(I promise guys, only one more of these left and then it’s back to business!)
This turn of events is one I’d been wondering about the show’s approach to since before this arc had even begun. To the point I had even speculated on some possible ways it could have gone down.
I have to admit, saving it for the penultimate episode was a move I wasn’t anticipating, but with the way this story has built up so far, I can’t fault the logic. This episode takes one of the more famous scenes from Red Dragon and gives it all the shock and dread it needs.
For anyone who’s familiar with the original source material – that’s right. It’s the Tattler bluff. Like last week, this is another case where the show is maintaining overall fidelity, but is making a couple of changes.
For those not familiar with it…well, bear with me. We’re getting there.
Before getting into the main plot of this episode, I do have to comment on the therapy session this episode starts with. I’ve commented off and on about the nature of the relationship between Will and Hannibal prior to this, and I will admit the ‘bitter ex’ thing started as a joke. At the same time, when Bedelia suggests to Will that Hannibal may actually be in love with him, I have to admit – it fits. It fits their actions and his behavior, especially in this part, unsettlingly well: Hannibal offered Will a family, he refused. Now, in retaliation, Lecter wants to destroy the family Will has.
For as much as I kidded about it before, the scorned lover profile does seem to be part of where the show is taking things, and it will be interesting to see if this comes to a confrontation in the finale.
This had been a plot point people have been contemplating the depiction of since as far back as the staged death of Freddie Lounds in season two, where they employed the infamous flaming wheelchair. In a way, it made for a nice sense of unease from simultaneously knowing where this was going but also not knowing what to expect of it.
Will and Jack deciding to take Lounds up on her offer to use the Tattler to flush out Dolarhyde is one of those ideas where one can see why the characters go with it, especially now with their backs figuratively against the wall. At the same time, from the audience perspective, it’s a decision that comes with that note of “Baiting a dangerous serial killer with a high opinion of himself and a considerable body count already stacked up? …well THIS can’t possibly end badly at all!”
Fortunately, that element of desperation keeps the mocking sense from the audience in check and instead adds to this season’s already pretty steep track record of ever-growing dread. A feeling that gets even worse in this case from the reader perspective: before this show made me fear for characters I knew were safe, apply that feeling to a character I know is pretty much screwed and it is intense.
The decision to replace Lounds with Chilton as the intended victim of Dolarhyde’s wrath was a bit of a changeup, but one that people had already been speculating when this arc began with the latter talking about making a book about the case. Besides which, with what the show had built to this point, it’s a decision that makes sense for a lot of reasons:
-the show’s changing Lounds to be a woman makes what happens to the character considerably more questionable for airing
-for as shameless self-absorbed and self-serving as he can be, Chilton is still the lesser evil compared to Lounds (as well as a fan favorite, in his own smug way), and so audiences would be more likely to respond to misfortune befalling him compared to a character that, while entertaining, has for the most part been pretty contemptible
-and, hey, as Fuller has joked, it’s become a tradition on the show to end a season with something horrible happening to Chilton. He’s already been disemboweled and shot in the face before this. Gotta up the ante somehow.
The actual execution is the main point of the episode, and they do a phenomenal job with. I’m strangely okay with admitting, I watched the majority of this sequence tensed up for the grim payoff. The only break in the tension coming care of Reba visiting to check on Dolarhyde. That sidenote is, admittedly, a nice breather in the scene, and almost a bit of morbid humor as she gives him soup while Chilton remains helpless in the other room, glued to a wheelchair. It’s that kind of laugh you acknowledge shouldn’t be happening (…well, okay, I will defend the moment where Dolarhyde seems to give Chilton a “You don’t get any!” look regarding soup), but you almost can’t help yourself.
Of course, once she’s left again, the dread is right back to full force.
This is the moment where I would like to give NBC its due. I’m still incredibly disappointed with their decision to cancel, particularly while they’re going to bat for Aquarius, a show they’re equally kneecapping on their schedules, but I continue to be impressed with the people in their standards and practices department. The infamous lip biting in this scene is a moment that prior adaptations have generally chosen to cut away from – to see NBC allow it to be shown was a shocking moment, to say the least. I will admit, I think I did let out an audible “Holy shit!” when I saw it.
Even beyond that, the actual fate of (in this case) the unlucky Dr. Chilton is probably the most visceral version of this scene we’ve had to date. Between the bite and the slow motion as Dolarhyde lights the man up – this version justifying the repetition as it sending a message to Graham – it sticks with me in a way this show hasn’t quite managed since the second season finale.
I know I’m focusing a lot on this event, but I’m not kidding when I say it is kind of the focal point of this episode. Well, this and the fallout, of course. The sequence where Hannibal receives Chilton’s lips in the mail, as he nonchalantly eats one of them, is done with such a casualness from Lecter that it adds to the shock of the moment. By comparison, Will’s slight smile in the middle of all of this is even more disturbing – Chilton could be a pain, but he had never really given Will a major reason to hate him. It does certainly further speak to how this is weighing on Graham; a point that has been coming up more in these later episodes.
Of course, even in his absolute misery – which he still survives – Chilton is able to provide a vital clue care of Reba’s arrival. So say what one will for the less than lucky man, he DID help crack this case, even if it wasn’t the way he would have wanted it.
We leave this one off on the closest thing we’ve had to a straight up cliffhanger in this run: with Dolarhyde having kidnapped Reba to finally reveal to her who he truly is.
…so this is it.
One episode left.
It’s gonna be weird to see this all come to an end, but it can’t be helped. Next time, with The Wrath of the Lamb, we bid this show a fond farewell.
-Remember that time NBC managed to make a torture scene more visceral than two big budget movies?
-Points to Raul Esparza for sending his role off in top form.
-The last turn with Dolarhyde grabbing Reba is a little rushed
-…seriously? Only one more episode left? Not sure I’m ready.