I believe that is what is called a mic drop?
Hannibal wrapped things up in a brilliant, emotionally jarring finale (and rest assured, it is in execution a finale) that challenged our audience expectations for a Hannibal Lecter story, our expectations for a series/season finale, and our expectations for what kind of story could be told about a man who kills and eats people.
Perhaps I’m being overzealous with my words, but this is the kind of show that tends to provoke such reactions — so reaching and so grandly ambitious that one can hardly believe it’s being broadcast on television for all to see, let alone from the same network as Last Call with Carson Daly, the twenty-years-later return of Coach, and something called Food Fighters, of which further investigation I refuse to take.
So what was it all about? These 39 hours (or so) of television? These bloody murder scenes and gory tableaus of flesh and bone? What did it all mean — why did we tune in week after week, or fork down money for an Amazon Prime subscription? What the hell was this story about, this story that Michael Mann, Jonathan Demme, Ridley Scott, and, um, Brett Ratner, have all taken a stab at, and yet we apparently needed to watch yet again?
It was, as most worthy stories are, about love.
Not love as we tend to know it, or rather, recognize it. But love all the same.
It’s strange. In the past month I’ve been a part of two different weddings, both of which included the famous — and rightly so — First Corinthians excerpt. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, it’s the one that goes:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
A bit long, I know, but it is far beyond my puny powers to find fault in these words. I do think — and I overreach, but that is fitting for this show — that there is a bit more to the story, something that is unsaid in these words, yet lurks between the lines of scripture and more explicitly within the frames of Hannibal. There is another kind of love, a love that is easily-angered, that does delight in evil. This is maybe not true “love,” no, but I think that when we speak of love, we often speak of this lesser, less truthful, uglier kind of love. This is not the love of a God but the love of the man; it is man’s twisted perversion of that most holy and graceful of virtues, a cruel degrading of the elevated.
That second love is the love that leads some to hurt their objects of affection, or themselves in the pursuit of that object. It is that love that sent Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham over that cliff into the dark, consumptive deep of the Atlantic Ocean.
There is much to recap here. It’s not your basic “Boy Meets Boy” story, but more of a “Boy Meets Boy, Boy Falls in Love with Boy, Other Boy Frames Boy For Series of Murders Committed by Other Boy, Boy Gets Out of Loony Bin and Tries to Entrap Other Boy, Other Boy Flees to Italy Before Turning Himself In, Boy and Boy Team Up to Kill Very Big Boy With Dragon Obsession.”
Will Graham spent three seasons of television, and more years than that, trying to prove to himself that he was not a killer, not a murderer, that the darker Will Graham of his vision was someone he could go to, not someone he was. And for these past three seasons, Dr. Hannibal Lecter has tried to prove to his friend and sometimes pursuer that the real Will Graham was a killer. At the beginning Hannibal was covert about this, by this episode certainly he was open.
This, covered in blood, blade in hand, was what Hannibal wanted for Will all along. And in the end he was proved right, although he did not get the very final word.
The second half of Season 3 has very much been about the question of whether or not someone can change who they are. The most obvious form of this is Francis Dolarhyde, whose entire arc is the inner conflict between the two sides of who he wants to be, the man or the dragon, and which was the true self. At the beginning of this episode, I thought that Bryan Fuller and company had made the decision to show Dolarhyde the Man winning out, with substantial self-sacrifice, over the Great Red Dragon.
But in the end, the Great Red Dragon could not be subsumed by the man, and Will Graham could not, even with an amazing wife and three years of life away from Hannibal, ultimately deny his own essence, the dark core that was at the heart of Graham.
In the end Hannibal proved that to his friend, and the two were joined together, brothers in blood — I believe “murder husbands” was the term Freddie Lounds used? — and the argument was over. Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy, true equals, played these moments so perfectly, and the direction by Michael Rymer was so very fine and accomplished that every conflicting emotion was thoroughly drenched from the closing moments: the touching camaraderie, the horror of bloodshed, the confusion of where this would all end.
And in the end, it is Will who ended it, not Hannibal. Hannibal won the argument, but Will won the future. While Hannibal’s love was pure in its own way, true to itself, it denied the agency of his friend, and worse, dragged him down to the muck, to the mouth of hell. It was that degrading love that is as human as anything. For all the imagery of Hannibal Lecter as animal, devil, or false-God, he was ultimately as touched by human frailty and perversion as any of us could be. And Will chose that this degrading love, though personally fulfilling for him — look at the image of satisfaction on his face in those last minutes — was not worth its own survival, that it was ultimately poisonous to the good Will and the good world that Will desired to be a part of.
And he chose to end that love, to send himself and his love plunging to their presumptive deaths rather than continuing to deform the world through their destructive love.
Perhaps there is more to the story. There would have been no post-credit stinger scene if Fuller thought the story ended completely with the fall onto the rocks. But those scenes, and the overall arc of the love story, the twisting-turning tango of the G-Man and the Cannibal, have cast such an enormous shadow over all the rest of the story that anything that comes before or after will have to be seen through that shadow.
And whether or not the stars align for a Season 4, or a wrap-up movie, I can count myself satisfied that there was a story told, from start-to-finish, in these 39 episodes. It was a story of weakness and strength, of urge and control, of man and demon, of good and evil, of light and darkness, of life and death, of knowledge and mystery, and of love.