Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 3


Jonathan May

We start with a montage of Will and Hannibal, each dressing for the morning; The whole scene is a lovely aubade to their relationship. Hannibal has placed himself into Will’s life violently, but why? This seems to be the central question of this season: What exactly does Hannibal want from Will? If it’s just a kindred spirit, then he and Will could certainly bro it up in a number of narrative ways. I think he wants Will to best him, because he believes Will is the better man. Again, this is all speculation, the darkness set against the relief that accentuates the more disjointed parts of the episode.

As to that, we are reminded, for whatever reason, that Jack’s wife is dying of cancer, something he (and I) seemed to have forgotten. This felt like a weak and poorly timed attempt to garner some more sympathy in Jack’s corner, when really we should be feeling for Will. Then, the reporter reemerges to give totally boring testimony. It’s like, Oh right, we forgot about all of these ancillary plots and characters, so why don’t we just throw them all in the mix? Throughout, Will’s lawyer makes the worst jokes. Honestly, the only standout things about this episode were Cynthia Nixon, who plays an internal investigator for the FBI, and the judge’s gruesome murder.

Against the obviousness of the trial, the episode only peers slightly further into whatever the hell is going on with Will and Hannibal. His fevered dream sequence of possible escape is squelched by Lecter, which only mirrors the let-down of Hannibal as a courtroom witness. We see, in the barest and darkest terms possible, their relationship changing, though this early in the season it feels glacial. I hope in the next episode their relationship is brought more to the forefront of the relief structure.

I do wish we’d seen whatever it is that happened to the judge’s brain. Call me morbid, but the whole courtroom aspect left me wishing for a more gory palate cleanser. Also, what in God’s name kind of outfit is Hannibal wearing here?

Hannibal, episode 3

My predictions for this week’s episode: We know Dr. Katz is going to take a central role, but I predict her doubt of Will falls away like scales from her eyes. Dr. Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) appears to Will in a vision/dream/hallucination. Cynthia Nixon will wear another power suit. Jack’s wife will die sooner than his in-the-works trip to Italy.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our piece about the previous episode here.

Image source: Comingsoon.net 

Worst Best Picture: Is The Silence of the Lambs Better or Worse Than Crash?


Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 1992 winner The Silence of the Lambs. Is it better than Crash?

I can’t be sure, but The Silence of the Lambs might be the most decorated movie in history to use the c-word twice in the first 15 minutes.

The Silence of the Lambs is all about ugliness. It’s about what we consider ugly (deviancy) and what is ugly (violent madness). It’s about how brilliance goes two different ways, but how those paths can fork out even after that.

Everyone knows the basic story: Buffalo Bill is kidnapping and killing women, Hannibal Lecter is the only man crazy enough to know how he thinks, and Clarice Starling is the only woman who can maybe find the link between the two in time. Spoiler alert or no, you know this. You know this because everyone knows this.

It’s worth bringing up here that a quest to see every single Best Picture Oscar winner means watching a lot of movies everyone already knows. Everyone knows (more or less) the story of Braveheart and Rocky and Casablanca and Gone with the Wind. It can be easy to dismiss stories that iconic with a sort of “eh, I know those, I’m good.”

You cannot do that with The Silence of the Lambs. You must not do that. You need to see Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in this movie if for no other reason than to gain new appreciation for what you think you already know. You need to replace your acting benchmarks for greatness.

The Silence of the Lambs is one of three movies ever to win “the big five” Oscar awards (screenplay, both acting awards, director, and picture) and shares that honor with It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. To keep the frame of reference for when Lambs came out, that year also saw the release of JFKBeauty and the Beast, and HookLambs was an immediate part of the pop culture landscape. Billy Crystal hosted the Oscars that year and came out in Hannibal Lecter’s trademark dolly and mask. America’s concept of the criminally insane was forever changed, both by Buffalo Bill and by Hannibal Lecter.

America also got a new favorite line to do in a creepy voice (an award previously held, I hope, by anything Vincent Price ever said) with Lecter’s line about eating someone’s liver. You know the line. I’m not going to include it; I don’t even need to list it. Everyone you’ve ever met has told everyone they’ve ever met that line. The American Film Institute listed it as even more iconic than “Bond. James Bond.” in their list. It is an instantly recognizable representation of evil and madness. It’s tidy that way.

What is lost along the legacy of that line is that it is surrounded by an incredible, outstanding scene of Lecter meeting Clarice for the first time. The scene’s most chilling elements have nothing to do with Lecter saying he ate someone – they are everything else. The best part is the chill that we feel for Clarice as she tries to act unafraid. The line itself is outstanding, but it’s a blunt object at this point. The rest of the scene is all finesse in its horror. It is terrifying with opportunity, because the unaccustomed viewer knows Lecter says this one creepy thing, but they don’t know about his love of control. They don’t know that his madness manifests in creating and solving puzzles more than outward acts of terror and mayhem. He’s mostly a quiet kind of insane – but yeah, he’ll also eat your liver.

The Best Part: The meeting scene. It happens 15 minutes into the movie, but it perfectly establishes everything in the movie’s world. Clarice is inwardly strong but outwardly terrified, and that combination just might keep her both sane and alive. Lecter is defensive, but also willing to tip his hand if he thinks he needs to do so. The audience wants Clarice to hold back, but we love that she can bare herself – even though in this case it’s to a demented cannibal.

