Hannibal, Season 3 Episode 8: The Great Red Dragon

Tom Noonan. 

Ralph Fiennes.

Richard Armitage. 

There are the men who have worn the name Tooth Fairy. By this point I've read the novel and seen the two film adaptations of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon and have the plot pretty much memorized. Brett Ratner's adaptation felt like a less interesting copy of Michael Mann's Manhunter rather than a new take on an old story. Yet even with this plot buried in my bones I couldn't help but be excited to see how Bryan Fuller would make the story his own. So far I haven't been disappointed. 

Having Francis Dolarhyde as the series' first new killer makes sense. He plays a foil to Hannibal in a way. He's intelligent and meticulous but unlike Hannibal, he's totally out of his own control. It's interesting too that after having so many long winded villains in the series, the final one we're faced with is nearly mute. He doesn't have a single line in his first episode. His silent nature isn't just a personality trait, it's more deeply rooted in his traumatic upbringing. It shaped him and explains his main motivation. He believes, through killing and "transforming" his victims, he may transform himself from a mentally abused man with a cleft pallet into something else. Something invincible. Something that in his mind has taken the form of the famous figure in William Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, a painting depicting a scene from the Book of Revelation. It is one of a series of four paintings that tells the story of the Red Dragon failing at his purpose to steal the newly born Redeemer, yet revealing that his is not the only threat. Which is, of course, perfect for this series. Because he's not the only threat. In fact, he's barely the real threat at all. That spot will always be held by Hannibal. 
It has been three years since Hannibal's surrender and imprisonment when Francis Dolarhyde begins murdering whole families at the full moon. It is chilling to learn that his targets are always families and even more chilling to learn that Will now has one of his own. This could be looked at simply from an academic, story structure point of view. Will sees families being murdered so of course why wouldn't he go back to a world that almost broke him in order to protect his own. The motivations make sense. But I like to see it more from a prophetic point of view since that always seems to be the stance that this series has taken. Will's life is inevitably always going to wrap itself around or inside of Hannibal's. So when Dolarhyde begins his killings, he does so as an instrument of fate. Will cannot be free. Not while Hannibal lives. Even if he's living in imprisonment. Because let's not forget he allowed himself to be put there. 

Once Will gives the okay to return to the FBI we're quickly reminded why he was so hesitant. He enters the home of the first family of victims, the Leeds and struggles to enter Dolarhyde's design. But once he does we're shown a sequence that might be the darkest the show has ever been. Blood splatters everywhere and Will is shown shooting two children in their sleep. He places mirrors in Mrs. Leeds mouth, eyes, and labia and it's important to note that at this point Bryan Fuller has made what I think is a wonderful decision to downplay the sexual violence that made Harris' novel famous. There is never any direct depiction or even mention of rape in Hannibal. Instead Fuller asks his audience to read between the lines. His restraint makes this series far more palatable but almost a lot more horrifying all at once. Nothing is scarier than our own imaginations.

Speaking of horror, The Descent's Neil Marshall directs this episode, his first time behind the camera on Hannibal. Even though James Hawkinson's eye is essential to the look and tone of the series, Marshall's influence is felt all over "The Great Red Dragon," in particular flourishes with sound design. Most importantly, he's found a way of filming Richard Armitage that depicts his often naked or barely clothed character the same way we've grown so accustomed to seeing the female form portrayed on TV. Blake's painting is immediately visceral and sexual to anyone that takes the time to look at it and it's brilliant the way that this series works to overly sexualize the male form to the point of making it terrifying. The show has always done it but never better than in this episode. It's one of the best changes that Fuller has brought to this familiar story.

On the subject of change, the series' version of Hannibal's experience is probably my favorite. Hannibal's imprisonment is far more interesting to watch because we experience it from his point of view. That is to say, we get to live in the mind of a kind of genius and so we get to watch him share a glass of wine with Alana in a beautifully decorated room for much of a scene before we get Alana's take on everything and see the truth. Hannibal has no wine. No beautiful room. But he's using his mental palace as a way of remaining in control of his situation. Almost every scene that Hannibal occupies begins this way and it's a great little addition to Fuller's legend of Lecter. But of course, the show must go on and so after an entire episode of new plot developments and catching up we get what we were waiting for all along: Will must go and speak with Hannibal. 

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