Seeing as I opened my recaps of Hannibal episodes loosely adapting Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon by comparing the show with the various tellings of the story, I’ll try to limit my comparisons between Bryan Fuller’s adaptation and its source material. From the beginning of the series, Hannibal has clearly been its own entity, and that continues to be the case even as the show’s moved into its most direct incorporation of source material yet.
That being said, when Hannibal deviates from Harris in a manner as deliberate as what happens in “…And the Beast from the Sea,” it’s well worth noting. While Francis Dolarhyde still does attack Will Graham’s family in Red Dragon, it’s a post-climactic sequence occurring in the novel’s coda, and Michael Mann deemed the event unimportant enough to leave it out of Manhunter.
By contrast, Fuller and co-writer Steve Lightfoot devote the entire second act of “…And the Beast from the Sea” to Dolarhyde’s attack on the Grahams, and the scene earns an instant spot in the Hannibal hall of fame. Director Michael Rymer keeps the tension high throughout by shrouding the scene in darkness, keeping the relative position of Molly, Wally and Dolarhyde ambiguous. Like Molly and Wally, we can’t see exactly what’s going on, but we know enough to be terrified. Once Rymer shows Dolarhyde standing directly on top of the two, the ambiguity ends in a frenetic climax, as the pair escape their attacker by a hair.
But outside of the remarkable staging, Fuller ups the stakes of Dolarhyde’s choice of target by aiming it at our emotions. Although Fuller’s hardly diminished the Reba subplot (more on that in a bit), and Molly and Wally were just introduced a few episodes ago, endangering the mother and stepson of the protagonist we’ve followed since the beginning of Hannibal’s first season gives the attack an emotional significance which is missing from much of Red Dragon. Instead of merely asking viewers to care about a victim with whom we have no ties, Fuller tugs on our heartstrings by having his antagonist target the family of the protagonist we’ve gotten to know for nearly three full seasons.
Then again, Fuller’s done an equally impressive job in developing the relationship between Reba and Dolarhyde in a relatively short amount of time. Although the killer seems difficult to love, Fuller has established how her struggle to find a man who sees her for anything other than her blindness makes her the perfect compliment to Dolarhyde’s struggle to find a place to fit in. There’ve been a lot of twisted relationships in Hannibal, and Rymer is smart to connect Dolarhyde and Reba with Hannibal and Will by lingering on the alcohol she pours as tender piano music tinkles in the background, which bears a resemblance to the depiction of Hannibal’s gourmet meals. Although Hannibal has many admirable qualities, it’s the complex dynamics at play in these relationships which have been the show’s most gripping element and tugged most nakedly at viewers’ emotions.
The direct aim at viewers recurs in the final scene, where Will confronts Hannibal about his actions with Dolarhyde. Although Will’s family has just been targeted by Dolarhyde,Will still has the distance to refer to the violence as mere “change” rather than murder. “Don’t you crave change, Will?” Hannibal asks him in the episode’s closing moments, and Dolarhyde’s attacks suddenly become linked to Will (whose family we were rooting for to escape just a few scenes prior). It’s scenes like this which give the violence in Hannibal a personal edge, making it all the more gripping.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.