Kate’s Classical Corner: Hannibal, Ep. 3.12, “The Number of the Beast is 666…”
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 “The Number of the Beast is 666…” here.
Classical piece featured:
Mozart’s first composition for piano quartet, this piece is lovely and dark, fitting to accompany a gift from Dolarhyde to Hannibal. However, this scene’s placement in the episode makes it a bit of an odd choice. While Reitzell makes good use in the episode of the broader, more orchestral sound he’s embraced for the Red Dragon arc, much of the scoring here eschews straightforward, classical melodies in favor of a more psychological approach. Cutting from the lightly scored, horrific attack on Chilton in Dolarhyde’s dark house to the rich sound of the quartet in a brightly lit mail room is jarring. The intense, unison opening of the piece feels out of place when paired with an unassuming package, giving the moment a vaguely comedic feel, particularly as it comes after the tonal reset a commercial break brings. As Alana walks the package in to Hannibal, however, the piece feels at home, a natural fit for this venue. After the gruesome attack on Chilton, a brief respite is in order, and Hannibal is certainly in a good mood at the news, but I’m not confident this is what Reitzell was going for. If it is, this is a bold choice, looking for a laugh (or at least a cheeky smirk) right after Chilton’s had his lips torn off.
Other scoring notes:
- The string bass is featured prominently throughout this episode as the voice of the Dragon, groaning and growling in the shadows. Whereas Reitzell introduced the character in “The Great Red Dragon” with layers of percussion, the Dragon we hear here is very different: that was an instinctual, physical being, a wordless monster pulled to the surface by the phase of the moon. This is a much more intellectual, conversational creature, a dragon lingering in his cave or atop his gold, deciding whether to destroy or release his captives. It’s fitting that these different manifestations of the character are represented by such different scoring.
- Perfect fourths, with their open, unresolved sound, pop up throughout this episode, as they have previous episodes in this arc. They’re most prominent in Will’s conversations with Bedelia, matching the complicated, to say the least, connection between the two characters. As in previous dialogue scenes, much of the scoring throughout these exchanges features a spare, punctuational approach. At the end of the opening Will and Bedelia scene, a minor third (a sad or ominous interval) in the bass moves to the second (going up one note), which leaves the scene feeling incomplete and unresolved.
- Jack and Hannibal’s conversation about God, the Devil, the Dragon, and the Lamb follows the example of the scene before it, with the score low in the mix to give plenty of space to the dialogue. The beats that come through most prominently, however, correspond to mentions of the Lamb. Given the title of the finale, this feels about right.
- Dolarhyde clawing at himself unsurprisingly features a lot of low, rumbling bass, as well as what comes across as the breath of the Dragon, percussion and electric guitar escalating in rhythm to build intensity and quicken the audience’s pulse. In a thread that will continue throughout the episode, this tense scene incorporates human sounds to its soundtrack, in this case, the sigh or exhalation that’s layered over the electric guitar that ends the scene.
- For a scene that features a very irritated Will and concerned Jack and Alana, it’s surprising that Reitzell opens Will, Jack, and Alana’s contentious discussion of how to bait the Dragon with a major third. This interval connotes happiness and the slow rhythm conveys calm. This is immediately followed with Will’s less than promising, “We don’t have anything else.” It’s an interesting choice, one I’m still pondering. Once again in this scene, the growl of the bass is present—the Dragon is their topic of conversation, after all—and there’s also a neat percussion and wind melody. Also striking about the score for this scene is the distortion and hit of percussion when Will imagines Alana with mirrors over her eyes.
- Poor Chilton has a terrible go of it this week, but before he is changed by the Dragon, we get one more scene of him with each of the principles. To Hannibal, he is an insect, shown through a buzzing in the score early into their conversation (he’s certainly not Hannibal’s nemesis). Another neat touch in this scene: When Chilton incredibly foolishly throws the magazine into Hannibal’s cell, we can hear a descending line in the clarinet that is reminiscent of the opening of the famous flute line of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, which was featured prominently in “Antipasto”, as Hannibal supped with Gideon. This could easily be a coincidence, but I like to think it may hint at what’s to come, Hannibal free to dine again at his pleasure.
