‘Hannibal’ Recap: Everything Is a Cancer

Credit: Brooke Palmer/NBC

What happens when you’re a hyper-intelligent murderperson looking for an easily malleable friend/potential fellow murderperson and he just so happens to be under the thumb of someone else? Break them up, of course! And it seems like that’s exactly what Dr. Hannibal Lecter is trying to do with our dear Will Graham, being pushed and pulled dangerously close to the edge by Agent Jack Crawford. On Thursday night’s episode of Hannibal, attempting to awaken the beast within, Hannibal tried to become the cancer that eats away at Will’s control.

Cancer and its machinations played heavily into the stories of all our characters tonight. Diagnosis sends them all into tailspins: Is it a dream? Can it be cured? And if we pretend it doesn’t exist, will it just go away? Or is cancer (metaphorical or otherwise) just the ultimate end to us all, and we just simply choose when to accept it?

The episode that was originally intended to air today was pulled due to its content, but you can find anything pertinent you need to know about it here — and its character development between Abigail, Will, and Hannibal are to prove vital to the series later on. But for now, we have “Coquilles”: another word with French origins (meaning “shell”) that is also a dish typically made with scallops, served in its shell. And shells, as we all know, protect the scallop within (the meat of the animal). Will has a shell around him and Hannibal is hell-bent on cracking it open and ripping it off. In time.

Following the events of “Ceuf” (which… I think they meant oeuf; French for “egg”) Will begins sleepwalking. Hannibal believes this is a sign of PTSD wielded by the relentless iron first of Jack Crawford. Throughout Hannibal and Will’s interactions, Jack is constantly positioned as the aggressor and impetus for Will’s own mental unraveling. But while Will clearly knows all this murder business is no good for him, he’s also not an idiot and recognizes that Hannibal is trying to alienate him from Jack.

Jack, meanwhile, has a mess of things going on in his life: there’s a new killer on the loose (we’ll get to him later), he’s aware of Will’s apprehension about continuing this line of work, and his wife Phyllis (whom he calls Bella) is acting strange. But Jack’s story almost builds him up to be the hero starring in a Greek tragedy — his fatal flaw (cue Tina Fey in Mean Girls: “I’m a pusher, Cady. I push people!”) is what is causing all the stress in his life. Pressure to keep solving all these crimes weighs largely on him (even though we don’t see it on screen) and Will is the key to his success, delicate mental state de damned! It’s what has gotten him this far in his career, but also what pushes people away.

Bella has cancer. And she’s known for twelve weeks. But she won’t tell Jack as she is currently in the resentment stage of their relationship. Because Jack has too much to worry about to worry about her. Or so she tells Hannibal. After one of the creepier dinner scenes on the show wherein Dr. Lecter actually SMELLS HER CANCER ON HER, Bella becomes a patient of his in order to work through her own feelings about having stage four lung cancer. Which seem to be pretty morbid, but dance so well against Hannibal’s own thoughts about human life.

“I have indignity to look forward to, don’t I?” Bella asks Hannibal, which, ha, right? Something tells me that if Bella didn’t have cancer, she would’ve ended up on Hannibal’s table in his next iteration of the “foie gras” dish he served the Crawfords at dinner that she wouldn’t eat. Too cruel a meal, she says (oh and if she only KNEW), even with the “ethical butcher” Hannibal employs. He doesn’t believe in animal cruelty, but no one said anything about cruelty towards humanity, right?

The word “cruel” is brought up again in Bella and Hannibal’s therapy session, where Hannibal notes her anger towards her husband. “You seem more betrayed by Jack than your own body,” he states. That’s because humans have the capacity for cruelty, whereas “cancer isn’t cruel.” No, cancer is just “a tiny cell wanders off … it’s just trying to do its job,” but that job only makes things worse. In a lot of ways, this is exactly what Jack is doing — a liver cell (interesting that it’s a liver cell, eh?!), just trying to do his job without realizing he’s slowly killing other people in the process.

Cancer continues its thread through the episode in the madness of this week’s serial killer, Elliot. Poor Elliot. I mean, sure, he’s a total murderperson, but he also has a brain tumor, which is both slowly killing him and also driving him insane. In a move pulled straight out of Dexter, though, he murders only those that he sees are bad — a serial rapist here, a criminal security guard there — through his firehead visions. He sees their madness, and in his madness we see Will. Oh empathy, you really are a form of madness, aren’t you?

Seriously, though. Throughout the episode Will’s mental stability is called into question. Hannibal wonders if Will’s sleepwalking means he’s lost control. He wonders aloud if Will is having a hard time dealing with aggressive feelings. Will wonders if he’s even awake, if his brain is a trustworthy companion. I wager that Will is starting to have some weird feelings about who Hannibal really is (why else would he be so bold and turn Hannibal’s question around on him to ask about his own mother in “Ceuf”?), but he can’t tell if the madness is within him or all around him. Probably because Dr. Lecter’s personality seems wildly duplicitous — I mean he really does have two sides to him. Madness shared by two! It all comes together, folks.

