Oh, Hannibal… the only show that can have an episode where bodies are sewn inside a dead horse and my initial reaction is, “Okay, they’re slowing it down a bit this week.”
Not that this means “Su-zakana” is in any way boring, mind you. Quite the opposite. After several high-intensity episodes that felt more akin to a season enders than a mid-season arc, the episode returns us once again to the simpler, murder-of-the-week dynamic. And what a way to come back. As mentioned earlier, the case comes about when the body of a young woman is discovered sewn into the body of a horse. All fingers point to Peter Bernadorne, a brain-damaged man who works at the ranch where the victim was found. Peter, however, points to his sociopathic social worker, Clark Ingram, as the true culprit.
Hannibal has never been one to subtly hint at its central themes, and this episode is no different. From the incident with the horse to the fact that the episode’s title refers to a “palate cleansing” Japanese dish to Will flat-out articulating it in his assessment of the crime, this week is all about the concept of rebirth. This is quite appropriate in Will’s case given how the hour serves as the proverbial “reboot” of the Will/Hannibal therapy relationship, with Will now fully aware of Hannibal’s true nature and trying to, as he outlines in a fishing metaphor in the opening scene, lure him into capture.
In another, not-so-subtle bit of theme-building, the Peter-Clark dynamic presented here— that of mentally unstable individual vs. authority figure—is clearly meant to draw parallels with the Will-Hannibal relationship. Much like Hannibal did in the first year, Clark is attempting to take advantage of Peter’s vulnerable state and frame him for the murders that he himself committed. The irony of the situation is certainly not lost on Will, who pursues a prosecution of Clark with a fervent fury and even looks ready to shoot the unarmed man in the show’s climatic scene.
It’s work noting that Peter and Clark are played by actors Jeremy Davies and Chris Diamantopoulos, respectively. Watching Davies’ appropriately twitchy yet heartbreaking performance as Peter (and taking into account his predilection for playing off-beat, troubled characters), it’s shocking that we haven’t seen Davies appear in any episodes of Hannibal before. Who knows—in another life, he might have even been the one in the Hugh Dancy role. Meanwhile, after a year or so playing mostly comedic roles, including bits in Arrested Development (as the “face blind” Marky), The Office and a feature leading role as the Moe Howard character in The Three Stooges reboot, Diamantopoulos once again reiterates the theory that Hannibal is the greatest show at breaking through any sort of typecasting and showing new dimensions to its actors. Looking into Diamantopoulos’ cold, dead eyes, it’s hard to imagine this is the same guy who currently voices Mickey Mouse on the Disney Channel.
Never a show to waste seeding a future storyline, this episode also marks the first introduction to Margot Verger. For those who have read Harris’ Hannibal (first of all, I’m so sorry), this name should most definitely ring a bell. Margot was the lesbian bodybuilder who was raped as a young girl by her psychopathic, pedophile brother, Mason. Mason, in turn, was left severely disfigured after an encounter with Hannibal and sought revenge be capturing Lecter and feeding him to wild, hungry boars. So yeah, needless to say, Hannibal was a really friggin’ weird book.
In any case, it’s cool to see Fuller and his writers drawing from the less celebrated patches of the Thomas Harris universe in order to expand the mythology of their show. Though we do not get a glimpse of Mason in this episode (he will be played by Michael Pitt), we certainly are made privy to his cruelty based on what his sister tells Hannibal in her session and by the fact that his first action in the show involves beating her. In a series that has paraded a non-stop barrage of frightening, deranged baddies, Mason looks to be the most detestable we’ve seen so far. I have to say, I look forward to his meeting with Hannibal with a sense of devilish glee.
“Su-zakana” is exactly the type of episode Hannibal needs at the moment. As great as the last stretch of episodes has been, it’s always good for a show to switch up the pacing lest it dry up a juicy storyline via simple overexposure. Will’s time in the mental asylum was an unexpected, yet fantastic twist for the second season, but the show is now getting great mileage over his release and gradual reconciliation with his former colleagues.
Perhaps the most intrigued with this new development, of course, is Hannibal himself. It’s the ultimate bit of dramatic irony that the psychiatrist’s downfall will inevitably come about because he tried to frame the wrong person. In the show’s great final line, Hannibal even admits his own lack of control via an insect metaphor. “I can feed the caterpillar. I can whisper through the chrysalis. But when it hatches, it follows its own nature, and that’s beyond me.” If Hannibal’s actions in the previous year were him manipulating the caterpillar and the chrysalis, this second season has found him coming face to face with the proverbial butterfly he’s created—a vibrant, independent creature he has no sway over. For all the manipulation Hannibal has performed over the years as a means of diverting suspicion away from his cannibal lifestyle, the fact that he’s run into someone he can’t fully control seems to be as much a source of fascination as fear. What’s more, it’s just plain great television and I feel so fortunate to be watching this explosive situation unfold.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.