearing off his lips.
I fear that the writers of the show seem to have forgotten (or have conveniently ignored) Episode 4 of this season, in which it was revealed that Chilton’s face was reconstructed with prosthetics and makeup. (He removed it all in front of Mason Verger in a bizarre act of solidarity.) Yet there’s no sign of that here. Some token acknowledgement of Chilton’s prosthesis might have been helpful. It could even have been played for blackly comic effect. Imagine Dolarhyde spitting out chunks of plastic, puzzled at what he’s bitten into. But no, sadly, we get nothing like that. I suppose this shouldn’t bother me so much, but it does.
In prison, Hannibal Lecter receives a package from an unmarked sender. After running it through an X-ray, Alana watches Hannibal open it to find Chilton’s lips inside with a note that states: “With these, he offended me.” Hannibal is delighted. He turns over one of the lips to the FBI for analysis but eats the other.
Jack, Alana and Will watch a video that came with the package. In his statement, Chilton blames Will for spreading lies and informs him that the Great Red Dragon will come for him.
In their next session, Bedelia suggests that Will put Chilton at risk on purpose and wanted him to get murdered. That’s a sentiment echoed by Chilton himself when they find him. Yes, he’s still alive. Dolarhyde set him on fire and pushed his wheelchair down a hill, where it plunged into a fountain.
In the ‘Red Dragon’ book and prior adaptations, it was “Freddy” Lounds that Dolarhyde captured and tortured and left for dead this way. The TV show already lifted parts of that storyline in a previous season when Will Graham faked Freddie’s death in a burning wheelchair. This episode bends over backwards to explain the repeated imagery, claiming that the Red Dragon intentionally emulated that event as a message for Will. It seems like a stretch.
In any case, Chilton survived, but there’s not much of him left. He’s horribly burned and disfigured. (Hannibal must be terribly disappointed that the meat was overcooked. He’ll never make a meal of the doctor now, beyond that lip he ate.) Chilton can barely speak, but Will understands what he’s saying clearly enough. He blames Will for setting him up. Will isn’t sure that he’s wrong about that.
The episode closes with Reba bound and gagged. She doesn’t understand what Dolarhyde is doing. He asks if she’s followed the news and tells her that he’s the one who “changed” the Leeds and Jacobi families (not murdered, because he doesn’t believe that’s what he’s doing). Then he announces, “I am the Dragon.”
We’re still barreling through a lot of familiar material in this storyline. Even though the show has switched up some of the details (swapping Lounds for Chilton instead) and would probably rate as a good adaptation on its own, I really hope that the series finale finds a way to take some big risks. I guess we’ll find out soon. The last episode airs this Saturday.