Hannibal, Season 3, Episode 10, “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”
Written by Don Mancini and Bryan Fuller
Directed by Guillermo Navarro
Airs Saturdays at 10pm (ET) on NBC
Through the first half of season three, many fans of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon eagerly anticipated of the arrival of Frances Dolarhyde and Reba McClane. After “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”, it’s easy to see why. Richard Armitage made a big impression as Dolarhyde in his first episode, “The Great Red Dragon”, as did Rutina Wesley as Reba in “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…”, but this episode brings them together powerfully, showing the beauty both are capable of and the strength of the connection they share, a connection with the potential to drown out the call of the Dragon. The series of paintings by William Blake which give the episodes of this arc their titles depicts a seven-headed, ten-horned dragon from the Book of Revelations that, among other things, swoops down to attack a woman who embodies the goodness and purity of spiritual faith. This episode embraces the spectacle and sweep of the Blake paintings, elevating Frances and Reba’s romance to the same epic scale as Dolarhyde’s horrific killings, and in doing so, cements the story of this half season as a battle for the soul of an already damned man.
The previous episodes of this arc established Dolarhyde’s obsession with the Dragon and painted him as another in Will’s long line of eventually captured or discovered serial killers. While it was interesting to see Dolarhyde interact with Reba in the previous episode, it was difficult to enjoy their budding relationship, as Reitzell’s tense score kept the viewer on edge throughout. This changes with “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”, thanks to Frances’ first selfless action, arranging a trip to the zoo for Reba so she can experience a tiger. It’s a lovely gesture, one borne of empathy, rather than sympathy, a distinction critical to Reba that gives viewers their first tie between Dolarhyde and Will. The score, so stressful in “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…”, relaxes for much of the tiger scene (more on this in Kate’s Classical Corner), allowing the audience to experience Reba’s wonder at the tiger and the beauty of Frances’ gift to her. Armitage is fantastic, but this is Wesley’s scene and she nails it. The heightened colors of the tiger combine with the scoring and Wesley’s performance to convey the intensity of Reba’s experience and how precious it is to her. Hannibal is no stranger to placing its characters or the audience into others’ perspectives, be it Will processing a crime scene or Alana or Bedelia drowning in the dark waters of Hannibal’s influence. The tiger scene joins Alana and Margot’s sex scene from earlier this season as two of the series’ rare entirely positive examples of experiential storytelling, a welcome balm among the darkness of the Red Dragon arc.
Equally beautiful is the scene that follows, as Frances and Reba drink martinis, talk, and have sex for the first time. The sequence is romantic and even a little funny—Reba’s, “Where the hell are you?” is great—and the image of Reba as the Woman Clothed in Sun is absolutely gorgeous, far more in keeping with the show’s usual aesthetic than the somewhat cheesy image of the Dragon that closes out the opening sequence. Overlaying the sex scene with Blake’s Dragon only to culminate in that glorious, artistic shot of Reba as the Woman is incredibly effective. The Dragon calls to Frances wordlessly, but the Woman sees him, looking at the awed Frances despite Reba’s blindness. Whereas he wants to show Hannibal the Dragon he could become, Frances already feels seen by Reba as he is. The audience knows the two cannot exist together and that the Dragon is likely destined to triumph, but with Frances and Reba’s scenes together here, the writers and director make a strong case for the Woman.
The other main thread of the episode is Will’s questioning of Bedelia and their discussion of empathy as a strength or hindrance. After seeing the immediate ramifications of it earlier this season, viewers are finally shown what led to Bedelia shoving her entire arm down her patient’s throat. Much like the scenes with Abigail last week, the scene with Bedelia’s patient, played by Zachary Quinto, winds up answering questions few were asking; the shots in “Antipasto” of Bedelia’s patient’s immaculate nails implied most of what is made explicit here. Her conversation with Will will likely wind up having greater significance, but on the whole, the sequence, while interesting, pales in comparison to the material with Dolarhyde and Reba. That being said, the post-opening credits scene with Bedelia speaking on her “captivity” is delightful, a fun counterpoint to Hannibal’s lecture in Italy that is staged not dissimilarly to Will’s lectures in season one. There’s plenty of fun to be had with Bedelia and Will can certainly gain insight on Hannibal from her, but after seasons of buildup, the reveal of her deep, dark secret is decidedly anticlimactic.
A more successful answer to a question few may have been asking is the episode’s opening scene, which shows how Dolarhyde managed to get a call through to the incarcerated Hannibal. The focus shown by Dolarhyde throughout the sequence, the attention to detail, is telling of his character. He’s not a man struggling with dual identities or mental illness who becomes someone else when he kills, he’s driven and determined in all that he does. Hannibal asks for gimmes not infrequently. How did Larry Wells erect a totem pole of bodies on the beach? How did Hannibal break through the pavement of a parking lot overnight and plant his Tree Man tableau without being seen? How was Hannibal not immediately discovered in Florence via a quick Google Image search of Dr. Fell? Because Hannibal is magic and the totem pole looks grotesquely cool and the show is better if we don’t ask these questions. It’s nice, then, when the writers give us an explanation for a few of these good-faith leaps: Jack read Hannibal’s letter to Will before forwarding it on. The Leeds’ dog was at the vet because Dolarhyde attacked it previously. And Dolarhyde drove to DC and hacked Hannibal’s lawyer’s phone. It’s a great way to start off the episode, reestablishing and strengthening Hannibal’s budding curiosity in Dolarhyde while building to the apocalyptic visual of the Dragon himself. In Hannibal’s hands, a phone is a dangerous weapon. We’ve now seen how he can reach out beyond his prison cell and how others can reach in, and neither will lead to anything good.
The episode begins with Dolarhyde introducing himself to Hannibal. It’s only natural that it would end with him meeting Will. The sex scene with Frances and Reba showed Dolarhyde one kind of ecstasy. Being in the presence of Blake’s The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, which inspired his back tattoo, is a similarly transcendent moment. Whereas the scene with Reba is beautiful and lush, however, his consumption of the painting is viscerally upsetting, at least to this art fan. The texture of the paper gives it weight and makes the painting feel tactile, even through the screen, and the reverence paid by both the unfortunate Paula and Dolarhyde imbues it with meaning. When Dolarhyde begins to tear and eat the painting, it feels abhorrent, and the sublime expression on Dolarhyde’s face as he destroys it only makes the moment more disturbing. Just as Hannibal immediately recognized something within Dolarhyde when he called, Will recognizes him at once on the elevator. Showrunner Bryan Fuller has spoken frequently about Dolarhyde as a pawn between Hannibal and Will, someone they both see as a second chance for what they failed to bring out in each other. We’ve seen plenty of what attracts Hannibal to Dolarhyde. Learning what Will sees in him, what makes Will think he can be saved, should be fascinating and this final scene gives viewers their first step along that path. Reba sees beauty, eloquence, and empathy in Dolarhyde. Watching Will find those traits in him should make for an exciting next few episodes.
Kate’s Classical Corner: Composer and music supervisor Brian Reitzell embraces impressionism and Romanticism in the scoring and soundtrack for “And the Woman Clothed in Sun” while the percussion of the Dragon lurks not far from the surface. Click on for my thoughts on the soundtrack and scoring for this episode.
For more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti, This Is Our Design!