Hannibal: The Great Red Dragon (review)

Richard Armitage as Tooth Fairy in Hannibal
Last week saw the finish of the overly extended preamble to bring the series up to Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon and this week in Hannibal, episode 8; The Great Red Dragon, three years have passed. Lector has been declared insane and is incarcerated. As with most episodes of Hannibal, the pre-credit sequence is slow but it builds upon the killer and his identity. Like the rest of the series, each segment is slow and discordant as well as dark and concise amid the shambolic imagery of the music and the set pieces. Similar to a somnambulist on quaaludes or molasses dripping down a table leg on a cool day.

The episode begins with an introduction to the new villain; Francis Dolarhyde (played by Brit actor Richard Armitage [The Hobbit, Captain America: The First Avenger]) who is savagely silent as he transformed into the Red Dragon, although he does growl and roar at one point, his appearance is introspective and visceral.

Hannibal and Dr. Bloom talk about wine and truffles, the two items that lead Alana to Lector’s door in Florence when Verger was acting on his personal vendetta. They take a short walk down memory lane during their conversation, “Do you still prefer beer to wine,” Hannibal asks. “I stopped drinking beer when I found out what you were putting in mine,” Alana responds. “Who,” says Hannibal and Bloom echoes, “Who.”

In between the Bloom and Chilton interludes, Dolarhyde continues to transform; to become. Mirrors and animalistic sounds accompany his change. At the end of the process Francis is outside, naked except for the liberal splashes of blood on his body.

After the Red Dragon transformation, Hannibal shares a delicacy with Dr. Chilton (played with delightful hubris by Raúl Esparza) and their conversation also turns to past events. Speaking of the desert, which traditionally requires the blood of a pig, Hannibal says he substituted cow’s blood. Frederick asks about “before” when Lector served him the dish and Hannibal replies “The blood was from a cow only in the derogatory sense.”

Each conversation is a sparring match of sorts. Bloom and Chilton both lose their respective wordplay with Lector. Alana is left with the impending threat (promise) that Hannibal will kill her, “I always keep my promises,” he says; just as he did last week when he promised to save Graham. In his discussion with Chilton about the “Tooth Fairy” the first this Hannibal says is that the serial killer does not like to be called that. In one sentence, he deflates Frederick’s ego, it was Chilton who coined the title, and Lector assumes superiority as a result.

Later in the episode, we see that Hannibal is right about the killer not liking the moniker. While adding his latest kill to his scrapbook, Dolarhyde grabs a black marker and covers up the part of the headline that refers to him as the Tooth Fairy.

Chilton and Bloom verbally spar and she informs her colleague that Dr. Lector will get the better of him. Chilton gloatingly paints an imaginary picture of Hannibal watching “diaper carts” go by in captivity. Alana responds with the news that Lector will gloat about his victory over Chiton, indicating that he will have plenty of time, as he watches the diaper carts go by. Frederick tells Alana that Hannibal is showing some competitive vanity with the appearance of the Tooth Fairy.

FBI agent Jack Crawford goes to see Will Graham who lives in the country with Mollie and Walter along with a slew of dogs. Molly reveals to Jack Crawford that they are dumped by previous owners. She says that getting rid of the cute ones are easy and the rest stay on. Before the meal, Will tells Jack that he does not want to return. It is obvious that Graham knows he will end up seeing Hannibal if he gets involved with the Tooth Fairy.

As usual Hannibal is a visual feast. The imagery is powerful and in one instance, incredibly creepy. Dolarhyde listens to music, the singer sounds like Roy Orbison, while watching a home movie of the family he has just murdered. With a screeching noise (in his head) Dolarhyde reacts and as the film stock from the reels wrap around his face, he becomes the movie projector with light shooting out from his eyes and mouth.

A truly disturbing sight.

Other images are used as a construct. A short montage of newspaper clipping done by Hannibal and Dolarhyde, each using their own tools, in Lector’s case nothing sharp, and building their own collection of the “Tooth Fairy” murders. At the end of it, Lector uses his clipping to “bait” Will and Francis adds his to the large scrapbook he has obviously had for a very long time.

Molly talks Graham into becoming a part of the investigation and Will explains that if he goes, he will be different when he comes back. Molly reassures him by saying that she won’t. After their little talk, Will goes to look at the news clipping and letter that Hannibal has sent him. He reads the note, and in it Lector urges Graham to turn Crawford down if he comes “knocking.” Will throws the items in the burning fire, Hannibal has set the bait for Graham.

Will visits the latest crime scene and his skill at putting himself in the killer’s shoes and recreating what occurred has not diminished after his time spent with Lector. At one point, he realizes that the killer took off rubber gloves, he speculates about talcum powder found at the scene in a house that has none. This leads to forensics checking and finding that part of the Tooth Fairy’s killing ritual included flesh touching flesh, and they find a partial smudged thumbprint as a result. Unfortunately they also have the false lead of those false teeth, or plates, that Dolarhyde collected at the beginning of the episode.

By the end of the program Will is back at the bureau and interpreting the killer. Graham also recognizes that despite his overwhelming reluctance, he must consult with Hannibal.

Hannibal is darkly beautiful and spellbinding. The storylines are complex and tantalizing but it appears that fans of the show will be left wanting. Certainly the languid pace of the series is not popular with everyone and now that the show has reached an intersection with Harris’ book, perhaps NBC feels the show has reached a conclusion of sorts. Hannibal airs Saturdays on NBC for a little longer at least. Fans can only hope that the network does not move the show again.