Hannibal, Season 3, Episode 11, “…And the Beast From the Sea”
Written by Steve Lightfoot and Bryan Fuller
Directed by Michael Rymer
Airs Saturdays at 10pm (ET) on NBC
One of the most exciting aspects of Hannibal is its willingness to vary significantly in structure and aesthetic when appropriate while always adhering to its unique, decidedly expressionist approach, giving writers and directors leeway to make their episodes visually and narratively distinct, while maintaining the show’s central, unifying core. Episodes this season have been sweepingly cinematic (“Antipasto”), atmospheric and psychological (“Secondo”), triumphantly cathartic (“Contorno”), and visceral and foreboding (“The Great Red Dragon”), while each remaining unquestionably Hannibal. After the lush and romantic “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”, this week’s entry slaps cold water on the audience’s face, replacing the tender, empathetic Dolarhyde of the tiger scene with a cold, remorseless predator. “…And the Beast From the Sea” is the series’ most stressful episode to date, surpassing the tense, but exciting battles between Jack and Hannibal and the tragic, but inevitable Red Dinner with a pulse-pounding central set-piece that sees the Dragon come for Molly and Walter.
Each of the series’ previous action sequences have been tempered, and in the most successful cases, driven, by the knowledge that the characters involved are to some extent safe. Hannibal can’t die in a midseason episode of a (comparatively) grounded series that bears his name. Neither can Will and in all likelihood, an in-danger Jack will pull through. This is not the case with Molly and Walter. Showrunner Bryan Fuller and the Hannibal creative team have proven their willingness to kill supporting characters and diverge from the Thomas Harris source material with Hannibal’s murder and presentation of Beverly Katz in season two; when the Dragon sets his sights on Molly and Walter, all bets are off. There’s also tremendous power in saving the audience’s first true glimpse of Dolarhyde as the Dragon for this episode. We’ve seen the aftereffects of his crimes and watched Will experience them, which is disturbing in its own right, but we’ve also been lulled into complacency thanks to the past few episodes’ touching depiction of Francis and Reba’s budding relationship. It’s one thing to know Dolarhyde has brutally killed families; it’s quite another to see him in action.
Every element of production, from writing and direction to performance, cinematography, and scoring, comes together to make Dolarhyde’s assault on Will, Molly, and Walter’s home an intense, terrifying experience. Writers Fuller and Steven Lightfoot do Molly and Walter proud, making her decisive and cool under pressure and him alert and brave, allowing their escape to feel earned. They also inject small moments of character into Molly and Walter’s interactions, adding specificity: Molly and Walter sleep with boots by their bed, in case they need to get up in the middle of the night to take the dogs out. Molly makes sure to give Walter his hoodie and later, his coat, wordlessly reassuring him and letting him know that the situation they’re in is not about speed, but stealth and patience. Details like this reinforce the audience’s connection to these characters, and Fuller and Lightfoot also make sure there’s no blunder by Molly or Walter that allows viewers to distance themselves from the action, reassuring themselves they’d do it differently.
Director Michael Rymer does a masterful job holding the audience in suspense throughout the Dragon’s hunt. For most of the sequence, he keeps viewers squarely in Molly’s perspective, showing her reactions to the situation and cutting to the aspects of Dolarhyde she’s experiencing: his footfalls on the floor, the turning of the lock in the door. Only when Walter is safely out of the house and Molly has slipped past him do we cut to Dolarhyde’s face and experience his growing frustration. Rather than allow the pressure to diffuse momentarily as Molly and Walter escape the Dragon’s immediate vicinity, Rymer doubles down. We’ve seen what the Dragon is capable of on a normal hunt, when he’s calm and methodical. Now he’s shaking with anger—what new horrors will that bring, should he catch his prey? The closeups that begin the sequence are incredibly effective; switching to long shots as Molly and Walter run gives a sense of the distance they are putting between themselves and Dolarhyde, but it also makes them feel vulnerable, two small figures on a moonlit road trying to outrun a Dragon. By the end of the sequence, we’re back to closeups, the steady determination of Grade-A Badass Molly Graham thwarting the furious Dolarhyde.
Nina Arianda and Richard Armitage have been fantastic additions to the cast this season and they continue their excellent work here. Arianda particularly shines in her scene at the hospital, showing her range as Molly processes her experience with Will. Armitage’s efficient physicality as the Dragon is startling, even given what we’ve already seen from the character, and his vocal choices in the breakup scene and when Dolarhyde calls Hannibal do a lot to provide a through-line to the character. Despite what the audience has just seen him do to Molly and Walter, Dolarhyde’s breakup with Reba is still affecting. That speaks to just how strong the chemistry is between Armitage and Rutina Wesley and what a great job the show has done building up that relationship. Arianda and Armitage are unsurprisingly excellent throughout; more of a surprise is Gabriel Browning Rodriguez as Walter. He was a pleasant addition in “The Great Red Dragon”, but wasn’t given much to do. This week he is, and Rodriguez delivers. His scene with Hugh Dancy in the hospital is powerful, showing Walter’s confusion and anger and also the struggling, but still present connection he feels for his adoptive father. Rodriguez and Dancy have a good rapport and it’s not only nice to see Walter grapple with his experience, but Will do his best to parent.
The build to and fallout from Dolarhyde’s unsuccessful attack on Molly and Walter gives this episode its center, and most of the rest of the episode is infused with the same uneasiness. The struggle between Dolarhyde and the Dragon fuels their scenes with Hannibal, as well as with Reba. Even a moment that should be reassuring, Reba pouring martinis once again for herself and Dolarhyde, is rendered tense—for classical music fans at least—by the spectacular song choice of Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin (“The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”, more on this in Kate’s Classical Corner). Fuller and Lightfoot do give viewers at least one bit of levity, the delightful opening exchange between Will, Alana, and Jack about Dolarhyde eating the painting, but the rest of the episode drips with uncertainty and danger, be it immediate or deferred (you couldn’t leave Hannibal the toilet, Alana?). This makes for an engrossing, stressful viewing experience that dares the audience to breathe and leaves us speculating on what Dolarhyde, and Hannibal, will do next. Only two episodes remain in this season of Hannibal and if “…And the Beast From the Sea” is any indication, it’s going to be an intense final ride.
Kate’s Classical Corner: Composer and music supervisor Brian Reitzell takes a subtle approach to building dread in his comparatively spare and atmospheric score for “…And the Beast From the Sea”. Read on for my thoughts on the ominous score and darkly clever soundtrack for this episode!