Let’s get a move on. It’s already week 2 of the new chronology. We are now on to episode 9 of Hannibal season 3, and already two thirds into the Red Dragon story arc. After starting episode 9 of Hannibal season 3 with such a bang, I was curious whether both the show and Armitage in particular could keep up the expectations that had been created in 3×08 – a three-year jump in time had been successfully navigated, the Tooth Fairy had been introduced, and Hannibal and Will are established in their new environments. With my focus clearly on the Red Dragon narrative I was hoping to get to Dolarhyde’s back story, and to see the hunt for the Red Dragon start. Too bad that I have to watch the rest of the show, too 😉 because I am now getting the parts that make me feel squeamish – and bored.
For instance the Abigail storyline at the beginning of the show. Yes, I had to look away.
After watching my second episode of Hannibal I am still unclear on what I am actually watching? Is this a horror show or a psychological drama? My squeamish inability to look at the blood-letting courtesy of Abigail might point to the former, as does the visualization of the Tooth Fairy’s crime further into the episode through Will’s imagination. But there is plenty of psychology in this.
Oh, really??? *doh* And my lack of knowledge of the previous seasons and episodes is of course now biting me in the arse. What looks like a lot of boring interludes, is in fact the psychological drama that keeps Will (and other characters) tethered to Lecter. A lot of it reminds me of theatre dialogues, focussed on the conversation, pared back on action – which I do find very attractive. But with my lack of back story, it is often lost on me and turns out to bore me. I found myself impatiently waiting for Dolarhyde’s next entrance in the plot most of the time, and overall the episode left me disappointed because I subjectively felt there was not enough Armitage eye candy Dolarhyde in there.
Dialogue and Speech
And yet, I did get a few jokes and witticisms. “I love a good finger wagging”, says Alana to Lecter, who pointedly answers “You do. [Pause] How’s Margot?” I had to laugh out loud despite my poor background knowledge and only after a second’s delay, when the implications became clear. While Dolarhyde’s dialogues are directly lifted from the literary original, the dialogue between Lecter and others stems from the
naughty minds of the Hannibal writers, I presume, and little gems like that – very easy to miss in passing – make the show really good, adding a layer of sophistication by demanding the audience not just to watch, but to listen. Granted, occasionally the innuendo is unmissable – such as feisty Freddie Lounds countering Will’s complaint about her sneaking a photo of him in hospital and printing it: “I covered your junk with a box. A big black box.” But it lightens the show up for me, subtle, sledgehammer or in-between. Equally, little gems in the background reward the observant viewer with unexpected humour – such as the advert for dental hygiene on the bus shelter where Dolarhyde picks up Reba.
Moving on to the bits that *really* interested me – Dolarhyde, what else – let’s stay with the topic of speech first. In episode 3×09 we hear Dolarhyde speak (properly) for the first time. Armitage did not disappoint. He gets the speech impediment across in an extremely subtle and convincing way. I do not have any reliable experience with speech impediments, but to me it sounded believable, and not overemphasized. The troublesome sibilants are discernible, but his speech is still recognizable. What grated with me was – forgive me, dear American friends – the accent. I fully understand that Dolarhyde is American, therefore he speaks American. But Mr Brit Actor’s rhotic pronunciation of the letter/sound R just makes my toe nails curl.
Get used to it, Guylty. The man is set for a career in the US. – Yeah. Alright. But: Appeal to all American producers: Can you please cast the man as the baddie? And allow him to keep his British accent? Purlease!!!? The iconic line “Ride with me – for my pleasure”, another example of funny innuendo, lost some of its attractiveness on that score. That line is not going to make an appearance as my iPhone ring-tone any time soon. But well, I expect to get used to it, over time.
