Su-zakana is the Japanese term for a small vinegar-based palate-cleansing dish, and Hannibal‘s latest episode definitely had a similar function: ‘Su-zakana’ was a mid-season reboot to the season’s format, an outing that harkened back to the structure, pacing and tone of Hannibal‘s first season. The result is that there’s a sense of familiarity to what was offered and what we can expect, but there’s even more of a sense of uncertainty. Despite its return to Hannibal‘s season 1 form, new import characters got thrown into the mix and, most importantly, the Hannibal-Will dynamic got reinvented once again. That reinvention was without a doubt the main focus of ‘Su-zakana’, effectively juxtaposed with a case of the week that echoed what Graham and Lecter’s relationship used to be like. It underlined the metamorphosis we’ve been witnessing since the series’ first episode, showed viewers how much Will has changed. “With all my knowledge and intrusion I could never entirely predict you,” Hannibal said to Will at the end of the episode. “I can feed the caterpillar, I can whisper through the chrysalis, but what hatches follows its own nature and it beyond me.” Will’s transformation, out with the old and in with the new, makes him unpredictable as well as the remainder of the season. A palate cleanser seems like an apt analogy.
‘Su-zakana’ had more of a slow burn than last week’s eventful and faster paced episode. It started off with Will and Jack ice fishing, another beautiful metaphor for their Chesapeake Ripper hunt. “You have to create a reality where only you and the fish exist. Your lure is the one thing he wants, despite everything he knows,” Will told Jack, who replied: “You hook him, I’ll land him.” Finally the two man see eye to eye as far as Lecter’s concerned, but the way that plays out is slightly more complicated. Will lies about his feelings toward Lecter while Jack is around but he is very blunt with Hannibal himself, Jack is honest with Will but keeps up appearances as far as Hannibal is concerned and, well, Hannibal plays everyone. It’s an interesting triangle that does not only keep the characters on their toes, but also the viewers: it’s a muddled affair, but in a good way. The three men had dinner together and this time Will, and by extension Jack, provided the meat, which they had Hannibal prepare. It was an elegant representation of what’s the status quo: Will and Jack give Hannibal what he needs to feel at ease and do what he’s comfortable with, but the core is insidious. The powers of decision-making have shifted: Hannibal’s illusion of being the puppet master is preserved, but the puppets have loosened their strings. Will Hannibal notice in time or will his flaw, his hubris, leave him vulnerable? Will sure seems to think the latter is the case. In addition he’s luring Lecter in with his direct and confrontational stance, telling Hannibal he knows he’s the Ripper, and with his flirtations: “I finally find you interesting,” Graham said, tugging at Hannibal’s strings, dangling himself, the bait, in front of the fish he’s after.
The case of the week helped to develop their relationship further, again, much like the cases’ function in the show’s first season. A woman was found in a horse, and in turn, in her a live bird was discovered (a starling by the way, for all you The Silence Of The Lambs fans that additionally got treated to scenery and other imagery evoking the film and novel). It turned out that this tableau wasn’t a ritualistic murder, but a man’s attempt to save someone, an attempt at rebirth. This man was Jeremy Davies’ Peter Bernardone, a handicapped man who tried to escape the clutches of his social worker, a man who did not only toy with him and the way the world saw both men, but also left a trail of 16 dead women in his path. When the FBI was led to this Clark Ingram through Peter, Ingram was not amused: he tried to frame Bernardone for his murders. The situation was so similar to Will and Hannibal’s (even though Ingram’s games and skills were nowhere near Lecter’s level) that Will took an instant liking to Peter, which at the same time meant he was revolted by and hated the despicable Clark Ingram. In an attempt to help Peter, Hannibal and Will showed up at Bernardone’s, who had just attacked Ingram and found a very specific way of punishing him. “Peter, is your social worker in that horse?” Graham uttered when he found Peter, a darkly comedic line that was both humorous and disturbing, a fine line the show walks so well. After Will led Peter away, the man confessed that he didn’t kill Ingram, but that he put him in the horse alive, so moments later the enraged and confused social worker crawled out of the dead horse with the intent to murder Peter. Because of Will’s empathy, his connection to Bernardone, he pulled the trigger on Ingram, but didn’t kill him: Hannibal put his thumb on the hammer and because of it Graham’s bullet never left the barrel of the gun. Lecter was surprised, intrigued and proud: he realized he really had successfully molded Will into another man entirely, a man closer to what he himself is like, but also a man that isn’t predictable but is an enigma, a challenge, an exotic butterfly. The look on Lecter’s face was one of a father who’s proud of his son, a creator enamored by his creation. The hook’s definitely in.
A special mention has to go to Katharine Isabelle’s performance as Margot Verger, one of Lecter’s other patients. Margot is an important character from the Hannibal book, but because she wasn’t in the 2001 film, Isabelle’s the first actress to portray this strong woman who’s abused by her brother Mason, portrayed here by the wonderful Michael Pitt. While Mason was only briefly heard and glimpsed at, Margot was front and center in a couple of scenes and it’s interesting how different her dynamic with Hannibal is to Will’s. She openly discussed her desire to get rid of her brother, a man who, at the very least, broke her arm during this episode, in the scene both characters were introduced in no less. Isabelle played Margot with a fierceness and determination, a strong desire to kill her loathsome brother she so obviously hates. Her single-mindedness resulted in a different approach by Lecter, who outwardly told her that it would be good for her to kill her brother, or, have him killed… (Enter Will?) The Vergers are an interesting, twisted and intriguing addition to Hannibal and Lecter’s game and, if ‘Su-zakana’ is any indication, their dynamic with Lecter will once again reaffirm Hannibal’s skillful chameleon-like adaptation to the people he surrounds himself with. For his own pleasure, of course.
While ‘Su-zakana’ was a departure from the previous second season episodes, it was a welcome one: everything felt fresh and was marvelously horrific, a successful change to make viewers throw their preconceived notions out of the window and to keep them on edge. 9/10