The Worst Part: This feels very, very small, but I kept noticing it. An important part of the tension of The Silence of the Lambs is about how Clarice has enemies that aren’t literal. She’s haunted by her past as much as she’s ever hunted by murderers. They handle her past well — it spawns the title — but the attempts to remind everyone that she’s a lady and ladies have it tough don’t all land. Some, like a discussion between Clarice and her boss about establishing that she’s not lesser because she’s a woman really work despite being obvious. Others, like how every single man she encounters stands too close and checks her out, are maybe too obvious.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? The common thread between the two movies? Relentlessness. Lambs is about pursuit in the face of danger and Crash is about confirming or rejecting your biases. One character in Crash wants to so strongly be an anti-racist (one of the only ones in the film) and ends up shooting someone of another race before abandoning his car to hide the body. Lambs teaches that pursuit can be dangerous but rewarding, and that not everyone can pay that price. Crash teaches that all attempts to better yourself or achieve anything will be met with failure. Lambs lacks a distinct moral on purpose, Crash has a terrible moral on accident.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

 Image credit: Oscars.org

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 2


Jonathan May

Like, massive spoiler alert.

Watching the second episode of Hannibal, I couldn’t help but selfishly wonder if somehow, some way, the show’s producers had read my post from last week and decided to give me everything I wanted. If it’s foolish to dream, then I’m foolish. All to say, this episode gave me the heebie-jeebies—it scratched my blood itch and left me wanting next Friday like it was payday.

We’re presented this season around with Lecter stepping into Will Graham’s role as a forensic/psychological expert, a role Hannibal relishes. In this episode, this relationship is brought to the forefront, and we get to see how Dr. Lecter reacts to the close quarters of the FBI’s investigative minds at work. I was completely delighted to see the use of symbolic imagery play out in this episode; the dark antlered man as Lecter read well for the overall thematics, which concerned the relation of God to man, creator to subject.

This unfolded through the serial killer obsessed with a “human palette” made of resined bodies of various shades sown together in a silo. Lecter, wise to his own ilk, finds the killer before everyone else and adds him to the picture, and then his plate. The cooking scene in this episode took a lot of care to show the many stages of preparation for a human thigh; I was even hungry for a moment.

The juxtaposition of closed and open spaces made me wonder exactly who is caged and who is caging, which was doubled down when Lecter’s psychologist (played by Gillian Anderson) decides to exeunt with all relevant information. She even stops by to see Will Graham and tells him, “I believe you.” Of course, she disappears immediately thereafter.

This bit of maddening information must certainly fan Will’s flames as he heads to trial in next week’s episode.

Thankfully, Dr. Beverly Katz (played by Hettienne Park) landed a central role in this season’s events. She really adds a keen and watchful eye to the situation, while still being a great unaware foil to Lecter; their awkward “dance” in the forensics room gave great comedic evidence for this.

My predictions for this week: Hannibal is a witness, Gillian Anderson is dead/missing, Dr. Katz gets real with Lecter. And hopefully more food porn.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our piece about the previous episode here.

Image source: Comingsoon.net 

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal’s Season Two Premiere


Jonathan May

I’m a huge fan of the first season of NBC’s Hannibal, with Mads Mikkelsen in the eponymous role and Hugh Dancy starring alongside as the ever-lovable Will Graham. It was a literal phantasmagoria of the culinary and the sociopathic. The episode names were, in order, all the courses of a full, formal French menu, and it was quite like eating a slow, delicious meal over the course of the season. Would Will Graham be framed? Would they catch the nefarious Hannibal? Each episode brought us closer to a pulsing edge, pushing our palates further than we had known, not only in terms of character development, but also in exquisitely crafted shots of food juxtaposed with the grisly doings of our dear Dr. Lecter.

I can’t spoil the ending of the first season for you uninitiated who, particularly and with great haste, still need to watch the show. The ancillary characters provide welcome relief from the steadfast and grim tone. Will, our protagonist, has a sort-of love interest. There’s some humor provided by the medical examination team. But at the core of the show is its unique set of symbols: the dark stag (representing Lecter), the kitchen knives, the disfigured clock. These symbols appear over and over, building in their usage and intensity as the show plays out. Suffice to say, do yourself a favor and watch the first season.

The following section contains spoilers:

Now, for those of you who caught the first episode of season two, what? I mean, what? Where is the trademark, always-stylish gore? Where is the saucy game of cat-and-mouse? We’re thrown in media res to a scene briefly, only to travel back 12 weeks into the past, where the season begins. More darkness is hinted at between Gillian Anderson’s character and Hannibal, but what does he have on her? This opener left me with a ton of unresolved questions, doing the faithful job of an episode meant to re-pique your interest after a long lull (termed appropriately on Tumblr as the “HeAteUs”). I hope we get back to the symbols at the show’s core, but to do that, I think we’ll need a little more Hugh Dancy on-screen. His brief interactions with the dark, antlered man in his mind suggest the obvious: that Hannibal inhabits his mind; but we don’t get much more than that. I’m hoping the next episode makes better use of Will’s “inner space.” We can’t just be flashed dark, mythic-looking things without them being held accountable to a reality within Will.

My prediction for this week’s episode: new “serial killer” introduced formally, way more of Gillian Anderson, maybe a flaming stag this time, a lot of people visit Will in prison asking for advice.

Image source: Comingsoon.net