In terms of plot, while there was way too little Dolarhyde, we got a glimpse of his childhood. Dolarhyde’s childhood as the only child among many old people in his grandmother’s old people’s home (?) showed us young Francis at the dinner table – and then inserting grown-up Dolarhyde in the same setting. Grandma was sufficiently snide, and the unattractive, support-stockinged legs under the table added to the simmering feeling of repulsion. It was only a short scene, but we can already make out that Francis’s childhood was unusual, to say the least. I suppose we will get to see more of this as the story progresses. The first glimpse was rather short, imo. But maybe Fuller et al. do not want to prematurely evoke too much compassion for Dolarhyde?
What Are You Becoming?
That was basically all that was *entirely* new in terms of settings and scenes in episode 9 to expect Dolarhyde in. Much to my disappointment the scenes involving Armitage had already been spoilt by individual glimpses via this week’s and/or season trailers/film stills. This is, of course, a crux that cannot be avoided by the film makers – trailers are meant to tease, and therefore they provide a preview of the future episodes’ content. The set-up in the scene of Dolarhyde watching his murder footage therefore did not come as a surprise – the (half-?)naked compulsive killer sitting beside a film projector, scrutinizing his performance. The sexual implications – or shall we say “autoerotic titillation” – were handled very discreetly; a moan, a silhouette, the head thrown back. The book is less shy: “Now, watching in the parlor of his grandparents’ house, Dolarhyde was covered with a sheen of sweat. His thick tongue ran out constantly, the scar on his upper lip wet and shiny, and he moaned as he stimulated himself.”
But what was extraordinary in this scene was the way Armitage acts the battle between the Red Dragon inhabiting Dolarhyde’s body, and Dolarhyde’s pain (and reluctance?) at being inhabited. Once again, Armitage masterfully employs his body to convey emotion. Watching the footage, Dolarhyde is seized in pain/lust, his claw-like hands involuntarily tensing, reminiscent of the contracted hand musculature of cerebral palsy sufferers. This is clearly Dolarhyde the man, and not the beast (yet). That becomes clear when he suddenly transforms, his back straight, a mad, dead glint in his eyes, still in pain, but inhabited by an alien force. The details of the scene were stunning – the tendons of Armitage’s neck standing out in terrifically aesthetic symmetry (very reminiscent of the Blake painting of the Red Dragon), the claw seizing over his shoulder, even the cries of pain. A painful transformation, not just mentally, but physically, in the contortions of the body, and a scene that evokes massive compassion in me for Dolarhyde.
I had the impression he was not volunteering for the transformation but that his body was taken over by the Red Dragon against his will. He was fighting the beast, rather than welcoming it. What are you becoming, Francis??? In any case, this was a powerful performance with very deliberate choices on how to portray the process of Dolarhyde being physically inhabited by the Red Dragon. Supposedly, the dragon tail that snakes behind Dolarhyde’s back at the end of this scene, is meant to be the visual representation of the Red Dragon. Unfortunately I found this little fantasy element a little bit too “fantastic” (I laughed out loud) but I suppose it fits with the stag imagery that has previously been used on Hannibal.
The body language that Armitage has invented for Dolarhyde is consistent and consistently well executed. It’s in the little details, such as the delay and deliberateness of his movements in the canteen scene where Dolarhyde reads the Tattler and touches the image of Will. The hand gesture when he wipes the ink off his finger is freakily delicate – or delicately freaky? It’s another manifestation of Dolarhyde’s otherness, his weird, almost subliminal reverence, and Armitage has a way of bringing it across with nuance and sensitivity.
Enter Reba McClane
In terms of serving fangirl desires, the then following first encounter between Dolarhyde and Reba ticked many boxes, and started on a nerdy high for me (a close-up of the developing process), although the appearance of the nervous eye lash flutters on Dolarhyde as he enters the room disappointed me. Cute on any other chaRActer. On Dolarhyde, who has been so efficiently and believably characterized in his insecurity by a rigid posture, it seemed inconsistent. And the voice – so deep, so rough, so croaky, so not-Armitage. *pouts*
Ok, snap out of it, Guylty – this is not a fluffy, chocolate-voiced alpha but a dark and dangerous killer. On the plus side, the half darkness suits Dolly extremely well, as does the tight t-shirt that was a welcome change from the high-fitting, buttoned-up collar and other nerd uniforms. Superficialities aside, more superb acting here with Dolly’s body language taking Harris’s details on board – the insecurity of Dolarhyde who habitually tries to hide his hare’s lip by crossing his arms over his chest and placing his thumb over his lip. The most touching moment is when Dolly realizes that Reba is blind – that he can let his guard (and his thumb) down because she won’t be able to judge his appearance or his facial deformity. Beautifully done by Armitage. And by Rutina Wesley, who is pretty and calm in her first appearance as Reba.
