August 29, 2015, 10:00 p.m. (EST), NBC
The best television speaks to you, not as a member of a mass audience, not as a consumer devouring product. It speaks to the deepest, truest parts of you. It helps you know yourself. It helps to teach you about the world and your place in it. That’s one reason the reputation of television as a medium that might rot your brain has never sat well with me, even back to when I was still young enough to be watching television as much for the rot as for the growth. The best television can teach you something about other people. It can teach you how to think. It can teach you how to be in the world.
This is true of all of my favorite television shows, each of which is a reflection of a part of myself that I was stunned to see beamed back at me from that brightly glowing screen. Great TV doesn’t just seep into your skin; it was there to begin with, just waiting to be found. It may seem strange for me to claim that Hannibal, an operatic horror show about a cannibalistic serial killer and the tormented, half-mad profiler he tries to drag down into Hell with him, could sit alongside other such shows, that it reflected something in me. Yet I have stared into the void, and Hannibal is a part of what’s looked back at me.
The show is a great piece of horror for the fact that, beyond its shadowy settings, macabre murders, ceaseless brutality and outsized killers, it registers real human fear. The best horror is never about the monsters, but rather about the real life terrors they represent. Hannibal Lecter isn’t scary because he is coming to eat you. He’s scary because of the way he can turn your own mind against you. He’s scary because evil is seductive, because nihilism has its allure, because all he needs is a conversation to tear your life apart. We all have those buttons that, once pressed, can never be fully reset. We all have weaknesses that can be exploited for others’ ends, preyed upon by the right opportunist. Any of us could fall into Hannibal’s sway and become, if not a murderer, then at least a darker, more damaged version of ourselves. This is the tragedy “The Wrath of the Lamb” underlines with its final moments. Will has passed through the looking glass and can never really go back. He has seen too much of the darkness of the world to ever find his happy ending. The bluff is eroding, and all of this must be lost to the sea.
It is impressive that “The Wrath of the Lamb” works so well as both a series finale and a capper to the Red Dragon arc. The show shifts a lot of the particulars of the book’s climax, all to brilliant effect. The way Will plays everyone against each other to get Hannibal released, the way it brings Will, Jack, and Alana back into the same alliance they were in way back in “Mizumono,” yet with all of them forever changed by what has occurred in the interim. The beautiful, epic sweep of Siouxsie Sioux’s “Love Crime” as Hannibal, Will, and Dolarhyde fight to the death. That final fight is a thing of breathtaking beauty, perhaps never more so than in the shot that finds all three men stumbling, struggling to regain their footing, seeming to understand, for the moment, that this is a struggle of epic proportions, that in this moment, they are all the legends they believe themselves to be. Dolarhyde is finally the Dragon. Will Graham is, at long last, the Dragon Slayer. But he learns something in that moment that he knew the moment he agreed to leave Molly and Walter to help Jack Crawford catch a killer. He can never go home again.
I never expected this episode to work as a series finale, especially not as well as it does. This was filmed with the knowledge that cancellation was possible, even likely, but not with any level of certainty that this was the end. And yet, Hannibal and Will embrace on that cliff, each looking happier than we have ever seen them, and Will pulls Hannibal over the edge. He can’t live with him, but he can’t live without him. He’ll never have to look Molly in the eyes and see himself murdering her. He’ll never have to worry about Hannibal gnawing at the edges of his brain, waiting in a cell somewhere for the day Will Graham will come to call and fall back under his thumb. The post-credits scene can be read two ways: obviously, should the show have been renewed, it would have indicated that Lecter survived that fateful leap and came for Bedelia. But existing, as it does, as a post-script for this series, I can’t help but think about Bedelia’s haunted, exalted expression and wonder about whether she did this to herself in her desperation and fear. She was, after all, as deeply infected by Hannibal as Will, and with the knowledge that he would be coming for her, there’s a terrifying clarity to the idea that she should simply prepare herself for his arrival. Death comes for us all, and in the end, Bedelia seemed prepared to meet it with grace, even if she also seemed reticent to go without a fight.
