“Œuf” has an asterisk in the Hannibal canon. Scheduled to air April 25, the episode was pulled in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook massacre (the episode was filmed before the tragedy in Newtown), according to a statement by creator Bryan Fuller. Later, “Œuf” was split into web videos in an attempt to bridge any continuity gaps that the missing episode may have created. Soon after, “Œuf” was put on iTunes, Amazon and the like for interested parties.
So, is “Œuf” really that bad? Was I, or those who shelled out the couple bucks to catch it, irrevocably damaged by the image of boys killing their families? Evil children is not a new concept. Even St. Augustine thought babies were evil. Still, three months after Boston and seven months after Sandy Hook, it’s hard to judge. In the aftermath of Boston, any act of violence, even in entertainment, felt over-the-top. Curiously, “Œuf” was not included in the first run of episodes given out to critics before the began its run, and even I wondered if Fuller didn’t have cold feet about airing “Œuf” before the Boston bombings occurred. Seeing a charred child in a fireplace or an angelic little one with a bullet through her head are difficult sights to take even without the added baggage of real-life tragedy (although, in true Hannibal fashion, these were shown brilliantly. Holy cow, those maggots!). As time passes, wounds are healed and the emotional rawness of the aftermath is forgotten. Sure, holding the episode made sense at the time (I thought it was a good idea), but we’re all good now. So rather than be an episode swept under the rug in the name of good taste, “Œuf” is now a lesser episode in the first season of an excellent series.
Hannibal’s strengths from the beginning has been its subtlety. A lot of procedurals (which Hannibal certainly would have qualified as early in its run, where this episode would have landed) are not so good at the subtlety of their theme. They don’t need to be. Hell, there’s an episodic conversation in Law and Order: SVU episodes that’s akin to the Danny Tanner/lesson of the week discussion on Full House. But Hannibal has been so good at letting the inner meaning of the episode or arc slowburn. “Œuf” is not one of those episode. This one telegraphs “FAMILY!” throughout. Not only is the Molly Shannon-driven case-of-week about familial bonds (albeit fucked up ones) via created family, but so is the Hannibal-Will driven plot, as well. This is where we see Hannibal beginning to talk to Will about the surrogate fatherhood they share over Abigail. Then there is the dinner scene with Alana, Hannibal and Abigail where they sit down for a recreation of the last meal Abigail had with her real mother and father. I could go on. I shall not. Where other episodes whispered their intent, “Œuf” said "Here it is suckers, have at it." It’s an especially jarring turn after the strong latter half of the season that moved away from the procedural format and in to more serial arcs.
While the Hannibal-related plots were generally the strongest aspects of the series, in “Œuf,” that’s not the case. Let’s be honest here: I thought the ’shrooms subplot was weird. Hannibal’s intent is to create positive associations in Abigail’s psyche with the horrors she witnessed, but it came off as predatory, and not in the way Hannibal is supposed to feel predatory. More in the older-man-giving-the-pretty-young-girl-drugs kind of way. In the scene where Hannibal asks Will about his family, Will chastises Hannibal for his lazy psychiatry, but it also felt like lazy storytelling: Here’s an easy way for us to learn who Hannibal and Will are. That’s a quick band aid for the problem of telling a lot of story in a little bit of time, but I don’t think it added all that much to the characterization of either.
The procedural element of the show, featuring Molly Shannon as mother who kidnaps boys and has them turn on their families a year after their disappearance, was a fantastic premise. But like "Trou Normand," where I wanted to see more of Lance Henriksen’s weirdo totem pole, I was much more interested in who the hell Molly Shannon’s evil mother was and how she Stockholm Syndrome-d these boys into becoming cold-blooded killers. There’s something to be said about the mystery and lack of backstory of Hannibal’s villains, including Hannibal himself. One of the disappointing aspects of the continuation of the Hannibal series, post-Silence of the Lambs was Hannibal Rising, wherein Hannibal’s evil is explained away. It was like learning the name of the Man With No Name. There's something terrifying about not knowing where the root of evil lies, but the rest of the episode needed to justify this element's ambiguity, and it did not.
What I did really like about the family aspect of “Œuf” was a minor branch of the theme that ended up being its strongest: the interactions of the BAU team. I’ve loved the interplay between Hetienne Park, Scott Thompson, and Aaron Abrams since the beginning. They’re a family too, one bonded together by the horror that they’ve collectively experienced as dispassioned outsiders. They are funny and light; they add a levity I've always welcomed to the series. This was their episode, they don't get many considering the show's comparatively short run and the immense amount of ground it needed to cover in that period of time.
- Recipe of the week: It’s cheating, but Hannibal food stylist Janice Poon had a great recipes for High Life Eggs that, unfortunately, includes no champagne of beers.
- If you haven’t, you should read Stephen Bowie’s “Why pulling an episode of Hannibal after the Boston bombings was a mistake.” I don’t agree with his argument entirely (I love television in part because of how nakedly it is driven by economics) and I thought it made sense for Fuller to pull the episode if only from a PR standpoint, but Bowie’s point is very well-argued, including a fascinating history of television in the wake of tragedy.
- While feeding Will’s dogs, Hannibal starts to play with Will’s fishing lures. I thought this was weird when they included it in the webisodes, but, in light of the finale, it makes total sense. There were a couple of these moments, specifically Abigail's reaction to Hannibal when he says she is also a victim of Garrett Jacob Hobbs. She shudders, foreshadowing the eventual reveal that she was the bait.
- Before Jack interrupts, Will talks to his class about bite marks. Could this be our first allusion to Francis Dolarhyde of Red Dragon fame?
- Seeing Gina Torres at the end of the episode reminded me that they never really wrapped up the whole Bella-has-a-brain-tumor thing, a subplot I quite enjoyed.
- Aw, Hannibal, I miss you already.