So. That Hannibal finale, eh?
The title quote is from the inimitable Alfred Hitchcock and I feel like it sums up not only that gut-wrenching final episode, but Hannibal as an entire TV series. Never before has gratuitous blood and gore been so beautiful: the metronomic drip-splash of scarlet blood from the nose of a butchered rabbit; the delicate transformation of flayed skin into angel wings; a human throat opened wide and turned into a musical instrument. Visually, Hannibal is a gift. A discomfiting, visceral gift.
(Spoilers abound, obviously.)
But the finale was special. Because ultimately, for all the gore and darkness, Hannibal was a love story. The darkest, unhealthiest, most fucked-up love story you’re ever likely to come across. And fitting, given the true ending of Thomas Harris’ novel ‘Hannibal’, in which Clarice – aware that Hannibal is a killer, a gleeful devourer of human flesh, a torturer and a sociopath – chooses to run away to Argentina with him. In many ways the Will Graham of the TV show is a sort of composite, Will Graham with a dash of Clarice. Hannibal’s obvious (and at times sinister) infatuation with Will mirrored his increasing fascination with Clarice, and Will’s intense discomfort intermingled with an insatiable curiosity for the darkest parts of Hannibal’s mind made the entire thing by turns compelling, horrifying, skin-crawlingly uncomfortable, and occasionally beautiful.
Thing is, I was pleased the writers ‘went there’ with regards to Hannibal’s love for Will. They’ve taken an iconic character, explored him in a way that was only touched upon in ‘Red Dragon’ and altered the timeline in such a way that you might imagine fans and critics alike being utterly up in arms – THE Hannibal Lecter, canonically in love with another man. But it works. It’s justified and built upon subtly, layer by layer, until you can not only absolutely believe it but feel it, such is the power of Mikkelsen and Dancy’s chemistry. And there’s the amazing thing. A show that began with oodles of subtext, as so many shows do (*eyeroll*, tired old queerbaiting, teasing LGBT viewers with the possibility of genuine representation but never actually delivering) ending with a support character revealed to be bisexual and in an apparently genuinely loving marriage to another woman, and two male main characters choosing to die together rather than be apart. it sounds cheesy, but in context it’s perfectly fitting.
You can’t contrive this stuff; as a writer, I’m fascinated by how organic it all is, how the love between them seemed almost its own entity. Not unlike the ravenstag, I suppose – a literal symbol of the way Hannibal enters Will’s consciousness and begins, over time, to fundamentally alter it, and eventually him. You could never truly argue that their relationship was healthy. Hannibal’s infatuation with Will is based largely on what Will might become, given the right influence and a good, solid push. He is in love with an idea, the version of Will he knows lies beneath the surface and which reveals itself little by little until it’s no longer clear which Will we’re seeing on screen any more. He recreates Will in his own image, delights in that which he coerces Will to do and delights further in that which Will chooses to do – this ‘becoming’ is alluded to several times by both men, and it’s clear that this is Hannibal’s greatest wish. For Hannibal, I suspect realising that Will was play-acting during the latter half of series 2 was a true betrayal. The ease and artistry of Randall’s murder and the violence of Freddie Lounds’ apparent murder revealed as a ploy, a lure with which to bring Hannibal forward and into the spotlight of the FBI. Except that it didn’t work; Hannibal sensed the betrayal as surely as a predator senses blood, and his retribution was swift and brutal. Many viewers wondered who, if anyone, would survive series 2’s massacre. (And what struck me most, in among the cruelty and the blood, was a very real sense of sadness; Hannibal’s tangible regret that he and Abigail and Will would never get to be the perfect little murder family he’d dreamed of having.)
Will’s a little more complex. Hannibal is this terrible angelic presence, right down to his appearance (thank Mikkelsen’s beautifully-carved cheekbones and unfalteringly serene countenance) He is order, whereas Will is utter chaos – a socially awkward misfit of a man plagued (or gifted) with pure empathy. It’s this empathy which enables him to see through Hannibal’s disguise – his ‘people-suit’, as Bedelia Du Maurier later puts it. And whereas Hannibal’s regard for Will is largely consistent, Will’s feelings about him are all over the place – the desire to know who he is, the desire to make known who he is, the desire for revenge confused and ultimately eclipsed by the affinity they share. Because Will is a lonely man. He doesn’t connect easily with others. And Hannibal affords him an opportunity to be understood – with caveats, of course, and Will knows this, but he can’t stop that part of himself that desperately craves that friendship. So he lets Hannibal go. He gives him the opportunity to escape. And when he does escape, Will follows him, because he can’t let go.
(A moment, please, for Gillian Anderson’s wonderful portrayal of Bedelia Du Maurier, all elegant compusure and high cheekbones and grace, and under that, so consumed by her own darkness that you sense she isn’t entirely sure of herself anymore.)
It’s all the more stark when you fast forward a few years; Will, married and seemingly moved on from the FBI and all that it entailed, and Hannibal, who gave himself up voluntarily so that Will would always know where he was, and still sends him letters. Will tries to move on. He’s able to connect with someone, and you sense that his love for Molly is real, and that what they have is genuine and good. But Hannibal has awoken that other part of Will, and it takes the Red Dragon to bring that back into focus. When Will tells Hannibal he can see himself killing Molly over and over you realise that he can never go back to that life, even if he wanted to. That semblance of normality is over, shattered like the mirrors Dolarhyde places on the eyes of his victims. All Will has now is Hannibal, and if he doesn’t have Hannibal, he is alone.
So it’s not that the love between these two men is perfect and romantic and aspirational. It’s not. It’s horrible and twisted and built upon the shoulders of two thoroughly broken individuals. But it’s also raw and honest. It’s two people drawn into one another’s orbit, unable and unwilling to escape. When Hannibal and Will are standing on the edge of the cliff, and Hannibal smiles so genuinely at Will – the version of Will has has created and perfected and loved for such a long time (to quote Blake, as series 3 does, “Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”) and when Will finally accepts the person he’s become, all that’s left for them both is oblivion. They can never be together. They can never run away to Europe and be ‘murder husbands’, as Freddie Lounds put it. They will be hunted wherever they go, and separated forever if caught. And there’s the tragedy of Hannibal: two men who confronted the darkness within themselves and found each other at the centre of it, knowing it could never really work.
If I can ever write a love story this compelling, this honest and this raw, I’ll be a very happy writer.