I’ve written a little about Hannibal the novel in the past but I might as well nail my colours to the mast, so to speak. I’m not wild about Hannibal’s origin story. I can’t ignore it because, for better or worse, Mischa and the Nazis and all of that are canon. But I think it’s telling that Bryan Fuller’s origin story doesn’t start with the material in Hannibal Rising, and that the show’s modern-day setting makes Nazis impossible, and that throughout season one there is very little reference to Hannibal’s past. Hannibal is most effective when he’s an enigma—and more than that, I’d argue that he was created to be an unfathomable creature. Thomas Harris refuses any sort of psychiatric label for what Hannibal is; because to some degree—and Fuller’s adaptation certainly picks up on this—Hannibal is evil, and evil is that which we can’t understand. He doesn’t need a tragic backstory to make him sympathetic, or to imply that there is any sort of narrative which created him. Hannibal Lecter isn’t the product of someone else’s cruelty; it’s not a question of nature versus nurture. He simply is.
Hannibal as a novel… well, I vastly prefer the Clarice Starling of Silence of the Lambs, who is earnest and insightful and a little naive but brave and fiercely independent-minded. I feel like the character is given so little breathing-room in Hannibal; Hannibal writes her these powerful and poetic love-letters, and thinks greatly of her strength and her mind, but she seems inert, passive, somehow… smaller. Her assertion of power comes too late. And I much prefer the Hannibal of Red Dragon and Silence because after the world knows Hannibal for the monster that he is, he is far more interesting incarcerated than free. The parallel with Satan is relevant: having revealed himself as a traitor and usurper against God, Satan loses his wings and his divine-given power, and must instead use his intellect and charm and deviousness to insinuate his evil through the cracks and faultlines of humanity. Hannibal is the Adversary: he needs to oppose someone, and his relationships are always unequal and destructive. I didn’t want Hannibal to ‘consume’ Clarice. I wanted her to be the one who escaped and lived to tell the tale. (But not in the manner of the film, which is just… bizarre.)
As for the ending… really, I’m interested in Hannibal as someone who makes a mockery of our ‘civilised’ society, who represents the darkest taboos of humanity, the shadow aspects that are repressed and demonised. I’m not interested in Hannibal as a romantic figure—or rather, I’m only interested in Hannibal as a figure in a Gothic horror-romance which is never consummated: the tension is the fascinating thing, the terrifying lurch before the long, long fall. Clarice is a worthy ‘partner’ for Hannibal if anyone is… but their complicated antagonism is what I enjoyed—not the two of them playing ‘cannibal house’. I don’t fully buy that Clarice would fall for Hannibal as she does, because I think it requires her to be somewhat less than the character she was in Silence; and that ending seems absurd, even by the grandiose melodramatic standards of Harris’s world; but I’m not outraged by it. Mostly baffled—so I can’t help you there :P
after-the-ellipsis reblogged your post and added:
What I like best about this scene is how the line between hallucination and reality has completely dropped away, not only for Will, but for the audience as well. Even in retrospect it’s almost impossible to work out the precise moment in this exchange when the real becomes the dream. The blocking of the actors suggests it happens fairly early on: Abigail begins the scene standing near the stairs and eventually crosses into the belly of the room — but when Will crashes back to reality, she is by the stairs again. I think Abigail’s leading question about hunting — which finally allows Will to recognize her guilt — may in fact be a part of Will’s hallucination. Which means that Will stumbled upon the truth of Abigail’s complicity in her father’s murders (and Hannibal’s role in concealing this information from Will) spontaneously. Without Abigail doing or saying anything resembling a confession. Might help explain why she is so freaked out by Will when he comes to and starts hurling accusations. But that’s just my theory; the scene is deliberately constructed in such a way as to prevent an objective reading.
Yes! I deliberately kept my answer neutral on this point: as you say, the scene is constructed to make it impossible to tell; and the reality-delusion shift, whenever it occurs, is seamless. When Will wakes, Abigail is stood behind him—but not far behind him—and there is room enough for her free movement. Perhaps Will dissociates even as he enters the room, and Abigail didn’t move at all; perhaps it was later, and Abigail walked past him and then back again. It’s entirely possible that all of that confrontation is entirely imaginary, and that Will simply reaches a realisation of Abigail’s guilt without any further evidence from Abigail herself.
And the scene can function like that because Hannibal always privileges subjective experience over objective ‘facts’. I’ve seen criticism of the show along the lines of, ‘Will’s empathy doesn’t make sense’, or that it’s more like a superpower. And this is really another way that Hannibal subverts the murder-procedural genre: its protagonist has a sort of intelligence that isn’t readily explicable, that deals with emotion and intuition (subjective, abstract, irrational) rather than reason and physical evidence (objective, concrete, rational)—although Hannibal also problematises that dichotomy.
So we get all of the blood-spatter patterns and bullet analysis and DNA tracing; but at a certain point, logic seems to fall away. How is it that Will realises that Abigail killed Nick by examining his corpse? To the viewer, it’s because we’re inside Will’s mind: we ‘see’ Nick come back to life, then Will stabs him, then Nick turns into Abigail and Will assumes Nick’s position, and ‘Abigail’ stabs ‘Nick’. But from an ‘objective’ viewpoint, it would seem that Will suddenly progressed from not-knowing to knowing spontaneously, in a matter of seconds.
The show even pokes fun at itself for this:
JACK: Will Graham theorized that the copycat killer and Garrett Jacob Hobbs were somehow connected—that he had insight into Hobbs’ personal life, that they may have met, known each other, perhaps even killed together.
ZELLER: See, I would call that less of a theory, more of a hypothesis.
PRICE: Mm. Theories require evidence.
JACK: Let’s play Jeopardy, shall we? The answer is that these people were killed by the copycat, who’s connected to Garrett Jacob Hobbs. You tell me how.
ZELLER: You mean beyond the application of supposition and unexplained leaps?
PRICE: I’ve been yearning for a return to the fundamentals of investigation!
But there isn’t an objective viewpoint in Hannibal; there are just many subjective ones, which is how the show is able to make the audience experience Will’s delusional state in such a viscerally convincing and reality-disturbing way. It’s a very clever means of demonstrating that ‘sane’ and ‘insane’ are problematic, if not impossible, categories; because anyone can cross the line between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ at any time.