Review: ‘Hannibal’ – ‘and the Woman Clothed with the Sun’: We are family?

Senior Television Writer
08.01.15 41 Comments

A review of tonight's “Hannibal” coming up just as soon as I'm dressed up in moral dignity pants…

“It takes two to catch one.” -Hannibal

We're now getting deep into this show's adaptation of the “Red Dragon” novel (with winks to the movies along the way, like Freddie Lounds mentioning “manhunters”), which has pros and cons.

Having a story that Fuller, Lightfoot and company want to adapt relatively faithfully imposes a structure on the show that hasn't always been there the last season and a half or so. And it's also fun to see particular moments, and hear particular lines, in this context.

At the same time, though, I came out of “and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” wondering if the Harris story necessarily lent itself to a more prolonged adaptation (with commercial breaks subtracted, these six episodes will run a little over four hours), and also whether this particular take on the characters and the world always matched up with the pieces being taken directly from the source material.

So Hannibal's complaints to Will about Will's aftershave, and about the parade of unqualified specialists who have come in to study him, are from the text (sometimes quoted directly, sometimes paraphrased), but they don't sound quite right coming out of the Mads Mikkelsen version of Hannibal, who's been painted as arrogant and dismissive of the rest of the world, but usually in a disappointed rather than bitchy way. Of course, this is a Hannibal who's spent three years in a cell being psychologically poked, prodded, and gawked at, so his feelings for the rest of humanity may have changed from benign condescension to a more curdled contempt. But based on the guy I've watched for two and a half seasons, something seemed slightly off compared to when, say, Brian Cox delivered those same insults way back in “Manhunter.”

The flashbacks to Hannibal's secret mentorship of Abigail during the events of season 2, meanwhile, did fill in some blanks in the narrative. But they largely felt like a way to give us an active and free Hannibal at a time in the narrative when he's confined to the mental hospital and on the periphery of the hunt for the Red Dragon. And the Abigail scenes are an easy way to elongate the telling of the main story, which has previously done well being adapted for the screen in roughly half the time. I like Abigail, and Kacey Rohl continues to work well opposite Mikkelsen (as she did earlier this season with Hugh Dancy), but I found myself getting a little impatient to get back to the Red Dragon arc during her scenes.

And the scenes involving and/or about the Dragon remain terrific. This week, he gets a name (Francis Dolarhyde), a job (working at a photo processing lab) and a chance to actually speak, albeit with the speech impediment that goes with his cleft palate scar. Richard Armitage is fascinating to watch alone in Dolarhyde's chamber, but even more when he's trying to fit into the waking world. Rutina Wesley, finally freed of the thankless role of Tara on “True Blood,” is terrific as Dolarhyde's co-worker Reba, displaying the warmth and directness that makes Reba as appealing to him as her blindness (and, thus, inability to see him for the freak he clearly views himself as) does.

It remains a pleasure to watch Will back in action, trying to get the Dragon's scent without getting too wrapped up in Hannibal's. And as with the return of Price and Zeller last week, Freddie's re-emergence adds yet another skeptical, human perspective to a show where many of the other characters are too caught up in the mythology of Hannibal to always be able to remark on it in more relatable terms(*).

(*) It's not a perfect analogy, but I think of how desperately the “Star Wars” prequels needed a Han Solo type who had no interest in the Force, midi-chlorians, trade agreements or any of the other things that the rest of the characters treated with such solemnity. Freddie and the lab guys each provide a bit of that other, often more humorous, perspective, and it's welcome.

That Dolarhyde has the ability to make an unmonitored phone call to Hannibal seems a bit of a stretch, but communication between the two is a part of the original story, and another way to make Hannibal seem vital even while he's behind ventilated glass. 

Some other thoughts:

* It is never not creepy and funny whenever someone on this show says “Verger baby,” as we discover that Alana carried and gave birth to her and Margot's very wealthy child. I also appreciate Alana's newfound penchant for wearing feminine versions of Hannibal's tailored suits.

* It was startling to see Will watching the home movies on an iPad. The show has never tried to be a period piece, but this story in particular is maintaining some of the more period-specific details from a book originally published in 1981, like Dolarhyde's place of employment. It's not that photo processing labs no longer exist, but that they're far more rare in this digital age. Similarly, to support Dolarhyde's love of saving his own clippings, we see that Freddie's TattleCrime website now has a glossy print spin-off magazine, which isn't generally the direction things travel in media these days.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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