‘Hannibal’ presents its freakiest, most disturbing imagery yet

A review of tonight’s “Hannibal” coming up just as soon as I defy God, which is my idea of a good time…

“God’s not who I came here to find.” -Will

We need to talk about the deer man, okay?

Two-plus seasons into “Hannibal,” I thought I had mentally prepared myself for whatever crazy visions this show wanted to put in front of me. I thought I would be some combination impressed, amused, and horrified, but that I would ultimately take it in stride as just being part of this weird and beautiful show. I thought I was ready for anything.

I was wrong.

The deer man(*) is the freakiest goddamn image that Bryan Fuller and company (here including co-writer Jeff Vlaming and, again, Vincenzo Natali) have given us to date. Worse than the mushroom people, or the tree man, or the human apiaries. That image is the one I was referring to near the end of last week’s pre-season review, where I said I had no idea whether I should laugh, applaud or call a therapist in response to it.

(*) I asked Fuller if the creative team had come up with a name for this particular creature. He said they called the version that Hannibal made in real life “Hannibal’s broken heart,” which I guess (with some brainstorming help from Fienberg) would make the unfolded one with hooves and antlers into Hannibal’s Broken Hart.

A corpse flayed and folded into something resembling a human heart is stunning and disgusting enough, but for the thing to (in Will’s imagination, anyway) unfold itself and reform as a half man, half stag, with hooves and antlers? More than ever, I would dearly love to be a fly on the wall of that writers room as Fuller and everyone come up with these ideas. (Though my presence would likely inspire them to have a victim turned into a man-sized fly on an actual wall.)

The vision fits perfectly within the boundaries of “Primavera,” which spins the focus back to Will after last week’s Hannibal-only episode. The hour shows us, again and again, that the active, empathetic imagination that has allowed Will to understand killers like Hannibal and the Minnesota Shrike has now gone into overdrive. At one point, he suggests to the seemingly resurrected Abigail that “everything that can happen, happens,” and for this week, at least, it seems that everything that can happen is happening inside Will’s mind – up to and including Abigail herself, who of course didn’t survive having her throat slit from ear to ear(**).

(**) Part of me cringed at having to watch that segment of the season 2 finale again with the opening flashback, but mostly I was glad to be reminded of how horrifying that moment was nearly a year later, because it was the best way to put us right back in Will’s point of view. By the time he and the Abigail figment go to Italy, it’s been eight months in calendar time since the incident at Lecter’s house, but for Will, that memory is always – and will always be – right next to him.

Because the laws of both reality and physics are mutable on this show, it wouldn’t have felt that out of bounds for Abigail to be alive, but nor did it feel like a dirty trick when she was revealed to exist entirely in Will’s head. We saw him go fishing with Abigail after the last time she “died,” and we know that his imagination is how he copes with all the horrors of the life that has chosen him. In the real world, the broken teacup can’t reassemble, but Will can picture it for a little while. And the way the climax of the episode cut between Abigail going to the funeral home and Will going to the hospital – one being cut up to create the illusion of life, one to restore life – was beautiful, and worth the twist (at least, for anyone who didn’t decide quickly that Abigail wasn’t real).

And why would Will have such a vision of Abigail? Is he that consumed with guilt after again believing that he failed to protect her? Or does she the figment’s desire to still be on Team Hannibal, regardless of what Lecter has done to her in the past, represent some deep longing inside Will? Even after Hannibal gutted him like a trout and tried to kill (succeeding in some cases) all the people he cares about, might Will still feel as conflicted about his quarry as he was when he entered that house eight months ago? Might there be some sincerity to the “I forgive you,” or is it all part of his latest attempt to trap his nemesis?

Will’s journey to Italy introduces a figure from Dr. Lecter’s past in the form of Rinaldo Pazzi(***), the detective from Florence who chased Hannibal – or, as he calls him, “Il Mostro” – in his younger days. When Rinaldo describes his own failed attempt to catch his foe, we see him in the flashback not as a younger version of himself, but as Will Graham. This is, of course, how Will’s gift usually operates (even if the episode doesn’t deploy the trademark pendulum swing), but in tying the two characters together visually in this way, it also sets up a vision of a future where Will is as old as Rinaldo, still consumed with a desire to stop Hannibal, and still unable to do it. And that idea is almost as scary – if not quite as freaky or stunning – as Hannibal’s broken hart.

(***) As I think I mentioned last year when the Vergers turned up, I’ve only read “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs,” and only seen the movie adaptations of them, so characters like Rinaldo, introduced elsewhere in the Harris-verse, are new to me. As always, I’d ask you to be as vague as possible in the comments when discussing them, for the benefit of the readers who don’t know what kind of fate Hannibal (or Fuller) might have in mind for them.

What did everybody else think?