Peace in the Pieces Disassembled : Deconstructing Hannibal, part I

Now that I have watched Relevés and I have most of the pieces -or at least the corners- of this amazing puzzle, this totem pole of beauty and horror and awesome that Bryan Fuller created, I can finally start writing about it. The current post is the first part in a series of posts that I intend to write on “Hannibal”. These posts will rely heavily on the psychological, and, more specifically, the psychoanalytical perspective; not only because it is an important aspect of the show, but also because I feel that Bryan Fuller wants to comment on such issues as mental illness, neurosis, psychopathy, psychotherapy, social inclusion/exclusion, transference/countertransference, folie à deux, fears, phobias, mind vs body, nature vs nurture and so on. But, don’t you fret, dear reader, for I am no expert on psychoanalysis; the posts will be written in layman’s terms; simple definitions of psychological and psychoanalytic terminology will be provided when necessary.

I. When Hannibal fed Will’s dogs.

In order to follow this first part of the analysis I strongly recommend rewatching the scene from Oeuf (or Ceuf , I still haven’t figured out what the official title of this episode is) where Hannibal visits Will’s house in order to feed his dogs. I wanted to provide a YouTube link but, unfortunately I couldn’t find it anywhere. So, we will have to make do with lots and lots of screencaps, instead.

Some of you may not have watched the scene, since this episode never aired in America. I have to admit that I was shocked when I realized that the American audience had missed this one, as it is, in my opinion, the most important scene of the show. It is evident from the first episodes – and a fact that Fuller himself frequently comments on- that the first season focuses on the bromance between Will and Hannibal. This scene is literally an overview of the whole series, a brilliant portrayal of the dynamics in Will and Hannibal’s relationship, and a foreshadowing of what’s coming next. It is quite remarkable an achievement that Bryan Fuller manages to convey the essence of the show in just this one, short scene.

At first, we see Hannibal arriving at Will’s houseScreenshot_2013-06-15-09-29-49

The next shot is that of Will’s dogs; alert, still, and beautifully shot in a tableau vivant, as they sense someone out the door.

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Hannibal enters Will’s home. For a brief moment he entertains himself in an almost comical power play with Will’s dogs. He withholds their food, he teases them; and he seems quite amused with their reaction. The gesture shouts as an absolute statement of greater power status and higher intellect.

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Moreover, if we were to analyse the scene as an overview of the entire series we could say that, in the pilot episode, “Hannibal” teases the audience too, by withholding the first appearance of its protagonist. So, Will’s dogs symbolize us, as the audience. But they also symbolize us, as members of modern society. Hannibal hides his inhumanity behind one of the fundamentals of human civilization – the sharing of food. There is a hard-to-miss parallel between the dogs eating the sausages happily and the dinner guests applauding in the final scene of Sorbet

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Nothing here is vegetarian.

But Will’s dogs work best as a symbol for Will himself. Hannibal throws the dogs off his scent by feeding them sausages, the same way he throws Will off his scent by “feeding” him other murderers, misguiding tips and suggestions that Jack Crawford is manipulating him – “ A manipulative method in itself”, as Gideon very smartly remarks in the next episode. Notice that Will is often referred to as a bloodhound; Hannibal refers to him as such in the first scene of Oeuf; Alana confides in Hannibal that Jack “is grooming” Will to catch the Cheasapeake Ripper. Will, of course, is already on Hannibal’s scent, but he gets so confused by all the other scents – especially Garrett Jacob Hobbs’s -, that he never manages to actually see Hannibal for who he is. His subconscious keeps on providing clues, the most important one being the stag that preoccupies his nightmares and his hallucinations.

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The stag (or Dire Ravenstag, as most Fannibals call it) represents not just Hobbs, but both Hobbs and Lecter. We know that it represents Lecter for two reasons: a) The stag has raven feathers on. The raven, of course, is one of Hannibal’s symbols in the series. Remember that the first victim of Hannibal Lecter’s that we see on the show is being pecked at by ravens.

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b) Stating the obvious: Lecter has almost an exact same stag statue in his office. It is the one he kills Tobias with, and it is almost always seen behind Will’s or Hannibal’s head in their sessions.

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And speaking of the stag, I recently read this amazing little tidbit on tumblr . Don’t miss it!

So…

Hannibal walks over to Will’s piano.

