You, with your fancy allusions, your fussy aesthetics. You’ll always have niche appeal. But this fellow – there’s something so universal about what he does. Kills whole families, and in their homes. Strikes at the very core of the American dream. You might say he’s a four-quadrant killer.
Here, Frederick Chilton is talking about the Tooth Fairy to Hannibal Lecter, and it's hard not to interpret this statement as Bryan Fuller's admission that Hannibal has lived in a niche for the past two and a half seasons - a niche, fancy and fussy and challenging, that got it canceled. But now we've jumped forward three years and met Richard Armitage's Francis Dolarhyde, also known as The Tooth Fairy, also known as The Great Red Dragon. This is the subject of Thomas Harris' first book in the eventual Hannibal Lecter series and the subject of two films, Michael Mann's Manhunter and Brett Ratner's Red Dragon. It's a fairly typical serial killer procedural story, one that inspired many serial killer procedural stories like it.
We meet Dolarhyde, and he's quiet and strong, mildly disfigured, deeply insane. Will has kept safely to himself and his new family for the past three years (though I have to say, I wish his new home were on the beach rather than in the snow, as in the book. Sun and sand separate Family Will from the chilly distance of Solitary Will), but Dolarhyde will be the one who brings him back into the fray, the weary, retired consultant back on the case for one last job. Jack knows that Will will come back. So does Molly (a perfectly earthy Nina Arianda). Hannibal knows it and sends Will a letter that pretends to warn him away while really inviting him to take the journey he knows Will wants to take. “It’s dark on the other side, and madness is waiting.”
This is a story with four-quadrant appeal, and it's the kind of narrative that could have saved Hannibal, if Bryan Fuller had taken the easy route and started the third season with it. And Red Dragon Hannibal already feels like a somewhat different show: from the lighting and coloring down to the very episode title, bucking the naming convention of an exotic course and simply calling this hour "The Great Red Dragon." It's more straightforward and less esoteric, though still beautifully directed, this time by The Descent's Neil Marshall.
Perhaps the difference is that Fuller's timeline is finally, completely tethered to its source material. So much of "The Great Red Dragon" is faithful to Red Dragon, including specific dialogue ("His father was."), including the return of the pendulum of Will's mind from the first season, inspired by this paragraph from the book's second chapter:
The two-story brick home was set back from the street on a wooded lot. Graham stood under the trees for a long time looking at it. He tried to be still inside. In his mind a silver pendulum swung in darkness. He waited until the pendulum was still.
This is as Will investigates the home of the Leeds family, the Tooth Fairy's most recent victims. As Will looks at the scene of Dolarhyde's awful carnage, his hands begin shaking and he almost loses himself for a moment - before the pendulum drops, and swings, and then he is in the mind of the Tooth Fairy. He is cutting Mr. Leeds' throat and shooting Mrs. Leeds in the spine. He is killing one son as he sleeps and dragging the other out from his hiding place beneath the bed, and then he's killing him too. For a moment, and for the first time in years, Will is the killer. This is his design.
And just like that, we're back to the beginning. We've even got Jimmy Price and Brian Zeller back. Fans of Harris' Hannibal, who have also been fans of Fuller's Hannibal, are now able to see these two men become one and the same. We see Hannibal face off with Alana and with Chilton. We see Will enjoy his family and try to refuse Jack. But in the final moments of the episode, as Will Graham stands outside of Hannibal Lecter's cell and the two men face each other for the first time in three years (and somehow it feels like three years, even though, for us, it's only been one week - what a feat of time manipulation that is!), everything else falls away and it's just these two men again.
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