Hassun, in kaiseki, is a course defined by constraints. It has traditional guidelines for presentation (“hassun” itself is a reference to the ideal size of the tray), should contain ingredients indicative of the season, and is meant to be a pairing of opposite but ultimately complimentary ingredients. It also has the responsibility of setting the tone for the main courses to follow.
And this week, Will Graham went to court. Despite knowing his innocence, he’s constrained to play the part of unconscious murderer in an attempt to save his life, amid the expected courtroom circus. And there’s no respite—besides the obvious cell bars, Will has to shut himself off from Alana Bloom in order to effectively play the penitent to Hannibal Lecter. Constrained by responsibility to the FBI, Jack Crawford finds himself battling to stand up for Will. And as Will’s opposite but ultimately complimentary aspect, Hannibal declares himself an unofficial consultant for the defense, hoping to reach Will’s not-guilty verdict by killing the crap out of a bunch of other people. Well, consider that tone set!
Will’s day in court takes up the lion’s share of the plot this week, in physical confines of its own—a courtroom shot in the same murky blues as Hannibal’s kitchen, which is fitting given how much of it Lecter eats up with a spoon. But it’s also a marker of an episode that largely removes us from Will’s interior, perhaps an inevitable concession when a psychological study/Dutch-still-life gorefest turns into a legal drama, however briefly; there’s a lot more plot to wade through this week than anything prior. Will’s nightmares bookend the hour, but this is an episode more around Will than about him. Still, Hugh Dancy takes every moment he can to draw us into Will’s thoughts even when the plot’s speeding past him. In the courtroom, Will’s seething and resigned by turns: he’s been afraid this day would come—he just didn’t think he’d be innocent when it did. (For Will, “What happened to the rest of Abigail Hobbs?” isn’t just a forensic question. She started out seemingly the innocent soul at stake, but revealed a much darker, nuanced, and ultimately broken psyche over the course of last season. It was easier for Will to identify with Abigail—someone a few steps farther down the path he saw himself on—than to the innocent and ultimately unreachable Alana.)
But Will’s only a fraction of what’s actually going on in this trial, because of course this trial isn’t about the crimes. (It isn’t really about crime at all; as Will’s attorney offers, “This isn’t law, it’s advertising...we have to create the desire to find you not guilty.”) Despite the greatest-hits parade of recurring faces—Freddie Lounds in her Chicago touring company testimony hat, Dr. Chilton straight out of a Tennessee Williams play—this isn’t even about the people around Will. This trial is an extension of Hannibal testing Will, and trying to maintain control inside the courtroom as efficiently as he did outside it.
I think it’s fascinating—and very true to Harris canon—that in a world of monsters and those who fight monsters, even the most superhuman competence can get frustrated by bureaucratic red tape. For Clarice Starling, it was the FBI boys’ club that tripped her up. Here, the darkest humor in the episode comes from Hannibal’s flummoxed, long-suffering acceptance that the legal system has cut him off at the pass one more time, and now he’ll be forced to cut open an entire judge just to get things back on track. It toes the edge of the ridiculous (at a point that feels a bit early in the season for it), especially given the relative sloppiness of the work. The first time Hannibal pulled a copycat move, only Will was onto him; this time Katz and company are able to recognize the set-up a mile away. It’s the Hannibal equivalent of making Hamburger Helper and calling it a meal.
But on some level, this week’s murders are just an over-the-top means to a thematic end. Because as Dr. Du Maurier handily reminded us last episode with her warning to Will, all this is a crucible Hannibal wants Will to come out the other side of. Hannibal seems almost amused playing the innocent against Will’s accusations, suggesting he understands what he’d be up against if Will got out, it doesn’t seem to be slowing Hannibal down any in his quest to get Will out of the same place he got him into. The lopsided two-shot of his office in the closing moments even reinforces why: Hannibal’s lonely. Mads Mikkelsen has talked about portraying Hannibal as Lucifer, driven by twisted love as much as by anarchic curiosity, and you can feel it all in his question when he presents Will with his crime scene photos: “This killer wrote you a poem. Are you going to let his love go to waste?” (Yikes, sit down, Hannibal, it’s not prom.) It has the added bonus of providing a savvy twist on Will’s emotional fragility in prison as he realizes this new horror: It’s not that Hannibal doesn’t care—it’s that he does. It’s a subtle shift in power, but Will’s a more efficient, less conflicted man than he was last season, so those gears are already turning: his “You know that already” is sharper than it would be, for someone who’s playing a flawless part.
And in the vacuum of the outside world, “Hassun” also subtly pivots Crawford back into position opposite Hannibal, though despite Fishburne’s always-understated presence, it feels a static at the moment. Given this season’s gangbusters opening scene, this dynamic seems to be spinning its wheels a little in the horror-movie limbo where you’re trying not to shout, “It’s him! Behind you! It’s the guy with all the cannibal puns who’s constantly making you eat food he’s ritualistically prepared!” Still, the scene in which Crawford considers retiring for the sake of his sick wife, and Hannibal advises, “You don’t have to go into the ground with her,” is chilling, because it’s advice that’s both insightful and cruel: Hannibal at his best/worst. And from Crawford’s wracked expression during a later moment alone, he recognizes both angles.
Unfortunately, though this season seems to be making a good-faith effort to improve the narrative weight of its women, none of them got a moment of much weight at all. Alana’s denunciation of her relationship with Will stings but doesn’t have a chance to carry, since she’s taken off the testimony lineup and reconciles with Will shortly after; Prurnell swans past in the background reminding Crawford of the FBI party line; Beverly Katz doesn’t get more than a few dramatic side-eyes to her name. Imagine what could happen if any women were allowed to have a conversation with each other! (Don’t rush, it’ll probably be a few more weeks.)
But by the end of “Hassun,” rounding the corner into the main courses, Hannibal’s creation of a Will Graham ham-handed straw-man fan (say it five times fast) to take credit for Will’s crimes—or at least provide reasonable doubt—indicates the thin end of a wedge that’s going to strain the rest of the season. The appearance of the stag as a way out, and Hannibal as warden of the cage, indicates that Hannibal will be facing down a very different Will: guarded, single-minded, and renegotiating who his allies are. “He wants to know me,” Will says of his admirer, but it’s not an epiphany—it’s a challenge. Who’s hungry?
- I’m so excited to sub in this week on an episode with so much to…chew on. (I’m not a cannibal.)
- “Gratitude has a short half-life.” Book bingo!
- At this point, it seems downright cruel to use a clockface on this show.
- Also perfection: The score and sound design this episode is as beautiful/horrifying as always.
- “We should have taken a stool sample.” I mean.