Hannibal, Season 3, Episode 13, “The Wrath of the Lamb”
Written by Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot & Nick Antosca
Directed by Michael Rymer
Aired Saturdays at 10pm (ET) on NBC
With “The Wrath of the Lamb”, Hannibal wraps up its run, at least for now. While all involved have been qualifying the episode as merely the series finale on NBC, the show has yet to be picked up anywhere else and several key figures have moved on to new projects. Creator Bryan Fuller has mentioned the possibility of the team reuniting for a film at some point down the line, but for the foreseeable future, this is the series finale of Hannibal, and given its bloody, spectacular climax, that feels appropriate.
I have been an ardent fan of the series since it premiered, following it closely and reviewing it both here during this most recent season and via the in-depth Hannibal podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti, This Is Our Design. I have tremendous respect for everyone involved with the series, from Fuller and the rest of the writers to the cast to whoever’s in charge of dropping one colored liquid into another and making it look so damn gorgeous. The team at Hannibal have given me, and the rest of the series’ admirers, 39 hours of thoughtful, memorable, and inspiring television. The journey has been incredible, and so despite the many frustrations of this beautifully executed, but ultimately contrived finale, my love for the series as a whole remains unaffected. Season three has been a blast and watching the series play with its aesthetics and approach has been fascinating. Unfortunately, unlike in seasons one and two, season three doesn’t stick the landing.
“The Wrath of the Lamb” has many problems, and one of the more significant is its abandonment of what has been a definitive trait of the series, its thoughtful treatment of violence and respect for victims. There have been any number of gruesome, horrible deaths within the world of Hannibal, but these victims have on the whole been treated with respect, their deaths given weight and careful consideration. That changed in “…And the Beast from the Sea”, when the driver who Molly stopped was executed by Dolarhyde and never mentioned again. But at least he felt like a person. Then the agents guarding Chilton in “The Number of the Beast is 666…” were unceremoniously executed, but again, at least their deaths warranted mention by Will. In this finale, Dolarhyde takes out a whole team of agents, all of whom are utterly disposable. This finale does not care about these people, all it cares about is giving Dolarhyde a splashy action scene and building him up even further as a threat (as if the previous episodes hadn’t done so sufficiently). After weeks of crucial breakthroughs from Will that Dolarhyde doesn’t kill random victims, but stalks and changes them, Dolarhyde transcends his MO and goes on a shooting spree, and the finale would very much rather the audience didn’t think about his victims or the families they leave behind. One of Hannibal’s biggest strengths, a trait distinguishing it from the many exploitative, culturally destructive, and distressingly popular recent entries in the serial killer TV subgenre, has been its respect for the victims on-screen, as well as for its audience. Betraying that in the finale is a disappointing move by Fuller and co., and one that’s difficult to understand.
This change in Dolarhyde’s pattern points to another of the finale’s biggest problems, its massive offscreen character shifts. Somewhere between his stalking and attempted murder of Molly and Walter and his decision not to change Reba, Dolarhyde gained control over the Dragon, able to unleash him as desired (on Chilton) and then rein him back in (with Reba). However, out of a desire to keep Dolarhyde faking his death a surprise, the show never depicts this transition. The closest it comes are the shots of Dolarhyde clawing at his flesh and tearing into the Dragon, a scene only contextualized in the finale, after Dolarhyde’s conversation with Will. There’s far too much mental gymnastics required for the audience to read through the lines and realize the Dragon as presented with Chilton was at the time Dolarhyde’s pet, rather than the dominant entity. Why Dolarhyde would abandon Reba now that he’s in control of the Dragon remains unexplored, another casualty of the desire to shock with Dolarhyde’s faked death. With Dolarhyde stronger than the Dragon, he can channel his power without needing to indulge his compulsions, robbing the character of his specificity and making him an amorphous boogeyman, able to pop up randomly without explanation, an all-knowing and all-powerful threat to be deployed however is most convenient to the writers.
Hannibal has frequently been presented as being outside the constraints of reality. He’s preternaturally intelligent, agile, and strong, able to construct massive death tableaus overnight in impossible circumstances without leaving a shred of evidence or ever being seen. Early on, viewers must make their peace with this and suspend their disbelief, or stop watching. The finale extends those supernatural abilities to Dolarhyde, who not only discovers Hannibal’s location ahead of Jack’s planned leak, but also finds Hannibal’s cozy hideaway despite speeding off ahead of them. Even if one goes with the writers on this and quiets any qualms over putting Dolarhyde up at Hannibal’s level, the episode isn’t consistent with this, tempering Dolarhyde’s abilities when necessary to further the plot. He’s crafty enough to find Hannibal twice, at least once when he didn’t want to be found, and to shoot him in the stomach so he’ll die slowly on camera, but he misses the kill shot (make that stab) for Will? Maybe this would make sense for the Dragon, who seeks to change and not kill, but this happens before the wings unfurl, when Dolarhyde is in control, and as mentioned above, this finale makes it clear that Dolarhyde is now very comfortable nonchalantly killing those in his way. Dolarhyde doesn’t kill Will with his surprise blow to the face (after hitting the mark with every intended victim besides Molly) solely because the episode needs him not to, and after the contrivances necessary to get Will, Hannibal, and Dolarhyde together on that bluff, this is one too many.