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As @elucipher remarks in her meta analysis “Will’s home and Hannibal’s Blood  in 1.04” (which, by the way you should definitely read, along with every other post she ever made on “Hannibal”) he plays the opening notes of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring,  but quickly realizes that the piano is discordant, which makes him lose interest in it. This can be read as a simple “No, no, no!” to imperfection. But, it could also hint at something much deeper than Hannibal’s characteristic obsessive-compulsive strive for perfectionism. Hannibal examines the discordant piano that needs winding, with the same indifference and apathy that he will examine a “discordant” Will during an epileptic fit – ok, sure, a mild epileptic fit – and leave him standing there like a puppet without strings. That is  the most cruel, dehumanizing thing we have ever seen Hannibal do thus far and I can hear an echo of those discordant notes whenever I watch Will smile that grotesque smile in Rôti.

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If the discordant piano is a symbol for Will’s mind/psyche (i.e. needs winding and some new strings  in order for Hannibal to play it properly) it makes perfect sense that Hannibal’s own harpsichord (mind/psyche) will be wound perfectly later, in Fromage. After all,

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“Dr. Lecter is the sanest man I know.”

The metaphor of Will as a broken, discordant musical instrument is also highlighted in Fromage.  I will again refer to @elucipher, this time on her analysis “Will Graham’s eyes; or why Hannibal is not gratuitous murder porn”  where she explains that the establishing shot in the scene where the geek forensic scientists talk about the murder of the cellist in Fromage is focused on Will. We expect to see the corpse when the “… played him like a fiddle” quote is uttered but we see Will instead.

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“… played him like a fiddle.”

Will’s own disturbing observation

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“Had to open you up to get a decent sound out of you”

to the corpse shows two things: a) his apparent inability to control these “other” voices; voices of serial killers, voices bred by his imagination, voices that clearly start to bleed into his reality, and b) that as a true empath, whenever Will gets really aggressive toward others, it is because he projects his internal conflict. It is his own guilt and shame at being so messed up, broken, and “discordant”, like a piano that is untuned, that make him externalize his frustration. In other words, Will is the one who has to be “opened up” (through therapy) in order for Hannibal to make a decent sound out of him.

Next, Hannibal starts to look inside Will’s drawers. Oh, what joy!

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Hannibal is searching for the proverbial “dirty laundry”, for weaknesses and secrets, or simply for a better understanding of a human being that fascinates him enough to warrant playing this little game, instead of just murdering, eating him, and be done with it. This search refers to their psychotherapy sessions, where no sense of Will’s privacy will be left uninvaded. Everything will be poked, examined, scrambled. This is, of course, what psychiatrists do, and it is a healthy part of the therapeutic relationship. But the primary role of these sessions isn’t therapeutic – although I would  argue that Hannibal really wants to help Will with his neurosis-, but to provide Hannibal with information about the investigations, and most importantly, to let him search through the darkest corridors of Will’s mind.

Hannibal then takes brief note of a boat engine that is found in the living room, 

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which, as all nautical references and imagery in Hannibal, is used as a symbol for safety. You could call it Will’s safety blanket if you like. Hannibal doesn’t seem to care much for Will’s efforts to feel safe; such a feeling is not conducive to the kind of psychotherapy that he has in mind for Will. Having a “safe place” (e.g. his home, which resembles a boathouse) or a “safe activity” (e.g. repairing a boat engine) might be considered as building forts (i.e. psychological defense mechanisms,  resistance to therapy). Hannibal needs to tear down all of Will’s forts in order to achieve a psychological breakthrough. Note that the psychological breakthrough occurs when a client makes swift progress, particularly after a period of resistance, perhaps as a result of new insight. If Will is to understand and accept Hannibal for who he is, if he is to become a true friend to Hannibal, then he has to transfer all feelings of safety and security to Hannibal. Hannibal needs to break Will first, and then rebuild him in his own image.  In theory, with enough psychic driving and manipulation, Will should be able to transfer to Hannibal the feelings of being secure and safe, feelings that he had when he was around his father (i.e. transference). I am not convinced that Will’s relationship with his father was as good as he presents it to be, though. Nevertheless, transference does occur, as the following dialogue suggests:

In Amuse-Bouche Hannibal tries to discourage Will from returning to his “safe place” and manipulates him  into admitting that he liked killing Hobbs.

