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Hannibal: “Coquilles”

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In the wake of last week’s tragedy in Boston, Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller called NBC and suggested the network pull the fourth episode of Hannibal from its lineup. The episode featured Molly Shannon as a villain who brainwashes children to kill other children. Fuller made the right, sensitive choice in the wake of the Boston and Newtown (Variety reported that the episode was filmed before the horrible events in Connecticut) that, as David Sims wrote, others did not follow suit. But as a TV watcher, I hope that we eventually get to see the unaired episode. Critics were sent out five episodes of Hannibal, although there was no fourth episode, skipping instead to five (“Coquilles”) and six (“Entrée”). Considering the high-profile guest star, I’d be interested to see if Shannon was pushed to the forefront of the storyline, unlike the previous case-of-the-week killers (including “Coquilles”’ Angelmaker) who have competed with larger arcs for attention. (Also, just kinda want to see Molly Shannon as an evil child-brainwasher.) There’s also the issues of continuity to contend with, although NBC reps claimed that wouldn’t be a problem, and a series of six webisodes were put online so serial elements weren’t lost.


The most interesting part of the webisodes, as illuminated by Fuller at the beginning, is the growing relationship between Abigail Hobbs and Hannibal. From what I gathered, the mysterious fourth episode seems to center around family: Will never knew his mother, Hannibal was an orphan, Jack wants kids although his wife (played by Laurence Fishburne’s real-life wife Gina Torres) turns him away. In a therapy session, Hannibal tells Will it is their responsibility to help Abigail, that they are a makeshift family. Is Hannibal collecting potential serial killer cohorts? He convinces Abigail he is the only person she can ever truly be honest with and, of course, that she should totally take ’shrooms. Alana is pissed (I’m liking pissed Alana! She’s got a massive amount of sass and I appreciate what has been an empty vessel potential love interest at this point) that Hannibal signed her patient out of the mental institution without her consent. Even in an agitated state, Alana’s appearance makes Abigail associate her and Hannibal with family and parental love.

But NBC and Fuller have to assume that not every Hannibal viewer is going to be aware of the webisodes. So what did we learn from “Previously on…”

  • Will feels guilty about the death of Abigail Hobbs’ former best friend Marissa.
  • Hannibal believes Will is in need of an anchor.
  • Will is not doing well and quitting fieldwork is becoming a major option.
  • Probably some other stuff that I missed in the minute-long summary.

It feels a tad unfair to judge “Coquilles” without the full picture of what came before it, but what the hell? We’re here, aren’t we? So let’s do it anyway.

“Coquilles” foregoes the Hobbs’ storyline for further investigation into Will’s crumbling psyche and a truly eerie case-of-the-week. While I can’t say whether it’s the first reference (there could have been some mention in episode four; in the webisodes, Hannibal flashes to chasing a potential victim), “Coquilles” is the first that we hear a character utter the name the Chesapeake Ripper, the nom de serial killer given to Hannibal Lecter before he became everyone’s favorite psychiatrist next door. Jack initially believes the Angelmaker’s actions could be the work of the Ripper, but there are “no surgical trophies taken.” (Of course, as a semi-omniscient audience, we know those surgical trophies are being served up with fava beans and a nice chianti.) Instead of getting one step closer to Hannibal, Will, Jack and the team encounter the victims of the Angelmaker.

Holy fuck. What a visual those deaths created. The mushroom people had poetry to them, but the angels, complete with skin wings, marked the first time my stomach hurt from watching this show. For a program that we’ve established time and time again is beautifully shot, “Coquilles” goes above and beyond, which makes sense considering the episode was directed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (who often works the Guillermo del Toro). The imagery of the supplicant “angels” is much like the monstrous imagery that pervades del Toro films. It’s at once terrifying and beautiful, even whimsical where whimsy has no place existing. It’s the framing in this episode that I particularly liked, namely the way that Bella was placed in Hannibal’s office—both staring right at Hannibal and placed next to her husband in between those striking curtains, the scene only enhanced by Torres and Fishburne’s chemistry. Although, my favorite shot comes right after Will and Jack find the murdered security guard and the camera tracks back into the foreground as Jack walks away and Will continues to stare at the corpse of the security guard, his arms forcibly outstretched. It’s a beautifully done episode, both in plotting and style. This is how a show should do case-of-week without sacrificing narrative momentum and I’m excited to see what comes next.


