Well, I said in the overview of the Verger arc we’d be discussing the show’s fate. This wasn’t quite how I had it in mind, but it really is turning into the best way to go with this.
By this point, it’s pretty common knowledge that NBC has pulled the plug on renewing Hannibal after this season. It’s with this in mind that I’m commencing this approach with what is shaping up to be the series finale. From this day till next Sunday, we’ll be counting down with the episodes of the Red Dragon arc. So pull up a seat the table and get ready to join me for one last meal this Saturday.
Describing the first half of this season, I had commented on the show’s decision to take one of Harris’s more polarizing books and take a number of creative liberties with it. In that case, many of them worked to the shows benefit, both for the established narrative, as well as touching up some of the weaker parts of the book in question.
For this second half, Bryan Fuller has, by his own admission, played to the other extreme. Going directly into the material of Red Dragon, the novel that started it all, he is taking a much more faithful approach to the narrative.
And he’s picked a Hell of a way to ring in this new story and direction – the decision to make the first episode’s director Neil Marshall, the man behind movies like The Descent as well as some of the stronger episodes of Game of Thrones, makes a strong first impression for what has the potential to be some of the best episodes of the show’s run.
After how the previous arc ended with Hannibal Lecter’s capture, the show is jumping ahead three years. I know some people out there complained about the lack of any sort of coverage of the trial, but honestly, I don’t see the problem here. For one thing, the outcome of the trial was never up for debate – Lecter was dead to rights in the eyes of the law since the end of season 2. With that in mind, there’s no sense devoting time to things this episode already establishes pretty early.
Of course, that’s all in the past as we jump right in to meeting our new threat. Right from the beginning this episode introduces us to the newest threat on the block – Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde, aka The Great Red Dragon/The Tooth Fairy. The introduction is one of the stronger aspects of this particular episode, introducing us to the character of Dolarhyde with no dialogue, instead showing us his training and getting in shape as he works to assume his horrific new personage.
The decision to make Dolarhyde’s scenes in this episode without any dialogue is an interesting choice. This helps introduce him while also giving an air of menace and mystery to help him stand out after the wave of psycho killers that populated the first two seasons. Paired with some interesting directorial effects from Marshall, such as a nightmarish sequence involving a projector and some home movies, he has already established himself as something different from the rest – like Hannibal, a special breed of monster.
Beyond the new villain, we get caught up with much of the rest of the cast. It’s interesting to see what the three years have done to everyone in a lot of ways – Jack is back in the bureau, Will has gone back into the private sector where he now has a wife and stepson, Alana now runs the Baltimore asylum with Chilton working under her, and Lecter…well…yeah.
Speak of the devil, this episode kicks off a nice stylistic trick to help liven up many of Lecter’s scenes. Rather than try and sustain large chunks of the season with just Mads Mikkelsen in a single room with clear glass walls, many of his conversations are projected through a sort of mind palace to give them new styles – such as a meal sequence with Chilton for just one example. It’s a fascinating blurring of the lines with the dynamics, in a way. Even though he is a prisoner, Lecter still has a sort of equal footing with everyone in these sequences.
The rest of the episode is a good mix of ‘Where are they now?’ and the first parts of the Red Dragon narrative. With Dolarhyde having murdered the latest in a string of families, Jack Crawford is desperately coming back to a road he’s been hesitant to revisit that he’s asking Will Graham back to the job.
As two new additions to the cast, I’m liking Nina Arianda and Gabriel Browing Rodriguez as Will’s wife Molly and his stepson Walter. Walter admittedly doesn’t get to do a lot in this episode, but Ariadna’s scenes as Molly do a great job for establishing why she and Will work as a couple – she has a sense of the demons inside of him, she is aware of the dangers those pose, and has done her best to support him in dealing with those. The scene where she talks with Jack about her thoughts on him taking the case is a strong moment in fleshing out a character that in other hands could have easily been a flat support.
Will’s return to his former career feels like a return to form for the series. We haven’t seen him in this role since the end of the first season, and with how everything has changed since then, seeing how he has changed in the job is a good touch to this episode. Incidentally, this case does bring back two familiar faces we haven’t seen since season two – a welcome back to Aaron Abrams and Scott Thompson as Brian Zeller and Jimmy Price. Been a long time since we last saw you guys, and it’s nice to see the humorous banter is still there.
This also brings us to probably the next strongest scene of the episode alongside the Dolarhyde sequences. Watching Will return to his investigation mode – immersing himself in a scene and reconstruction the murder – has a sort of welcome and chilling familiarity to it as he unfolds the murder the Leeds family blow for blow. This all culminating in the return of a line we haven’t heard uttered in a long time, and paired with the visual of the ballistics design giving him his own pair of ‘dragon wings’, hearing Hugh Dancy declare “This is my design” is a downright chilling scene.
All this and the episode ends on the strong scene of Will meeting Hannibal for the first time since the trial. It’s not a full exchange, but the simple greeting is arguably even more powerful.
With that, we’re officially kicking off the arc that, barring an eleventh hour save, may mark the end of one of the more ambitious shows on one of the ‘big three’ networks in a long time. On top of that, if this marks the general quality we’re in for, this may also have the potential to be the best Red Dragon adaptation to date as well.
It’s going to be a Hell of a week ticking down to the finale. We’ll be back here tomorrow with ‘…And the Woman Clothed With the Sun’.
-VERY striking visually
-Seeing everyone back in top form, complete with the returns of Zeller and Price
-Holy Hell, Armitage hasn’t even said a word yet and already he’s knocking it out of the park
-…it’s saying something here that right now my only major complaint here is that we only get Neil Marshall for one episode, huh?
-No. Really. I’ve got nothing else right here.