Review: ‘Hannibal’ – ‘The Number of the Beast Is 666’: The lamb of God?

Senior Television Writer
08.22.15 30 Comments


A review of tonight's penultimate “Hannibal” coming up just as soon as I remonstrate you with “I told you so”s…

We're in the home stretch now, not only for season 3 and this “Red Dragon” adaptation, but for the idea of “Hannibal” as an ongoing series. Virtually everyone's moved on to other things (Hugh Dancy signed up for Jason Katims' new Hulu show, Mads Mikkelsen's going to be in a “Star Wars” movie), and it feels like if this version of “Hannibal” is going to have any future, it'll be as an occasional TV-movie or miniseries, if Gaumont can make the financing work.

But the show is finishing strong, finding a way to retell the very familiar “Red Dragon” story in a way that's tailored to this particular take on Hannibal, Will, and Jack, and that's had fun winking at the previous adaptations without undermining the sheer horror of what Francis Dolarhyde is up to.

Last year, for instance, the show stole an iconic “Red Dragon” moment when it made it look as if Freddie Lounds had been burned to death in a wheelchair, a fate that befell the male Freddy in the books and movies, after he had been forced to witness the Dragon's slideshow. I had wondered what this season might substitute in its place, but the only notable change is that poor Dr. Chilton suffers all of it – including perhaps the most cringe-inducing image in the life of the series: the very graphic depiction of the Dragon biting off his lips – and the second flaming wheelchair is now the Dragon paying homage to Will's earlier stunt.

The Will of the original story has the ability to think like the killers he chases, but this series has taken that a step further by showing how frequently he acts like them, up to and including his attempt to use the orderly to murder Hannibal last season. At times, he's like a lamb(*) to the slaughter, but Hannibal has been turning him into a lamb who's more predator than prey, and he's been greatly enjoying the transformation.

(*) As with the wheelchair bit last year (when the show's fate was also uncertain), all the lamb talk here felt like Fuller and company doing their best to incorporate some element of a Hannibal story they may otherwise never get to adapt.

The structure of the story has forced Hannibal to recede into the background a bit – though his pleasure at having consumed one of Chilton's severed lips before anyone could stop him was a delight – while putting the spotlight back on Will. And Hugh Dancy has been tremendous, particularly in Will's overwhelmed response to seeing the video of the Dragon's assault on Chilton. I love the idea of Will going to Bedelia for therapy; he may not like or trust her, but she's perhaps the only non-incarcerated shrink alive who can fully understand Will's experience and relationship with Hannibal. 

It's a grim collection of using and misdeeds. Jack is using Will as bait, Will in turn used Chilton to arouse the Dragon's wrath, Hannibal is having himself a dandy time manipulating all these events from behind his plexiglass wall, and even Bedelia is taking pleasure in her position as the one person who has escaped an association with Hannibal largely unscathed.

And now Reba is Dolarhyde's prisoner. This won't end well for many of the characters involved, but I have high hopes for the end of (this phase of) the series.

Some other thoughts:

* The show already once appeared to kill Chilton, only to keep him around because of his value to future stories. And the episode makes a point of showing him still alive – albeit charred, lipless and in agony – near the end. But do you think they'd really subject Raul Esparza to extensive burn makeup just to keep Chilton present if they ever get around to a “Silence” adaptation? Or has Alana largely usurped his function as the administrator playing power games with Hannibal?

* Chilton getting a look at Reba, and telling Will and Jack about her, may wind up being the way Will finds Dolarhyde in this version of things. While Reba's not a wildly uncommon name, the number of blind African-American women with the name is probably not large, and is something the FBI can cross-check pretty quickly.

* Will and Bedelia discuss the wives of Bluebeard, all of whom died save for the last, who instead inherited his fortune after he died. Who's up for a spin-off where Bedelia inherits Hannibal's mantle and methods and goes killing on her own?

* Richard Armitage and Tom Noonan don't look much alike, but when this Dolarhyde looms over Chilton, Armitage's posture and the half-mask creates the illusion that it could be the exact same man.

What did everybody else think? What are your hopes for the finale?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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