Hannibal: 308 “The Great Red Dragon” Review
Reviewed by Lewis Hurst.
Hannibal enters its final six episodes as the show tackles an adaptation of Red Dragon. This was always going to be the more interesting part of the season, if only to see how the show writers would adapt the novel. Thankfully it seems the writers are on the right path if this episode is anything to go by.
Red Dragon has been adapted twice before on the big screen, in the 1986 film Manhunter starring William Petersen as Will, Brian Cox as Hannibal and Tom Noonan as Dollarhyde, as well as in the more well known 2003 film Red Dragon which starred Edward Norton as Will, Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal and Ralph Fiennes as Dollarhyde. To say the writers of Hannibal have a lot to live up to is an understatement as both films are quite well regarded.
The episode opens with our introduction to Francis Dollarhyde (played by The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage) and the beginnings of his obsession with the painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (one must chuckle at Armitage playing another character who is obsessed with a red dragon, for different reasons this time however). Dollarhyde begins his “transformation” by having the painting tattooed onto his back. The show’s take on Dollarhyde was one of the things I was most excited about this season and so far they haven’t disappointed. The scenes with Dollarhyde were unsettling. It seems the show will be able to capture Dollarhyde’s deranged split personality perfectly from the brief glimpse of Dollarhyde we saw. Props also to Armitage to making Dollarhyde feel almost inhuman in some scenes. Even though this sequence was made up mostly of what was shown at Comic-Con, it was still an amazing sequence and established Dollarhyde effectively.
We were also treated to several nice scenes of Hannibal locked up and conversing with Alana and Chilton. In these scenes we saw Hannibal at a rare disadvantage. As last episode showed, Hannibal wants Will to always know where to find him and thus Hannibal has made no attempts to escape. However Hannibal proved he wasn’t as powerless as he seemed with it being clear he’s always several steps ahead. It was also a clever twist to see how Hannibal is dealing with being confined to one space, by using his expansive mind palace to imagine these conversations happening elsewhere, his conversation with Alan in his office and his encounter with Will in the church for example.
A rather nice sequence was seeing Hannibal eat desert with Chilton (apparently they still allow Hannibal to cook) with the rather humourous exchange where Chilton enquired if Hannibal had used actual pigs blood when he cooked the desert for Chilton. Chilton then began to taunt Hannibal over the “Tooth Fairy’s” killings, providing a meta comment about the show itself as Chilton noted that Hannibal will always have a “niche” appeal. It was a pleasure to see Chilton again after he’s been absent for quite a while. Chilton always possesses the rare ability to believe he’s the one doing the manipulating when in reality everyone else is manipulating him. I did give a loud chuckle upon the reveal that Alana has taken Chilton’s job however.
Will, meanwhile, in the three year time skip, has settled down and married. Wife Molly gave a nice impression here even if she didn’t get to do a lot, so here’s hoping she gets a little more development over the next few episodes. And the return of Will’s dogs is always an added plus. It was interesting to see Hannibal contact Will encouraging him to refuse Jack’s offer and stay away from the killings out of concern for his psyche, but I suspect Hannibal was using reverse psychology here and was in fact enticing Will to accept. The effect the investigation will have on Will’s already damaged psyche will provide an interesting dilemma as the next few episodes progress. Will he be able to handle getting inside another killer’s head? Or will this be enough to make Will snap?
It was also great to see the return of Brian and Jimmy who we haven’t seen since Season 2. The FBI Special Agents always provided a touch of comedy to proceedings so it’s wonderful to see them return and the reunion of the team (minus Beverly of course). In fact, this episode saw a return to the season 1 and 2 format, which will be a welcome return for those not too fond of the jaunt to Italy.
The highlight scene of the episode however was without a doubt Will’s return to doing his “thing” at the crime scenes. It’s been so long since we saw that swinging pendulum that its return was a wonderful surprise. This scene was also brilliantly directed. The horrors of the murder being slowly revealed by Will’s flashlight built a terrific sense of unease and then when we saw the murders play out (with Will in place of Dollarhyde) it was horrific to watch, especially the murder of the two young boys (thankfully done offscreen). It also appears the writers have removed Dollarhyde raping the mothers before he kills them which I totally agree with. With Hannibal’s level of gore and brutality, inserting rape as well could come across as excessive. The episode was also privy to more of Hannibal’s surrealist imagery with the reveal that the red string on the crime scene become “wings” and Will floating amongst crime scene photos and evidence. If there’s one thing Hannibal delivers reliably and well, it’s surrealist imagery.
“The Great Red Dragon” provided an excellent start to the Red Dragon arc and hopefully will deliver a satisfying adaptation of the book across the next few episodes. It’ll also be great to see how the show continues to deal with the “Hannibal imprisoned” aspect, something new to the show but one already familiar to audiences thanks to the Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal films. It’s great to finally see events from Red Dragon play out with the show’s cast. This is what the show has been building towards since the first episode of season one, so for us to finally reach this point provides a sense of fulfilment.
Even though the show may be ending, we have at least reached Red Dragon. You can almost see how Bryan Fuller has planned this out ever since the first season, in fact this second half of the season should feel like the culmination of everything Fuller has been building towards over the past three years. If the remaining five episodes match the quality of the season so far, then we are all in for a treat.