Dolarhyde’s offscreen transformation is not the finale’s most egregious, however. That honor belongs to Will, who is unrecognizable for long stretches of this episode. Rather than an organic conclusion to the (half) season, as in the masterful Red Dinner of “Mizumono”, the culminating scene at Hannibal’s bluff feels reverse engineered, a bold, dramatic statement on the characters and their relationship, as well as the series as a whole, that the writers remained married to despite not supporting it in their storytelling throughout the rest of the season.
The first half of season three was dedicated to exploring the emotional and psychological fallout of the Red Dinner, allowing Will and Hannibal to reel and recover, eventually coming back to each other with greater clarity about their relationship and the ways in which they are alike and different. It was a painstaking journey at times, but by their conversations in “Dolce” and “Digestivo”, both had gained insight on what they meant to each other and what they wanted or needed out of their relationship. It was a cathartic process and the incredibly warm and vulnerable performances of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen gave authenticity to these scenes, presenting them as the pair at their most honest. Will walked away; he didn’t want Hannibal. And yet this finale recasts that conversation as a manipulation on Will’s part to prompt Hannibal into turning himself in. It’s unclear whether even Will believes this, but given the finale’s romantic presentation of their reunion, Will smiling and at ease with Hannibal, the two playful with each other, it’s hard to read what we’re shown as anything but a confirmation of the last two episodes’ awkward attempts to undermine Will’s choice in “Digestivo” and his strong bond with Molly, evident even after Dolarhyde’s invasion of their home.
The finale is determined to put Will up on that bluff, Becoming, yet still true enough to who he has been to not accept this and throw himself and Hannibal to their deaths. And so we don’t see Molly again, perhaps in the hopes that the audience has forgotten just how fantastic Dancy and Nina Arianda’s chemistry has been throughout the Red Dragon arc. We don’t see what changes in Will to make him lie to Jack when concocting their scheme and we certainly don’t see him react to the mayhem he’s put into motion. This is the Will of late season two, or more accurately, who that Will was pretending to be. A shift as drastic as this needs support, needs to be built to, and season three did not do the leg work necessary to make this affecting, let alone believable. When Will and Hannibal are stabbing away at Dolarhyde together, the murder husbands in action, it’s not tragic, it’s not dark, it’s distancing. If Hannibal has been anything throughout its run, it’s been intimate. This killing is not intimate, this is not the horrifying imagined Red Dinner that saw Will help Hannibal kill Jack. This is almost comedic, a loving tribute to the shippers who’ve been waiting all series for these two crazy kids to work it out. All the technical and performative brilliance that has made this show great for three seasons is on display and the story is operatic and that favored descriptor of the Hannibal crew, purple. Yet this finale ignores who Will has become, ignores what he spent the first half of the season learning and much of the second half confirming, asking viewers to accept a breakthrough or backslide, depending on one’s point of view, that happens offscreen. It’s an unfortunate, though gorgeously shot and executed, end to what has been an overwhelmingly consistent and on the whole, fascinating series.
Kate’s Classical Corner: Debussy, Bach, and Siouxsie Sioux. Click on for my thoughts on Brian Reitzell’s final score and soundtrack—at least for now—for Hannibal.
Additional Thoughts: Despite my issues with this finale, it gets a lot right. In particular:
- Team Sassy Science! Never change, guys. It’s wonderful to get one more scene with Jimmy and Z in the lab, helping out the team and generally being delightful.
- Rutina Wesley continues to kill it as Reba. She’s fantastic throughout her scenes here and gives Reba a memorable send-off.
- Speaking of memorable send-offs, we can’t not talk about Bedelia. Gillian Anderson is amazing, once again, and it’s great to finally learn what it takes to get Bedelia to stop slow-talking. From her immediate grab for the booze to her eloquent and cutting—though deflected, in a rather straightforward case of rubber v. glue—remarks towards Will to her tragically unnecessary ploy post-credits*, Bedelia is one of the absolute highlights of this finale.
*I don’t care what Fuller or anyone else says, until there is a show in front of me saying otherwise, they’re dead Jim! The notion that they survive those wounds and that fall is ridiculous and undermines the entire final sequence.
- Another is Alana, who gets one more gorgeous suit to wear before taking her family and getting the hell outta Dodge (that kid will likely have issues, but with Alana and Margot as moms, he can’t help but grow up to be one fabulous badass). Alana’s last scene with Chilton is great, her last scene with Hannibal is great, and I could watch her conspire with Will and Jack all day, just for that lighting. It may have taken way too long for the writers to figure out how to use Alana (and the talented Caroline Dhavernas) as more than a likable love interest, but at least they got there before the end. We may have been robbed of their courtship—one of the more significant flaws of season three—but I’m glad Alana and Margot get to strut off into the sunset together.
- The prosthetics for Chilton are not the series’ best (the makeup team had a tall order), but they’re solid and Raúl Esparza’s strong performance takes care of the rest.
- Laurence Fishburne has been excellent throughout the series, but he’s underserved in the finale. Instead, it’s Richard Armitage who acts as the third lead, finishing out what has been an exceptional performance. I may have problems with the arcing of the season or the specific plotting of this finale, but Armitage gives the material his all, and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for him moving forward, along with the rest of this remarkable lead and supporting cast.
- In the end though, the show comes down to Will and Hannibal, and while “The Wrath of the Lamb” is among the series’ weakest episodes, Dancy and Mikkelsen still give staggering performances. They’ve embodied these iconic characters and it’s been a true pleasure to watch them make them their own.
- Despite the grumbles above, a big thank you to Bryan Fuller for creating and shepherding one of my favorite series of all time, and to the incredible team of artists and craftspeople who came together to make it a reality. It’s been one hell of a ride.