God, the devil, the dragon and the lamb — in Hannibal’s eyes they are not at all dissimilar, as most things remain slippery in his mind palace. Everything tends to bleed and blur together in his orbit, as evoked in the persistent motif of layering one character’s face over Hannibal’s own. Divided by the glass partition of his cell, it’s easier to blend Jack or Will or Alana’s faces with Hannibal’s, as they stare at each other from either side of the glass and Hannibal delivers his weekly sermons on the currency of evil.

Last week I said I wouldn’t be back to review the show this week unless something majorly insane happened — well, here we are. Mads Mikkelsen is having the absolute best time of his life relishing his role as Hannibal Lecter with devilish smirks and arrogant monologues. His performance is utterly delightful, and it’s difficult not to at least crack a smile.

“The Number of the Beast Is 666" opens with one of those monologues — or sermons — from Hannibal, detailing the harmonious yet tumultuous relationship between God, the devil, the dragon and the lamb. Although the lamb is of God (and in this case, Jack is God), its wrath should not be underestimated. Its delicate appearance lulls its beholders into a false sense of security, but its gentle nature is a purposeful distraction, for the lamb is more dangerous than any other player on the field. The lamb is, of course, Will Graham. While Hannibal seeks to differentiate the dragon from the devil (himself), Jack is quick to recall biblical scripture supporting his assertion that the dragon and the devil are the same entity; Hannibal may be more refined and sophisticated, but he is no different from Francis Dolarhyde.

Will, Jack and Alana conspire to use Freddie Lounds to bait the Red Dragon — Chilton will offer a fair clinical assessment, while Will is to undermine his statements with crass observations, intended to wound Francis’ blossoming ego.

“The Number of the Beast Is 666" is a brutal and vicious episode, but it also embraces subtlety with grace. One touch of Will’s hand on Chilton’s shoulder tells the Dragon — and Chilton, and the world — that Chilton is his pet, that there is a mutual respect and kinship. Instead of falling for the trap set before him, the Dragon proves more sophisticated than presumed, easily capturing the smugly oblivious Chilton and super gluing his naked body to a chair, tormenting Chilton with sermons of his own design. Raul Esparza deserves a set of commemorative plates (only three monthly installments of $19.95!) for his performance this week as the doomed Dr. Frederick Chilton. It is inarguably his finest hour.

After treating him to a deranged art lecture (DO YOU SEE?!), Francis forces Chilton to recite a statement into the camera in which he claims to be in trembling awe of his captor and delivers a specific threat to Will.

Francis only briefly toys with the notion of letting Chilton go (or does he?) before he decides it’s better to teach Chilton by “changing” him, transforming into the Great Red Dragon for his most artful lecture yet:

It is, in a word, grotesque. That’s an elegant phrase for a heinous act — I suppose it’s more appropriate to deem this for what it is: nightmare fuel.

Francis fancies himself an artist the same way Hannibal or any other serial killer Will & Co. have encountered have done. His works may be more exploitative, and less detailed or elegant, but they are psychotic pieces of art resulting from a mind that is essentially no different from Hannibal’s own. Where Hannibal in his wonderfully delusional mind seeks to better the world by eating the rude, Francis seeks to change the world not by elimination, but by transformation, though they are essentially the same. And what is more transformative than fire?

Francis brings out the more playful and arrogant side of Hannibal — in a sense, Hannibal is becoming just as crude as those he abhors. When a package arrives bearing Chilton’s lips, Hannibal slurps one into his mouth in front of Alana as if he’s eating a noodle:

Hannibal is no longer interested in wearing his human mask in front of anyone, nor does he care to evade discovery — how can he when he’s living in such transparency?

Will struggles this week with guilt — guilt over Molly because every time he looks at her he sees a corpse threatening their future. As Bedelia explains, Hannibal gave Will plenty of time (three years) to build a family and lull himself into a false sense of security (the nature of the lamb) just so Hannibal could take it all away. His family is still technically alive, but Hannibal has, in his way, already destroyed them. Bedelia boils down her contemplations of Dante’s Inferno and the seven circles of Hell to this essential lesson: you play, you pay.

Just as Hannibal is no longer hiding his true nature, so is the series no longer mincing words:

Is Hannibal in love with Will Graham? To paraphrase Bedelia: is he capable of aching at the absence of Will, of thinking of him constantly when they are apart? Regardless of his general sociopathic apathy, is he capable of feeling behind that mask — he is still only human, after all.

Additional Thoughts:

  • The literary / cinematic references continue: Hannibal calls back to Will and Jack’s trick of pretending to set Freddie Lounds on fire in a wheelchair (which Francis does to Freddie in the book and previous film), while Francis actually does this to poor Dr. Chilton. It’s a great way to subvert the pre-existing narrative while also avoiding killing yet another woman on the show.
  • I cannot overstate just how horrifying Chilton’s ordeal is this week, from Francis’ transformative prowling across the floor to the actual removal of Chilton’s lips and his charred — but still living! — body. Keeping him alive is so much more grotesque.
  • Also of note: when we see Francis coming at Chilton to chomp on his face, he has a very animalistic and frightening way of moving, but when Will and Jack watch the video, Francis appears to stroll over to Chilton in a way that’s far more human and banal. Another great way to convey perception.
  • Poor Reba! She drops by to give Francis some soup because she heard he was ill, and gives him a heartfelt speech about how much she likes him regardless of whatever makes him think he’s undeserving. He rewards her kindness by kidnapping her. Oh, good.
  • Maxi pads make for excellent blindfolds.