- The scene with Will, Jack, Chilton, and Freddie has some of my favorite scoring of the episode. There’s piano and keyboard, bassoon and other winds, pizzicato strings, and more. It’s conversational, with the different instruments overlapping or interrupting each other before coming together dissonantly as Will and Chilton’s picture is taken. The violins rise, building tension as the cello repeats its pitch, giving energy to the scene and ending with a major second, yet another dissonant, unresolved interval.
- Chilton’s walk to his car opens with a steady, driving beat from the drums, pushing forward and preparing the audience for an action set piece or chase that doesn’t come: Chilton’s body men are no match for the Dragon.
- The central sequence for the episode is Dolarhyde’s capture of Chilton and throughout, Reitzell uses some of his most melodic and beautiful scoring. As Dolarhyde ungags and wakes Chilton, there is doubling between the winds and strings and brief melodic figures are supported with soft clusters of notes. The clarinet, which I associate with Chilton, is eerily calm while the bass, the dragon, rumbles away. As mentioned previously, this Dragon is worlds away from the Dragon that was initially introduced, yet the percussion influence is still there: When Dolarhyde puts his hands up to Chilton’s head, the drums kick up and as Dolarhyde gets more agitated, the percussion becomes increasingly aggressive.
- When Dolarhyde opens the door to Reba, the score thins out, highlighting the space between Reba and Dolarhyde and the halting pauses in their conversation. The bass and percussion of the Dragon withdraw when Dolarhyde opens the door, but they return when she comes in and he closes it again, making the audience nervous on Reba’s behalf. There are three instruments featured in this scene: piano, bass, and what sounds like a clarinet. The piano represents Reba and Dolarhyde’s fractured relationship, no longer the Romantic, Debussy-inspired scoring of “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”, the bass is once again the Dragon, and the clarinet is Chilton, observing the encounter with befuddlement.
- As Dolarhyde presents his slideshow to Chilton, punctuating each image with, “Do you see?”, there are high, sustained, recurring pitches in the score that feel like Dolarhyde reaching out to Chilton. Another effective touch is the ominous hit as Dolarhyde references the ice he’s sending with Chilton.
- While the percussion and bass build as the Dragon puts in his teeth and the strings slide higher and higher as a frantic rhythm joins in the percussion, when Dolarhyde bites Chilton the score stays secondary to the visuals and the sound of Chilton’s screams. Reitzell supports the gruesome prosthetics work and performances, rather than allowing the score to distract from them.
- When Will watches the video of Chilton being attacked, the score is far more present than when Chilton first experiences it. The screams are still very prominent, but they’re more obviously supported by the sliding pitches and sound wall underneath them. The first time we’re shown this happening, Reitzell wants us to feel its immediacy, to experience it more or less unfiltered. The second time, we’re meant to focus on how Will is reacting to it, so the score adds a touch more artifice to the video within the show, keeping us engaged with the scene we’re watching, rather than remembering what we’ve already seen.
- Will’s second conversation with Bedelia prominently features electric guitar, percussion, cello, and wind instruments (perhaps nodding to Chilton, who is on Will’s mind), as well as bass, which comes in as the pair discuss Dolarhyde’s actions and whether Will anticipated them. Bedelia argues that Will participated in the Dragon’s attack, and so the growl of the Dragon moves up in the mix. As before, held perfect fourths feature in the score, lacking the concrete connotations of major (happy) and minor (sad).
- As Will talks with the burned Chilton, Reitzell once again gives space to the visual, supporting what we’re seeing with the cello and a backgrounded melody.
- When Dolarhyde reaches down in his car to touch the head of the bound Reba, the major seventh in the piano first heard when Dolarhyde took Reba to the zoo to experience the tiger and asked her, “You wanna do it?”, returns. As in their previous interaction, there’s a lot of space in the score. Reba’s breath and the concerned noises she unintentionally makes are high in the mix, putting the audience in her point of view, waiting anxiously to discover what’s coming next.
For more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti, This Is Our Design!