william blake

Hannibal the Light-Bringer & How This Ending Was Inevitable

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This gets a little scattered, but I promise everything connects–stay with me. Spoilers for everything up to & including the Hannibal S3 finale.  ❤


Since I have an MFA in poetry, I’m going to start with Blake as my jumping off point & circle back around.  The Red Dragon’s actions stem from the Blake painting, right?  So let’s look more closely at Blake. The poem most people are probably familiar with is “The Tyger:”

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

This is obviously where we get that great line: “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” that we hear Hannibal repeat in “And the Woman Clothed in Sun.”

“The Tyger” is contained within a section of poems called “Songs of Experience,” a section which follows its companion, “Songs of Innocence.”  In “Songs of Innocence,” we meet the lamb– “Little Lamb, who made thee? / Dost thou know who made thee? / Gave thee life, & bid thee feed?” It’s obviously not a stretch to read Will as the lamb–not only because Hannibal confirms to Jack that Will is his lamb, but also contextually in regards to Will stating in “Oeuf” that he didn’t know his mother.  Furthermore, in “Songs of Innocence’s” poem “The Chimney Sweeper,” the speaker says “When my mother died, I was very young” (Blake 87).  The boy turns, instead, to a mysterious father figure in “The Little Black Boy,” saying, “And then I’ll stand and stoke his silver hair, / And be like him, and he will then love me” (Blake 87).  It’s not a stretch to read this surrogate influence as Hannibal to Will’s little lamb.

As the work progresses into “Songs of Experience,” the intro to that section reads, in part:

“Turn away no more;
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor, The wat’ry shore
Is giv’n thee” (99)

Once the lamb’s (Will’s) innocence has faded, he has no need to turn away from Hannibal.  By bringing him to the glass house upon the sea (more on this in a second), Hannibal has literally given him “The starry floor, The wat’ry shore.”  It’s important that it is a glass house, though–not just so Dolarhyde can have access, but because of the symbolism there.  Hannibal & Will both speak of how they’re well-aware that Dolarhyde can see them.  Now they’re in a glass house, though–the whole world can see them.  After this joint escape, there’s no more hiding their relationship, their allegiances.

The Lamb has chosen his path, as symbolically laid out in “Digestivo.”  When Hannibal is on his knees, the spotlight points straight ahead on him, while Jack stands in shadow. As Hannibal says in “The Number of the Beast is 666,” Jack is set up for us as God.  “Antipasto” leaves no question that Hannibal is to be Lucifer.  In “Digestivo,” though, the viewer sees these competing forces from Will’s perspective, & what do we see?  Hannibal/Lucifer in the light, & Jack/God in shadow.  Will’s allegiances should have been apparent from this point on.

Now, however, we’ve got our three central figures in terms of the Blake poems, plus Dolarhyde.  What Bryan has done throughout the course of these last three seasons, though, is effectively separate “Lucifer” from “The Dragon.”  Lucifer–the Gnostic lightbearer–is Hannibal, whereas The Dragon–interested in destruction & darkness–is Dolarhyde.  (Note how the cinematography in the Dolarhyde scenes is markedly darker-tinted than that in the rest of the episodes. He literally dwells in darkness.)

It’s interesting that The Dragon inhabits Dolarhyde–his lifelong insistence upon refusing to see beauty (including his own) sets him apart from Lucifer/Hannibal who literally dwells in the realm of beauty all the time.  Mads Mikkelsen himself frequently talks about how he’s envisioned Hannibal as Lucifer from the beginning.  Bryan Fuller expands, quoting Mads in saying: “He sees the beauty in the world & in humanity, but is also punitive to those who don’t recognize beauty in the world & in humanity” (“Showrunner Bryan Fuller Talks”).  For Hannibal, even the ugly is beautiful, whereas for Dolarhyde, even the beautiful is ugly. It’s key that Will–in the meeting with Chilton & Freddie–calls Dolarhyde “ugly.” That’s what Dolarhyde has always thought about himself–he’s ugly because why wouldn’t he be?

This is why Reba has shaken him so much–he sees beauty there. Not only is she physically gorgeous, but her way of experiencing the world is so pure & optimistic that he doesn’t understand how someone can live that way. The Dragon inhabits Dolarhyde in part because he lets him. He lets the ugliness enter him because it’s what he thinks he deserves. It’s his becoming: If he can’t become beautiful, he’ll become the very epitome of ugliness.

Revelation 12:8 tells us that the Dragon is “not strong enough” so there was no longer a place for him in heaven. On a literal plot level, he’s afraid he’s not strong enough to overcome his desire not to harm Reba. We saw him wrestle with this for all of 3B–he’s weak despite his physical strength.

