When it comes to the Chesapeake Ripper, apparently, the third time’s the charm. The FBI’s first investigation led them to Will Graham, freshly exonerated by the physical evidence from the latest Ripper crime scene. Its second gave us false hopes that Jack and company would finally land on Hannibal. But this week gave us a plot twist enough to make sure Hannibal and Jack won’t have that throwdown for at least another five episodes: Dr. Lecter still has a few tricks up his sleeve; now that he’s set Will free, he’s framed Dr. Chilton (and gone to considerable lengths to do so).
We know Hannibal’s MO well enough by know to realize that he’d never let the FBI find Miriam Lass if she had so much as a fingernail’s worth of evidence against him. Played by Anna Chlumsky of Veep, Miriam has the same tightly wound energy as Selina Meyer’s perpetually slammed chief of staff. On Hannibal, though, that nervousness is played for fright, not laughs. Mutilated and psychologically manipulated for two years, Miriam’s not as outwardly traumatized as one might expect, but all it takes is some artificially implanted memories to send her careening over the edge.
Missing an arm, Miriam’s aware enough to know she won’t be able to recognize her would-be murderer, but oblivious about the extent to which she’s become Hannibal’s pawn. She believes she can recognize the Ripper’s voice, yet quite literally doesn’t see Hannibal for what he has even as he’s staring her in the face. It’s Chilton who she IDs and Chilton’s interrogation that puts her over the edge. She shoots him in the head, apparently giving us our first major deviation from the books and Silence of the Lambs: if he’s dead, that puts a fairly major character out of commission.
As Chilton realizes all too late, he’s been Hannibal’s “patsy” all along. An educated doctor with access to FBI case files, he fits the Ripper’s profile perfectly. Based on the facts and Miriam’s evident preparation, Hannibal’s been planning to frame his colleague for months, even years. Which raises an interesting question: why imprison Will? As a power play? As the beginnings of a crisis of confidence in Jack, who has the same feelings of guilt towards Will as he does toward Miriam? Will knows that Hannibal wants to maintain their friendship, despite his better judgement. And based on this episode’s ending, that compulsion is mutual.
Hannibal’s strategy for saving his own skin is essentially an if-I-did-it argument: he’s banking on Will’s curiosity overriding his rage and even his willingness to help Chilton. In essence, he’s taking into account the change in Will’s personality that imprisonment has wrought. Now that Will is a killer, fallen from grace in the eyes of Alana, he’s less inclined to kill Hannibal to save the lives of future victims and more likely to spare him out of inquisitiveness alone. Will’s no serial killer, of course, but he and Hannibal are closer to being alike than ever before.
“Yakimono” is essentially an adjustment of the show’s status quo. The relentless hunt for the Chesapeake Ripper is over now that the FBI believes it’s found its man. The back half of the season, then, is going to be a quieter battle of wills (ha, ha) between Dr. Lecter and his patient. Will is now both free and dangerous, with no need to rely on contacts in the outside world. It’s up to him what to do with that freedom.