Peace in the Pieces Disassembled: Deconstructing Hannibal, part III

III. Folie à deux

In the first part of this deconstruction (I. When Hannibal Fed Will’s dogs) I promised to write a few things on Hannibal’s true motives. For this part of the analysis it is crucial that we all concur that Hannibal is a very intelligent, multilayered, complex character.  Hannibal’s motives must never be too apparent. He should always be a  riddle, wrapped up in a mystery, inside an enigma. Otherwise, he will become ordinary;  even worse, he will become boring.
The audience should never relate. Hannibal must always feel  alien to us.  There is a supernatural element in the series  that is exaggerated the closer Will gets to Hannibal. In the finale of the fist season, when Will finally “sees” Hannibal, the supernatural element reaches its peak: Will’s hallucinations turn Hannibal into a Wendigo.


The bullroarer‘s (i.e. a ritual musical instrument used in the Dionysian Mysteries) sound evokes terror because it feels like something archetypically  supernatural, alien , otherworldly; if Hell exists, this is its soundtrack.  We aren’t supposed to know Hannibal’s true face. Instead,  we are presented with this mythical representation of id, (for a discussion of the freudian psychic structures –id, ego, superego- in “Hannibal” check out the second post II. What would Freud say?).  It seems that every time the audience gets closer to understanding, “seeing” Hannibal, the show swiftly breaks this connection by adding supernatural elements, trying to alienate us from the character as much as possible.
Hannibal is always steps ahead of both Will  and the audience; he  has numerous motives for every move  he makes, intricate strategies and backup plans to fall on in case something goes wrong. His own admission to Abigail in Relevés, that he only wanted to satisfy his curiosity, sounds true, yet a bit simplistic. I propose that his true motives  are much more complicated than that, and that they might  be hidden not only from the audience, but from Hannibal himself.

I believe that the most important key that unlocks Hannibal’s mysteries –Hannibal here refers to both the character and the show- is the need for social inclusion and human contact, understanding and acceptance. It seems that even Hannibal, an alleged sociopath, cannot escape the need to belong to a greater whole. In the scene where Alana starts to explain to Abigail the term “Folie à deux”, which translates to “madness shared by two”, Hannibal defines madness in a way that highlights his own need to belong, his wish to share his  unique way of experiencing the world with another human being, and, most importantly, his own loneliness.


“One cannot be delusional if the belief in question is accepted as ordinary by others in that person’s culture, or subculture, or family.”

  He says that one is not mad if another person sees the world like one does. Therefore, madness shared by two is not madness, not really. If Hannibal finds someone who can understand him, not necessarily a serial killer, or a cannibal, like himself, but someone who can see the world through his eyes, empathize, and accept him for whο he is – which is a very sane person, actually- then Hannibal will fit this (his) definition of sanity. And that’s why he keeps playing this chess game with Will Graham, despite knowing that Will’s empathy will bring his demise. Because Will’s empathy is also his only chance to “share his madness”. It might be difficult for the audience to comprehend Hannibal’s need for social inclusion,  because we are used to serial killers being psychopaths and sociopaths. But, in Bryan Fullers’s own words ““Lecter is not a psychopath because he experiences regret, not a sociopath because he experiences empathy; he’s a complete work of fiction”.  

I would speculate that his need for social inclusion is not conscious to him at first. Hannibal’s adventure starts out of sheer curiosity at what the little chess pieces will do under certain circumstances.  But his true motives manifest as early as his first scene with Will in Apéritif.   Their first common appearance is a perfect example of how complex Hannibal’s reasoning is and how multiple his motives are.


“This cannibal you have him getting to know…
I think I can help good Will see his face.”

This can be translated in at least three distinct ways.

1. I think I can help good Will see this cannibal’s (Garett Jacob Hobbs’) face.

2. I think I can help good Will see his own face.

3. I think I can help good Will see this cannibal’s (my) face.

 Apart from it being a perfect example of how Hannibal’s reasoning is often too complex for the audience, it is also a perfect example of how early Hannibal’s need for social inclusion kicks in. He wants Will to see and accept him for who he is, because he needs to be able to define himself as a sane person.  His need for social inclusion  is also manifested in his relationship with Abigail. He wants Will to be his friend and Abigail to be his  daughter. He sees in these two people the opportunities for friendship and family, and that is what drives him.