I loved Hannibal deeply for the way it examined the darkness at the heart of mankind with such honesty and grace. This show never shied away from brutality, nor did it cheat with regards to the effects witnessing these evils would have on its characters. Hannibal wounded them again and again (in the case of Frederick Chilton, it did so literally, in what will certainly go down as one of the darkest runners in television history), and then it dared to look straight at those wounds and wonder whether they could possibly heal. We’ve talked a lot this season about what makes Will Graham a hero, but he has always been a tragic one, marching forward with a lurking knowledge that he was never headed towards a happy ending. Will’s heroism was looking into the void and straining to see enough to keep it from consuming everyone around him. He couldn’t keep it from consuming himself. When Will speaks to Reba in the hospital, he tells her she saved lives by falling for Francis. It doesn’t seem to comfort her much, but then, it has never done Will much good to do good either. That isn’t why he does it. That’s not why good exists to be done.
Will Graham has seen nothing but pain, misery, and madness for all of the good he has done in the world. He has been maimed, physically and psychologically. He has seen friends and loved ones killed before his eyes. He has taken lives, and imagined taking countless more. Yet he has saved lives, and in his final act (this being a series finale, I will read this as such until further notice), he doesn’t just save Hannibal’s future victims, he saves himself. Throughout Hannibal Will Graham has been a candle in a world without light, a glimmer of hope in a ceaseless void. Will Graham stands against the darkness, the evil, the bleak absurdity of it all and dares to hope there is a better way. More than that, he dares to try to make that way a reality, with every step. Will stands teetering on the edge of the abyss and struggles mightily against the fall. That it comes for him cannot be seen as a defeat, lest we view all of our lives as fighting a losing battle. That he stood for as long as he did and in the way that he did is the greatest success imaginable. The same, in the end, is true of Hannibal.
- “I wish I could have trusted you. I wanted to trust you. You felt so good.”
- “I drew a freak.” “You didn’t draw a freak. You drew a man with a freak on his back.”
- “I was rooting for you, Will. It’s a shame. You came all this way and you didn’t get to kill anybody.”
- “When life becomes maddeningly polite, think about me. Think about me, Will.”
- “Will. Was it good to see me?” “Good? No.”
- “Your face is…closed to me.” “If I can see you, you can see me.”
- “Why in God’s name would anyone want to meet Hannibal Lecter?” “Well, to kill him, Jack.”
- “Decisions are made of needed feelings. They’re more often a lump than a sum.”
- “Who holds the Devil, let him hold him well. He won’t be caught a second time.” “I don’t intend for Hannibal to be caught a second time.” “Can’t live with him, can’t live without him. Is that what this is?” “I guess this is…my becoming.”
- “You’ve just found religion. Nothing more dangerous than that.”
- “I’d pack my bags if I were you, Bedelia. Meat’s back on the menu.” “You righteous, reckless, twitchy little man. You might as well cut all of our throats and be done with it.” “Ready or not, here he comes.”
- “You were never comfortable in your own skin, Frederick. You wouldn’t be comfortable in Hannibal’s.”
- “Any rational society would either kill me, or give me my books.”
- “You died in my kitchen, Alana. When you chose to be brave. Every moment since was borrowed. Your wife. Your child. They belong to me.”
- “We kill Dolarhyde. And then, we kill Hannibal.” “Give the Devil his due.”
- “I believe that’s what they call a mic drop. You dropped the mic, Will.”
- “You know, Will, you worry too much.”
- “Going my way?”
- “The bluff is eroding. There was more land when I was here with Abigail. More land still when I was here with Miriam Lass.” “Now you’re here with me.” “And the bluff is still eroding. You and I are suspended over the roiling Atlantic. Soon, all of this will be lost to the sea.”
- “My compassion for you is inconvenient, Will.”
- “Save yourself. Kill them all.” “I don’t know that I can save myself. Maybe that’s just fine.”
- “No greater love hath man than to lay down his life for a friend.”
It is impressive that “The Wrath of the Lamb” works so well as both a series finale and a capper to the Red Dragon arc.