Some weeks, ‘Hannibal’ feels closer to performance art than a network crime drama. Scored with liberal use of orchestral music, filled with haunting and mysterious imagery, and featuring impeccable set and costume (and food!) design, episodes like “Sorbet” and “Fromage” were as beautiful as they were haunting.
This week’s episode went a different direction. Accompanied by a toned down score and featuring just one of the fancy dinner scenes that have fast become ubiquitous with the show, “Trou Normand” started as many network crime dramas do: with a pile of bodies.
Of course, on no other show are those bodies disassembled and reconfigured into a hideous totem pole, but hey, what do you expect? The early scenes of “Trou Normand” felt like a straight-ahead police procedural, something that ‘Hannibal’ has almost entirely avoided to this point. It’s not that I was worried, just curious why the series would move away from the style that worked so effectively the previous two weeks.
And then, as the episode unfolded, so to do the intentions of the show. The case gradually took a backseat, marginalized by powerful scene after powerful scene of dialogue involving some configuration of Will, Jack, Hannibal, and Abigail.
By the 45-minute mark, the human totem pole was all but forgotten. The case wrapped up in terse and no-frills fashion, with the killer confidently confessing to Jack and Will, only to have the rug out from under him by the latter.
This wasn’t played as a triumph, though. It didn’t even occur in the final 10 minutes of the hour, which were reserved for the truly important material.
“Trou Normand”, which looked like a crime procedural at the start, ended up subverting the entire genre. Audiences accustomed to the familiar rhythms of ‘Criminal Minds’ or ‘Law & Order’ would expect a more satisfying conclusion, but in just the handful of episodes that have aired, ‘Hannibal’ has taught its audience that the real story goes far beyond the case.
In this episode, the real story was Will and Hannibal’s relationship to Abigail Hobbs, daughter of Garrett Jacob Hobbs, the serial killer that Will shot in the premiere. Reporter Freddie Lounds – who appears to have been mercifully tuned down since her last appearance – approaches Abigail with a book deal, which Abigail agrees to. Will and Hannibal know this is a bad idea, and try to talk her out of it. They feel responsible for the now-fatherless girl, a feeling that this episode masterfully explores.
Meanwhile, hard-charging Jack Crawford feels something about Abigail too, but it’s not sympathy. The body of Nicholas Boyle, the boy who Abigail killed and Hannibal helped her hide, is discovered. Despite Alana’s stern protests, Jack brings Abigail in to ID the body, but really to question her. Abigail holds up, but the questioning is tough and puts Jack and Alana at odds.
One of the many great things about ‘Hannibal’ is that the morality of the show occurs is anything but black & white. Alana is clearly the sympathetic figure in this dispute; Jack is forcing a young girl to stare at a mutilated corpse while he asks her pointed questions. But Alana is also wrong, and Jack’s instincts that Abigail killed Nicholas are ultimately correct (though it was in self defense, not cold blood).
That point is crucial going forward, because once Will gets a chance to examine the body in his own particular way, he quickly assesses that Abigail did in fact kill Nicholas. He brings this information immediately to Hannibal, who for once tells the entire truth, revealing what happened on that night and why he helped Abigail hide the body. Will, so protective of Abigail, reluctantly agrees to keep their secret.
This sets up a family dynamic between Will, Hannibal, and Abigail, which is overtly discussed by a rather eager Hannibal. The real mystery of this season is what Hannibal Lecter’s true intentions are for building these relationships. Does he genuinely value companionship, or is there a bigger scheme at work?
But the episode’s bombshell reveal was saved for last. Ostensibly in the clear as far as FBI suspicion goes, Abigail tearfully reveals to Hannibal that she was a willing participant in her father’s murders, and that she knew everything. This floored me – but not Hannibal, who embraces her and had been patiently waiting for her to make this admission.
“I know what monsters are,” Hannibal tells Abigail. “You’re a victim. And Will and I, we’re called to protect you.”
How sincere that statement actually is will drive the second half of this season. With ‘Hannibal’, it’s not about the cases, it’s about the characters. And it’s fantastic.