Power and influence (warner Hannibal spoilers inside)

Hannibal Season Two

He puts his head back and closes his eyes, the final image of a fugitive Hannibal closes the second season of the namesake show, and what a powerful image to go out on. It demonstrates many major themes played out during the 13 episode arc that picked up with Will Graham wrongfully imprisoned and framed by Dr Lecter.

In the action leading up to Hannibal’s flight from prosecution at the end of the season, Will and Hannibal, conspiring to escape, talk about their respective memory palaces. Hannibal’s being vast and sometimes dangerous. Will’s, conversely, is the simple and serene setting of a stream well suited for fly fishing. When Hannibal asks Will what he would do to escape harsh realities, Will replies that he would put his head back and closes his eyes, and wade into the quiet of the stream.

The final scene of the season is all about two things: Hannibal’s power over people demonstrated by his escape from the FBI, and the growing influence that Will has over Hannibal demonstrated when Hannibal uses Will’s method of entering the memory palace.

Season one was about Hannibal experimenting with Will, seeing what he could make him do. It was a demonstration of power and control, and established Hannibal as a killer unparalleled in his dedication to his freedom, and it did so effectively. The events of the last episode or two make you wonder what clues we as viewers had been getting all along.

The more obvious indicators were the given in dialogue. Will warning Beverly that Hannibal knows she suspects him to be the Chesapeake Ripper. Dr. Bloom telling Jack that he’s ‘going to lose’. Bedelia, in the FBI interrogation room, saying that Hannibal doesn’t coerce people, he persuades them.

In this season, we all pinned our hopes to Will and Jack beating Hannibal at his own game. Tricking him into trusting Will, luring him out in the open, and finally taking him down. But at what point do we really understand that we’re hopelessly outmatched? For our scrappy gang of do-gooders, I’m not so sure, but certainly later than was good for them.

But it’s not as if they shouldn’t have seen it coming. The scope of Hannibal’s long-term planning is made clear around episode eight, when we discover that Miriam Lass is alive, and has been Hannibal’s captive for two years. If that wasn’t Bryan Fuller shouting “Gone doesn’t mean dead!” I don’t know what would be. Subsequent twists in the plot, including Freddy Lounds and Abigail Hobbs demonstrate Fuller’s willingness to go anywhere and do anything with the show.

Ultimately we end up where I think we all knew we would, Hannibal’s freedom intact – if damaged – and the rest teetering on oblivion.

Jack Crawford and Will Graham

The other major theme in this season is influence. Hannibal’s role being one of the puppet master. No longer to the damaged Will Graham, but to, as we discover, anybody unfortunate enough to make his acquaintance. He masterfully manipulates Jack Crawford throughout this bank of episodes, using Miriam Lass, Bella’s dreadful situation, the rapidly evolving situation with Will Graham, Beverly Katz, and pretty much anything else that comes along. I don’t know if I could quantify whom absorbed the most damage at Hannibal’s hands this season, but Crawford is a very likely candidate. His relationship with Alana Bloom, while seemingly important, was more of a cat playing with a toy. He took something Will valued, and used it for his own amusement. His effortless manipulation of the Verger siblings against each other – which was entertaining, but served more to show Will had graduated to a new level of understanding, that he was seeing that machinations that Hannibal was setting in place. Or at least, Hannibal had let him see them.

But the true show of influence, and what I hope is a nod to what will be Hannibal’s inevitable undoing, is the final scene of the season. Hannibal using Will’s doorway to his memory palace. A nearly throwaway moment, and not even seen by many people who stopped watching when the credits started to roll, but so crucial to what’s happened so far, and what I hope will be coming.

Will’s influence on Hannibal has been evident from the start. Hannibal, at first amused by and later developing true friendship and love for Will. The development of that influence this season has been fantastic. As early as the end of season one, Hannibal was being warned that his feelings for Will weren’t healthy. That, because of it, people were beginning to see his pattern, and he was going to get caught if he didn’t stop. But his genuine (as far as I can tell or hope) affection for Will was too much to resist.

Two scenes beautifully illustrate the intimacy between the characters. The scene in which Will and Hannibal discuss fatherhood, and Abigail is discussed for the first time in (what we think is) honest, plain conversation. Will had fatherly feelings for Abigail, and Hannibal emotionally apologizes for taking that away from Will. Such a powerful scene in retrospect, when we know the full truth. Which leads us to the penultimate scene, in which it’s revealed that Abigail is alive, and in his betrayal of Hannibal, Will has forfeited his opportunity to have the perfect “My Two Dads” family with Hannibal and Abigail.

What these two scenes demonstrate is that Hannibal wasn’t sorry that he took Abigail away, but that he had caused Will pain in his deceit. A deeper love, I would argue, than the scene originally implied.

And in that penultimate scene where the world lay bleeding out at Hannibal’s feet, is where Will’s most powerful line of the series is uttered. Hannibal accuses Will of trying to change him, and Will says that he already has.

There are two glimmers of hope at the finish of this season. That the Hannibal that we’re all morbidly fascinated with will be free to mete out proper punishment to the rude, and also that Will’s ultimate influence on Hannibal will be what finally allows Will the power to catch Hannibal.

Coming up: 

In my next column, I’ll give two characters from Hannibal some due attention: The Verger family, and the source material – the Hannibal books. Also, I’ll probably have a ton of thoughts on Penny Dreadful, which is shaping up to be a formidable show.


Robb Olson is one half of the Booked. Podcast team. If you enjoyed his column, please consider clicking through to our Amazon Affiliate links and buying The Booked Anthology. If you do you’ll help keep the This Is Horror ship afloat with some very welcome remuneration.

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