‘The Number Of The Beast Is 666’, this season’s penultimate episode, was littered with both a lot of familiar elements and surprises. Once again Bryan Fuller and his team of writers have managed to twist a lot of elements from the novels and their own original material to subvert the expectations of viewers and put a spin on iconic scenes and images. Before Hannibal‘s first episode aired the Hannibal Lecter mythos hadn’t felt as fresh, thrilling or deeply twisted since 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs, and throughout the seasons this show has only grown stronger and stronger. While the quite pedestrian 2002 flick Red Dragon gave audiences a very distinct and tragic take on Thomas Harris’ Francis Dolarhyde character through Ralph Fiennes’ affecting performance, it lacked the bite and menace of the Tom Noonan portrayal from 1986’s Manhunter. Hannibal and Richard Armitage have successfully melted those two sides of the character and have given us a Dolarhyde that’s both the stuff of nightmares and a human being you feel sorry for. Although, to be fair: since the Dragon has taken over horror and savagery are what’s at the forefront now.
Following last week’s events Will, Crawford and Alana hatched a plan to enrage the Dragon to lure him out of hiding and then hopefully catch him. In order to do so they enlisted the help of Freddie Lounds and Frederick Chilton: they had Chilton analyze the Tooth Fairy, Will add insults and lies to Chilton’s statements, and then had Freddie write all of it down in an article for the Red Dragon to read. While one element of this plan definitely succeeded, namely the enraging the Red Dragon part, the ramifications were great and horrible: the Dragon didn’t go after Will as everyone had intended, but captured Chilton instead. While it wasn’t a surprise Dolarhyde didn’t pursue Will, it was a surprise who he took in Will’s stead: both in the Thomas Harris novel and its two film adaptations the captive was Lounds, who ended up mutilated and strapped in a flaming wheelchair after having paid witness to the Dragon’s becoming. The moment they introduced Chilton to this plan, you knew something was up, and it paid off marvelously when Dolarhyde executed two bodyguards and yanked the oblivious and self-centered Chilton out of the back of his SUV while he was discussing his next book deal. What happened next was no surprise given the source material, but Hannibal did throw us another curveball when Reba suddenly rang the doorbell of the Dolarhyde manor while he was interrogating Chilton. It was an offbeat moment that ramped up the unpredictability and fear factor once again, and also strangely worked on a darkly funny level; having Chilton there to observe how this imposing monster suddenly changed back into a sensitive and awkward man for this woman was both a tender, twisted and horrifically humorous moment. We dove back into pure horror though when Reba left and Dolarhyde put his mask back on again, put in his special dentures, climbed over his couch (in a very BOB from Twin Peaks-like fashion) and bit Chilton’s lips off. It was downright gruesome.
The direction, acting, art design, set design and Brian Reitzell’s score were all terrific in these Dolarhyde versus Chilton scenes. There was one particular moment when the camera lingered on Chilton while Dolarhyde crept up behind him and loomed over him like a nightmarish and inhuman entity, that was bone-chilling and really emphasized the fact that the man has turned into the cruel creature he calls the Dragon. Next to being physically imposing, Armitage also exudes an otherness and nebulousness when he explores the Dragon persona that’s hard to look away from, even if you would want to do just that sometimes. The schizophrenia and split personality of Dolarhyde are developed so well through the ways Armitage changes both body language and the use of his voice, that this grotesque serial killer becomes entirely mesmerizing thanks to Armitage’s wholly dedicated performance. In these particular scenes though, a lot of credit also has to attributed to Raúl Esparza’s acting: his tangible dread and disbelief at the situation he found himself were breathtaking and, again, made it hard to take your eyes off the screen. Esparza and Armitage worked really well together and it made for hypnotizing and tension-filled television.
But while the scenes with Chilton and Dolarhyde were incredibly, these moments were hardly the only good thing in the episode. Will’s conversations with Bedelia were very intriguing and once more shed light on some questionable behavior from Will. What stood out most though, was Will’s very direct question: “Is Hannibal in love with me?” While the show has always been about the bond between Graham and Lecter, their feelings toward each other have never been labeled as such. It was an interesting moment and, as is usually the case, the writing was very strong here: the topic of love led Bedelia to use several consumption-related metaphors, which basically got to the core of what the show has always been about: an exploration of obsession, change and (loss of) self. Just as interesting was Hannibal’s notion of the wrath of the lamb; Lecter suggested Will will change and that no one is safe from what he’s about to do. Given the fact the next episode’s title is ‘The Wrath Of The Lamb’, it surely holds a lot of promise for the season (and series) finale.
‘The Number Of The Beast Is 666’ was a strong and assured penultimate episode that put all the pieces in place for next week’s finale. It did so in a way that was mesmerizing, terrifying and thrilling. 9/10