Hannibal, Season 3, Episode 12, “The Number of the Beast is 666…”
Written by Jeff Vlaming & Angela Lamanna and Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot
Directed by Guillermo Navarro
Airs Saturdays at 10pm (ET) on NBC
Frederick Chilton has had a rough go of it in his time on Hannibal. He makes himself an easy target—the man has learned nothing, it would seem, from his disastrous experiences with serial killers over the years—but when faced with the enormity of the Dragon, Chilton is so unabashedly human, so relatable and terrified one can’t help but feel for him. Raúl Esparza has been a delight in the role throughout his tenure on the series, often giving a comedic lift to otherwise very dour episodes and arcs, but he’s particularly impressive here. Chilton’s terrifying capture by the Dragon makes up the center of the episode, but Esparza gets much more to play than fear. The writers thread him throughout the episode, sending him on a goodbye tour and giving audiences one more exchange between the Chilton of old and Hannibal, Alana, Will, Jack, even Freddie. His wounded posturing with Hannibal is a blast—why hello, Chekov’s magazine—and his peacocking with Will, Jack, and Freddie, while initially presented as worthy of scorn, is bittersweet when contrasted with his later torture. Chilton is the latest victim of the Dragon, the first to survive the Change, and his charred body points to a no-holds-barred approach by Bryan Fuller and the rest of the creative team to the culmination of the Red Dragon arc and Hannibal’s run on NBC.
Choosing Chilton for the Dragon’s victim, rather than Freddie Lounds (the character in the wheelchair in Thomas Harris’ original), not only gives Esparza a wonderful spotlight, it implicates Will in Chilton’s fate and continues the series’ exploration of Will’s connection to Hannibal. Had Alana taken Chilton’s place in the interview and been snatched by Dolarhyde, she would have had ownership in her fate. Using Chilton without making the risks clear muddies the waters. Earlier this season, Will orchestrated the death of Chiyoh’s prisoner and created his only original, non-undercover death tableau, the Firefly Man. He got closer to Hannibal than he ever has before, embracing his darker instincts before seeing them in stark relief at Muskrat farm and finally understanding the differences between himself and Hannibal. As Will so succinctly put it in “Digestivo”, “You delight. I tolerate. I don’t have your appetite.” After resolving Hannibal and Will’s relationship definitely, and movingly, in the mid-season finale, this episode presents Will’s endangerment of Chilton as in some ways intentional and an indicator of Will’s connection to Hannibal, resurrecting the question of what binds them in a glaring and unfortunate distraction amidst the intense buildup to the season finale.
Hannibal benefits from consistently excellent writing, its characters distinct, fully realized, and almost uniformly self-aware (even Chilton knows on some level that he is a fool). So when Will asks Bedelia, “Is Hannibal in love with me?”, it sticks out like a sore thumb. The notion that Will has more in common with Hannibal than he’d like is not a new one, and given what happens with Chilton, it’s a logical point of discussion between Will and his therapist. However, asking the audience to accept that three years after Hannibal turned himself in, it had never occurred to Will that Hannibal might be in love with him, and that Will is still unsure of how he feels about Hannibal is not only hard to believe, it directly contradicts the central character journeys of the first half of the season.
The first half of season three showed Hannibal and Will still reeling from the events of the Red Dinner, struggling to make sense of their emotions and accept the depth of betrayal both felt. Fans watched Hannibal brood and bristle against Will’s offering of forgiveness, and Will attempt to come to terms with his connection to Hannibal and how distinct and significant it had been, even compared to Chiyoh’s close relationship with him. By the time both sat together in front of Botticelli’s Primavera and laid their hearts bare, in a scene beautifully lit and gorgeously scored with Reitzell’s “Bloodfest”, Will and Hannibal seemed to at last understand what they meant to each other. They declared themselves, allowing whatever would come next to be the start of something new. This falls apart—trying to stab your beloved or eat his brain will do that—but their second heart-to-heart, at Will’s house, shares the intimacy of their previous conversation, if not all of its warmth. The first half of season three ended with a Will and Hannibal who knew exactly where the other stood and, having reached an impasse, saw them go their separate ways. Yet here, Will is unsure of the depth of Hannibal’s emotion towards him? He’s never considered whether Hannibal is, or at some point had been, in love with him and whether he reciprocates, or at one point reciprocated, those feelings? It’s ridiculous. Will doesn’t wonder if Hannibal is capable of love, or if he feels love rather than obsession, he straight-out bewilderedly asks Bedelia if Hannibal loves him. It’s a disappointing choice by the writers that re-contextualizes the previous conversations between Hannibal and Will in “Dolce” and “Digestivo” and recasts them as miscommunication or manipulation, rather than honest, unfiltered conversations between equals.
This isn’t the only disappointing dialogue in this episode—the pay to play lines are also clunky, and over-delivered—but it is by far the most frustrating, and perhaps the single most out of character line of the season. It also points to a potential retread in the finale of season two’s will-they/won’t-they dynamic between Hannibal and Will. Rather than feeling organic to the season, the foregrounding in this episode and its immediate predecessor of Will and Hannibal’s relationship as a straightforward affair feels shoehorned in to build to a character or relationship beat that’s coming in the finale. After the intensity of Will and Hannibal’s betrayal of each other in “Mizumono” and the openness of their makeup in “Dolce” and breakup in “Digestivo”, returning to that well for the season three finale, particularly when it’s been built to in such a typical, tired rom-com fashion, seems like a poor choice. I hope to be proven wrong by the finale and to be handed a giant plate of crow/humble pie by Fuller and co., which I’ll happily eat, but while every other aspect of the series has me champing at the bit for the finale and confident that the creative team will once again deliver, this re-writing of Will’s understanding of his relationship with Hannibal has me wary.
Aside from this one problematic element, “The Number of the Beast is 666…” continues this arc’s fascinating look at Dolarhyde and Reba and manages to have some fun along the way. Hannibal’s reaction to Chilton being his nemesis is great and his slurping up of Chilton’s lip is darkly hilarious. Alana remains confident and canny, and it’s wonderful to see the show finally know how to use her without tying her romantically to one of the leads. Jack’s philosophical conversations with Hannibal, and Hannibal’s unwillingness to abandon the idea that Will may still experience his own Becoming, are thought-provoking, and the direction of all of this by Guillermo Navarro is in turn affecting, lightly comedic, and chilling. When Hannibal is firing on all cylinders—heck, even when it’s not—there’s nothing like it on television and as we come down to the wire, with only one more episode left in the foreseeable future, each moment feels more precious. Regardless of what happens in the finale, Hannibal has had a strong, intriguing third season and it will be sorely missed*.
*until its eventual revival for a reunion season somewhere down the road. (A girl can dream.)
Kate’s Classical Corner: Composer Brian Reitzell continues to evolve his scoring for the Dragon and makes effective use human sounds in his at times spare, at times mournful and melodic score for “The Number of the Beast is 666…”. Click on for my thoughts on the score and soundtrack for this episode.
For more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti, This Is Our Design!