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Hannibal: “Potage”

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Is evil hereditary? Could Abigail Hobbs have caught crazy from her murderous father? That’s an assumption—made by Jack Crawford, Abigail’s neighbors, the relatives of a possible victim, even Abigail herself—but if Abigail has inherited a nasty case of nuts, what does that make Will Graham? The irony inherent in “Potage” is that those who think they are the ones capable of real harm, who have caught it from others, are damaged by circumstance, but it’s the sanest-seeming among them, Hannibal Lecter, who is the one harboring the true demons. “Potage” is the episode where the demons are let out to play, if for only a little bit.


One of the great facts about Jonathan Demme’s version of Silence Of The Lambs is that Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for being onscreen for a whopping 16 minutes (although, he gets beat out by Beatrice Straight in Network as the shortest performance ever to win an Academy Award for acting, at 5 minutes and 40 seconds). With so little time to make an impression, camp is a boon to Hopkins’ slithery, slurping Hannibal Lecter, and later his curse in Ridley Scott’s wholly underwhelming Hannibal. Mads Mikkelsen (especially in this episode) and Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal team are taking the exact opposite approach to Lecter. Mikkelsen’s performance is cool and slow-burning; it’s so intensely subtle that he conveys almost as much about Lecter through slight movements of his mouth than through his snipped dialogue.

Take the scene where Will explains to his class about the Shrike copycat. Lecter waits in the shadows as Will explains how he figured out that Hobbs did not murder the impaled Cassie Boyle. Mikkelsen largely keeps his face in perma-droop while playing Lecter, but as Will continues his explanation, Mikkelsen’s face brightens until he is full-on smiling. While it doesn’t have the initial impact of Hopkins’ scenery feast—or even Brian Cox’s comparatively subdued, yet still wonderfully theatrical turn in Manhunter—it’s a performance that feels more sustainable over a long run. That’s especially true in an episode like “Potage,” which strays from the friends-over-for-dinner-style puns that serve as sly winks and nods to the source material. Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is the one we’ve got, and in a TV series there is more time to remind the audience that he is insane without having him actually say it over and over again.


Still, “Potage” picks up highlighting Lecter’s insanity where the pilot left off. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd, Fuller said of his Hannibal, “He’s not being telegraphed as a villain. If the audience didn’t know who he was, they wouldn’t see him coming.” Considering how much Lecter has pervaded the pop-culture consciousness, I can’t even begin to debate that fact. But, aside from Lecter’s warning call to the Shrike in the pilot, if what Fuller says is true, then “Potage” is the episode where the audience should suspect there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. While Hannibal’s warning call in the pilot is brazen, treating a serial killer as a plaything, Lecter in this episode demonstrates trademark manipulation. Get inside a mark’s head—this time, it’s Abigail Hobbs—and tear her down psychologically. Abigail is not inherently evil, Lecter assures her, answering the question at the heart of “Potage,” but that will not stop people from thinking she is. And that is what truly matters.

“Potage” is all about Abigail, beginning with a nightmare she has before waking up in her hospital bed. Her dream gives the audience a glimpse of what Will has essentially been too traumatized to telegraph: Hobbs believed that using the entirety of victims was not murder, but a way to honor them. Unlike the last episode, the audience is not presented with a new serial killer to unravel, and I appreciated the break. Especially because it reinforces the idea that Hannibal will not become a case-of-the-week procedural in its outset. I’m invested in this Hobbs story and I want to see it through without necessarily being crowded by other rushed events. “Potage” lets the central story breathe, pushing it forward while staying exciting. For one, it allows Lecter’s evil proclivities to emerge further, while still retaining the spark of his one-on-one therapy sessions with Will. Lecter is so fascinated by Will  that he uses his interactions with Abigail as a means of further investigating his prey. Secondly, Caroline Dhavernas’ Alana Bloom finally feels useful beyond a potential love interest for Will, although she’s still paper-thin compared to the men.

The episodic content is entirely tied to the central storyline. Freddie tells Cassie Boyle’s ginger brother that Abigail Hobbs has awoken up from her coma, for no discernible reason other than to cause trouble and make Will’s life considerably more difficult—but his actions are conveniently wrapped into Lecter’s devious plot. This structure is the flip of the previous episode in that the overarching plot feels served, while the episodic qualities feel thinner. Cassie’s brother serves as a means to further put Lecter’s evil machinations at the forefront, but he’s  never a fully realized threat to anyone, such as Jack’s insistence that Abigail was her father’s accomplice. I never really bought it.

My major problem with Hannibal so far are the giant leaps in plot that are seemingly covered up by laid-on-thick atmospherics. Freddie, for example, was used so well in her first appearance, but now she seems to have superhuman abilities to avoid apprehension, even in majorly secure areas. How does Freddie get into the psychiatric facility to visit Abigail? I would think there would be more security concerning such a high profile patient that any old crime blogger couldn’t waltz in for an interview. Didn’t Jack threaten Freddie with obstruction of justice if she continued to tail or write about Will? Why not just pick her up now? Jack has the evidence to put her away. Abigail’s house is covered in cops, yet Freddie and Cassie Boyle’s brother slip in undetected. When Abigail escapes from the hospital, how did she know where Lecter worked? I’m not looking for a scene of Abigail Googling Lecter and finding his Yelp review (“Dr. Lecter: 3.5 stars. Genius but a little cold. Added half star for always having snacks”) but the more frequent the plothole, the more noticeable they become.


Stray observations:

  • I’m a foodie only in the sense that I like to eat about three times a day, so for the uninitiated, potage is a thick creamy soup, which brings me to the RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Julia Child’s Potage Parmentier (Potato & Leek Soup).
  • I forgot to mention this last week but I totally dig the opening credits, keeping the Fincherian feeling going with that Girl With The Dragon Tattoo opening.
  • Will’s description of what it feels like to be Jacob Hobbs is quite poetic, even if it makes little concrete sense: “It feels like I’m talking to his shadow, suspended on dust.”
  • The most beautiful scene award goes to one of the most gruesome: Marissa’s blood dripping from the ceiling was both gorgeous and creepy. Although, it was the human hair used as pillow stuffing that gave me the most willies.
  • I missed the FBI’s Squints this episode. I like those little side characters who lighten the mood. Bring back Scott Thompson and Hettienne Park, please!