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Rather than continue full-tilt with the Chesapeake Ripper storyline, “Fromage,” the eighth episode of Hannibal’s inaugural season, is a bit of a mixed bag, delving further into Hannibal’s psyche but also setting the stage for an ill-conceived romance between Will and Alana.
First, a look at the good elements of the episode (and there were certainly more positives than negatives). While having a “killer of the week” is nothing new for the series, this particular case was quite a bit different than those that have come before. Rather than spending our time with the FBI while Will and company reason out the motive and catch the killer, far more time is spent with Tobias (the killer and “friend” of Franklin, Hannibal’s lonely patient) and Hannibal, allowing us a closer look at what makes a sociopath tick.
While watching the cat and mouse game develop between Hannibal and Will has been at the forefront these past few episodes, this week’s battle of wills between Tobias and Hannibal offers Mads Mikkelsen a chance to present a more wily version of the character, allowing him to let out the darkness that lies within him. Mikkelsen has been particularly effective portraying Hannibal throughout the season - especially considering the big shoes he had to fill based on past Lector performances. His work in “Fromage” is possibly his best of the season so far. The quiet intensity Mikkelsen brings to the dinner between Hannibal and Tobias is beautifully contrasted with the vicious anger of Hannibal and Tobias’s fight and the apparent genuine regret Hannibal feels over Franklin’s death.
Also giving excellent performances this week are the episodes' two guest stars, Dan Folger (Franklin) and Demore Barnes (Tobias). Folger’s Franklin successfully walks the line between annoyingly clingy and heartbreakingly lonely, making his death particularly hard to take. While Franklin is certainly a damaged individual, Folger (who is more known for his comedic work, such as his Tony Award winning turn in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”) allows his longing and bittersweet hopefulness to shine through, making him into a character I find myself rooting for - even knowing that he is unlikely to survive when stuck between two sociopaths. Barnes is superb, holding his own alongside Mikkelsen and creating a truly frightening killer. While Tobias often has a blank face that didn’t give anything away, Barnes uses his eyes to convey his anger and his curiosity in an instance of wonderfully subtle acting.
The episode’s other highlight is the return of Gillian Anderson as Hannibal’s therapist Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier. We are treated to a bit of her backstory this week, learning that she quit practicing after being attacked by a patient. While the sessions between Du Maurier and Hannibal offer us small peeks behind his façade (and hint that Du Maurier might be the first to unmask Hannibal), this week’s sessions offer two particularly interesting morsels. First, Hannibal mentions he expressed a desire to protect Du Maurier after she was attacked, much in the way he protected Alana Bloom from discovering his identity by sending her to interview Ph.D. candidates (and thus leading to the death of Miriam Lass). Hannibal seems to have a need to protect the women in his life, something I hope will be explored as the show continues.
The second interesting tidbit is Hannibal’s confession to Du Maurier that he believes he has found a “friend” in Will. While I have no doubt that any friendship that may develop between the two will disappear once Will finally puts the pieces together, this certainly seems like Hannibal is accepting that Will is a worthy adversary and that regardless of the outcome, he is committed to enjoying the cat and mouse game he has set up.
Now, onto the episode’s glaring misstep. While the series has been hinting at exploring a possible relationship between Will and Alana since day one, such an exploration has always screamed bad idea. This week saw the pair tentatively beginning to explore their romantic possibilities, only to have Alana point out (rightly so) that Will is more of a psychological fascination to her at the moment than a romantic one. The last thing the show needs right now is to clog up episodes with the question of will they or won’t they. The series has thrived on the relationships between characters, particularly those between Jack and Hannibal and Will and Hannibal, but clouding the waters with a romance feels unnecessary at this stage in the game.
In addition, we still need to know more about Alana - we have spent significant time with the three main male characters, but have never spent time alone with Alana (or really seen her away from any of the three main male characters). If we are expected to invest in any potential relationship between Will and Alana, we need to know Alana and understand why Will finds her attractive. If the show continues to push for the romantic subplot (which I hope it will not, unless it is seen as a means to push Will over the brink into insanity), then I hope it gives us more about Alana, and shows us why we should care.
-- The brief appearance by the lab tech is much less jarring this week, as they simply stick to relaying the facts of the murder and not wildly speculating about the murderer.
-- The scenes between Tobias and Hannibal are spectacular from an acting standpoint. I also particularly like the hat tip to Silence of the Lambs, when Tobias hints that the trombone player’s murder is due to his inability to play on point - much like one of Hannibal’s murders in Lambs.
-- Will is speeding towards a psychotic break, as he is now hearing animal noises that aren’t there (a la Clarice Starling and her lambs). I would like to know what pills he is taking - are they generic aspirins, or is he on actual prescribed medication?
-- The scene showing Tobias’s cleaning and preparation of the human-gut strings is eerily beautiful, particularly the shot of the strings in the water.
-- Franklin’s death is sad - part of me is really hoping he would be able to talk Tobias down or escape. That his death is at Hannibal’s hands (even though he appears to actually regret it) is even sadder.
-- The throw down between Tobias and Hannibal, while interesting to watch, seems so out of character for Hannibal. While Hannibal is a prolific killer, and certainly delights in his kills, he is always careful with each step. The fight serves to show the distinct differences between Tobias and Hannibal, as Tobias let his rage take over in a way Hannibal never has (at least, that we’ve seen).
-- Finally, the visuals of the show continue to be stunning. The color palate used - particularly the reds in Hannibal’s office - lend a great deal of ambiance to the scenes and offer a sophistication that is often missing on network dramas.