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This week’s episode of Hannibal once again showcases the exceptional work of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, and gives us a look into how diabolical Hannibal can be as he takes actual steps toward potentially ending Will’s life.
"Buffet Froid,” the series’ tenth episode of its first season, once again juxtaposes the killer of the week with Will’s own personal struggles. This week’s case is more clearly analogous than some in the past, with Georgia, a killer whose mental illness led to her being unable to see the faces of those around her and thus leading to her thinking she was dead and invisible, represents a physical manifestation of warning to Will. As it stands, Will is unable to see the true faces of those around him, leading him to trust those he shouldn’t (Hannibal) and reject the help of those he should (Alana and Jack). While this dramatic device was more obviously used than in past episodes, I still think it works well, especially when coupled with clear evidence as to just how devious Hannibal has become with regard to Will and Jack.
As was hinted at several weeks ago, Hannibal has an uncanny ability to smell the imperfections in others, whether it is a brain tumor in Jack’s wife or the illness in Georgia. When he previously sniffed Will, I posited that perhaps there was something else going on with Will rather than simply a descent into madness. Judging from the diagnosis of Hannibal’s friend Dr. Sutcliffe, there is something seriously wrong with Will - untreated encephalitis. Now, according to my Wikipedia search (I may be many things, but I am unfortunately not a doctor), it appears that Will’s particular strain is treatable, but can cause serious damage if left untreated for a significant period of time. Clearly knowing the risks to Will, Hannibal’s decision to keep him in the dark (and his ability to convince Dr. Sutcliffe - at least for a while - to keep him in the dark as well) is particularly chilling.
The show’s main conceit is the relationship between Hannibal and Will. And we as an audience are encouraged to relate to both characters at different times, but our main draw is meant to be to Will, who has been set up as our “hero.” But what is perhaps most interesting, particularly with these last two episodes, as the story appears to be leading us into an episode centered around Will (with Hannibal at the periphery at best), the writers take a sharp turn mid-stride, and it becomes clear that Hannibal is the one controlling the action - from guiding Will to catch the killer, further complicating Will’s mental state, driving a wedge between Will and Jack, and withholding treatment from Will. Despite giving Will more screen time (on average) than Hannibal, the story remains Hannibal’s just as much as it is Will’s.
This complex dance between the characters of Will and Hannibal only succeeds because of the work of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen. As Will has slowly but surely begun losing his mind (or, as we now know, is succumbing to encephalitis), Dancy has managed to avoid falling into the cartoonesque potrayal so common to actors when portraying the deepening of a mental illness. By injecting the right amount of panic behind Will’s normally controlled exterior, Dancy has made Will’s journey not only compelling to watch but emotionally engaging. Likewise, Mikkelsen continues to be superb, never losing sight of Hannibal’s meticulously controlled nature. The calm he showed throughout the episode, whether the scene involved carving up a doctor’s face or convincing the same doctor that Will should be left in the dark regarding his diagnosis, made Hannibal particularly chilling this week.
Finally, I feel I should spend a few moments theorizing why Hannibal wanted Will to remain in the dark about his encephalitis. While I’m sure some part of the scientist in him is actually interested to see what the mental effects of untreated encephalitis would be, particularly on someone like Will, I highly doubt this is his ultimate reason. My best guess would be that Hannibal is well aware that Will has the ability to eventually pin him as the Ripper. Will's mental breakdown (or, if necessary, Will’s death) allows Hannibal the freedom to continue killing unabated for at least the foreseeable future. But I would hope that Hannibal is enjoying the cat and mouse game too much to allow Will to suffer indefinitely. After all, even a sociopath needs to have someone to chase him.
-- A fun little Easter Egg for fans of Bryan Fuller’s amazing show Dead Like Me: Georgia, the killer in this episode, is played by Ellen Muth, who portrayed Georgia “George” Lass (perhaps she and Miriam Lass are cousins?) on Dead Like Me. George, for those who haven’t seen the show (and if you haven’t, I highly recommend it; it is phenomenal), was a “Reaper” (a dead person who still walks the Earth in a new human form and reaps souls from the soon to be deceased) who is occasionally believed to be alive, despite being dead. This is a fun little twist on Hannibal’s Georgia, who believes she is dead, despite being alive.
-- I think we are supposed to believe that Dr. Sutcliffe was no longer on board with Hannibal’s plan to let Will think he's going insane - at least that’s what I assume based on Sutcliffe’s facial expression at the end of the dinner. And, if isn't the case, why else would Hannibal kill him? For comparing Will (Hannibal’s friend, as we were once again told) to a pig?
-- My one major issue with the episode is the ending, which has Will parroting back Hannibal’s own techniques to Georgia to “save” her. It seems like an awfully neat tie-up.
-- Considering Muth’s history with Fuller, and knowing that Georgia saw Hannibal kill Sutcliffe, I’m hoping she’ll be back once she’s cured. And perhaps her face blindness will be gone and allow her to name Sutcliffe’s killer?
-- Hannibal is certainly trying to guilt trip Jack into blaming himself for Will’s mental break. I’m not sure if it is working though, as Jack has given Will opportunities to come clean without success.
-- This episode is certainly the most classic horror movie-esque episode of the season. Rather than be particularly grossed out by the murders (although, they were icky as usual), the episode focuses more on the fear factor than the gore factor.
-- Finally, the character of Beverly Katz (I had to look up her name, as I’m not even sure it's been spoken this season) gets to do something other than waste time at a crime scene. As NBC recently announced Hannibal will be back for a second season, I’m hoping Fuller gets rid of the crime scene techs for season two. If the characters were important, I would know all their names by the tenth episode. As I definitely do not, they are expendable.