Shiizakana is a substantial dish, such as a hot pot, the East Asian varieties of stew. And indeed, substantial moments were to be found throughout, scenes that set up the tail end of the season and introduced us to new alliances and character growth (or deterioration, depending how you look at it). Randall, the killer of the week, a man who had made a suit that allowed him to transform himself into a beast, act out his fantasies and act on his instincts, wasn’t a very compelling or layered character to me though, clearly just a device to further the Lecter-Graham relationship and to juxtapose Will’s inward transformation into a savage animal with an outward one. While I appreciated the show’s attempt at putting a spin on the classic werewolf tale (the shot of a crescent moon was a nice wink and deviation from lore), it felt too on the nose, like a less nuanced version of last week’s much more elegant metamorphosis theme. While transformation has always been a theme of not only NBC’s Hannibal but also the Thomas Harris novels it’s based on, some of the dialogue in ‘Shiizakana’ spoon-fed us its ideas like the series never really did before: “Adapt, evolve, become,” Will whispered in his session with Hannibal. That being said: while the tool used this week may have been a bit blunt, it led to interesting, thrilling and revelatory results that raised the stakes once again.
The episode’s opening was nothing short of brilliant, in fact. It looked at one of Hannibal Rising‘s scenes for inspiration, but put its own unique spin on it. Will was dreaming of himself in a position of power, in a moment of reckoning, where he had tied Hannibal to a tree with a rope around his waist and neck. That rope was tied to the ravenstag, and with every step Will ordered the beast to take, the rope was pulled tighter and tighter around Lecter. In the end Hannibal transformed into the wendigo, the monster Will sees in him and the creature that is arguably Lecter’s true visage, and then blood gushed from its neck, the only abundant splash of color in a scene shot in black and white, the only thing that matters to Will and gets his heart pumping, a sudden burst of purpose and satisfaction in these static and cold circumstances. Will’s reckoning is his end goal, but in the meantime he also feels good about doing bad things to bad people, about killing them. “I felt a quiet sense of power,” he told Lecter in therapy. “Good,” Hannibal replied. It seems that that initial feeling has opened up another door in Will though: bloodlust, an appetite for killing, a satisfaction in dominance over others. When he tried to recreate one of his Randalls murder scenes, Will didn’t imagine himself in a suit like Randall would’ve worn: instead he ordered the ravenstag to kill the two innocent victims, after which the beast transformed into Will himself, a man reveling in his savage power. It was only logical that Hannibal was curious what the result would be of pitting two ferocious animals against each other, which is what he did when he sent Randall after Will. Will came out on top of course and brought Hannibal his victim, saying: “I’d say this makes us even. I sent someone to kill you, you sent someone to kill me; even-steven.”
What made the last scene as powerful is not just the turn of events though. Throughout the episode there was a theme present, the division between man and animal, or the lack thereof, the thin line between barbarism and civility. “Please don’t blame the animals: man is the only creature that kills to kill,” Jeremy Davies’ Peter Bernardone told Will, after he told him that animals can be trained to do anything, given enough time. ‘Shiizakana’ told a tale of masters and servants, of owners and pets, of alphas and betas. But despite Will’s action of taking his trophy back to his boss like a loyal dog, he is an omega: he’s smart, cunning and plays by the rules of his the puppet master until he doesn’t. Despite the fact he’s playing Hannibal’s game, he is bending the rules, the only question remains what kind of effect this will have on his soul. The scene with Will and Peter reminded us of the innocence and kindheartedness that used to be Will’s main character traits. Unfortunately those are buried deep now, merely motivators for heinous acts. Will Graham has become an avenging angel to Lecter’s Satan, a dangerous man that does all the wrong things for the right reasons. Hannibal’s perversion of Will is twisted, one of his many successes regarding his patients, but beautiful in its own sick way. When Will asked Hannibal what he thinks about when he thinks about killing, he replied he thinks about God. “Good and evil?” Will then asked, and what Lecter explained then sums up his character and rationale perfectly: “Good and evil has nothing to do with God. […] Typhoid and swans, it all comes from the same place.” Hannibal is a man who sees beauty in every act of creation, in every phase. To him existence is art, every little facet of it, and his pleasure derives from taking a firm hold over his surroundings in this life, to elevate every act of his to the highest possible level. There lies destruction in creation and creation in destruction, and like masters and servants, they need each other. Lecter is a force of nature, a river that carves its path through the land, sometimes swallowing everything in its way, sometimes offering water for growth.
‘Shiizakana’ was a solid outing, only held back by the bland and blunt killer of the week. The development of the Hannibal and Will dynamic was as compelling as ever though, and in addition Will struck up an interesting conversation with the enigmatic Margot Verger. The seeds are planted, now it’s time for them to come to fruition. 8/10