With Season 3’s eighth episode we finally get to the plot from the novel that served as the basis for the show Hannibal: it’s time for the Red Dragon, the serial killer from Thomas Harris’ 1981 book of the same name, portrayed here by Richard Armitage. Bryan Fuller and company aren’t the first ones to adapt this tragic, gruesome and suspenseful tale, even though they’re the first to bring it to the small screen; two movie adaptations have already been made, the first being Michael Mann’s Manhunter from 1986 and the second one being 2002’s Brett Ratner film Red Dragon. While both of those adaptations have their flaws and merits, they were at least faithful in terms of chronology: Red Dragon was the first novel in the Hannibal Lecter arc, which led to The Silence Of The Lambs and then Hannibal, the 1999 novel that introduced the Vergers and focused on a Hannibal hiding in Florence after having fled. Fuller and co have moved all of that around: they expanded on a Red Dragon passage to really flesh out the dynamic of Lecter and Will Graham and that has organically led them to craft a lot of original material and adapt Thomas Harris’ Hannibal first. This means that all the characters enter the Red Dragon arc with a lot more baggage and much more complicated history. That being said: despite the new places the characters find themselves in, ‘The Great Red Dragon’ was an episode that was faithful to a T.
In the book tormented profiler Will Graham is pulled back into the fold by Jack Crawford to help him catch a serial killer labelled the Tooth Fairy. Will is living a peaceful life with wife Molly and her son and is reluctant to go, but eventually agrees to aid Jack because he feels it is his responsibility to stop more murders from happening if he can. This whole premise is altered slightly to fit the show better; here Will is eventually persuaded to go because Molly asks Will if their home and what they have would be soured by another murder spree Will maybe could have stopped from occurring. It’s a valid question that immediately shows you to what extent Molly understands her husband, while also pushing the plot forward. “I’ll be different when I get back,” Will answered. “I won’t,” she replied, being both a strong and supportive character. While we haven’t seen a lot of this Molly yet, Nina Arianda is already impressive as Will’s significant other: she exudes a warmth and calm that’s not only soothing to an audience, but also illustrates perfectly why Will has fallen for her. Ever since Hannibal started Will has been looking for peace, quiet, support and love, and here is a woman who offers all of that. The character of Molly is another example of a great marriage of solid writing and beautifully nuanced acting, one of the show’s hallmarks. What she maybe doesn’t realize though, is how much Will could change and how lost he was before she met him. Lecter does, though. In a letter Will received from Hannibal, who is now wrongfully but officially declared insane and residing in the asylum, he wrote Will: “I would encourage you as a friend not to step back through the door [Jack Crawford] holds open; it’s dark on the other side and madness is waiting.” These words both affirm Will’s fears, but also hold the power to taunt him, something Hannibal knows. At any rate: Will is hunting killers once again and there will be no turning back.
While ‘The Great Red Dragon’ focused on Richard Armitage’s Francis Dolarhyde a.k.a. the Tooth Fairy, the screen time dedicated to him mainly served to build up the mystery and intrigue. He didn’t talk and we didn’t see him commit his crimes; what we were shown was how he got his Red Dragon tattoo, how he had a custom set of false teeth made, and how he keeps a diary of sorts, filled with newspaper clippings about his own acts and the trail of Hannibal Lecter. It was an elegant way of setting up his insanity and infatuation with Hannibal the Cannibal, both of which will be enriched and filled in more as the show moves forward. The most gruesome moment came when Dolarhyde, covered in blood, emerged from a house and gazed at the full moon naked, with a crazed expression in his eyes. What came before was eventually shown us when Will investigated the crime scene, using his unique brand of empathy to act out the murders in his head. It was a tense and effective sequence that harkened back to Hannibal‘s first season and was filled with gorgeous visual flourishes: when Will walked through the house his flashlight would show the murder victims when the beam would hit certain locations, which was a dark but elegant way to show us how Will was already using his knowledge of the killings before he went and used his imagination to fill in the blanks and tried to understand the killer’s motivation. Especially the final shot of was gorgeous: Will stood there looming over the body of a victim, while the red threads used for blood splatter analysis lit up, formed wings behind his back and he uttered “This is my design.” when he discovered the killer couldn’t resist the urge to touch the corpse and leave finger prints. It was both a stunning sequence visually, as well as narratively.
In order to really get back into the swing of things though, Will told Jack he needed to recover a certain mindset, for which he needs Hannibal. The episode ended there, right when Will and Lecter met again, which will undoubtedly lead to a lot of trouble. While the whole show is built around the Lecter and Will dynamic, it did feel like it was too soon to bring them back together again; Will’s reasoning was that it was better to reach out to Lecter now than when it’s possibly too late, but both he and Crawford acted strangely casual about the whole affair. After all these men have been through and all Hannibal has done, one would think it wouldn’t be this easy to come to this decision regarding Lecter, and because of it the episode’s ending rang false. After the previous entries the show had earned a Will and Hannibal break, and especially because Will seemed to handle the crime scene investigation very well on his own, it was strange to see Fuller and company pull the trigger on the reunion of Graham and Lecter so soon. Sure: three years have passed in the narrative, but this can not have healed all the wounds Hannibal left Will and Jack, and made them oblivious to the danger this man still poses, even though he is locked up. For a show that usually takes its time and thinks developments like these through, this was a strangely rushed decision. Maybe in this instance the show was too loyal to the Harris source material.
‘The Great Red Dragon’ was a fantastic opener to the second half of the season, despite its hasty final note. 8/10