“Fate has a habit of not letting us choose our own endings.” —Hannibal
I really do wonder when the Hannibal creative team become aware of their impending cancelation because this latter half of the season has been absolutely ripe with meta-references to both the show’s reception among general audiences as well as its premature conclusion (as indicated by the above quote). Indeed, Bryan Fuller might not get the chance to choose his preferred ending anytime soon. That being said, it doesn’t make “The Number of the Beast is 666” any less of a solid entry.
In a big sign that we’re probably wrapping things up, Will finally asks, in a session with Bedelia, the question that has been driving the subtext of the show (as well as countless Tumblr blogs)—“is Hannibal in love with me?” To this, Bedelia responds, in classic Hannibal-speak “Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes. But do you ache for him?” We cut away before Will gives an answer, but his extended silence is telling.
Perhaps as an angry reaction to this internal conflict, Will decides to step up his game in terms of locating Dolarhyde. Recruiting Freddie Lounds, he offers to grant an exclusive interview wherein he will denigrate The Red Dragon in order to draw him out. To add authenticity, Will ropes in Frederick Chilton, who is looking to improve his own profile, given that Hannibal has refuted Chilton’s insanity defense in an academic journal. While Chilton offers Freddie his clinical analysis of the man’s condition, Will provides her with great, salacious soundbytes—namely, that the Red Dragon is the impotent and ugly product of an incestuous coupling. As expected, Dolarhyde strikes, killing Chilton’s bodyguards and taking the doctor hostage.
It’s around the time of Chilton’s capture that the episode dives into one of its most experimental stretches. Not so much in aesthetic (though there are elements of that) but more in a structural sense. Specifically, the subsequent confrontation between Dolarhyde and Chilton lasts for almost 14 minutes—nearly a third of the episode. In film, this would be a notable occurrence; in TV, which is defined by getting in and out of scenes as efficiently as possible, to have a non-bottle episode feature a sequence so long is nothing short of baffling.
The scene in question is the famous “do you see?” segment from the book, wherein Hannibal captures Freddy Lounds (who is a man in Harris’ story), superglues him to a chair and makes him bear witness to his “might” before lighting him on fire and sending him careening through a public area. This particular scene has been envisioned twice before—once in Manhunter between Tom Noonan’s Dolarhyde and Stephen Lang’s Lounds and again in Red Dragon, with Ralph Fiennes and Philip Seymour Hoffman stepping into the same roles. Whereas the former uses this sequence to introduce Noonan’s phenomenally creepy and unnerving portrayal, the latter works primarily because of Hoffman’s effective performance of a man scared shitless.
Hannibal’s version, with Chilton filling the Lounds role is, in many ways, the most fully realized iteration of this classic two-hander. For one, director Guillermo Navarro drapes the scene in hellish, atmospheric lighting that, in typical Hannibal fashion, makes the entire interaction feel nightmarish and otherworldly. Second, the scene benefits from its expanded, uncut length, particularly when it comes to experiencing the full breadth of Chilton’s emotional meltdown. The tension becomes even more extreme when, in the middle of a particularly intense moment, an oblivious Reba arrives at Dolarhyde’s door to bring him soup as an attempt at reconciliation. Horrific imagery aside, there is something very comical about Reba and Dolarhyde having a fairly innocuous conversation while a silent Chilton sits immobile in the background.
Above all else, the scene provides the ultimate showcase for both Richard Armitage and Raul Esparza. Over the past five weeks, Armitage has demonstrated himself to be an actor capable of both great menace and sensitivity. Here, we get “menace” levels turned to 11. It’s a performance of such raw animalistic rage that when the scene ends with him literally biting a chunk of Chilton’s face off, it makes a certain amount of logical sense. Likewise, Esparza plays the perfect victim, his face an expressive canvas of paralyzing fear.
The remainder of the episode mainly concerns the aftermath of this incident. Further demonstrating that he’s either the luckiest or unluckiest man alive, Chilton somehow manages to survive both Dolarhyde’s bite and being burned alive. Now, the opportunistic Chilton has never been the most sympathetic of characters, but, when Will visits him and finds the charred husk of burned flesh and raw muscle that remains, his crushing guilt is understandable. When asked by Bedelia if he expected this to happen, Will can only respond that he “wasn’t surprised.” “Then you might as well have struck the match,” Bedelia responds coldly, digging the knife in further.
The episode ends with a classic “to be continued…” set-up. Dolarhyde has abducted a terrified Reba and confesses to her that he is the Great Red Dragon. If there’s one major issue I have with this episode, it is that Reba’s capture is done off-screen. Given their intimate relationship, this instance seems like something that would have been important to show. But, if this cut was made in an attempt to fit the entire Dolarhyde/Chilton scene into the hour slot, then it’s a fairly minor nitpick.
“The Number of the Beast is 666” is an episode that simmers intensely for two thirds of its running time before, quite literally, exploding into flames in its last stretch. With the guilt of Molly’s and Chilton’s fates resting heavily upon him, Will has found himself in an emotional tailspin, all the while trying to locate Dolarhyde before it’s too late. Now that all the i’s have been dotted and the t’s crossed, the creative team has set the stage for everything to come crashing together in what’s sure to be a glorious, blood-soaked extravaganza.
ONE. MORE. EPISODE. LEFT. PEOPLE.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.