Peace in the Pieces Disassembled: Deconstructing Hannibal, part IV

IV. The Sessions

i. A Dull Ache

“Being alone comes with a dull ache, doesn’t it?” , asks Franklyn in one of his sessions with Dr. Lecter. Hannibal replies with a simple “It can”. He will later comment further on the subject, when he tries to persuade Will that he is a killer. “At a time when other men fear their isolation, yours has become understandable to you. You are alone because you are unique.”

Loneliness is a key theme in “Hannibal”, one that runs throughout the series. In the third part of this analysis we touched the subject of loneliness, by means of a discussion on introversion, social exclusion, and the psychiatric term “folie à deux”,  defined by Hannibal as one’s need to share one’s madness with another person, in order to feel socially included and, therefore, sane.

In “Hannibal” loneliness is always painful. It is painful for Franklyn, the dumb, needy, submissive guy, who is attracted to psychopaths and wants to save Michael Jackson. It is painful for Will, the introvert empath who so easily gets into serial killers’ heads and so desperately wants to get out of his own. It is painful for Abigail, the victim; the witch; the lure. It is painful for Georgia, the girl who can’t see faces and  thinks she is dead. It is painful for Alana, the woman who can’t get emotionally intimate because she thinks too much. It is painful for Tobias, the arrogant psychopath, who kills without a moral compass or remorse. It is painful even for Hannibal, the Devil,  who is simply curious to see what it is like to wind good Will up and watch him go.

But in order to fully comprehend how loneliness affects people in “Hannibal”, we must first examine the use of transference and countertransference in the series, for it is through these instances of transference/countertransference that we can really gauge the ache that comes from being alone. For those not familiar with the psychoanalytic terms,  here are some simple wikipedia definitions:

In a therapy context, transference refers to the redirection of a patient’s feelings for a significant person to the therapist. Transference is often manifested as an erotic attraction towards a therapist, but can be seen in many other forms such as rage, hatred, mistrust, parentification, extreme dependence, or even placing the therapist in a god-like or guru statusCountertransference[10] is defined as redirection of a therapist’s feelings toward a patient, or more generally, as a therapist’s emotional entanglement with a patient.

ii. Transference

In “Hannibal”  transference is mostly used by Dr. Lecter as a means of manipulation and psychic driving. He constantly manipulates others into transferring their emotions for significant others to himself in an effort to build a rapport with them, and win their sympathy, admiration, and trust.

Let’s take a look at some instances of transference in “Hannibal”:


Hannibal - 01x01 -

The most obvious, almost textbook,  form of transference in “Hannibal” is Franklyn’s transference towards Dr. Lecter. I would argue that this “textbookness” of Franklyn’s transference is purposeful. It serves as a mirror for other characters’ transference, most notably Will’s transference to Hannibal, and Hannibal’s transference to Bedelia; it makes it easier for the audience to spot transference in those characters as well. It is also the only instance of transference towards Hannibal that is not encouraged by Hannibal himself.

We never really learn if it is parental feelings that Franklyn transfers to Hannibal, but we can pretty much fill in the blanks by assuming that it is his feelings for a parent, feelings like admiration, dependence, and fear of rejection and abandonment, that Franklyn transfers to his therapist. We will soon learn that Franklyn has a propensity for being terrified by and at the same time attracted to dominant authority figures. Notice, for example, his first reaction to Jack.

Hannibal - 01x01 -

When Franklyn sees this tall, domineering figure, he shrinks.

Hannibal - 01x01 -

His relief that the FBI agent does not want to talk to him is evident.

Franklyn is attracted to psychopaths. He transfers his emotions to therapists easily. That is why he keeps getting these referrals from one therapist to another. Because when transference occurs, and the patient cannot shake it off, the therapist has no other alternative but to refer the patient to another therapist. His transference to Hannibal is almost erotic. He keeps pushing Hannibal to become his friend. He wants to socialize with Hannibal after office hours. He stalks him. He constantly tries to find common interests, when it is obvious that they have none.  His transference is also evident in visual cues like:

Body language: Franklyn is always seated on the edge of his chair, he always tries to come closer to Hannibal. To touch him, even.

Hannibal - 01x07 -

Hannibal - 01x07 -

Mimitism: After a while Franklyn starts to imitate Hannibal’s style in his outfits, especially his cravats.



He  also mimics his behavior.



Franklyn’s transference reaches its peak in Fromage, when he utters those three, disturbing, little words.


“I become you.”


At first Will resists any kind of therapy. He is sick of people treating him as an exotic specimen, as something they can dissect, examine, and write their theses on. But his initial resistance to psychoanalysis

Hannibal - 01x01 -

“Don’t psychoanalyze me Dr. Lecter. You won’t like me when I’m psychoanalyzed.”

will soon give way to Hannibal’s persistent manipulation and psychic driving.

