“Ethics become aesthetics” said Hannibal in “Antipasto,” the first episode of Hannibal Season 3, not long before he shaped the corpse of a curious art historian into the form of a bloody heart for Will Graham to find. The connection between grandiose murders and stylish artistry has been central to Bryan Fuller‘s grotesque series, and the anger and resentment of being unfairly criticized came to roost in “The Number of the Beast is 666,” the series’s likely penultimate episode. In essence, Will’s psychological genius makes him an ideal art critic for such creatures as Hannibal and Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage), able to empathize and understand the perspective of the most troubled killers in America. And it’s his betrayal of that code, that ability to see where the Great Red Dragon or Hannibal the Cannibal are coming from in thought, that stirs the horrifying action of “The Number of the Beast is 666.”
Unlike last week’s episode, a great deal of this episode was centered on a single major act, that being the intended baiting of the Red Dragon into kidnapping and viciously mutilating Dr. Chilton (Raúl Esparza) by Will. With the help of Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki), Will and Chilton created what is, ultimately, a bad piece of criticism for Dolarhyde, insultingly referring to him as the Tooth Fairy and suggesting that his troubles stem from incest, impotency, and embarrassing sexual confusion. And to underline the importance of aesthetics, regular series director Guillermo Navarro, who you may also know as Guillermo Del Toro‘s most trusted DP, held tightly on the taking of the photo that heads Lounds’s article in the Tattler, specifically Will’s placement of his hand. In other words, Will marks Chilton as a prime victim for the Dragon, and Dolarhyde quickly responds by biting off the not-so-good doctor’s lips and setting him on fire, but not before making certain that Chilton understands his art.
The entire sequence between Chilton and the Dragon was exemplary riff off of a key scene from Thomas Harris’s books, and whereas neither Brett Ratner‘s just-fine Red Dragon nor Michael Mann‘s Manhunter quite tapped into the reflexive notes of the story, Navarro and the episode’s writers, including Fuller, clearly did. Can one make empathetic horror films or series? Can the destruction of the human body be beautiful and thought-provoking? These questions have been rolling around on the tongue of Fuller’s series since the first season, and have become increasingly pertinent in Season 3, especially as Will seems to be entering his own becoming in the wake of the attack on his family.
At one point in the episode, Bedelia asks him the question we’ve all been wondering: Is he in love with Hannibal, as the cannibal seems to be with him? The answer, of course, is probably, but not to the point of obsession that Hannibal has grown into behind his clear cell. Hannibal’s belief in his dominion over humans, and his love for Will, who has largely refused to accept his similar dominion, are weak in that he’s turned this way of thinking into iron-clad belief, a philosophy of life. Will’s power, and arguable cowardice, is that he has only expressed this ability on rare occasions, such as in the dismembering of the young man with the beast suit in Season 2. The series clearly still has a sense of humor (see: Hannibal quickly gobbling up one of Chilton’s lips) but Will’s pent-up expressive violence seethes in each frame of “The Number of the Beast is 666,” written and edited to suggest the building up of a wild, bloody fury that, as the final episode approaches, will have to be released by Will, even if he’s not entirely prepared for what comes after.
★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television