One of the most intriguing aspects of Will Graham as a character has always been how perilously close he dances on the edge of the abyss. Whether it’s a legitimate sense of moral obligation or merely a self-destructive mindset masquerading as a heroic one, he keeps placing himself in a position wherein one false move will result in him careening into blackness.
Over the course of its three years on the air, Hannibal has thrived on exploring Will’s dalliance with the heart of darkness. As such, in adapting Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon for television, the writers are able to use these non-book experiences in coloring Will’s personal connection to Dolarhyde. While most interpretations present this manhunt as a fairly straightforward “detective-pursues-killer” scenario, Hannibal’s version of the story finds Will tracking down a quasi-doppelganger of himself. Both are troubled beings who risk being consumed by their own personal Red Dragons. Whereas Dolarhyde’s is a Biblical figure of his own mentally deranged imagination, Will’s is a literal flesh-and-bone human that he can visit whenever.
In any case, Hannibal continues its streak of greatness with “…And the Beast from the Sea.” As evidenced by last week’s entry, Dolarhyde’s unexpected relationship with Reba has caused great inner conflict. Though he can feel his long-held desire to become The Great Red Dragon coming to fruition, he fears this means he will hurt the only woman who has ever loved him. During one of their “sessions,” Hannibal suggests “tossing” the dragon to someone else—namely, Will Graham. After informing his patient that Will has a family, Hannibal proceeds to utter one of the key lines from every iteration of the “Red Dragon” story—“save yourself, kill them all.”
This all leads to the hour’s big set piece—Dolarhyde’s attack on Will’s home. In both the book and the 2002 film adaptation, this was the event that served as the final showdown between Will and Dolarhyde. Fuller and his writers, however, tweak the set-up by having Will be occupied elsewhere, forcing Molly and young Walt to fend for themselves. As orchestrated by director Michael Rymer, the sequence plays as a dimly lit and thoroughly nail-biting cat-and-mouse game with no shortage of debt owed to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. In the end, Molly and Walt make it out alive, but not before Dolarhyde fires a shot that severely wounds Mrs. Graham.
Besides being an electric bit of filmmaking, Dolarhyde’s raid goes a long way to serving Molly Graham as a character. After the past few episodes spent as little more than the thematic antithesis of Lecter, Molly (and, by extension, actress Nina Arianda) really gets to demonstrate her potential, covertly dodging Dolarhyde, concocting effective last-second escape plans and acting like a genuinely smart and competent individual, instead of the traditional damsel-in-distress who needs her husband to rescue her.
Prior to this, Will and his team have already concluded that Hannibal has been corresponding with Dolarhyde. In a winking reference to the book, Hannibal makes light of how he could have done so, using “personal ads” and “notes of admiration on toilet paper” as examples. In the aftermath of the Dolarhyde’s attack, Jack and Alana even try to get Hannibal to jump on the line with his patient so that they can track his location. Ever the honest psychiatrist, however, Hannibal just ends up warning Dolarhyde that they’re listening. In retaliation, Alana takes away all of Hannibal’s books (though, in the process, we finally get to see Mikkelsen in the iconic face mask).
This latest development is certainly the last thing Dolarhyde needs. Following his failed pursuit of the Graham family, he tries to resist the call of the Red Dragon only to be beaten down for his attempts (in reality, he’s actually just pulling a Fight Club and hitting himself). Seeing no way out of his predicament, he engages Reba. “Do you remember the light? Is it worse to have seen it and lost it?” he asks her. Ostensibly, he’s asking about her sight, but the subtext couldn’t be clearer. Will it be worse for him to have found love and lost it, than never to have found it at all?
Finally, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the show’s history, he breaks up with her. “I’m afraid I’ll hurt you,” he says, being as truthful as possible. As he later relates to Hannibal, however, Dolarhyde is positive she’ll want to come over to his house to discuss their relationship further and he’s not sure what will happen when she does so. With the attack on the Graham household out of the way, it looks as though the show will be pulling a Manhunter, which means Will’s climatic confrontation with Dolarhyde may very well be saving Reba from him.
Meanwhile, Will visits Molly, who now appears to be recovering from her injuries quite nicely. Though she escaped with her life, the ordeal nevertheless had the effect Hannibal intended. Primarily, it put a wedge in Will and Molly’s already unstable relationship. Furious, Will confronts Hannibal over what he’s done. In typical Hannibal style, the doctor reveals it is all part of his perverse, diabolical plan to win Will back. In describing Dolarhyde’s condition, he states how The Great Red Dragon is “freedom to him,” or a means of changing himself and becoming something different. It’s a concept he knows will appeal to Will.
The episode’s final line, “Don’t you crave change, Will?” further places the remainder of the season into focus. Whereas the original Red Dragon portrayed Will as a man facing up to the demons of his past, Hannibal’s Red Dragon positions itself as a battle over Will’s soul—one in which the dark side is steadily gaining more and more momentum. Despite everything they’ve been through, the past two-and-half season has made it clear that there lies an unmistakable connection between Will and Hannibal that no amount of personal betrayals or knife wounds can shatter. It wouldn’t be hard to believe that, come season’s end, Will might end up helping Hannibal escape and the two run off together à la Hannibal and Clarice at the end of Harris’ Hannibal. It would certainly make for one of the darkest series finales in recent memory.
On that note—two episodes left people.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.