WARNING: This review contains spoilers
The final scene in ‘…And the Beast from the Sea’ left us with an enigmatic and implicit agreement that Dolarhyde’s attack on the Graham homestead had changed how Will sees his family. The opening of this penultimate episode makes this explicit for the viewer, as we see Will as the Red Dragon, proudly standing over Molly’s bloodied body, posed with shards of broken mirror for her eyes and mouth. This is exactly how Hannibal has soured the pot; he has positioned Will to see his wife as a victim through the eyes of a killer. These few shots allow a clear understanding of Will’s suddenly unstable mental condition; this is familiar and appropriate ground for the final two episodes of the season.
Given this disturbing vision, it’s no wonder that Will seeks psychological guidance. Bedelia has taken on the mantle of his psychiatrist. Whilst it might be rationally difficult to understand why, it emotionally clear; she is possibly the only one who has had a similar experience with Dr. Lecter and perhaps the only one who can understand how it feels to be under his spell. However, there are some questions about where exactly her allegiance lies; let’s not forget that she owes Lecter her current freedom and her life. This therapy session exposes some of Bedelia’s jealousy of Will. With her motivations unclear, perhaps she has become a Hannibal proxy in Will’s continued manipulation. As she says, “Hannibal has agency in the world”. This is clearly true, but perhaps the extent of it is yet to be fully revealed.
This episode draws heavily on Christian mythology in the continued use of the works of William Blake, a further nod to Dante’s inferno and the Bible. References to the Book of Revelation abound. Aside from anything else, these intertextual references frame the coming conflict as an essential battle between good and evil. Hannibal and Jack acknowledge their own totemic status, with Jack as the righteous God, who demands sacrifice and Hannibal as the Devil. Hannibal positions Will as the lamb; a metaphor for Christ. The lamb of God specifically refers to Jesus in as a sacrifice and its employment here might conjure fear for Will’s future if it weren’t for Hannibal’s line “The lamb is becoming a lion.” This ‘becoming’ links to the theme of metamorphosis which has been ever-present in this series. Hannibal thinks Will is changing and the viewer is shown the truth of this through the use of cinematography and Dark Will’s disturbing visions of both Molly and later Alana. The use of the lion indicates that Will maybe finally gaining his own agency; becoming a predator instead of a victim. With God and Satan either side of reinforced glass, the battleground is acknowledged and it is Will’s soul.
The narrative of this episode is rooted in conventional crime genre earth. The forces of good, such as they are, hatch a plan to catch The Great Red Dragon. Will, Jack and Alana plot to draw Dolarhyde into the open, using Chilton and Freddie Lounds to infuriate him to the extent that he targets Will. Given that this is the penultimate episode, their efforts are predictably unsuccessful. As a result, Chilton is subjected to a horrendous and humiliating ordeal, giving us the first bit of explicit gore we’ve had in since the beginning of the Red Dragon arc. This body horror is followed reasonably swiftly with a darkly comedic moment, as Hannibal reacts with relative glee to these events. Chilton suffers a similar fate to the Lounds of Harris’ novel. He is set alight and burned; a strangely poetic treatment for someone who infuriated a dragon. And although it all seems quite final for poor Frederick, he survives again forming a running joke for the series.
Thematically, this episode plays with notions of masculine power and vulnerability, with four of the male characters being framed as powerless in ways that intersect with their gender. This is the first episode to explicitly deal with issues of homosexuality and homoromanticism. The first encounter with these issues is startling in its directness, bringing Hannigram as close to canon as it has come before. Will asks Bedelia: “Is Hannibal in love with me?” Her reply is typically poetic in responding positively to his question. She responds with a reciprocal question which neither she nor we get an answer to: “Do you ache for him?” As part of this conversation references Bluebeard’s wife; a character in a french folk tale. The wife in question discovers that her wealthy nobleman husband is actually a serial wife-killer who through defeating him is left as the last wife standing. Bedelia acknowledges her status as a wife but not THE wife, implying that Will is. This somewhat feminises Will, at least in heteronormative terms. This is the second time such a reference is made, in ‘…And the Woman Clothed in Sun‘, both Bedelia and Will are labeled as brides of Frankenstein. These allusions feminise Will and devalue his masculinity in patriarchal terms. Freddie feeds into this later when she teases him about his stature: “Small, I bet”. So, Will is framed as little spoon to Hannibal’s big spoon and as we’ve already seen is no match physically for Dolarhyde.
