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Well, that was far and away the best episode of Hannibal‘s Red Dragon arc. Absolutely exceptional all around. From the excellent writing, brilliant performances from Richard Armitage, Gillian Anderson, Hugh Dancy, and Raul Esparza, to the decision to change things up just a bit from the source material, “The Number of the Beast Is 666…” was everything one could hope for from the penultimate episode of Hannibal‘s final season. Bravo.
Since the series had already used the Freddie Lounds in a burning wheelchair set-up in the past (something we were all helpfully reminded of this week- and something that makes the Red Dragon’s actions all the more horrific), I wasn’t sure Bryan Fuller and company would even go in that direction for the Red Dragon story arc. But, wow, did Fuller make the right call in this instance. Using Chilton as a stand-in for Freddie (or, rather, Freddy, since in the source material she is a he) was inspired. While Freddie is an interesting character and I was thrilled to see her back in the game, Chilton has more resonance with the audience. He’s become a fan favorite over the years, thanks in great part to Raul Esparza’s brilliant work in the role. And it’s so easy to believe that Chilton would be blinded by his ego in this instance. From day one, Chilton has been more concerned with his own place in the world and it has finally come back to bite him. Really, we should have seen this coming from the moment Alana was revealed to be heading up the hospital, as it makes Chilton superfluous (were the show to continue and get the rights to the Silence of the Lambs story, I have little doubt Alana would continue on as the head of the hospital rather than be replaced by Chilton). But man, how many more awful things can happen to that man?
The choice to utilize Chilton as the sacrificial lamb within the story had a number of additional benefits, most importantly in terms of classifying the Red Dragon as a true villain. I have been on the fence regarding Richard Armitage’s work as the Red Dragon. Yes, he has been wonderful from a physical perspective, aptly creating the outer trappings of the creature. But I haven’t felt the connection to the character I had hoped to feel. That all changed this week. Putting someone we care about (or, at least, someone we know well) in danger at the hands of the Dragon upped the stakes significantly. Attacking Will’s family drove home the point that the Red Dragon was dangerous to Will’s life, but actively attacking and nearly killing a core supporting character is a completely different ball game. While Molly and Walt matter to Will, we hardly know them. Chilton is a part of the show’s tapestry in a deep and meaningful way. Moreover, watching the Red Dragon toy with Chilton and express his true inner rage (and psychosis) finally provided the connection to the true danger the show has been missing. We know he is a killer and that he has killed two families, but the deaths were more abstract. Seeing this violence first hand and having the victim be someone we care about is key to making us fear the Red Dragon. I almost wish it had happened a week or two earlier, as I certainly would like more time with Will and Hannibal to process the mental and emotional fallout from this incident.
And speaking of emotional fallout, it certainly looks like Will has finally been broken, and I don’t blame him one bit. While the episode’s main action was focused on the Red Dragon and Chilton, the scenes between Will and Bedelia offered complex character beats that went a long way to showing how Hannibal has weaponized Will. Everything Bedelia said about Hannibal and Will’s twisted relationship is true, and considering how painful it appeared for her to admit that Hannibal is in love with Will and not her, I think Will is finally ready to accept that Hannibal has gotten within his mind and is manipulating him masterfully from prison. But, then again, we’ve known all of that for a while now- the relationship between Will and Hannibal has been a deranged love story from the beginning. What really struck me within those moments was the deep love Bedelia seems to have for Hannibal. I was never sure how much Bedelia cared for Hannibal, and her actions in Italy made it appear that she was willing to simply go along for the ride and not engage (lest we forget, since it was brought up again by Bedelia this week, participation in Hannibal’s actions is a key element of a relationship with him). However, she appeared to be genuinely hurt when she admitted that Hannibal loves Will in a way he can never and will never love her. If only there were more episodes left of this lovely show, as I would love to explore the character of Bedelia a great deal more.
There is, sadly, only one more episode of Hannibal left. And still a good deal of ground to cover in terms of catching the killer (because we all know they have to stop the Red Dragon, right?), resolving the Will-Hannibal relationship, and finding out if Will will be able to pull himself back from the brink one last time. “The Number of the Beast Is 666…” was a thrilling and taut episode that turned the Red Dragon into the monster we were waiting for. I’m genuinely excited to see how Bryan Fuller ties up the series.
— Loved that Alana immediately refused to be used as bait for the Red Dragon. At least someone on this show learned something from their time chasing Hannibal.
— Hats off to Raul Esparza for his work under the massive layers of prosthetic make-up. Although, with those level burns, I highly doubt people would have been let into the room without being completely sterilized. Poor Chilton is going to get a major infection from all those germs.
— Notice anything familiar about those two shots of Will and Bedelia? As you can see in the image above, they mirror the shots of Will and Hannibal in therapy. Creepy.
— Since I don’t really care all that much about Reba, I’m not all that worried for her fate at the hands of the Red Dragon. That might be the only negative within this episode- going from the high stakes capture of Chilton to the lower stakes (from a fan perspective) capture of Reba. I hope she comes out of this safe, but I’m not going to be crushed if she doesn’t.