After spending a few episodes in the margins thanks to his incarceration, Hannibal has slowly been creeping back into the center of the frame, incubating in his prison cell like a monster in a cocoon. “The Wrath of the Lamb” finally lets him break free and stretch his wings.
It also demonstrates how far Hannibal has come. In the beginning, Hannibal was a solitary figure operating alone. The final episode restores Hannibal’s charisma, but he now shares the spotlight with Will because he recognizes how much richer life can be when you have a partner able to appreciate your accomplishments.
Since the beginning, Frederick Chilton’s sense has not been equal to his ego. He thinks he’s a genius (and he does have a knack for self-promotion), but his all-consuming self-regard blinds him to the game being played around him. He is a pawn, and the kings and queens have finally offered him up for sacrifice.
“The Number of the Beast is 666” revolves around the FBI’s attempt to catch the Dragon. With the help of Freddie Lounds, Will baits the hook with inflammatory statements, while Chilton – still stinging from Hannibal’s public refutation of his best-selling book – volunteers to give the article professional credibility.
The plan works, to an extent. Dolarhyde is furious at the implications in Freddie’s article, but he’s not foolish enough to walk into a trap. He instead captures Chilton and subjects him to a rigorous interrogation, forcing him to refute his earlier statements on video. Then the Dragon rips Chilton’s lips off with his teeth and sets him on fire in Will’s courtyard.
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“…And the Beast from the Sea” revolves around one major event. Francis Dolarhyde attempts to make the Grahams the latest offering to the Red Dragon, poisoning their dogs, breaking into their house, and attempting to kill them on the full moon. Molly is able to thwart him with quick thinking and a well-placed car-alarm, though she does take a (non-lethal) bullet for her efforts.
The rest of the episode is spent dealing with the fallout. The Red Dragon went after the Grahams at Hannibal’s suggestion, and Alana, Jack, and Will immediately recognize his design. They attempt to use him to set a trap, though Hannibal warns Dolarhyde as soon as he mention’s Reba’s name. As punishment, Alana follows through on an earlier threat and takes Hannibal’s desk and dignity. His once lavish cell is barren, stripped of everything up to and including the toilet.
Hannibal has always positioned himself as the supreme arbiter of taste, and he does not hesitate to punish any violations of decorum. Boorishness becomes a form of Natural Selection, a weakness that needs to be culled from the population.
“And the Woman Clothed in Sun” explores the relativism implicit in that idea, suggesting that Hannibal’s drive to murder comes from the same evolutionary impulse that targets the weak or the elderly. His violence is kindness, a way of helping rude people avoid the indignity of being rude.
Of course, Hannibal’s victims would likely dispute the sentence, which is the crucial distinction between a killer like Hannibal and a more traditional moral figure like Will. Hannibal ends the misery of creatures in distress. Will adds them to his pack of strays.
Hannibal has traditionally been a solitary figure. Though he enjoys the company of others, he is usually among them rather than of them, observing from the vantage of superior refinement. He does not trust anyone with his secrets. He does not rely on others to fulfill his base desires, and seems to regard doing so as a form of weakness.
That consistent drive towards self-actualization at the expense of others makes “…and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” an unexpectedly communal pleasure. The episode is devoted almost entirely to the concept of family. Despite his finer tastes, Hannibal genuinely craves the simple intimacy that has eluded him throughout the show, and it’s perhaps the first time that we’ve seen him be truly vulnerable.
“The Great Red Dragon” marks the beginning of a new phase for Hannibal, shifting back to the show’s procedural roots as it prepares to unravel the mystery of the Dragon. It makes for a welcome change of pace. The high wire psychology that played out in Italy was extraordinary, but that balancing act becomes more difficult to maintain the longer it goes on. “The Great Red Dragon” gives the show the opportunity to regain its bearings, serving as a nostalgic reminder that Hannibal, Will, and Jack first came together to help solve crimes.
The episode is primarily exposition, although it covers the ground with far more panache than most other shows. After a three-year jump in time, we learn that Jack is back in charge at the FBI, while Alana is running the institution where Hannibal is a prisoner. Chilton is on the celebrity doctor circuit penning books about serial killers. He occasionally visits Hannibal to gloat, though it’s unclear if he’ll get his comeuppance before the show runs out of episodes.