Whoop boop. Today I’m looking at one of NBC’s Hannibal again! Major spoilers and somewhat gory content ahead.
The show is very much about the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and FBI agent Will Graham, both of whom have very unique perspectives. Their distinctness makes both of them outsiders in everyday life, and upon meeting each other both men progress through Lacan’s Mirror Stages as each recognises the other as like them. The stages can briefly be summarised as recognition of one’s reflection (either literal or figurative) as being ‘me’; alienation, when one’s life experience doesn’t match up to the reflected ideal; and reconciliation, accepting the reflection as being both ‘me’ and ‘not-me’ at the same time (Benvenuto & Kennedy 1988, Walker 2015).
From the very first time he meets Will Graham, Hannibal is aware of Will’s extraordinary capacity to empathise with, and thus, reflect back the personalities of others. (Hannibal 2011) He almost immediately starts to play with Will’s ability in order to help him catch Gareth Jacob Hobbs. By committing his own murder, which superficially appears similar to Hobbs’s crimes but is “a negative” (Hannibal 2011), Hannibal provides Will with the reflection of another killer. This allows Will to identify the contrasts between the two killers and better profile Hobbs.
Hannibal’s jubilant play with his perceived reflection in Will continues until the final episode of season two. Up until this point Hannibal believes he and Will “just alike” (Hannibal 2012), and that better yet, Will is coming to believe that as well. However, in the finale this is revealed to Hannibal to be a trick, Will has been working with the FBI to get Hannibal to expose himself as the Chesapeake Ripper. Hannibal offers Will the opportunity to come clean about the deceit, but Will persists and this is when Hannibal is alienated from his reflection. Alienation occurs with the recognition that the image in the mirror, a whole and perfect ideal, does not match one’s own fragmented experience. In this episode Hannibal realises that, whatever else Will might be, he is not Hannibal. To say he reacts poorly to this news is an understatement.
Multiple bodies aside, Hannibal moves through alienation pretty quickly to begin on reconciliation. He starts with forgiving Will (by slitting their pseudo-daughter’s throat) and spends much of the first half of season three grappling with his feelings about Will and how to both forgive and be forgiven. After some false starts on Hannibal’s part (aka trying to eat Will’s brain), Will rejects Hannibal, who turns himself in to the FBI in order for Will to “know exactly where [he] is” (Hannibal 2013). At this point, he has forgiven Will and is coming to terms with the differences between them. The latter half of season three revolves more around Hannibal attempting to force Will’s own reconciliation, as Hannibal has already reached it.
Benvenuto, B & Kennedy, R 1998, The Works of Jacques Lacan: an introduction, Free Association Press, London.
Elsaesser T & Hagener M 2010, Film Theory: an introduction through the senses, ‘Cinema as Mirror: The Face and Close-up’, Routledge, New York.
Hannibal, 2011-2013, DVD, Living Dead Guy Productions, Dino do Laurentiis Company, AXN Original Productions and Gaunt International Television, Canada and Italy, developed by Brian Fuller for the NBC. Specific episodes referred to are: Season 1: episode 1 Aperitif; Season 2: episode 12 Tome-Wan, episode 13 Mizumono; Season 3: episode 2 Primavera, episode 6 Dolce, episode 7 Digestivo.
Walker, E 2015, Understanding Soundtracks Through Film Theory, Oxford University Press, USA.