‘Hannibal’ Brutally Introduces Us to ‘The Great Red Dragon’
At the midseason mark, Hannibal has a moment of readjustment, switching gears almost effortlessly to transition into the future — three years down the line, and Will Graham is experiencing his Godfather moment. Just when he thought he was out, Jack Crawford pulls him back in to investigate the Tooth Fairy, a name our new killer despises, as “The Great Red Dragon” is more to his demented liking.
Time has been a fluid element in the first half of Season 3 — do we move forward, or do we move back again? And what does it matter when it all comes full circle in Hannibal Lecter’s Mind Palace? But “The Great Red Dragon” makes a stern leap ahead, and three years later we find Will happily married to a woman who is also fond of stray dogs, a sentiment that speaks volumes to their relationship with no other explanation necessary. They also have a son, and Will’s fractured teacup of a mind has somehow miraculously put itself back together again.
We also meet Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage), a man obsessed with “The Great Red Dragon” painting of the episode’s title, to the extent that he believes he is the monster depicted in the painting — a monster that speaks to and controls him, tormenting him with its twisted desire to completely destroy “perfect families.”
As Dr. Chilton explains to Hannibal over a nice, human-free meal, the Tooth Fairy lacks his artistry and presentation skills. This is a different breed of killer, and the series adjusts accordingly under the eye of director Neil Marshall. Marshall is well-versed in brutal and bloody tales of dark humanity (see also: Valhalla Rising, The Descent), and just as the Tooth Fairy lacks a particular artistic sensibility, the show’s aesthetic reflects that.
Don’t get me wrong — there is still, and will always be, a dreamlike and surreal quality to Hannibal the series, but our first episode in the back-half of Season 3 tonally and visually adjusts to its new subject. It is harsher, more severe, and definitely more unforgiving in its brutality, as we watch our “young Turk” horrifically murder an entire family, children included, through the eyes of Will Graham.
Perhaps the most artistic flourish is the repeated visual of fractured glass, which not only mimics Francis’ preoccupation with smashing mirrors, but the fractured nature of the central relationships. Will is on an island — a peaceful, normal familial island, but an island all the same, isolated from the people who meant so much to him. Bucking the narrative tradition of pulling survivors closer together following a traumatic experience, Hannibal finds Jack, Alana, Will and Dr. Chilton scattered, tied together only by the sick, delicate thread of Hannibal Lecter.
Alana (now the head of the Baltimore psych facility) and Dr. Chilton visit Hannibal first in thinly veiled, imagined settings — Alana meets Hannibal in his office because he views her as more of a peer, while Chilton has dessert with Hannibal at his dinner table. But the facade soon vanishes to reveal the reality, that these visitors are interacting with him through the glass partition of his cell.
Chilton ponders the danger of Hannibal’s awareness of the Tooth Fairy (“the young Turk may inspire our old Lithuanian to get interesting again”), foreshadowing Hannibal’s new hobby.
It doesn’t take much for Jack to convince Will to assist on the Tooth Fairy case — one photo of a dead family is enough to tug at his slumbering sociopathic empathy. Watching Will explore the crime scene is suspenseful, breathtaking and a bit terrifying, culminating in the fist-pump moment when he declares, “This is my design.”
The entire episode builds to that glorious moment, but it isn’t until he pays Hannibal a visit that we know he’s officially been pulled back in.
- It’s not just a Godfather moment — Will’s return is very John Wick. “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.”
- Armitage does not have a single line of dialogue in the entire episode, making our introduction to Francis Dolarhyde totally visceral. It’s a wholly physical and impressive performance, and a striking way to communicate his psychology to the audience. The scene in which he stretches to emulate and transform into the Great Red Dragon is the most effective display of this.
- Also note Francis’ feminine silk robe — a nod to Buffalo Bill?
- I did not mention this above, but Jimmy and Brian are back! The gang’s getting back together! I missed them so, so much, and I didn’t know just how much until Scott Thompson walked into that morgue.
- So, how exactly did Hannibal manage to get such lovely accommodations at the psych hospital? Previews show him making a phone call — in the Thomas Harris novel (and in subsequent adaptations), Hannibal and Francis communicate through letters hidden in toilet paper, but it seems like Hannibal’s really got this whole prison thing figured out.
- He still intends to kill Alana, by the way.
- Hannibal and Alana both have new hair cuts. I’m not sure how I feel about his, though. A little too conservative and uptight for my taste.