After his initial efforts to crudely -yet, successfully- analyze Will meet total resistance, Hannibal decides to take a less direct approach. It is interesting to see how in just two episodes Hannibal succeeds in getting Will from a state of total resistance to therapy, to a state of complete trust and dependence (transference).

First, he murders a girl just to help Will “see” the Minnesota shrike. Will needs a “win” and Hannibal is happy to oblige.

2013-06-25 19.22.19

“It’s like he had to show me a negative so that I could see the positive. That crime scene was practically gift-wrapped”.

This “win” gets Will in a better mood. At least good enough to open his house to Dr. Lecter when he visits him the next day.  Hannibal will offer food and friendship. He will try to establish that they are more alike than Will seems to think and he will simultaneously start alienating Will from Jack and try to win Will’s sympathy by complimenting his abilities.

Hannibal: Ever had any problems, Will?

Will: No

Hannibal: Of course you don’t. You and I are just alike. Problem- free. Nothing about us to feel horrible about.


Hannibal: I think Uncle Jack sees you as a fragile little tea-cup, the finest china used for only special guests.

Will: How do you see me?

Hannibal - 01x01 -

Hannibal: The mongoose I want under the house when the snakes slither by.

Later, Hannibal will establish himself as an authority figure, and a source of clarity, stability, security, and safety.

Hannibal - 01x01 -

Take a look at how he pushes away Will’s hands

Hannibal - 01x01 -

and takes the responsibility of saving a human life off of Will’s shoulders.

Hannibal - 01x01 -

It is no wonder Will starts to trust this guy now, is it?

Hannibal - 01x01 -

He is, after all, the guy who kept his cool when things got ugly, and saved Abigail’s life.

Will’s transference towards Hannibal takes place in Amuse-Bouche. It is visually highlighted in their positions on the set of Dr. Lecter’s office.

Hannibal - 01x02 -

At first, Will is upstairs. He doesn’t even look at Hannibal.

Hannibal - 01x02 -

During this whole scene Will looks down on Hannibal, establishing a sense of superiority towards him.

Hannibal - 01x02 -

During their next session, Will is already shaken by his first hallucination of Hobbs in the field. He can’t tell anyone but Hannibal. They are now on the same floor level, and speak as partners, and as equals, about the “mushroom killer”.

Hannibal - 01x02 -

By the end of Amuse-Bouche, Will will stop resisting therapy. He will sit on the patient’s chair of his own accord, and he will admit that he liked killing Hobbs.

I have already started an analysis on Will’s transference in the first post of this analysis, where I suggested that:

“Will’s boat engine, 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.

"Sometimes at night I leave the lights on in my little house.

“Sometimes at night I leave the lights on in my little house… and walk across the flat fields. When I look back from a distance the house is like a boat on the sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.”

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). 

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*. “

After transference occurs, Will’s trust and dependence on Hannibal  gradually become so powerful that he runs to his office whenever he feels unstable. For example, he runs to Hannibal’ s house after being rejected by Alana.


“Well, I kissed Alana Bloom.”

He later visits him with Dr. Gideon in order to establish whether he is having a hallucination or not.



Just like he encouraged Will’s transference by building rapport, insisting that they are alike, helping him find the Minnesota shrike,  alienating him from Jack, helping him save Abigail’s life, and reassuring him that what he did was right, Hannibal encourages Abigail’s transference by saving her life,  helping her hide the dead body of the man she murdered,  reassuring her that the phone call he made to her father was an honest mistake and that he will keep her secret. He also encourages her alienation from others when he says that “Home is not an option”  and he tries to build rapport by saying that they are alike, that they both made mistakes that could easily be  misconstrued. This bond of trust between them is highlighted with a visual repetition of the scene I previously described with Will.


Abigail: How did you know it was me?
Hannibal: Where were you supposed to go? Home is no longer an option. Come down from there.


Hannibal: I made a mistake, something easily misconstrued. Not unlike yourself.


Hannibal: I’ll keep your secret.
Abigail: And I’ll keep yours.

Hannibal is not subtle about encouraging the transference of Abigail’s emotions for her father to himself. The re-enactment of her last breakfast with her parents, the use of hallucinogenic drugs, constitute an all too obvious and crude method of psychic driving. But, Abigail is, after all, a child. And she is already dependent on Hannibal, because he knows her secret. So, it makes perfect sense that his method of manipulation is not subtle in Abigail’s case; it doesn’t have to be.

As far as visual cues go, Abigail’s hallucination during the breakfast scene is the most literal instance of transference depicted in the show.

2013-06-25 18.42.09

“What do you see Abigail?”

2013-06-25 18.42.20

“I see family.”


