Hannibal: 312 “The Number of the Beast Is 666” Review
Reviewed by Lewis Hurst.
And here we are. The penultimate episode of Hannibal. It’s been one hell of a ride and all the pieces are coming together as the show prepares for what promises to be an epic finale. It seems fitting then that one of the novel’s most iconic sequences was at the forefront of this week’s episode.
I am of course talking about the kidnap and subsequent torture, mutilation and burning of one Dr Frederick Chilton, replacing Freddie Lounds (who suffered this fate in the novel). While Chilton replacing Lounds took me by surprise at first, it did quickly become clear the change was a necessary one for the adaptation. With Lounds’ gender swap in the television series, there was every chance the sequence with Dolarhyde could come across with unwanted sexual undertones so switching Lounds for a male character made sense and Chilton was the perfect fit.
The entire sequence of Chilton’s encounter with Dolarhyde was not just the standout scene of the episode, but perhaps one of the most frightening and horrific scenes in the entire show. In the novel, Dolarhyde’s attack on Lounds marks a significant shift in his character. He discards his “Francis” personality entirely and becomes “The Dragon”. The show’s interpretation of this scene managed to convey this brilliantly, using low angles and dim lighting to make Dolarhyde appear larger and more threatening than he has in the past. And he has been very threatening in the past. Comments have been made by Bryan Fuller and various others that they wished the Red Dragon arc to feel like a horror movie and I can honestly say that with this sequence they succeeded. Dolarhyde did not feel human in this sequence, he felt like something else clueing the audience in that Dolarhyde’s “becoming” is almost complete.
Dolarhyde also came across as much more ruthless than before. Note how he warns Chilton that he will kill Reba if Chilton makes any noise, while we don’t know if Dolarhyde would have followed through on that threat it was very easy to believe that he would. It’s also interesting to note that Dolarhyde’s shift was also brilliantly foreshadowed in an earlier scene where Dolarhyde uses his nails to tear his own skin, seemingly ripping “Francis” away and letting the Dragon emerge. The burning also helped to convey Dolarhyde’s fascination with Will. Chilton was burned alive and pushed on a wheelchair downhill similar to Freddie Lounds’ faked death in Season Two by Will.
This sequence also showcased Richard Armitage’s brilliant acting talent. It’s the first chance Armitage has had to really let loose his interpretation of Dolarhyde and elevated his take on the character. Ralph Fiennes may have focused on the tragedy of Dolarhyde’s character in the 2002 film, but Armitage appears to be focusing on the ferocity. Armitage has proven in the past that he has strong presence on screen, most memorably stealing scenes from Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and others in The Hobbit, so it’s great to see him use that presence to craft a frightening and imposing character on screen.
As for Chilton, well he doesn’t seem to be having much luck. Chilton has apparently evolved into the show’s punching bag. He had his less vital organs removed by Gideon and managed to survive that (minus one kidney), he was framed as the Chesapeake Ripper by Hannibal and subsequently shot in the face by Miriam Lass, and now kidnapped by Francis Dolarhyde and then having his lips bitten off and burned alive. Whether Chilton will survive this latest attempt on his life remains to be seen, but his signs don’t look good. Chilton’s fate in the novels and film adaptations has not yet come to pass (he is killed and eaten by Hannibal shortly after Silence of the Lambs) and it seems very unlikely the show will get that far. If Chilton is to die of his injuries either onscreen next week or off-screen in-between episodes, I bid a fond farewell to Raúl Esparza who has always done an excellent job as the troubled psychiatrist.
The episode was bookended with Will’s therapy sessions with Bedelia. The first of these sequences showed a strong insight to both characters and an insight to both characters relationships with Hannibal. The two characters are easily the only two characters in the show (apart from Chiyoh) who know more about Hannibal than anyone. Bedelia believes herself to be safe from Hannibal as long as he’s in custody, feeling very secure in her idea that Hannibal will only kill her if he can do so himself and only if he wishes to eat her.
Will compares Bedelia’s relationship with Hannibal to that of Bluebeard and his wife from the French folktale. This provides an interesting insight into Hannibal’s treatment of Will and Bedelia. In the folktale, Bluebeard is a rich man who has had many wives who have died of unknown causes. Bluebeard takes a new wife and leaves the country, but not before giving his wife the keys for every room in his home. He makes her promise not to open a specific door but the wife’s curiosity gets the better of her and in the room she discovers Bluebeard’s secret: He has been killing his previous wives and hanging their bodies for display. The key to the room becomes stained with blood and Bluebeard discovers his wife’s dishonesty and prepares to kill her. She begs for fifteen minutes to say her prayers, which is just long enough for her brothers to arrive and slay Bluebeard freeing her.
Now, how does this connect to Hannibal, Will and Bedelia? We are obviously meant to take that Hannibal is Bluebeard in this case. The wives are therefore the previous people Hannibal has grown close to and cast aside (Abigail, Chiyoh). Will claims Bedelia is the last wife, the one who breaks his trust and leads to his downfall. This is technically correct. Bedelia betrayed Hannibal to the Italian Police who handed Hannibal to Mason which led to his surrender to Jack. Bedelia however, through wordplay, counter-claims that Will is in fact the last wife. This then leads us to think that Will was the key, or will be the key, to Hannibal’s downfall, which again is technically correct. Hannibal only surrendered due to Will’s rejection. But then again, is the Bluebeard analogy a reference to events past? Or a reference to things to come either in next week’s finale or in the cancelled fourth Season? It provides an excellent thinking point at any rate.
The conversation then leads Will to ponder if Hannibal is indeed in love with him (to the cries of joy from “Hannigram” shippers everywhere). Bedelia then raises the question on if Hannibal is in love with Will, or merely hungers for his presence and if it’s the latter, is that how Hannibal feels love? She also questions if Will’s feelings towards Hannibal are similar and does Will, thus, love Hannibal? It’s interesting this question is raised now. With the show ending, perhaps Fuller isn’t afraid to reveal that Will and Hannibal may in fact love each other. The show’s cancelled anyway, so there’s nothing stopping Fuller from revealing Hannibal and Will are in love with each other. Revealing the two leads of a primetime television show are bisexual and in love with each other would be a huge step forward for equal representation of sexuality on television. This sequence alone, along with the ending one where Bedelia points out Will may have subconsciously set up Chilton to die implying Will is descending back into the darkness of Hannibal, all provide excellent examination points of not the themes and character arcs or our leads so far (as well as a nice call back to participation discussion Hannibal had with Bedelia earlier in the season). With the show seemingly ending for good with the next episode, is it possible this was intentional by Fuller who may have been well aware the end was nigh?
This episode overall was an excellent start to what promises to be a powerful closure to not just Season Three, but the show as a whole. With several more events left to occur over the final episode including the resolution to this episode’s cliffhanger of Dolarhyde kidnapping Reba, this episode was the perfect set up. As well as delivering the book’s most iconic sequence and presenting it as one of the most horrific and frightening scenes in the entire show, we also got scenes that raised big questions concerning the characters and themes as well as a small slice of black comedy. Hannibal slurping up Chilton’s lip elicited a chuckle from me and I can easily see it circulating on Tumblr in GIF form for years to come with various edits. The Number of the Beast Is 666 almost felt like a love letter to what the show does best and if anything, promised us we’re in for one hell of a ride come next week’s finale.