I’ d like to point out here that Will is not the only opportunity for friendship that Hannibal comes across during the first season. Tobias wants to be his friend, too. And he is the obvious choice since he is already a serial killer.  But, Hannibal wants a certain kind of man to be his friend. He wants someone who can empathize and connect with him on a deeper level. He wants someone who is as socially excluded as he is. After all “Folie à deux ” is most commonly diagnosed when the  individuals concerned live in proximity and are socially or physically isolated and have little interaction with other people. Will is isolated because his empathy makes it difficult for him to make meaningful relationships. And Hannibal may enjoy the respect and admiration of his peers, but that is only because no one sees his true face.


Hannibal: At a time when other men fear their isolation, yours has become understandable to you. You are alone because you are unique. Will: I am as alone as you are.

Moreover, Hannibal wants someone who is humble, submissive. “Folie à deux” is usually a “Folie imposée“, meaning that a dominant person (known as the ‘primary’, ‘inducer’ or ‘principal’) initially forms a delusional belief during a psychotic episode and imposes it on another person or persons (known as the ‘secondary’, ‘acceptor’ or ‘associate’) with the assumption that the secondary person might not have become deluded if left to his or her own devices. Tobias is rude, arrogant, domineering. He fits perfectly in Hannibal’s “would like to murder and eat” list, not the “would like to be friends and share my madness with” one.

2013-06-25 18.20.30

“But I don’t want to be your friend.”

Hints of Hannibal’s desperate need for social inclusion can be found throughout the series:

a) In Apéritif there is a reference to Hannibal’s research on Social Exclusion, “Evolutionary Origins of Social Exclusion”, which should be considered a very early clue to Hannibal’s true motives, if my analysis is correct.  The delectable Dr. Lecter would only research a field he has a profound fascination with.

b) The phone call in Apéritif could be considered an unconscious effort at helping another cannibal. Yes, he was curious to see how things would unfold and observe Will in the field (what scientist wouldn’t want that?)  but he also says “This a courtesy call.”, which implies that he felt a certain sense of obligation towards this person who shared his madness.


c) His insistence that  he and Will are alike. “You and I are just alike. Problem free. Nothing about us to feel horrible about.”

And his offer for friendship so early on in the game.


“Or we could socialize like adults. God forbid we become friendly.”

I would speculate that here Hannibal thinks he is just manipulating Will, trying to build up a rapport that he will later use to his advantage in their psychotherapy sessions, but in reality, his true motive (i.e. seeking a friend) manifests.

d) His admiration for Will’s empathy.

2013-06-25 19.09.59

Will: Maybe he admires their ability to connect, the way human minds can’t. Hannibal: Yours can.

e) The sheer joy when he watches Will dissect the way Hobbs’ copycat thinks, and hears him praise the copycat for elevating Hobbs’ crimes to Art.

2013-06-25 19.21.56

“He had intimate knowledge of Garrett Jacob Hobbs’ murders, motives, patterns—enough to recreate them and, arguably, elevate them to art”

2013-06-25 19.23.55

… and his disappointment when Will fails to understand that rudeness is cruelty.


f) The reenactment of Abigail’s breakfast with her parents.

2013-06-25 18.42.09

“What do you see Abigail?”

2013-06-25 18.42.20

“I see family.”

On first viewing this scene seems to be just about manipulation and psychic driving so that Abigail will come to transfer her feelings for her Father to Hannibal. But on closer inspection, you can see Hannibal’s need to guide a young person through life, too. At first, he uses Alana as the surrogate mother in his perverted version of a family. Later, he will use Will himself.

2013-06-25 18.38.32

“Who knows Abigail better than you and I? Or the burden she bears? We are her fathers now. We have to serve her better than Garett Jacob Hobbs.”

2013-06-25 18.38.24

“We can tell no one… What you are doing is the right thing.”

h) In his own sessions with Bedelia, Hannibal will come to fully realize his motives.


i) His disappointment at Will’s failure to achieve true becoming


“If you followed the urges you kept down for so long, cultivated them as the inspirations that they are, you would have become someone other than yourself.”

… followed by a glimpse of hope, when he realizes that Will is about to shoot him.


In the end, Hannibal  succeeds in all three goals. Will sees all three faces. He sees  Hobbs’ face with the help of Dr. Lecter in Aperitif. He sees his own face,  the face of a killer, the moment he  decides that he must kill Hannibal.

But most importantly he now sees Hannibal’s true face.



“See? You see?”

Is Will going to accept it, like Hannibal wants him to? Probably not.

But it’s sure worth a try…


*If this was an academic essay I would have used proper bibliography for the psychological definitions. But since it is  only a blogpost I used wikipedia’s definitions.  


5 thoughts on “Peace in the Pieces Disassembled: Deconstructing Hannibal, part III

  1. You are blowing my mind here! Thank you so much for taking the time to write these posts. What a resource it will be for all of us others also writing about the brilliance of Hannibal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s