In the realm of Hannibal, strength comes via beauty, seeing it & experiencing it. This is why Bedelia is such a powerful character–she allows herself to be immersed in the pure aesthetic beauty of Hannibal’s world. Even when she’s uncomfortable with it or nervous about it, she goes along for the ride. Bedelia is an experience whore, basically–she wants to feel everything there is to feel, see everything there is to see. She’s along for the ride in Florence purely because she’s curious about Hannibal.  The end of 3×13 brings us back to this–I had a theory all of season 3 that Bedelia would allow herself (or at least part of herself) to be eaten as a sort of “wedding cake” moment between Hannibal & Will. She’s sacrificing herself A] because she wants to know what it feels like, & B] because she’s responsible for unzipping the person suit in order to let Will into Hannibal’s psyche.

Hannibal’s experienced sex–he’s beautiful & loves beautiful people. He knows how to attract, seduce, & even keep people. But what he didn’t heretofore understand was actual intimacy. I think Bedelia deserves a LOT of credit for the events of 3A–she eased the person suit off. She made Hannigram possible, in a way, by acting as the sounding board for Hannibal’s “personhood experiment” in Florence. He had to test out what it was like to be a person before committing himself to it with Will. Will made him feel such human emotions–things that put him out of control–& if he gave into those feelings, into Will, there would be no turning back. He couldn’t reascend to his pedestal of infallibility once he’d chosen to step off of it for Will.

His decision to step off that pedestal is key, as Lucifer is literally the light-bringer.  He’s brought light to Will–the light of sophia, of knowledge. What Will needed all along wasn’t intellectual knowledge–he had that, obviously–it was self-knowledge, knowledge of how he fit into the world. In Season 1, we learn from Will that the concept of family has “never really fit” for him. He didn’t know his mother, wasn’t close to his father, was an only child. When Hannibal first meets Will, Will has no partner, no friends, no close colleagues. He’s a lost puzzle piece–he doesn’t fit in the world. Lucifer/Hannibal brings him the light of knowledge–the knowledge of where he fits, & HOW to fit.

Seeing Hannibal as Lucifer & Lucifer as light-bringer takes us, of course, to the Gnostics. A key Gnostic tract for this interpretation of Hannibal is the Excerpta de Theodoto:

What makes us free is the gnosis
of who we were
of what we have become
of where we were
of wherein we have been cast
of whereto we are hastening
of what we are being freed
of what birth really is
of what rebirth really is.

In Christianity, faith will save you. For the Gnostics, it’s not faith, but this knowledge–this gnosis. Will says point-blank that “this is his becoming.” He finally knows what he has become, knows who he is–this is his rebirth.

Will exists differently in the world now. The Gnostics acknowledge that this world is imperfect, but believe that that imperfection shouldn’t blind us to the presence of good–both within ourselves & within the world. There is no strict dualism for the Gnostics–just as there’s not for Hannibal.

For them, the serpent in the Garden is the embodiment of Sophia–wisdom. Its temptation brought about not humankind’s fall, but rather its awakening. Eve, being the first to engage with the serpent, is the higher spirit, while Adam is the lower part. Eve’s job was to awaken Adam to gnosis. As Sean Martin beautifully says it: “The complete person (Eve and Adam together as androgynous whole) is then able to start the long journey back to the divine realms” (36).

This entire show has been the awakening of the lower spirit–Will Graham–by the higher spirit–Hannibal Lecter. It’s been the journey toward gnosis & self-knowledge. Will’s becoming was to know himself, to fit in the world, to have a reason to be. Hannibal’s was to become a person, to experience selfless intimacy & love. They’ve each awakened the other, & together, are as Adam & Eve–a complete whole able to start the long journey back to the divine realm.

The cliff-falling scene was essentially a baptism. They are different now–they aren’t Will Graham & Hannibal Lecter, two separate beings, any longer. They’re Will-&-Hannibal: an actualized, self-aware whole.  The entire series is a story of transformation, of rebirth, of becoming–& of how much control one has to be willing to give up in order for this rebirth to happen.

If there’s a S4 or a feature film, S3 must have ended this way: with a symbolic rebirth via baptism. Neither Will nor Hannibal can go back to the way things were before now that they’re each imbued with the other’s knowledge.  If there’s no S4 or film, we end with both Hannibal & Will each having experienced a full becoming–they’ve ascended to their highest point in this realm, & had to metaphorically start the journey back to the divine via death.


SOURCES

Blake, William, and Alfred Kazin. The Portable Blake. New York: Viking, 1946. Print.

Martin, Sean. The Gnostics: The First Christian Heretics. Harpenden, Herts: Pocket Essentials, 2006. Print.

Radish, Christina. “Showrunner Bryan Fuller Talks HANNIBAL, the Show’s Inception, Gauging the Level of Violence, the Overall Series Plan, Using the RED DRAGON Storyline, More.” Collider. N.p., 13 May 2013. Web.