Episode Title: “Hassun”
Writers: Jason Grote and Steve Lightfoot
Director: Peter Medak
Previously on “Hannibal”
It would be difficult for “Hannibal” to match last week’s tour de force of violence and meta-commentary. Thankfully, this week’s episode wisely attempts something completely different. “Hassun” turns the season toward a new direction, focusing less on the blood and guts (though there’s still some of that) and more on the personal conflicts inspired by Will’s trial. It’s “Law & Order: Delicious Victims Unit,” with every character forced to assess his or her own guilt—and as Will’s lawyer points out, being found not guilty and being found innocent are two completely different things.
The opening scene does an admirable job setting up the primary theme, as Will dreams about roasting himself in the electric chair. It’s a horrifying metaphor for his decision at the end of last week, when in refusing to take a plea bargain he effectively embraced the possibility he might receive the death penalty. Anyone familiar with Thomas Harris’ books knows that the chance the writers will kill off Will in a “Game of Thrones”-style twist is very slim. But that doesn’t mean his battle of wits with Hannibal isn’t slowly killing parts of himself, and molding him into something he might not wish to become.
“Hannibal” has always been a cold show that prioritizes intellectual and thematic concerns over sentimentality. For all its strengths and intriguing examinations of how people gauge their own survival against other concerns, however, “Hassun” feels a bit too chilly. Fuller and the crew have a lot of elements to juggle as they transition from the first act of the season into the second, and while they succeed at keeping everything in the air, there’s no real panache to the execution. I nearly groaned when Will’s attorney started going on about the similarities between the law and advertising — yes, that’s an important theme that will rear its head throughout the rest of the episode, but did you really need to be so heavy-handed with it?
“Hassun” also remains so focused on the mechanics of the trial and the characters’ interpersonal relationships that it robs the violence of its power, which is odd for a show so concerned with how a culture of violence (including images meant for entertainment) can impact people. We get the usual nod to the idea that violence and art go hand-in-hand (“This killer wrote you a poem. Are you going to let his love go to waste?”), but it almost seems like the producers have bored themselves in their critique of lazy horror. Is “Hannibal” starting to dig itself into a rut? Here’s another corpse on some antlers. Here’s another grisly display of violence arranged like a classical painting. When the characters discover the mutilated body of a judge, they barely react. I never thought the violence on “Hannibal” would ever seem perfunctory, but this episode unfortunately comes close.
It shines, though, when diving deeper into the theme of doppelgangers and complements—we’re all connected to each other, whether we realize it or not. How much are we willing to destroy ourselves for the sake of a friend, and when should we knowingly lie in order to save lives, including our own? Jack risks committing professional suicide by placing most of the blame on himself rather than Will, and Alana practices denying her past romantic feelings for Will with a tinge of regret. Dancy keeps his expression neutral during the latter scene, but something in his eyes suggests that though he recognizes why she has to do it, he’s still hurt. Jack, meanwhile, is confident he has made the right decision, but Hannibal finds the perfect way to encourage his doubts by bringing up his sick wife: “You don’t have to go into the ground with her.”
Practicality and selfishness are constantly at odds in “Hassun,” which also confirms something long hinted at by the show: Hannibal genuinely cares for Will, or at least, as much as he’s capable of caring. His whole long con hasn’t just been about covering up his own crimes by passing them off to someone else, it’s also a perverse way for him to bond with another human being. He’s now doing everything he can to make sure Will escapes the situation that he set up for him—presumably including the murders of a bailiff and a judge. Is Hannibal once again acting as a copycat to send the criminal justice system on a wild goose chase, or does Will Graham have another secret admirer?
Will understands that Hannibal holds the keys to his freedom, and it appears he now might be willing to temporarily sacrifice his principles and investigation of “the truth” in order to be allowed out of prison. The irony, of course, is that in working to help Will go free, Hannibal is also risking his own future demise. His “friend” knows the truth, he just needs proof, and once he’s free he’ll have plenty of time to find it. The tables are slowly turning—it isn’t just Will who might be reserving his own seat in the electric chair. Hannibal knows what’s at stake, and he seems to be savoring the challenge.