As I mentioned before it is the “textbookness” of Franklyn’s transference that helps the audience realize that Hannibal is transferring his emotions for a significant other (most probably his sister, Mischa) to his therapist.  The most important episode for transference in “Hannibal” is Sorbet. Each session mirrors another, and they all contribute to allowing the audience to get a glimpse of Hannibal’s psyche. At first we are presented with Franklyn’s almost comical transference to Hannibal.  His dependence, his neediness, his stalking, his almost erotic need to touch Hannibal make the audience feel sorry for this guy who is so weak, and dumb, and lonely that he stalks and imitates Hannibal and so desperately wants to become his friend.

Let’s take a look at the dialogue:

Franklyn: But I don’t really know who you are outside this room.

Hannibal: I’m your psychiatrist.

Franklyn: I want you to be my friend.

Hannibal: Of course you do. I have intimate knowledge of you.

Franklyn: And we like the same things. I think we would make good friends. It makes me sad that I have to pay to see you.

(pause. Franklyn sighs)

Hannibal: I am a source of stability and clarity, Franklyn. I am not your friend.

Franklyn: I’m a great friend.

Now let’s take a look at another dialogue, one between Hannibal and Bedelia:

Bedelia: I have conversations with a version of you and hope that the actual you gets what he needs.

Hannibal: A version of me?

Bedelia: Naturally, I respect its meticulous construction, but you are wearing a very well-tailored “person-suit”.

Hannibal: Do you refer to me as “person-suit” with your psychiatrist friends?

Bedelia: I don’t discuss patients with my psychiatrist friends, especially since I only have one patient, who chose to ignore my retirement.

Hannibal: A person who wears a “person-suit”.

Bedelia: Maybe it’s less of a “person-suit” and more of a human veil… That must be lonely.

Hannibal: I have friends. And the opportunities for friends. You and I are friendly.

Bedelia: You are my patient and my colleague, not my friend. At the end of your hour I will pour you a glass of wine. Nevertheless, you will be drinking it at the other side of the veil.

Hannibal: Why do you bother?

I was shocked at how much the two sessions resembled one another. Hannibal sounds almost as needy as Franklyn in his first session with Bedelia. He wants to know her outside their sessions, he wants to be her friend. His reaction to Bedelia’s rejection is almost heartbreaking.

In addition, there are many visual cues that emphasize Hannibal’s transference towards Bedelia. The most shockingly obvious one is that he has copied Bedelia’s kitchen in his own dining room – which is, in essence, his sanctuary. He has, of course, embellished a little. He has made it better, he has elevated it to Art, just like he did with Garrett Jacob Hobbs’ crime scenes.



Moreover, Hannibal mimics Bedelia’s behavior and mannerisms, the same way Franklyn imitates his behavior and mannerisms. He talks like Bedelia, and he listens to classical music because Bedelia listens to it – both facts, not speculation, since Bryan Fuller and Gillian Anderson have commented on these details in interviews. Bedelia offers him a glass of wine at the end of their session and he rushes to imitate her behavior by offering a glass of pink wine to Will during their own session. He even mimics Bedelia’s mannerisms in ways as subtle as checking out one’s watch. Take a look at how he checks out his watch in Sorbet; just like Bedelia fiddled with her watch when she felt awkward by Hannibal’s questions, Hannibal fiddles nervously with his own watch while he waits for Will.

Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 -

Hannibal - 01x07 -

Hannibal - 01x07 -



Hannibal countertransfers to -that is, gets emotionally entangled with- both Abigail and Will. His countertransference to Abigail is evident in how much it hurts him when he murders her. What started as a simple fascination, as a game, ends up being a truly traumatic experience for Hannibal. He hadn’t expected to become emotionally entangled with Abigail, but he is. And in his final session with Bedelia it is obvious that he laments losing the one chance at having a family of his own. His grief is that of a parent losing a daughter. His countertransference to Will is also evident in his sessions with Bedelia. In fact, it is so obvious that Bedelia is forced to remind him that he is Will’s psychiatrist, not his friend. “He is still your patient. If you feel the impulse to step forward you must force yourself to take a step back.”

But it is much earlier, in Sorbet, in the scene where Hannibal awaits Will’s arrival, that the audience fully realizes Hannibal’s emotional entanglement with Will. Before starting any analysis on this scene we should take a step back and remember what is being said in the scene immediately preceding this one. It is a conversation between Hannibal and Franklyn:

Hannibal: You often worry about being alone?

Franklyn: I worry about hurting. Being alone comes with a dull ache, doesn’t it?

Hannibal: It can.

