If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering how everyone in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal-verse (Hanniverse, if you will) is holding up 3 years after Hannibal’s fateful & dramatic surrender. Yes? Well, “The Great Red Dragon” has answers for you. The eighth installment in the third season bridges the gap between the dreamier, more abstract “hunt for Hannibal” half of the season & its latter portion, which explores Thomas Harris’ “The Red Dragon” serial killer story arc. This is, in fact, where the book canon begins–everything leading up to this point has been Bryan Fuller’s interpretation of this particular universe–really, really awesome fanfiction.
Full disclosure: “The Red Dragon” is one of my all-time favorite books. As much as I enjoyed both film adaptations (1986’s “Manhunter” & 2002’s “The Red Dragon), they both left something to be desired, in my opinion. In general, I am very aware of the fact that books and their television/film counterparts are separate entities (in my opinion, nothing will ever fully translate book-to-movie, but this is a diatribe for another time!), but with this particular story I have been left ready for more. At this point, I trust Bryan Fuller and his Hanniverse completely, so I am extraordinarily interested in seeing the heights that he reaches with this particular storyline.
The chillingly fantastic (AND BEYOND PERFECTLY CAST, IMHO) Richard Armitage makes his debut as Francis Dolarhyde himself, one of the most well-known, harelipped workout-crazed serial killers in all of fiction. We watch him gain inspiration from the magazine cover with Blake’s “The Great Red Dragon & the Woman Clothed in the Sun” painting. Next, we are treated (and it truly is a treat) to Dolarhyde’s daily workout routine, which includes a yoga practice in booty shorts. I may have paused it to check out his chaturanga form, not gonna lie…the man is a yoga zen master. Well, he could be, if he weren’t a serial killer with a rabid bloodlust, that is.
We follow Dolarhyde, who does not utter one single word this entire episode, to China, where he gets his infamous Red Dragon tattoo. He also grabs a sweet set of custom dentures while over there, which will be instrumental later. Upon returning home, he begins his Becoming–becoming one with the print of the “Red Dragon” painting that he keeps in his room, rearing up and posing like the dragon himself in front of it.
Meanwhile, our favorite cannibal doctor finds himself in one of the fanciest, schmanciest cells in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He’s also sporting a shorter, more prison-y haircut. I bet he’s miffed. Despite the fancy factor, it is still a confined cell, and he chooses to speak with his visitors in the various rooms of his vast mind palace. Dr. Alana Bloom, who now holds a prominent position at BSHCI, speaks with Hannibal in the mind palace version of his old office. We learn that Hannibal escaped the death penalty on an insanity plea, much to his chagrin–he makes sure to state that he is not, in fact, insane.
There is a fabulous meta moment when Hannibal and Chilton are conversing in Hannibal’s mind palace dining room over dessert (made with blood & chocolate, of course. What else?), in which Chilton introduces the topic of the Tooth Fairy as the subject for his next book. He tells Hannibal that the Tooth Fairy “has a much wider demographic than you. You, with your fancy allusions, fussy esthetics. You’ll always have niche appeal.” Zing! “Hannibal’s” poor ratings, explained in a nutshell. Sigh! Niche appeal is still niche appeal, even if the niche is a voracious gang of avid fans (Season 4 is so happening, guys, and no one can convince me otherwise. We need it). Hannibal is, of course, rather interested in the Tooth Fairy, although he seems unwilling to discuss it with Chilton. Instead, he pens a letter to Will, who I am sure he has been missing dearly.
As for Mr. Will Graham, he has gotten himself a wife, Molly (the lovely Nina Arianda), & a stepson, Walter (his name is Willy in the books-I imagine the show changed it to avoid confusion). Also, the time to rejoice is now: the Graham dog pack is back–and it seems to have gained a few members, because of course Molly loves dogs too! The Grahams have made a nice life for themselves in a lovely isolated lake cabin…that is, until Jack Crawford comes calling. He shows Will pictures of the Leeds family, the Tooth Fairy’s first victims, hoping to appeal to both Will’s inner family man & his morbid curiosity. Let’s be real…mostly his morbid curiosity. It’s almost as if Jack knows that Will can’t stay away.
