This week Hannibal takes a break from the case-of-the-week to further explore the continuing perversity that is Will and Hannibal’s relationship.
“Naka-Choko” opens by showing how Will quickly dispatched the ManBearPig that was Randall Tier, a scene that seemed conspicuously missing from last week’s climax. Taking the body to Hannibal, Will admits that, while beating Tier to a pulp, he pretended to be killing Hannibal. Doing so, he claims, gave him a sense of power. Enticed by Will’s admission, the remainder of the episode involves Hannibal further indoctrinating Will into his serial killer ways. It all leads to TattleCrime’s Freddie Lounds invading Will’s farm and discovering a freezer containing what looks to be a human heart. Will promptly catches Freddie in the act and drags her away, leaving us to wonder if our hero has truly gone over the edge and cooked the slimy blogger as dinner for Hannibal, or if he’s simply locked her up somewhere as part of a ruse to get in his adversary’s good graces. Oh, and there’s also the introduction of Mason Verger, and a sex scene that seems to transcend time and space.
So, yeah, let’s talk about the latter. It starts with Hannibal instructing Alana on how to play a theremin—yet another reference to the show’s influences, as the eerie drone of these instruments were a popular trope for horror and sci-fi films of yesteryear. The two quickly become intimate, which juxtaposes nicely with another scene where Will and Margot Verger show each other their respective scars and soon begin making the beast with two backs.
Here, Bryan Fuller seems hellbent on subverting our expectations of sex by making it look as grotesque and strange as possible. Sure, it starts with all the hallmarks of the traditional romanticized portrayal—lush, beautifully photographed slow motion, a crackling fireplace in the background, close-ups on glistening skin. Nevertheless, the dissonant score lends the visuals a highly sinister vibe, as if we’re watching some sort of weird, animalistic activity. Soon we see Alana kiss Hannibal who then, in what appears to be the beginning of some weird mental foursome, leans over and kisses Will. Hannibal suddenly transforms into the coal-black stag figure of Will’s nightmares and, depending on whether you consider the stag man to be Hannibal or a different entity altogether, the foursome becomes a fivesome. And, lo, did the Hannibal Tumblrs go crazy.
Credit where credit’s due—despite the fact that this show thrives on the visual language that David Slade crafted in the pilot episode, guest director Vincenzo Natali (he of Cube and Spliced fame) really plays this difficult, ambitious sequence for maximum impact. Between this episode and Natali’s previous Hannibal entry “Su-zakana,” I’m hoping he becomes to this series what esteemed feature director Rian Johnson became to the latter half of Breaking Bad. In any case, the sequence is unquestionably one of the more memorable scenes of the season even if, much like Tier’s animal costume, its over-the-top nature veers dangerously close to camp territory.
Speaking of camp, let’s consider that first look at Michael Pitt as Mason Verger. Prior to his appearance, Pitt has had both the advantage and disadvantage of stepping into a role that’s had a large amount of build-up. Much like Harry Lime in The Third Man, or Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, Mason has been talked about so much that Pitt comes to the table with much of his character already established in the mind of the audience. And, indeed, Pitt’s history of playing creepy, off-the-wall characters (like in Funny Games) works to his benefit here. Watching his exaggerated, almost Bond villain-like mannerisms, one can sense the gleeful sadist that Gary Oldman played under his mountain of make-up back in 2001’s Hannibal.
However, despite all it has going for it, “Naka-Choko” feels even slighter and more unfocused than “Shiizakana.” It’s another heady episode that subsequently replaces the lengthy exchanges of last week with surrealist sequences designed to both enthrall and confuse. Add to this the fact that the Vergers plot line still has yet to coalesce with anything in the main storyline, despite Margot’s newfound relationship with Will, and judging this one on its own becomes even harder.
More than anything, this installment’s main objective appears to be to illustrate the growing parallels between Will and Hannibal. Granted, the show has been doing this in some capacity for some time, but here it’s made especially explicit. Obviously, there’s the aforementioned sex scene, which not only highlights their connection in a primal, carnal way but also blatantly demonstrates them sharing the same woman. And, yes, that scene only reiterates my complaint that Alana is little more than a sex object, something over which the two characters can fight. Perhaps even more bombastic in its visual metaphor, however, is the episode’s final shot: Will cutting up his dinner meat (potentially Freddie Lounds) and putting it in his mouth. The moment is an exact replica of the very first image of Hannibal from the show’s pilot. Hannibal’s face even dissolves on Will’s body in the final few frames for extra emphasis.
Will’s recent activities could very well just be an elaborate extension of his ploy to catch Hannibal, but Fuller and his writers are certainly going out of the their way to make you question how far he’s willing to go. By constructing his own murder tableau with Tier’s body, Will has already crossed one line that I thought he never would. Even Will himself seems unsure of what he’s capable of. “Are you scarred?” Margot asks him before their sexual tryst. “Probably more than I know,” he counters. Indeed, although Will claimed to be in complete control in previous episodes, his encounters with Hannibal do seem to be bringing out some hidden darkness that lies behind his duplicitous façade.
Furthermore, with its abundance of unnerving visuals, “Naka-Choko” really brings to mind the latter batch of episodes from season one. Many such installments initially appeared practically incoherent, only to come together once viewed through the prism of Will’s descent into insanity. Maybe future episodes will help contextualize “Naka-Choko” in retrospect. For now, it just seems to be a meandering, if beautifully photographed, hour stuck between advancing the plot and diving into the minds of our two leads.
Moreover, watching this entry unfold, I suddenly felt a twinge of something I had yet to experience before: impatience. When this year’s premiere opened with that Hannibal-Jack fight, I was concerned I would spend the rest of the season awaiting that moment and what its resolution would be. And while that event has always been in the back of my mind as this year’s storyline has unfolded, it’s to the show’s credit that it never actively distracted me from the journey the episodes were taking me on. Now, in the wake of two slower installments, more and more I find myself wanting to see that scene play out. As much as I know I may come to love the slow-burn in the end, a part of me does want the show—to paraphrase Tim Bisley from Spaced—to go ahead and skip to the end.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.