Cut to Hannibal opening his office door. We hear Mozart’s Lacrimosa, part of the Dies Irae sequence in the Requiem mass. The Requiem Mass in D minor  by Mozart was composed  in 1791 and left unfinished at the composer’s death on December 5. A completion dated 1792 by Franz Xaver Süssmayr was delivered to Count Franz von Walsegg, who had anonymously commissioned the piece for a requiem mass to commemorate the 14th anniversary of his wife’s death. A modern contribution to the mythology is Peter Shaffer‘s 1979 play Amadeus, in which a mysterious messenger orders Mozart to write a requiem mass, giving no explanation for the order; Mozart (in the play) then comes to believe that the piece is meant to be the requiem mass for his own funeral.

It is also interesting to take a look at the text:

Lacrimosa dies illa Qua resurget ex favilla Judicandus homo reus. Huic ergo parce, Deus:Pie Jesu Domine, Dona eis requiem. Amen.

Which translates to:

Full of tears shall be that day On which from ashes shall arise The guilty man to be judged; Therefore, O God, have mercy on him. Gentle Lord Jesus, grant them eternal rest. Amen.

It is no wonder Brian Reitzel chose this melancholic classical piece for this scene. Because, this is the one scene where we can truly glimpse Hannibal’s profound sense of loneliness and boredom. At first we see Hannibal open his office door and look outside at an empty waiting room. He checks his watch nervously to establish that Will indeed is late for their session. Follows another shot of empty space, this time that of his office. The inclusion of these shots of empty spaces highlights Hannibal’s loneliness in a simple, economical, yet wonderful way. Hannibal collapses on his chair like a sack of meal. His anticipation,  excitement, and obvious nervousness is such that he starts looking at the telephone like a smitten 15-year-old waiting for his first date to appear through the door. He then rechecks his appointments, he sees Will’s name and the session hour and, evidently getting all the more frustrated and anxious, decides to go find him. Hannibal’s loneliness is a dull ache; an ache that is beautifully depicted in one brilliantly shot and executed scene. And it is this ache that drives him to get so emotionally entangled with Will that he risks his career, his reputation, his freedom, his life.

Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 - Hannibal - 01x07 -

7 thoughts on “Peace in the Pieces Disassembled: Deconstructing Hannibal, part IV

  1. Amazing. I hadn’t thought about the mirroring with Hannibal’s behavour and Bedelia’s. This brings a whole new level to their interactions. And thank you for the small bit of music history! You have added so much to the show!

    • In “Hannibal” you often see interactions mirror one another but in Sorbet this “mirror” thing reaches its peak. Hannibal’s behavior towards both Will and Bedelia mirrors Franklyn’s behavior towards Hannibal. Also, in his session with Franklyn, Hannibal is not really talking about Franklyn. It is like he is talking about himself, about his own loneliness and his own fascination with Will (when he asks Franklyn about Tobias). And when he questions Franklyn whether he is physically attracted to Tobias, it is like he is wondering whether he himself is attracted to Will. Actually, it reminds me a lot of a scene from the new Arrested Development season, where two male heterosexual guys are confused about their sexual orientation because they like the company of another man. These two guys don’t know what friendship is, they ‘ve never experienced it before, so they end up believing that what they ‘re feeling must be desire (since that is the only type of affection/attraction they ‘ve ever felt for another human being). Hannibal is just like these guys. He’s never had a friend before. So he can’t figure out why Will fascinates him so much. And I think for a moment there, he is actually wondering whether his feelings for Will are erotic.
      As always, thanks for your kind words. 🙂

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

  3. I have been going through your analysis and I must say that your insight truly shocks me. You have made some inferences of the characters that only become clear later in the show, in season 2 and 3. I don’t know whether you have watched season 3 finale yet so I will not spoil you the details. But the last sentence of this post “And it is this ache that drives him to get so emotionally entangled with Will that he risks his career, his reputation, his freedom, his life.” is really an accurate summary of Hannibal’s character development in the second half of season 3. I can’t imagine how you managed to predict the plot two years before season 3 comes out.

    Thanks for your effort in writing these posts! Some of your theories and deductions still applies in season 2 and 3. I only started to watch the show after season 3 ended and I felt like I understand nothing. But your posts truly helps me get into the head of Hannibal and Will, and understand their motives and developments better.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. Truth be told, these insights came from repeat viewings of the series (there are episodes that I have watched 10 times in order to fully appreciate and write this analysis) and endless conversations with friends. To be honest, bingeing 3 seasons of Hannibal is a lot to digest, so I would urge you to rewatch the series when you find the time. With each viewing you will realize that there is always something that you’ve missed the first (second/third etc) time. And yes, I have watched the finale, 3 times already, and I am going to write two more analyses on Jungian archetypes.:-)

      • I agree, I don’t start actually watching the show, until season three, so missed a lot of nuance because I didn’t pay closer attention to the first two seasons. The show has so much depth that I simply does not promote casual viewing. I’ve since watched these episodes repeatedly , some of them several times and still learn something every time.

        I’m on my third rewatch of season one, and still seeing new things.

        Thank you for your analysis. These essays are splendidly done.

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