Saturday, 25 July 2015

HANNIBAL, 3.8 – 'The Great Red Dragon'

Saturday, 25 July 2015


Just to remind readers, this review is scheduled alongside the Thursday night broadcast in Canada. This episode airs tonight in the U.S and Wednesday in the UK, so proceed at your own risk of spoilers...

The closing half of season 3 picks up three years after the events of "Digestivo", with a different story familiar to readers of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon novel—later made into a cult 1986 movie renamed Manhunter, then again 16-years later with Anthony Hopkins reprising Dr Lecter to complete his screen trilogy of diminishing returns. Chances are a lot of the show's audience will be familiar with the Red Dragon plot—either years before this series was conceived, or as research while it was off-air. And unlike adapting the novel Hannibal, it's unclear what deviations Bryan Fuller and his writers will be making over the course of these final six hours, because Harris's source material is great and doesn't require much tweaking.

Indeed, "The Great Red Dragon" only made a few changes from what I remember from previous iterations. We're immediately introduced to Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage); a psychotic serial killer with a cleft lip and palate who's compelled to slaughter families by his alternate personality—the titular Great Red Dragon from a famous William Blake painting, which Dolarhyde's also trying to physically embody. Armitage's version of Dolarhyde is first seen gazing at the back of his own hands, where the angles of the bones under his skin almost resemble the leathery wings of a dragon. Later, he's exercising to try and imitate the stature of the creature in Blake's painting (which he's also had tattooed across his muscled back). Armitage's appearance isn't far off Ralph Fiennes' incarnation from Brett Ratner's 2002 movie, but his approach already seems a great deal more intriguing. It remains to be seen if he can out-creep the wonderful Tom Noonan from Michael Mann's undervalued film, but things look very promising.

The leap forward in time has allowed for some intriguing changes to the core characters on the show, too. Will (Hugh Dancy) has married a woman called Molly (Nina Arianda) and become a surrogate father to her ten-year-old son, turning his back on his career as a criminal profiler; Dr Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) is now running the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, although her predecessor Dr Chilton (Raúl Esparza) frequents the establishment as research for his books; Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) has returned to the FBI, presumably regaining the respect of the Bureau after his capture of Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen); and the so-called 'monster of monsters' is now facing a life of incarceration, having avoided the death penalty on grounds of insanity. The thing of most interest was seeing the creative choices involving Lecter's new dwelling—as it's a potential nightmare having a lead character stuck behind bars for the foreseeable future. (Mind you, the show didn't miss a beat when Will was the one imprisoned for half of season 2.)

It also helps that the writing has already laid plentiful groundwork for the idea of Lecter having a "memory palace"; meaning he can be mentally transported to a variety of locales when he's conversing with visitors from within his cell—preferring to imagine himself in more distinguished settings, such as his beloved Norman Chapel. That breaks up any potential monotony for the show (and gives Mikkelsen more interesting set visits), but it was also interesting to note how spacious Lecter's abode is—complete with quality furniture and apparent access to a kitchen to maintain his culinary skills. One has to question the believability of all that—as the U.S tax payer would surely be outraged one of the world's most notorious killers is living this way, but I guess the producers of Hannibal didn't want to spend a great deal of time in a depressing dungeon-style cell familiar from Silence of the Lambs. But still, there's very little sense of punishment going on here, which I was very surprised by. Although maybe his special treatment is payment for being so open with Dr Chilton for his 'Hannibal the Cannibal' books?

This hour was very much setup, and as such there was a overriding feeling of starting afresh. For all intents and purposes, this is the fourth season we're possibly going to be denied now NBC have pulled out. But I'm glad we're back on U.S soil, with Will enjoying an active role that makes more sense—with a sequence of him mentally untangling one of the Tooth Fairy's home murders brought us right back to classic Hannibal from the pilot. I liked aspects of this year's grand guignol trip to Europe, but the show has more stability when its weirdness comes tethered to a crime procedural format. The writing challenge for this back-end of the season is very different, too; it's about sustaining one case over many weeks, digging deep into the psychology of a lone killer, while dealing with the fact Lecter's less of a rogue element in the outside world.


  • This episode marks the Hannibal debut of British director Neil Marshall, who's best known for making the excellent cave monster horror The Descent. Marshall's since been making a name for himself on television, directing some of the large-scale episodes of Game of Thrones. I was very impressed by his handling of this hour, as I wouldn't have immediately thought of him as a good choice to direct such an artistic show like Hannibal.
  • Interesting that Bloom's now the person in charge of the facility Lecter's in, which is off-book. I assumed the writers kept Esparza's Dr Chilton alive so he could fulfil his character's novel and film role as Lecter's keeper, but it seems not.
  • It was great to see Jimmy (Scott Thompson) and Brian (Aaron Abrams) back on the show for the first time this season, as they manage to give Hannibal a much needed dose of gallows humour.
written by Nick Antosca, Steve Lightfoot & Bryan Fuller • directed by Neil Marshall • 25 July 2015 • NBC