But madness has many forms, and according to the FBI on the scene, “madness slept here last night.” The continued parallels between Will and the killers he captures is a fascinating one. It would be easy to grow tired of it, but so far, showrunner Bryan Fuller has towed the line well. And in Elliot, we see more of Will than ever before: he has a serious case of the flop sweats, indigestion (of the righteous variety, natch), can’t sleep. Which is why he makes these bad people into angels! To watch over him while he sleeps: they’re his guardians. They pray over him when he sleeps, but his actions also prey on him while he sleeps — yet another parallel to Will and how his own thoughts and feelings about those thoughts prey on his mind when he sleeps. Fuller wants to you see ALL of the parallels guys — are you gettin’ ’em?

But Elliot’s madness seems to be a byproduct of the brain tumor that’s killing him. It’s an anomaly in his head, changing the way he thinks (gee golly gosh could that apply to a few people here on this show?). The rest of the FBI crew think Elliot is playing God, but Will knows that’s not the case. “This is not who you are,” Will states during his empathetic trip into Elliot’s mind at the scene of the crime. “This is my gift to you. I allow you to become angels. And now, I lay me down to sleep.” He’s turning these bad people into something “good,” angels, and in turn absolving them of their own madness in order to help the madness of others.

Elliot’s ex-wife comes in for questioning and reveals that our troubled murderperson had a near-death experience as a child that he, by all accounts, shouldn’t have survived. A fireman on the scene said he must’ve had a guardian angel on his side. But now, near death, Elliot is frantically searching for his guardian angel to save him from his own brain. He needs an angel to pray for him because he’s afraid of what he sees.

So it seems like maybe there is a God Complex at play here, eh? Despite Elliot’s wife’s assertions that he wasn’t religious (and really, do you have to be to think you’re God?). But in her words, two things are realized: 1.) The farm where Elliot grew up is where they will find him strung up like an angel himself, and 2.) Jack realizes his wife has cancer. Either way — rough stuff all around.

Will and Jack head up to the farm and see Elliot’s final act: to become an angel himself and have control over his own death rather than a tiny anomaly in his brain controlling him. And it is interesting that at this moment Will finally attempts to assert control over his own life, as well.

“It’s getting harder and harder to look … and you know what looking at this does,” Will nervously asserts. But Jack keeps pushing him (he really is a pusher, that one), and not even flat-out declaring “this is bad for me” seems to change Jack’s mind. He leaves Will alone in the crime scene.

Which, of course, immediately leads to Will’s overactive imagination to go into overdrive. The Angelized Elliot appears by Will’s side and says, “I see what you are … inside. I can bring it out of you … I can give you the majesty of your becoming.” “Not all the way out,” Will says. It might be there, brewing just below the surface, but that doesn’t mean Will is ready to act on it. It’s hard enough for will to be strong now, I can only imagine how much more these feelings will bubble, bubble, toil and trouble away while we watch our poor hero struggle through the season. It’s a potent potion he’s got on the stove there, eh?

Hannibal can tell something is brewing within Will, too — only this creepy motherf**ker can smell it on him. (Seriously, Mads, you’re killing me with creepy on this show. I hate slash love it.) But that quick whiff sets off alarm bells for Will once he realizes its happening. He calls him out, but Hannibal asks about headaches, and insinuates they might have a simple remedy: “change the aftershave,” Hannibal suggests. His musk…his mask…his own SHELL, perhaps? And it all comes full circle.

OK, I think we’re sufficiently awake now. You?

Other Things to Note… 

– That moment when Will touches the stag statue in Hannibal’s office was a wonderful way to show how Will’s sleeping mind is actually trying to talk to him about what he sees when he’s awake: “my brain is playing tricks on me.” So awesome. He’s slowly starting to wake up from the trance that Hannibal seems to have him under, though I think we still have a bit of time before that big unveiling.
– Anyone else wonder about what’s going on in Will’s brain after Hannibal used his creepily accurate sense of smell on Will and asking if his headaches have gotten worse? 
– Beverly quotes The Doors’ Jim Morrison and tries to relate him to Elliot by saying “even a drunk with a flare for the dramatic can believe himself to be God.” Which: red wine + God complex + (Human) = Hannibal.
– Also speaking of Beverly, homegirl either has a crush or is worried for Will. She recognizes he’s “a little different” and that “it’s a good strategy,” but it doesn’t work on her. Do we think he’ll actually ever open up to her?
– Sleeping in a sleeping back to stop sleepwalking is a real thing! Just ask Mike Birbiglia; he’s made a career off the fact that he has to do just that because of his severe sleepwalking disorder.
– We got a mention of next week’s killer, The Chesapeake Ripper. I, for one am SO amped for Eddie Izzard to be on this show. And let me tell you: Fuller and Izzard need to work together way more often.

What did you think of this week’s episode of Hannibal? take a stab at it in the comments.

Follow @AliciaLutes on Twitter

‘Hannibal’: Everything Important from Pulled Episode ‘Ceuf’ 
‘Hannibal’ Recap: Folie À Deux 
‘Hannibal’ Recap: A Broken Pony and The Fungus Among Us 

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