The best scene to date of ‘Hannibal’ occurred about halfway through “Relevés”, the season’s penultimate episode.
A panicked Jack Crawford barges into Hannibal Lecter’s office, worried having just learned that Will Graham has run off with Abigail Hobbs. Jack came from the hospital, where he and a team of FBI agents went to arrest Abigail based on strong evidence linking her to her father’s killings. But Hannibal has a different theory – at least, a different theory that he wants to sell Jack – one which he sowed the seeds for earlier in the hour, casually planting the idea of Will having “mental illness” in Jack’s head.
The circumstances of Hannibal and Jack’s second meeting are anything but casual. A suddenly-lucid Will has pieced together more information about the copycat killer than Hannibal is comfortable with. Will knows Georgia Madchen, burned alive in the hospital at the start of the hour, was killed by the copycat after being framed for murder by the copycat last week. He strongly suspects someone in the FBI is involved, and reveals to Hannibal his intention to bring Abigail back to her home to pursue the case.
Meanwhile, Jack has been doing some digging of his own centered around Hannibal’s psychiatrist Bedelia, and is nearing the same inevitable conclusion that Will is. Like Will though, Jack can’t connect the dots quickly enough, narrowly missing the mark by believing Abigail to be the copycat.
Realizing that it’s only a matter of time before both Will and Jack put the pieces together, Hannibal uses his second meeting with Jack to set in motion the chain of events that the entire season has been building up to. Hannibal leads Jack to suspect Will, playing a snippet of a secretly-recorded therapy session to implicate Will, then using Will’s recent troubles with losing time (troubles that Hannibal actively discouraged treatment for, remember) to steer Jack towards the idea of Will as the killer. Jack falls for it hook, line, and sinker, and comes to firmly believe Will to be guilty of Dr. Lecter’s crimes.
The driving, season-long arc of ‘Hannibal’ has not revolved around a murder or an investigation. It’s been the mystery of why Hannibal Lecter has so aggressively befriended Will Graham. Why would a deeply-disguised serial killing psychopath risk spending so much time with the one man seemingly capable of catching him? Now we know. While his timeline was certainly accelerated by the events of this hour, Hannibal Lecter has intended all along to frame Will Graham for his crimes. As he did with Jack, he planted the idea in Will’s head that Will was capable of killing. He encouraged Will’s dementia, knowing it would torpedo any potential alibi. And he pushed so hard for the “family” (his word) dynamic between he, Will, and Abigail not out of loneliness or a sense of missing out on life, but for the ice-cold purpose of Abigail being Will’s perfect final victim.
You can see how Jack Crawford fell for it. Hell, even with the benefit of knowing Hannibal’s true nature, I wasn’t 100% sure that this was where he was headed. Everything in this season built up to this episode in such a subtle way that it was easy to miss that it was even happening, and “Relevés” paid it all off in simply stunning fashion, starting with that conversation between Jack and Hannibal.
So, that was the best scene of ‘Hannibal’ this season. And it held that crown proudly for about 20 minutes.
Because the episode’s conclusion, with Hannibal revealing his true nature to Abigail, was something else entirely. Abigail’s slowly-registering horror as Hannibal Lecter, with his trademark calmness, reveals his nature and apologizes in advance for murdering her was absolutely, unequivocally terrifying. Not “scary”. Terrifying. After tonight, it’s very hard (bordering on impossible) to make a case for anyone but Hannibal Lecter as the best villain on television – which is fitting, given that he’s regarded as such in cinema.
This was a remarkable hour of television as much for what it lacked as what it had. Gone was the show’s trademark gore, save for the opening scene with Georgia, which was more an epilogue to the previous week’s episode than anything. Gone were the blaring symphonies. Gone was any sense that ‘Hannibal’ relies maybe a little too heavily on its audience reacting viscerally to the material, as opposed to connecting to it on a deeper level.
What filled the void? Storytelling. Pure storytelling. Season-long storytelling and episode-specific storytelling. A masterclass in building tension through dialogue, revealing character motivations, and tying together season-long arcs. Seemingly every lingering thread – Garrett Jacob Hobbs, Abigail Hobbs, Nicholas’ murder – was tied together so subtely and masterfully that I suspect the already-excellent season as a whole will jump up a level in retrospect.
‘Hannibal’ might be on NBC, but this is a crime drama that would not only fit in on Showtime, HBO, FX, or AMC, it would be one of the better series on any of those networks. Very little has been better on television this season than ‘Hannibal’, and there were very few hours better than “Relevés”.