WARNING: This review contains spoilers
This tenth episode ‘And the Woman Clothed in the Sun’ provides some stunning and revelatory set pieces nested within the typically quiet moments of inter-character dynamics and development. The set pieces illuminate the characters and the context; moving us ever closer towards the dramatic climax of the season. With experienced cinematographer Guillermo Navarro in the director’s chair for this episode, we see somewhat of a returned focus to the oneiric and gothic aesthetic moments which were so significant during the first half of the season.
This episode largely restricts its cast to allow focus on pairs of characters. We start, as we ended the previous episode, with Francis Dolarhyde and Hannibal Lecter, before moving on to Will Graham and Bedelia DuMaurier. From here, we focus on Dolarhyde and Reba, then to Bedelia and an old patient (which by implication illuminates her relationship with Hannibal) before explosively giving the audience a moment of confrontation between Dolarhyde and Will. Jack, Alana, Freddie and Chilton are all absent from this episode which provides a focus on the interpersonal and psychological drivers for the characters presented. It also allows this episode to be less about the procedural aspects of the narrative. This is perhaps why the pleasing and ever-unsettling moments of visual pleasure are given comparatively more prominence in this episode.
We start with a sequence which helps to explain exactly how Dolarhyde managed to get a call placed to Lecter at the end of last week’s episode. We see the conversation from his perspective instead, which leads into a Dolarhyde-imagined therapy session between the “Young Turk” and the “Old Lithuanian”. With Dolarhyde seated in the patient’s chair, the power dynamic is visually established; a relationship which Dolarhyde acknowledges himself in casting Hannibal as Lucifer, as so many have done before him. What’s interesting in this sequence is that Dolarhyde steps outside of himself to witness the conversation before the seated version of himself takes his place, transformed, in a Blake-like tableau of the Dragon surrounded by the fires of Hell. This helps to establish one of the key themes of the episode – that of duality. Here, the human side of Dolarhyde separates from the mythic and animalistic side of himself, characterised as the Red Dragon. Only when Dolarhyde’s humanity is separated does the visual transformation of this alternate element occur and the ordinary Dollarhyde looks on in horror and awe. This builds on the internal conflict experienced by the character. Lecter only sees the monster, reflecting his desire to allow this monster to fully become so that he may use the Dragon as a servant of his desires.
After the title sequence, in a scene which mirrors Hannibal’s lecture in the Antipasto, we find Bedelia again. Her position as orator in a packed lecture space informs us that she has escaped prosecution. She poetically recounts her fiction; the narrative of her ordeal with Hannibal, illustrated by grandiose and mythic notions of Lecter’s status as “the beast” and the place of her suffering as “Hell”. She weaves in references to Dante’s Inferno and employs one of Hieronymous Bosch’s grotesque renderings of Hell as her self-selected backdrop. Will enters part way through; his presence helping to reinforce the status of the lies she tells. We know that he doesn’t buy this story at all and we know it to be fiction too. Later she comments on what Hannibal has taught her, “the alchemy of truth and lies” which she has clearly employed to advantageous effect.
Their post-lecture discussion reveals a quiet hostility which seems motivated by some sort of rivalry. Will calls her “The bride of Frankenstein” to which she responds “we’ve both been his bride”. This encourages the viewer to compare their experiences and relationships to the doctor. Will also acknowledges that Bedelia seems to have weathered her experience much better than he – “I’m covered in scars” he notes.
Later she finally recounts to Will the event that allowed the Beast to swallow her whole. We get this intercut into their conversation as flashbacks. The sessions with Neal Frank, whom we previously saw as a dead body on Bedelia’s floor early in the season are contrary to what we have been told in the past. The narrative hints that have been given to the viewer in the previously were that she was attacked by the patient. In finally meeting Frank, we see that he is clearly distressed but he is not dangerous or delusional. In fact, he seems to the only patient to recognise the malignancy of Lecter’s treatment. He thinks Hannibal is a threat, and comes to suspect that Bedelia is complicit. Far from attack her; Frank chokes in front of her. Bedelia’s initial drive is to save his life. In doing so, however, she seems to wilfully end it. A small and imperceptible change occurs and she kills him. She talks to Will about the internal conflicts between the desire to nurture and to destroy. As a final note from Bedelia, she seems to suggest that her desire to continue Hannibal’s therapy and to accompany him to Europe was borne out her own profound empathy with him and her desire to do no harm. She also implies that she regrets it deeply.
To purposefully elucidate this idea of duality within the episode, the relationship between Dolarhyde and Reba is given particular focus. He has arranged for her to encounter and experience a sedated tiger. This is a kind and generous act which demonstrates his capacity to operate as a ‘good’ man. Her encounter with the tiger is heightened visually as we see how Dolarhyde is both enthralled and at times disgusted by the interaction. He is painfully human and fragile in these moments.
Later, at his house, she mirrors the way she explored the tiger, allowing a strong connection to be made between the pacified predator and Dolarhyde. She demonstrates her affection by performing a sex act. His reaction to this is animalistic, but is revealed to be not threatening. He gathers her up like a romantic rogue from classic Hollywood cinema and whisks her away to the bedroom. During the typically impressionist sex scene that follows, he imagines her as The Woman Clothed in Sun from Blake’s painting, thus casting her in his own mythologised narrative. This representation renders her as a significant other, but as Hannibal explains later to Will, also as a future victim.
The other scenes in this episode are much more narratively functional. We see Hannibal make a private phone call to Chilton’s assistant in an effort to gain Will’s home address. This scene and a lot of the dialogue are straight from the pages of Red Dragon. Even if you’re not familiar with the story, it’s not hard to see where this will lead. Later in a short scene between Will and Hannibal, the doctor adds further pressure to the narrative, reminding Will that it’s only eleven days until the next full moon. “Tick, tick”, he mocks.
The final scenes of the episode show Dolarhyde gaining access to the original watercolour of William Blake’s painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun under the pretence that he is an academic researcher. Having pacified the archivist, he proceeds to eat the artwork. This is a symbolic act which clearly Dolarhyde believes will have a significant effect on his own becoming. Intercut with his consumption is Will taking the same journey through the museum. He wants to see the painting only after Hannibal mentions it in the previous scene; Hannibal is ever the trickster, manipulating and making mischief far beyond the confines of his cell. The final moments of the episode see a brief physical altercation between our profiler and serial killer du jour; a conflict which demonstrates the physical superiority of Dolarhyde and Will’s relative fragility.
And the Woman Clothed in Sun gives us more narrative mile markers that are from the novel. Given Bryan Fuller’s “mash-up” approach to the canon in the first two and a half seasons, this somewhat more strict rendering of Harris’ work is a little confusing and surprising in its predictability. It seems that the pleasure in this version of Hannibal has often come from the unexpected way in which Fuller has creatively fused canon elements and infused them with something new and contemporary. I hope we soon get a reinstatement of this approach soon, otherwise the final few episodes will, at least in some respects, seem like a foregone conclusion for those of us familiar with this particular narrative from previous tellings.
Check back with us next week for a review of episode ten …And the Beast from the Sea on Thursday 13th August, City TV, 10/9c in Canada, Saturday 15th August, NBC 10/9c or Wednesday 19th August Sky Living at 10pm in the UK.
All images © 2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC, except detail from The Great Red Dragon and The Woman Clothed in Sun – © The William Blake Archive