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After spending 11 episodes in the dark, “Relevés,” Hannibal’s penultimate episode of season one, allowed Will Graham to begin to see the light. The episode, highlighted once again by superb performances by Hugh Dancy and Madds Mikkelsen, also gave us our deepest look into the calculating nature of the title character and firmly placed Will in peril for next week’s season finale.
I have written several times in these episode reviews that I worry the show might keep the cat and mouse game between Will and Hannibal going on for too long, and, in doing so, eventually cause the audience to begin doubting the crime solving abilities of Will and company (example: the BAU team and Will are able to solve a myriad of murders, but are still unable to see what is in front of their faces). “Relevés” takes several giant steps towards allaying those fears, reinforcing that Will is a prolific profiler and that Jack and his team are good at their jobs, as they put together some pieces of the complex puzzle in front of them - even in the face of masterful manipulation by Hannibal.
One of the many elements that sets Hannibal apart from most of the dramas on network television is its masterful writing. “Relevés” builds expertly on all that has come before this season, crescendoing into the final reveal of Hannibal’s plan regarding Will. Will’s temporary recovery from his raging fever allows him to finally realize that the so-called copycat is still out there (and appears to be looking for a way to implicate him in the murders), a theory that sparks concern in Jack and causes him to reopen the Hobbs case, leading to the realization that Abigail was the lure in her father’s murders.
Armed with newly discovered evidence against Abigail, and his worry regarding Will, Jack heads to Hannibal to reveal his discovery and discuss Will’s mental state. Sensing his carefully constructed plans crumbling, Hannibal forcefully drives a final wedge between Jack and Will, hinting that Will may in fact be suffering from a dissociative personality disorder. Without expressly saying it, Hannibal plants the seed in Jack’s mind that Will is the true copycat killer, buying himself some time but effectively setting up a final confrontation between himself and Will.
Deciding to center a show on Hannibal Lector is a gutsy endeavor. Even though some of the material may be drawn from Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon, the character is already so widely recognizable from its many incarnations that you run the risk of your audience rejecting the newest interpretation. With this worry in the forefront, the natural inclination would be to give the audience what they want - show them Hannibal the Cannibal. Throughout this first season, Bryan Fuller and his writing staff have opted to do just the opposite.
Over the course of 12 episodes, the character of Hannibal Lector has been revealed slowly to the audience. Small elements of what makes Hannibal the tightly contained sociopath that he is have been doled out. We have seen his desire to protect the women around him (Alana, Abigail, and Dr. Du Maurier), his murderous reaction toward those he finds rude and uncouth, and his warring desires to both study and eliminate Will Graham. While Hannibal has committed multiple atrocities throughout the season, we have yet to see him truly lash out against those around him. Hannibal has never lost his cool (even during his fight with Tobias, he was still in control of himself), and his closely guarded facial expressions have rarely expressed any strong emotions. While a great deal of the credit must be given to Mikkelsen’s portrayal, the other portion goes to the writing staff for keeping Hannibal an enigma for as long as possible.
While “Relevés” doesn't give us an emotional Hannibal, it does open the door into the character's mind far more than in past episodes. His interactions with Du Maurier show us Hannibal at his most worried, as he questions the doctor over what she told Jack regarding the death of her former patient - a death in which he almost certainly had a hand. Hannibal’s decision to finally end his fascination with Will by implicating him in the copycat murders show us how cold and calculating he can be. Finally, and perhaps most chillingly, Hannibal telling Abigail “I am sorry I couldn’t protect you in this life” shows us that even though he clearly cares for Abigail and desires to protect her, he isn’t above removing anything or anyone who may cause him harm.
Just as the story has built upon itself throughout the season, so have Hannibal's various layers. While Will Graham may be the show’s hero, Hannibal is its title character. As such, as the show has progressed, so has Hannibal (even more than Will, despite Will sometimes receiving the lion’s share of screen time). With Will about to be backed into a corner, I find it hard to believe that Hannibal will make it out of the season unscathed. But even if he gets his just desserts in the finale, I have every faith that the show and its writing team will still be able to further explore Hannibal’s layers from prison.
-- It's great to see Ellen Muth back as Georgia, and to actually see her this time rather than have her unrecognizable under make-up. It's not so great to see her burnt to death, but I guess we all knew that was coming when she walked in on Hannibal.
-- For as much grief as she causes the FBI, Freddie is pretty good at reading people. She pegs Abigail as Nick Boyle’s killer pretty quickly - something the BAU team isn't able to piece together nearly as fast.
-- I find it hard to believe no one in the hospital thinks to do a CT scan on Will when he's complaining of a high fever, lost time, and hallucinations. While I understand treating the fever first, isn't a CT scan one of the tests you’d run with those symptoms?
-- Now that it’s pretty clear Hannibal had a hand in the death of Du Maurier’s attacker, the question becomes how much does Du Maurier know of Hannibal’s extracurricular activities? And would Hannibal sacrifice her as quickly as he is sacrificing Abigail.
-- Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Hannibal is particularly strong in this episode. Despite knowing it was only a manipulation, I actually start to believe him when he begins to convince Jack that Will might be the copycat killer.
-- Finally, poor Abigail. She made it so far, only to end up one of Hannibal’s victims, although I highly doubt she will become a five-course meal for him as well. However, her death should finally point Will to Hannibal as the killer, giving us the showdown we’ve known was coming since episode one.