Hannibal‘s really been laying it on thick lately in the case-of-the-week-as-metaphor-for-Will-Graham department. This time, “Hannibal unleashing his patients’ inner beast” becomes…Hannibal encouraging his patient to wear his inner beast. And use it to attack people. Randall is the third soldier enlisted into the proxy war currently raging between Will Graham and his therapist, and so far the casualties are three for three: the orderly’s dead, Peter’s in jail, and Randall ends the episode sprawled out on a table in Dr. Lecter’s office. If the point was to show him the casualty he’s inflicted, it fails; his response to Will’s declaration that they’re “Even Steven” with a slight smile is the series’ most black-comic episode ending to date.
“Shiizakana” is the second installment of Will and Hannibal’s new era, one that’s marked by a naked honesty on Will’s part. He’s asked Hannibal not to lie to him, and for the most part it seems like Dr. Lecter’s honoring his patient’s wishes. When Will asks if he killed his psychiatrist, the dearly departed Gillian Anderson, the answer is an immediate “No.” As Will is likely aware, Hannibal has settled for simply lying by omission. In this case, he omits the tiny detail that Bedelia would be dead as a doornail if Hannibal had his way. She simply got away in time, though not before hinting to Will that he’s not the only patient Hannibal’s manipulated.
Margot Verger, the meatpacking heiress in treatment for attempting to kill her brother, has also managed to connect the dots. She’s smart, miles ahead of the only other patient of Hannibal’s we spent significant time with (last season’s overweight, nervous now-murder-victim). Consequently, she realizes that Hannibal’s encouragement to finish what she started isn’t exactly traditional therapy. She takes the initiative to seek out Will Graham on her own, indicating that Hannibal might have a hobby of crafting his patients’ minds in his own image.
“Revel in what you are,” Hannibal advises his former patient, a young man who’s convinced he’s a wild animal. Under the doctor’s tutelage, he’s learned to both disguise and accept his murderous impulses. He’s found the perfect job for a man obsessed with predators, assembling fossils at the Natural History Museum. And he’s fashioned those fossils into a terrifying suit that allows him to assume what he sees as his true identity: pure carnivore. In a way, the suit is a direct callback to the “person suit” Bedelia says Hannibal wears every day, or the vinyl getup he sports to the scene of his crimes. In another, the scene where Randall suits up is a perversion of the superhero-dons-costume scene we’ve watched in countless blockbusters over the years.
Once Will begins to connect the dots, Hannibal sends Randall after him. The chase scene in the woods is a great suspense sequence, but one senses that Hannibal never really expected Randall to succeed. He’s expendable where Will is one of a kind, the only person who’s caught on to Hannibal and is well on his way to understanding him. It’s a gesture, or a confession of sorts. Hannibal won’t admit that he’s a serial killer to Will’s face, but he can signal that they’re playing the same game by joining the proxy war in earnest.
Finally, there’s the looming specter of Will’s growing killer instinct, a development he acknowledges in the black-and-white dream that opens “Shiizakana.” In therapy, Will tells Hannibal he regrets killing the social worker, not out of a sense of justice but because he enjoys the sensation of power killing gives him. Obliquely, Hannibal indicates that’s what he gets out of murder too: the godlike sense of control over life and death. Hannibal wants to be the kind of entity so removed from humanity it thinks nothing of murdering dozens of grandmothers in their church pews. It’s that sense of contempt and detachment he imparts to his patients.
While that approach works with people like Randall, Will’s extreme empathy means he can never reach that level of separation between killer and killed. That might make him immune to Hannibal’s efforts, or at least resistant enough that Dr. Lecter is drawn to him as an unusual challenge. Their conflict thus isn’t just a question of who goes to jail; it’s a battle for Will’s soul, and whether he can successfully be converted to Hannibal’s view of the world. Considering that Will finally succeeded in killing again tonight, that’s probably more of an open question than we’d like to believe.