She nicely holds her own against Armitage – not an easy feat when paired with a character that is portrayed with such a wide range of differing emotions. She manages to convey the warmth, intelligence, confidence and humanity of Reba – the contrast to Dolarhyde could not be starker (and in some ways I thought the makers of Hannibal were driving the contrast home a little bit too much, from the way the two characters are styled to the actual choice of actors and the way they use their voice. The glow of Reba’s dark skin vs. Dolarhyde’s pale ghostlyness; her white top and cardigan vs. Dolarhyde’s dark anorak; the eloquence of the blind woman vs. Dolarhyde’s communication through grunts; her floating movements vs. his mechanical moves; her sophistication vs. his rough unculturedness…) It all climaxes when Reba eventually reaches out to touch Dolarhyde’s face. The expressions that run over Armitage’s face are descriptive, evocative. It’s just a split second, but they’re all there and they act like a visualized stream of consciousness: From initial alarm and fear that the woman will see him (with her hands) for what he is, to the wonder of the realization that she poses no threat but actually offers warmth. Dolarhyde appears to be acutely alive for one moment – has he felt the redemption and escape that Reba represents? But the next second he is back to his slo-mo rigidity, back behind his armour, captured by the dark influence of the Red Dragon who is poisoning his thoughts with suggestions of mutilation. The master of micro-acting delivers another lesson. And it’s over so fast, you almost miss it.
Reba supposedly does not have the benefit of seeing this – and yet I am surprised she doesn’t sense the darkness and danger that emanates from the animal that she has invited to her table. The grunts, the shovelling of food and the noisy eating are one thing. But the grunting and his monosyllabic communication is really scary to the point of getting lost in overemphasis. In that sense I did not buy Reba’s trust, especially when Dolarhyde reassures her that he is smiling: You can hear in his voice that he is not. Or is he creepily smiling inside, considering to bite off her fingers?
The episode ends on the transition to the next part of the game: Dolarhyde gets in touch with Lecter, asking for his attention and his favour. So far, so good, although I think the show did not do well in changing the original method of communication – via letter – to a phone call. “Your lawyer wants to talk to you…” – yeah right, as if calls aren’t vetted and anybody can simply dial Lecter’s number for a bit of phone
sex eh chit chat. So, ugh – no. No. I didn’t buy the emotions that were conveyed in the conversation, with Dolarhyde starting the conversation strong and confident, then deteriorating to an appealing, emotional, down-right weak whine. That, to me, was not consistent with Dolarhyde’s confidence and desire to be acknowledged by Lecter, and neither did it fit with his self-awareness in terms of his speech problems – phone calls to the master when hampered by a speech impediment? Unlikely.
As for the very last lines – “Tell me, what are you becoming?” “The — Great — Red — DRAGON!” (in husky, over-articulated, extra-pathetic voice) – well, oh *fuck*! And I said that out loud. That was corny and overdone, and entirely unnecessary when one has such a great voice actor on hand. For a show that has some great details, consistently convincing actors and witty dialogue, that was out of line. Subtlety is something else.
But let’s keep an open mind. The post-mortem for episode 3×10 has just been released.
Eh – forgive me, but doesn’t a *post*-mortem occur after the event? What’s with releasing this pre-air date??? And in between the talk we get to see plenty of Dolly-Reba action. 3×10 promises to be a feast for the sensitivities. Prepare to be touched and scared. [Contains major spoilers but fantastic visuals]
Previous episode review: