Another week of Hannibal, another gripping second act setpiece. Dolarhyde’s failed attempt to attack Will’s wife and stepson was the unmistakable center of last week’s “…And the Beast from the Sea,” and the same is true of his torture and attack on Chilton in “The Number of the Beast is 666.” Although the two scenes are shot quite differently, they both use obscurity to build the tension (i.e. the darkness in last week’s episode), giving the viewer just enough visual information to understand what’s going on, with a few pointed moments of clarity to spotlight the menace. The results are two of the most memorable and terrifying sequences in the series’ run.
The balance between obscurity and clarity in this week’s scene comes courtesy of the long, sparsely-edited close-ups on Chilton’s face. His face fills the screen, only providing the slightest idea of what Dolarhyde is doing behind him through blurry shots which correspond with Chilton’s limited peripheral vision. As a result, the viewer is placed in Chilton’s shoes, and his fear becomes ours. The long takes allow the tension of the scene to mount without the relief of a cut to give us a break.
Unlike last week’s scene, though, the second act isn’t enough time to show all of Dolarhyde’s attack. The cuts are quicker after the commercial break, but the atmosphere is no less intense, especially since Reba’s presence helps to up the emotional ante of the scene. Although Chilton hardly seems to deserve what comes to him, he’s nowhere near as sympathetic as her, and her innocence and naiveté adds to the overall terror.
But it’s ultimately what does come to him that makes the scene what it truly is. In its first two seasons, Hannibal was defined to a large extent by its overpowering gruesomeness. Not only did the images themselves have an immediate visceral effect upon the viewer, but they worked in conjunction with the heavily stylized dialogue and production design to create the feeling of a gore drenched fairy tale. In its third season, Hannibal has maintained the ambience of its universe, but the gore has mostly been ditched in favor of psychological and verbal interplay. As effective as this decision has been, Dolarhyde’s attack on Chilton was a welcome reminder of the show’s gory roots, and one which serves as a brutally effective climax to the torture. As with the second act, the camera is mostly too focused on Chilton for the viewer to see much of what’s going on around him, allowing us to directly feel his anxiety. When Chilton finally does attack, director Guillermo Navarro makes sure we see exactly what happens.
Although the lip biting ends the scene, Chilton still has more punishment in store for him. It’s unclear if Fuller already used the flaming wheelchair image in the second season because he wasn’t sure if NBC would keep the show around long enough to get to his take on Red Dragon, but he does a clever job of bringing it back without the shot feeling redundant. In the vein of Hannibal’s quip last week about not using newspaper ads to communicate with Dolarhyde, it serves as a meta-commentary on the dialogue between between Harris’s novel and the show, spotlighting the tonal differences between the two. As Chilton lies on the hospital bed, charred to a crisp and minus most of his mouth, his presence (in comparison with Lounds’s fate in the novel, which is toned down by comparison) is an apt reminder of the sordid darkness Fuller has brought to the Lecter universe in Hannibal. It will be missed.
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.