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KCC: Reitzell’s subtle score adds tension to Hannibal, Ep. 3.11, “…And the Beast From the Sea”

Kate’s Classical Corner: Hannibal, Ep. 3.11, “…And the Beast From the Sea”

As a classical musician, I can’t help but be influenced in my interpretation of Hannibal by its amazing score and soundtrack, composed and compiled by music supervisor Brian Reitzell. This is not intended to be a definitive reading of Reitzell or showrunner Bryan Fuller’s intentions in regards to the music, but rather an exploration of how these choices affect my appreciation of the given episode. Read my review of “…And the Beast From the Sea” here.

Classical piece featured:

La fille aux cheveux de lin by Claude Debussy (1910): Reba relaxes with Francis

La fille aux cheveux de lin, or “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”, is a lovely and simple short piece for solo piano composed by Debussy. It’s a fantastic selection for this scene for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a beautiful piece. It ties together this scene with Reba and Dolarhyde’s date from “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”, where Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1 is featured, and makes sense as a piece the characters put on to listen to because of their previously established affinity for Debussy. The simplicity of the piece also reflects Reba’s straightforward trust in Dolarhyde and the beauty of their relationship.

However, for classical music fans, this selection acts as a warning. “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”: only two women in this season fit that description, and Dolarhyde likely isn’t thinking about Bedelia. Using this piece tells those among the audience familiar with it that while Francis may be there with Reba, the Dragon is entirely focused on Molly, and when the couple sits on the couch together and Dolarhyde starts his projector, his priorities become disturbingly clear. Reitzell overlays the Debussy with a wash of ominous percussion when the scale-like film is fed into the projector, later adding a different low, rhythmic percussive element, and as we see Molly appear on film, the Debussy recedes. Once we cut away from the projector, however, the piano rises again in the mix, until Molly is interrupted from her musings by Walter. Using La fille aux cheveux de lin is a wonderfully subtle, sinister nod to classical music fans that simultaneously reassures the viewers unaware of this tie. It’s a clever bit of music supervision from Brian Reitzell and one of the more exciting recent choices.

Hannibal S03E11

Other notes:

