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As Scene on TV: "Hannibal"

Hannibal: “Ko No Mono” – The Shiva Stag

While Hannibal has struggled in the ratings, perpetually on the bubble, it’s not for lack of ambition.  Blending the chronology of the books and films, the series follows protagonist Will Graham’s relationship with Hannibal Lecter.  Will began the series already slightly mentally unbalanced: his ability to empathize with any person gave him unusual insight into murder scenes, making him a valuable asset to the FBI, but Will’s gazes into the darkness in turn corrupted his own mind.

Hannibal_Hugh Dancy_Mads Mikkelsen_Caroline Dhavernas_Laurence Fishburne_Scott Thompson_Aaron Abrams

In the second season, Will has realized that his former friend and psychologist Hannibal Lecter is, in actuality, a serial killer.  Perceiving himself as a fisherman, Will has determined to lure Lecter into compromising his secret so that he will be discovered and arrested.  The “bait” Will offers is himself, playacting that he’s begun walking down the road to becoming a serial killer.  As Will gains Hannibal’s trust, he loses himself, as the act of pretending to be a serial killer threatens to bleed into reality.

Throughout the series, Will has played the role of an unreliable narrator on the series, as his penchant for highly symbolic hallucinations has lent their unique visual style to the series.  The unique style makes dream-like scenes like the following possible:

True to the fashion that made Hannibal so beloved to its fans, the dialog in this scene plays on multiple levels simultaneously.  Let’s break down each level.

On the first level, there is that of the plot-specific conversation.  Will has long known Hannibal is a serial killer, but lacks the proof to have him arrested.  He’s killed one man, and has pretended to kill a woman.  In maintaining his artifice, Will entices a near-confession from Hannibal, recognizing that Hannibal killed his daughter-figure Abigale.  In the non-diegetic cuts to Will and Hannibal staring at one another, we get a sense of repartee, as they meet one another’s’ gaze and dare each other to make the next move.

Next, on the character level, this scene provides a window into Will’s mind.   While he’s trying to gain Hannibal’s trust, Will struggles to overcome his revulsion at Abigale’s murder.  When Will asks “What God do you pray to?” there’s a note of disgust in his voice.  He wonders how Hannibal could claim to have any spiritual life, given the great evil he’s committed.

Finally, this scene functions on a symbolic and thematic level.  The second season could be characterized as a battle between Hannibal and Will for Will’s soul.  Will recognizes that the only way he can bring Hannibal down is to embrace the darkness in himself, but as the season has progressed, the darkness has threatened to also be Will’s undoing.  This scene plays with the divine stakes of Will’s game.  Their conversation is woven with references to sanctification, sacrifice, and prayer.  The conversation opens and closes with references to Shiva – who, unlike the benevolent monotheistic God of Western culture, turns an unflinching, uncaring eye to destruction. 

For several episodes, Will’s violent side has been symbolized as a man with stag horns.  As the stag-man appears during Will’s session with the six arms of Shiva, the show symbolically draws a parallel, suggesting that Will’s brutally violent side can be as wantonly destructive as the referenced god.

The most interesting scenes are often those that reward repeat viewings, and this scene has many further layers of meaning that couldn’t fully be discussed in this post.  While these scenes can engender passion amongst fans, they can be alienating as well.  Luckily, in spite of its low ratings, Hannibal has already secured a renewal, and will continue to present these thought-provoking scenes for at least one more year to come.

Angela Jorgensen originally hails from Iowa. She currently resides in Los Angeles and aspires to write for hour-long television dramas. She’s currently producing a documentary called The Longest Straw [].