Going into Hannibal’s “Red Dragon” arc, one of my main goals is to separate the text I love from the series I love. For one, despite the fact that every episode boasts the title “Based on Red Dragon by Thomas Harris,” the series has actively worked to deviate from many elements of the original text in terms of inter-character relations. As such, the show should stand as its own separate entity. What’s more, it just makes for a more satisfying viewing experience when I’m not frantically skimming through my well-worn Red Dragon copy in search of what’s been altered.
In the case of “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…” this makes for somewhat of an interesting experience. As Hannibal, Mads Mikkelsen beautifully conveys a certain sense of condescension that the character has towards the rest of humanity. After all, the whole reason he justifies eating other people—besides the fact that it’s delicious—is that no one is his equal; therefore, it is not technically cannibalism. Both in the books and movies, Hannibal’s distaste for humanity manifests itself much more overtly. At times throughout Red Dragon, he’s downright combative and spiteful of Will and others. Perhaps in an attempt to stay true to the novel, some of these sharp edges emerge in his exchanges with Will, Alana and Jack, particularly when he complains about the long line of foolish experts who tried to analyze or study him. Granted, three years of being locked up in a cell (despite its unrealistic extravagance) could very well have turned Hannibal into a Grumpy Garrett, but it still feels a touch out of character here.
That being said, it’s what the show does to subtly subvert both the novel and previous adaptations therein that I find most intriguing. This mainly pertains to how it moves away from the iconic image of having Hannibal communicating with his visitors from behind a transparent cell wall in favor of re-imagining their conversations as taking place in a real-life location. Whenever Will and Hannibal discuss the details of the “Red Dragon” case, for instance, they are transported back into Season One Hannibal where the two would go over Will’s cases in Hannibal’s office. Hannibal is even shown wearing similar clothes to his Season One counterpart. Whether this comes from the characters’ own perspectives or merely from the wonky internal logic of the show, it does an effective job of highlighting the fact that, while he may be separated physically from the likes of Will and Alana, there’s very much still an undeniable connection that makes it feel as though the good doctor is right there with them.
This technique also applies to the other major person in Will’s life—his wife, Molly. During a telephone conversation, the show alternates between cutting between the two as they converse on the phone, and showing them continuing the conversation while laying next to each other in bed. In drawing up this parallel, the writers appear to be hinting at the fact that this half of the season will be a war between Molly and Hannibal’s influence on Will’s psyche.
Interestingly enough, the episode also continues the season’s employment of flashbacks. Whereas the flashbacks during the season’s first half served a specific purpose in helping to slowly doll out information, however, the flashbacks depicting Hannibal’s time with Abigail Hobbs don’t really seem to hold much significance in the context of this story. Sure, it’s nice to have Kacey Rohl back as Abigail, but what do we really gain by knowing how Hannibal arranged her “murder” scene, and that he told her to head upstairs before the events of the Red Dinner? One could say that knowing she was still a willing student of his and not a traumatized prisoner adds some shading to their dynamic, but the flashbacks nevertheless feels a bit like filler material. Then again, perhaps this will make sense later down the line. Of course, I also said the same thing about Chiyoh…
What remains undeniably fantastic is any scene involving Richard Armitage’s Francis Dolarhyde. Given that Hannibal can be so obsessively centered on its major characters, it’s clear that Bryan Fuller and his writers are having a ball exploring the new blood that is this character. This becomes apparent in their decision to really swing for the fence when it comes to embracing the crazier elements of the novel. This includes, in a scene depicting Dolarhyde’s “transformation” into his Red Dragon persona, actually having a dragon’s tail sliver into frame, and thus turning the character’s mental procedure into a literal one.
Most notably, of course, is that the episode marks Dolaryhyde’s first encounter with Reba, the blind woman who will become a pivotal figure in his life. It’s through this encounter, after an episode and a half of silence, that we finally hear the man speak—something he’s been reluctant to do given his insecurity about his voice. And while Reba maybe seems a bit too trusting in choosing to accept a ride home from Dolarhyde, even if he is a work colleague, their interaction in the kitchen goes a long way to setting a stage for a real emotional connection between the two. Both have had to deal with disabilities that set them apart from the mainstream—Reba with losing her sight and Dolarhyde with the mental scarring of his upbringing—and both flatly reject demonstrations of pity. When Reba asks to touch Dolarhyde’s face to see if he’s smiling, the way in which Armitage delivers the line “Trust me, I’m smiling…” manages to somehow be simultaneously eerie and heartbreaking.
Another welcome element of the episode is the return of Freddie Lounds, making her first appearance this season. Along with CSIs Price and Zeller from last week, Freddie is a character who often feels as though she resides in a different world from the rest of the characters, which is not at all a bad thing. For all its positive attributes, Hannibal can often feel like an overly insular show, with characters engaging in peculiar behavior and delivering off-the-wall dialogue that would have any real-world person scrunching their head in confusion. Characters like Freddie help to place the show’s craziness in a somewhat grounded context. The mere fact that she referred to Will and Hannibal as “murder husbands” in her article for the way they “ran off to Europe together” goes a long way towards establishing the fact that, yes, the duo’s relationship is just as weird in this world as it would be in ours.
After last week’s plot-heavy opener, “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…” spends much of its time eschewing eye-popping set pieces in favor of slowly pushing forward character. In fact, other than Dolarhyde meeting Reba, not a whole lot of particular note really happens in this installment. And while this does make for some lapses in momentum, it also helps lay foundation for the craziness that is sure to follow.
Four episodes left people…
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.