Will: “I should have stuck to fixing boat motors in Louisiana”

* I should have stayed where I was safe. *

Hannibal: “A boat engine is a machine, a predictable problem. Easy to solve. If you fail, there is a paddle. Where was your paddle with Hobbs?”

* This safety is an illusion, one of the many forts you’ve built. Predictable, easy for me to tear down (solve). If you were really safe then you would have had a paddle with Hobbs. *

Will: “You’re supposed to be my paddle.”

* You ‘re supposed to be my paddle. * (transference)

Hannibal: “I am. It wasn’t the act of killing Hobbs that got you down, was it? Did you really feel so bad because killing him felt so good?”

*Now that you have transferred your feelings of being safe and secure to me, I can use all the psychic driving that I want.*

Will: “I liked killing Hobbs.”

* I had an insight. I am evil. You are correct. *

*The use of transference (i.e. when the patient transfers his emotions for parent figures to the therapist) and countertransference (when the therapist becomes emotionally entangled with the patient) in “Hannibal” will be thoroughly discussed in following posts.*

Finally, Hannibal walks over to Will’s desk and fixes Will’s lure. There is nothing subtle about this, no secret symbols one can’t see on first viewing. I mean, he literally makes a lure for Will!

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The fishing lure is Abigail’s symbol in the series.

In later episodes we will learn that Abigail helped her father murder all those girls. She was the fishing bait that lured Hobbs’s victims to him. Hannibal intends to use her as a lure as well. Only this time it’s Will whom she’s supposed to lure.

In addition, by fixing the bait with such ease (he doesn’t even need Will’s magnifying glass),

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Hannibal positions himself as the alpha male, the better and stronger player in this game. But then, something odd happens.

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He pierces his finger on the hook and then licks his own blood. This is Hannibal realizing that all the misdirection, all the “baits” he’s thrown to Will, will eventually be thrown back at him and bring his own demise. He knows that if there is a person in this world that could ever match his intellect, that person is Will. Because what Will may lack in intellect, he makes up for in empathy. I may be completely off the mark here but I believe that Hannibal is genuinely afraid of Will’s empathy. He is fascinated by it, he is having a blast “playing” with it, but he knows that it will bring his demise, eventually. The licking of his own blood also alludes to the influence Will will come to exert on him through their psychotherapy sessions (i.e. countertransference). Whether intellectual or psychological, Hannibal embraces the challenge when he licks his blood. Fear must be a welcome addition to his – rather poor- template of emotions. The scene carries extra punch when later in the episode Will thanks Hannibal for feeding his dogs; we know now that he invited him into his home just like he invited him into his mind.

The only thing missing from this scene is the “Why”.

Why does Hannibal keep playing this game, if he knows that a bloody hook awaits?

Many hypotheses have been suggested. Mine will be presented in the next posts.

That is, if I survive the finale…

Special thanks to @weirdymcweirder for proofreading this!

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11 thoughts on “Peace in the Pieces Disassembled : Deconstructing Hannibal, part I

    • Thank you! I am already working on the second one. Actually I’ve been working on all these posts – I intend to write at least five – since I saw Oeuf, and have been adding things with each new episode. So, there will be plenty more!

    • I’m so glad that you liked it; and sorry for not being able to reply earlier. The kitchen scene is one of those scenes I go back again and again, and it might be included in one of my future analyses. If not, I will briefly comment on it here. But I think it deserves analysis.

  1. Pingback: Peace in the Pieces Disassembled: Deconstructing Hannibal, part II | Waiting for a TARDIS that never comes.

  2. Pingback: Peace in the Pieces Disassembled: Deconstructing Hannibal, part III | Waiting for a TARDIS that never comes.

  3. Thank you! I will definitely read the link and insert it in the post (I know it might be difficult for someone who has never heard of countertransference before). Actually, I have already started the fourth part of the deconstruction, which is an analysis on how transference and countertransference is portrayed in Hannibal. It seems to me that it the show is mostly about psychotherapy, not so much about serial killers, the crime and forensic scenes. It reminds me a lot of In treatment and Breaking Bad. The first because of the sessions, the second because of the dynamics in the protagonists’ relationship.

  4. Pingback: Peace in the Pieces Disassembled: Deconstructing Hannibal, part IV | Waiting for a TARDIS that never comes.

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