The Angelmaker (I know his name is Elliot Buddhish, but the Angelmaker is such a great name), unlike “Amuse-Bouche’s” Elden Stammetz—and even Garrett Jacob Hobbs to a certain degree—is first presented as insane, rather than leading the normal life of, say, a pharmacist or a father. Although the Angelmaker isn’t insane, he’s physically sick, making it near-impossible for Will to get inside his mind. As soon as more is revealed about the Angelmaker, I started flashing back to Frailty, a totally underrated movie directed by and starring Bill Paxton as a widowed father that takes up killing “demons” (or people whom he believes are evil) with an axe named Otis. In both situations, the killers use faith to justify their murder, perpetrating vigilante justice in the name of God, and killing those wrongdoers in particularly gruesome ways. (SPOILER ALERT: Both end up ridding the world of some heinous humans.) As Will says, “In his mind, he was doing God’s work… he doesn’t have to know, all he has to do is believe.” Hannibal relates Will to the Angelmaker but the same could be said about himself. Hannibal has already revealed that god’s ability to take life is akin to power, and wouldn’t ridding the world of those who annoy or are sub-standard, at least in Hannibal’s mind, be doing the world a favor? The Angelmaker wields power in the name of God’s vengeance, while Hannibal wields it for himself. In the episode-four webisodes, Hannibal convinces Abigail to drink the mushroom tea to give her power back, but it’s just another instance of him taking power for himself.

Hannibal’s real power in “Coquilles” comes through not in his nefarious actions, like in “Potage,” but through his therapy sessions with Will where he tries to play his patient against Jack, insofar as that Will outright asks Hannibal if that’s what he’s doing. It’s rare unsubtle moment for the series, but that’s certainly not a bad thing, especially in light of Hannibal’s growing relationship with Jack and his wife, Bella. In the “Previously on…” scenes, we see that Jack and Hannibal have dined together again, the two are becoming quite close, so close that Jack starts bringing his wife over for dinner. The closer Jack gets to Hannibal, the more power Hannibal is able to exert over Jack, while simultaneously playing the opposing team (Will).


Now, there’s a third player in the game—Bella—who gives Hannibal his power by confiding in him that she is dying. The slow reveal of Bella’s diagnosis is masterfully done. The way Torres presents her situation, with complete and utter confidence to the point of haughtiness, made me truly believe she was having an affair, rather than dying. Fishburne and Torres’ chemistry in the final scene is wonderful, a true moment of humanity in an otherwise horrific episode. But, now, Hannibal has two ways to get to Jack, through Will and through Bella.“Coquilles” illustrates the isolation within death and those it affects. Will’s isolation is writ large, but every other character who faces death in this show deals with their own isolation. Abigail Hobbs, for instance, has her entire family taken away, and then, later, her only friend. Bella and the Angelmaker begin to isolate themselves before death takes them. Hannibal, an agent of death, is often seen with only one or two other characters and is given little backstory (although, that’s touched upon in the webisodes). When Beverly asks Will if he’s okay, she says that she has her own coping mechanisms, but the difference between them is that she would admit it if she wasn’t alright. The only way to overcome the isolation of death is to let others in, as Bella must do when Jack confronts her about her illness, and as Will forces Jack to do at the end of the episode in order to cope with the heavy news Jack has heard.

Another reason I wish we got to see that mysterious fourth episode was the continued evolution of Jack. While Hannibal’s character is aided by the mysterious, I’m looking forward to seeing Jack become further realized as the series progresses because, with only a handful of episodes at this point, I’m often left confused by his motivation. Jack wants Will on the team, but always seems weary of him and even disappointed with his progress. Yet, as Jack himself points out, Will gets results. He’s worried about Will’s ability to keep working under increased pressure, but continues to push. What really interests me about Jack, though, is his temper. Fishburne has this great, soothing voice that served him so well throughout his career (see: Morpheus), and it’s only highlighted by his occasional freakouts. His voice not only increases in volume, but takes on an anger. In this particular episode, his freakout over Will’s insubordination is coupled with his cooing over Bella, trying to figure out why she has been so distant as of late. I am curious to see where this temper comes from, and more importantly where it will be.


Stray observations:

  • Recipe of the Week: Sottha Khunn’s Roasted Foie Gras With Figs and Grapes (although, to be fair, a coquilles are a seafood or chicken dishes, baked in sauce, served in scallop shells].
  • Gina Torres should always be shot in saturated color—she looks fantastic in it.
  • Source-material callback alert! Totally giggled when Hannibal smells Will and makes fun of his aftershave with a ship on the bottle. “I keep getting it for Christmas,” Will replies. Although, correct me if I’m wrong, commenters, but I think that’s how Hannibal originally deduces Will has a stepson, because only a child would buy the aftershave with a ship on the bottle. I also got whiffs (sorry) of Ravenous (another one of my fave underrated classics), when Jeremy Davies wakes up screaming “He was licking me!” after Robert Carlyle’s cannibal can’t control himself in the night.
  • In short, you guys should totally rent Frailty and Ravenous and then discuss how great the soundtrack of the latter is with me.
  • I’m sure there are other religious readings into the Angelmaker (Scott Thompson’s character even brings it up) but I’m not at all religious so I didn’t feel comfortable reading the episode in that critical context. But y’all are smarties so have at it in the comments, I’m interested to read what you think.