Obviously, then, Dolarhyde’s masculine superiority is mainly communicated through the scenes with Chilton. However, his presentation is not always so clearly encoded as heterosexual and therefore dominant. Through the lead up to the attack, Dolarhyde wears a silk robe, reminiscent of the other, other Harris serial killer, Buffalo Bill (who also was encoded as other in relation to his gender) in Silence of the Lambs. This costume juxtaposes with the black leather attack suit of the previous episode. Dolarhyde states that he wants to speak to Chilton “man to man”, but visually we understand this is not a meeting of equals once Dolarhyde disrobes. Dolarhyde has been bated by attacks on his sexuality and ability to conform to traditional notions of successful masculinity. Will attributes words to Chilton for Tattle Crime – The Tooth Fairy is “ugly and impotent.” and later “He is a vicious perverted sexual failure.” Dolarhyde’s motivator seems to be to demonstrate how wrong those words are, despite the robe and his lunar proclivities. His masculinity exorcised through the Dragon side of himself is more primal. The interaction between Chilton and Dolarhyde is all about forcing a recognition of his dominance and the act of physical aggression is one that is absolutely a manifestation of that.
Hannibal’s masculinity is also under attack this episode, though not in a way that seems to bother him in the slightest. Alana reminds him of her power over him, the removal of his luxuries, and when he can he reminds her of how intimate they have been and how he has “tasted” her. Chilton makes the most obvious threat in anger, promising that after Alana leaves her position, Chilton will make sure that Hannibal joins the rest of the patients where he will be used for sex by the younger members of the population. He promises to ensure that Hannibal is a victim of degrading and repeated sexual assault. This isn’t unsettling as we, like Hannibal, know this is unlikely.
Ultimately ‘The Number of the Beast is 666’ is an episode which displays the show’s best qualities; oneiric, suspenseful, deeply thematic, gory and darkly comic and leaves the viewer with some questions regarding the loyalities of several key characters, but most interestingly our troubled protagonist. Bedelia suggests that Will knowingly marked Chilton as a victim for Dolarhyde. “That’s participation,” she suggests, echoing Hannibal’s words to her in ‘Antipasto‘.
Given the overt discussion of the nature of Will and Hannibal’s relationship, the finale will return to deal with this as a core issue. How does Will feel? The title of the final episode, ‘The Wrath of the Lamb’, suggests that Will will become more active, but there is enigma regarding in which direction he will direct his wrath. A discussion of the relevance of the word lamb in this context would not be complete without some acknowledgement of the allusions to the canon’s other protagonist, Clarice Starling. In various ways, Will is imbued with Clarice-like qualities and the setting up of Will as the ‘lamb’ in the this episode and the use of elements of the Hannibal novel earlier in the season might suggest that the murder husbands might still be reconciled. However, there are significant barriers to this. Hannibal might view Dolarhyde as his agent, but The Dragon sees himself as his own master. How will Hannibal react when Dolarhyde goes after his love? Will Hannibal escape his confines? If so, what will this mean for Alana given his promisee to Alana? What will become of poor Reba? What will the final body count be?
Check back with us next week for a review of the season finale – ‘The Wrath of the Lamb’ – on Thursday 27th August on City TV, 10/9c in Canada, Saturday 29th August, NBC 10/9c or Wednesday 2nd September on Sky Living at 10pm in the UK.
All images © 2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC