Episode Title: “Takiawase”
Writers: Scott Nimerfro and Bryan Fuller
Director: David Semel
Previously on “Hannibal”
The opening scene of “Takiawase” finds Will once again retreating into his mind for peace and insight while fly fishing in a shallow river. This time however, he’s joined by someone else: Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl), making her first appearance on the show since her murder at the end of the first season. We’re reminded that Will might have cared for her more than he let on at the time. Despite all of her faults, Abigail was a fellow tortured soul, and a pawn in a larger game being played by Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). She was manipulated by people whom she thought she could trust.
Will understands that he can’t exonerate himself alone. He needs to become an even clearer mirror of his nemesis, pushing people to do his bidding without them realizing it. In “Takiawase,” he focuses on persuading Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park) and Dr. Chilton (Raul Esparza) into looking closer at Hannibal Lecter. Katz agrees to do so out of friendship, but her eagerness to find Will innocent is her undoing: she’s too aggressive, and she lacks the right strategy. Chilton, meanwhile, is continuing to evolve into one of the more intriguing and complex characters on the show. He’s driven purely by his own narcissism and desire for fame — he doesn’t care who is innocent and who really is a psychopath, as long as he can tell people he has the most psychologically complex killer locked up in his hospital. Will uses this to his advantage and begins to plant seeds of doubt about Hannibal. But Chilton won’t be manipulated so easily: even if Will is correct. He admires the skill it would take for Hannibal to psychically drive someone so completely.
Even though Chilton’s ultimate goals are still unclear, Will succeeds in getting him to help unlock hidden memories. The full extent of Hannibal’s brainwashing at least becomes clear, and it isn’t pretty. Hannibal gave Will encephalitis to induce hallucinations, blackouts and seizures, gradually making his mind susceptible to all sorts of psychological abuse. It’s one thing to know the truth, though, and another thing to prove it. It’s the latter that remains the biggest challenge.
For a moment, “Takiawase” makes it look like Hannibal will trap himself without much help from Will, thanks to a seemingly heartfelt connection with Jack’s wife, Bella (Gina Torres, always a welcome addition). Her lung cancer has left her depressed and desperate for an easy way out. Hannibal convinces her that death can be an act of mercy, a “cure” for the human condition. It’s a surprisingly altruistic justification for his secret activities, and one that echoes the philosophy of this week’s Killer of the Week, a twisted acupuncturist named Katherine Pims (Amanda Plummer, creepily confident) who lobotomizes the elderly so they no longer have to feel pain. What makes Pims so terrifying is that, like Hannibal, she takes advantage of people against their will (the shot of her about to jam a spike into a victim’s eye is one of most cringe-inducing visuals of the show yet). Unlike her, though, Hannibal doesn’t seem to fully believe that he is acting out of goodwill. He’s smart enough to know that he is a monster, driven by sinister and unnatural impulses, and he embraces it.
“Hannibal” has long depicted its titular character as a force so evil he may be the Devil himself, and “Takiawase” plays with this idea to great effect. Hannibal often lurks on the far edges of the frame, engulfed in shadow, more a demonic presence than an actual person. Mikkelsen finds the perfect balance between false empathy and alien removal, his tone of voice always suggesting that he cares but never rising out of its monotonous, controlled calm. Even in the most emotionally-charged situations, he barely speaks above a whisper, a father of lies who rarely reveals what he’s really feeling. At times, he seems more reptilian than human, one in a long line of snakes going back to the Garden of Eden.
Hannibal is so defined by lies that, of course, he’s a hypocrite. In one of Will’s flashbacks to the events of the first season, Hannibal rails against Dr. Abel Gideon for stealing his identity, even as he’s in the process of stealing Will’s identity himself. He tells Bella that death is a mercy, but when he’s caught by Beverly Katz in the episode’s intense finale, he refuses to embrace it without a fight. For Hannibal, it’s not dying that provides the thrill, but the constant threat of it, the possibility that one day he might make the wrong move and lose his cat-and-mouse game.
His only conflict is which risks to take. It seems like he’s going to be content to let Bella die in front of him — and what more logical way to lead up to the premiere episode’s flashforward confrontation with Jack than by eating (and serving him) his wife? But he (and the writers) are too smart for that. He’s so distanced from the people around him that he decides her fate with the flip of a coin, and ironically, in saving her life, he does something far crueler than letting her die. The most terrifying thing about Hannibal isn’t that he kills and eats his victims; it’s that he robs people of their agency.
When Beverly Katz goes into his basement at the end of the episode (the one moment that made me groan — would it really be that hard to let someone know where she was going?), she descends into hell. What she finds is so horrifying, it can’t be revealed to the audience. She’s on the devil’s turf, and that’s her mistake. I’m sad that actress Hettienne Park probably won’t be showing up much in the future. But while her demise does keep Hannibal free for the time being, it also tightens the noose just a little bit more. How can he cover this up?
For Will, catching Hannibal and proving his own innocence is going to be more like fishing than hunting game. It’s going to take time, patience, and a lure. He’ll have to get Hannibal to ensnare himself, much like Hannibal in turn did with Katz, dropping just enough hints about his true self to guide her into his trap. When you’re playing chess with the devil, the only way to win is to keep acting like a pawn, gradually making your way across the board until it’s time to strike.