Molly is supportive of Will helping with the investigation, citing it as “the right thing to do,” even though Will warns her that he won’t be the same afterwards. *Insert ominous musical cacophony here*
Before he leaves to help, however, Will takes a private moment to read the letter from dear old Dr. Lecter, which includes clippings of articles about the Tooth Fairy murder and warns him of Jack’s impending visit. He also suggests that Will not step through the door that leads back to his old profiling ways, for there is surely madness awaiting on the other side. This, from the guy who let Will’s encephalitis go untreated because he was curious. Yes, this is from the same man who framed our dear Graham Cracker for murder in season 1, and even went so far as to gut him for betraying him. I bet he’s real concerned for Will’s sanity. Suuuure. Will tosses the letter in the fire after reading it.
Upon arriving at the scene of the crime, the Leeds home, Will is back at it–empathetic pendulum and all–recreating the murders in his mind and uttering “This is my design” for the first time all season. The murder scene is brutal and gory with plenty of arterial spray, as murder scenes on this show usually are. Mrs. Leeds (the family matriarch) has shards of a broken mirror places over her eyes and her lips. There are also traces of talcum powder on her body from the inside of a glove, from which Will gleans that the murderer just had to touch her with his bare hands. Eesh *shudders*.
Will isn’t the only one who’s back in action: Team Sassy Science, comprised of Jimmy Price & Brian Zeller, have been called on to assist with fingerprints left on Mrs. Leeds’ eyelid & the reconstruction of the killer’s unique chompers, thanks to a bitten piece of cheese left behind. Murdering 101: never just take one bite out of a Babybel cheese wheel. Eat the whole thing, if you must–they are so tiny! How does one even go about just taking one bite out of a Babybel anyway? Classic rookie mistake, Dolarhyde. I digress.
You guys, the gang’s back together! However, full gang or not, in order to advance the Tooth Fairy investigation, Will needs some extra help….in the form of Hannibal Lecter’s opinion on the whole thing. We all knew it was only a matter of time–of course Hanni’s insight would be invaluable, considering the man does know a thing or two about serial killing.
Jack doesn’t seem too upset about this, & the episode concludes with Will visiting Hannibal in the Norman Chapel of his mind palace, his innermost sanctum. It is only natural that Hannibal constructs their meeting there, considering his relationship with Will is the the relationship he values most. Will greets Hannibal with, “Hello, Dr. Lecter.” Hannibal replies, “Hello, Will.” This scene mirrors the first season’s finale in which Hannibal visits Will in the BSHCI & their places are reversed.
What an exciting episode–the season’s really gaining speed, and it’s about to get really real. I am so looking forward to more Dolarhyde, and of course the juicy, beyond unhealthy entanglement redux of Will and Hannibal.
–Canonically, Dolarhyde violates the bodies of his female victims, but since Bryan Fuller has explicitly stated that he will never portray rape in any way on the show, that element was excluded from the story. Guess what? It works just fine without it. The sensational graphic violence and murdery, gory content does not suffer one bit without this detail. See that, other sensational shows? Gendered, sexual violence *can* be omitted!
–The imagery of shattered/breaking mirrors has been introduced to the series alongside Dolarhyde. This certainly underscores Dolarhyde’s self-loathing and his sensitivity to his harelip and the resulting speech impediment; in this particular Hanniverse, it reads as symbolism for Will’s constant internal Armageddon: his deep understanding of the criminal mind (particularly Hannibal’s criminal mind) that clashes constantly with the normal, caring man that he wants to be.
What do you think of Richard Armitage’s Dolarhyde? Were you also as enchanted by his ability to creep out beyond all reasonable belief, despite having uttered zero words? How do you think the Will & Hannibal reunion is going to go? Can it go another another way other than “very badly”? I can’t wait to find out.