  • The scoring for the opening scene is very spare, but the strings do come in with a dissonant interval when Alana says, “Maybe he’s trying to stop”, drawing attention to that line. The piano, Will’s instrument, also underlines Will’s, “Jack Crawford. Fisher of men.” Rather than create full melodic lines, the score here acts as punctuation, staying out of the way and giving audience space to breathe.
  • Dolarhyde’s conversation with Hannibal begins with similarly unobtrusive scoring, low sustained pitches building tension that only change when Dolarhyde thinks of Reba, prompting a descending piano line and what sounds like a bowed saw (or similar effect). Dolarhyde remains in control for a while, but when he says, “It wants her,” a high whistle comes in, as if Dolarhyde is being summoned by the Dragon. His expressions of love for Reba should be reassuring, but the light, scattered wooden percussion here—perhaps bows hitting strings, ala col legno?—undermines that, making it a creepy, rather than happy, moment.
  • Hannibal’s assertion to Dolarhyde that he can hand off the Dragon to Will prompts a few neat touches in the score. As Dolarhyde processes this idea, the percussion builds while certain pitches sustain. Then, almost to predict his next words, the percussion comes down to leave space for a piano to play just before Dolarhyde continues with, “Will Graham interests me.” After Hannibal’s, “He has a family,” Reitzell subtly brings in the first two notes of Will’s Happy Place Theme. This was last heard (at least by me) in “Aperitivo”, when Will sat in Hannibal’s kitchen with HeadAbigail and its return here, buried in the mix, is a nice detail.
  • When Dolarhyde goes to poison Will, Molly, and Walter’s dogs, the roar of the ocean features prominently in the score, followed by sustained, lowering strings and the familiar Dragon percussion. In case we aren’t sure which house he’s watching, the score tells us with the use of the piano as the moon rotates down and Dolarhyde sprouts the wings and tail of the Dragon.
  • Hannibal S03E11At the vet, the score is once again very spare, but it sounds like a sustained, slow organ. The hand of Hannibal, reaching out for Molly and Walter?
  • The scoring for the Dragon’s attempt on Molly and Walter contributes tremendously to the intense, heart-pounding effectiveness of the sequence. The score is split into two sections, matching Molly and Walter’s actions: first they wait and hide, then they run. The sequence opens with high pitches in what sounds like the violins, an alarm going off within Molly that something is wrong. From here, the strings sustain, refusing to release tension until other instruments take over in this capacity. There is active mallet percussion throughout this section, but it’s not the ticking of “Mizumono” or the overlapping, but synced-up percussion of the Dragon in the second half of his first scene in “The Great Red Dragon”. These events are not an eventuality, the audience doesn’t know what’s going to happen, and the score reflects that uncertainty. Different elements enter and then rest, their rhythms distinct and purposeful, but unpredictable. The scoring also alternates between high-register and low-register instruments. This could reflect the cat-and-mouse hunt of Dolarhyde and Molly, or just add to the overall unsettling feel.  While it intensifies, the scoring on the whole remains on the slower side, with space between the various instruments’ entrances.
  • This all changes when Molly presses the car alarm. With a hit of percussion to mark the camera’s motion down from Dolarhyde to Molly and Walter’s point of view, we’re off. Sliding strings (and perhaps percussion) start and don’t let up, their rise and fall compounding the tension and mimicking the adrenaline of Molly and Walter while the percussion speeds up, matching their pulse. Once Molly and Walter get in the car and drive away, the rising pitches in the score finally start to fall and the pulse of the music slows, only to rise briefly once more as we shift back to Dolarhyde’s perspective and he rages in frustration. It’s breathless, evocative scoring that avoids drawing attention to itself, helping to make this one of the series’ most intense sequences.
  • When Will is at the hospital, the very present white noise underneath the piano and sustained strings ensures that the scene, or even just the score for the scene, isn’t too comforting. Yes, Molly and Walter are out of danger, but Walter is far from alright, and the score reflects that. The same atmospheric approach to the score continues as first Alana and then Jack talk with Hannibal, though without Will’s characteristic piano, and pops back up throughout much of the rest of the episode.
  • As the Dragon beats Dolarhyde, the scoring leading into the scene continues, but with the growls of the Dragon layered on top, along with electric guitar. There’s also a high whistle that slides down and back up, a whining horn, high violins, and harp. These aggressive sounds combine to give the score a violent, rather than tense or stressful, feel.
  • Hannibal S03E11Dolarhyde’s second scene with Reba begins with the heavy score of the previous scene carrying over, dissonant sustained strings with winds and the deep breathing of the Dragon. However, as Reba enters and engages Dolarhyde and he pushes past the Dragon to the surface, the score dies down. Romance struggles against horror, with romance and smooth percussion winning out for a while. Francis’, “I’m afraid” brings a melancholy piano line; it doesn’t feel coincidental that Reitzell uses Will’s instrument to express Dolarhyde’s vulnerability and desire to protect Reba. When she doesn’t fight for him or reassure him, but takes him at his word, the score darkens once more, the electric guitar and muted horns (or percussion?) rising in prominence and building an anxious energy; as Dolarhyde turns away from Reba, we hear the growl of the Dragon, an ominous end to the scene.
  • Hannibal’s second call with Dolarhyde continues the struggle between his two personalities, here shown in sliding half steps and clusters of dissonant strings and winds, groaning horns, and the consistent ebb and flow of the percussion. After the Dragon speaks, the score becomes more active and dissonant, until Hannibal warns Dolarhyde that, “They’re listening”, and the sliding strings match his panicked expression. These sliding strings continue into the next scene, transitioning from Jack’s, “Hannibal’s having his fun” to Alana with a dark low pitch followed by high, clustered percussion and winds.
  • The scoring for Molly’s scene with Will is mournful and sad, but also lovely, featuring electric guitar and piano, Will’s two main instruments, as well as woodwinds. There’s a deep sense of loss and little reassurance in the score that they can recapture what they once had.
  • The final scene between Hannibal and Will features piano and high percussion rising in pitch throughout the scene, ending with a decidedly unresolved interval in the piano, not the most reassuring answer to, “Don’t you crave change, Will?”.

Hannibal S03E11

Hannibal, Ep. 3.11, “…And the Beast From the Sea”

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