I won’t pretend to be a die hard fan of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but a certain few lines from that poem have always stuck with me, from the moment I read one of M.R. James’s best ghost stories Casting the Runes. Watching Will Graham walk down a road at night, with the familiar stag that haunts his dreams so close now as to sniff at his hand, they came to mind yet again:
This is true for more than just Graham’s nightmare - which turn out to be a rather jarring reality, albeit minus the stag; Graham has actually developed a habit of sleepwalking. ‘Frightful fiends’ preying upon the minds and spirits of the characters, and dogging their footsteps, are in plentiful supply this episode.
First, there are the fiends that spur the efforts of this week’s killer, Elliot Budish, the ‘Angel Maker’,who transforms his victims into guardian spirits to watch over him should he die in his sleep from his brain tumor. Despite the secular reality - the tumor that supplies his hallucinations of heads on fire, the lack of religious faith on Budish’s part as opposed to his belief in his own guardian angel - it’s impossible to overlook the spiritual imagery in this episode when it comes to the corpses. The religious nature of the first grisly tableaux is closely discussed in the episode; I particularly like the call forward to Hannibal when one of the forensic team - I still haven’t learned to tell the two men apart, I am ashamed - spoke about Viking sacrifices of Christians by snapping open their ribs and pulling their lungs out through their backs: the ‘Bloody Eagle’. I did, however, think that this sacrifice wasn’t designed specifically for Christians but rather as offerings to the god Odin, but after more than a thousand years, who can be certain?
But I was especially struck by the picture the second victim makes. When Crawford leaves Graham alone at the crime scene after they’ve each respectively blown up at each other over the case, we get a beautiful almost silhouette of Graham looking up and the corpse seeming to look down. Back lit by some unknown source, it plays on the idea of an actual angel descending from heaven to the man on earth, providing divine inspiration.
(As a brief aside; whoever wrote this scene - in which Graham claims angels in the Bible do not have wings - I would like to point to Isaiah, Chapter 6, verse 2: ‘Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.’
Also Revelation, Chapter 4, verse 8: ‘And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.’
The state of angelic genitalia still remains a mystery, so I will give you that. Personally I enjoy Kevin Smith’s Dogma; as the Metatron demonstrates, he’s “as anatomically impaired as a Ken doll.)
Then, of course, there’s the revelation that put a new spin on Budish’s strange quest to become an angel - he transformed people who were not just fiends in his fevered imagination, but also in reality, whom he turned to look at again. “Meet Roger and Madeline Brunner,” someone says of the corpses presently spread out in front of him. “He likes to rape and murder, she likes to watch,” as it is so charmingly put. How Budish managed to see his victims for the demons they might have been remains ambiguous; was it simple chance, or was there something deeper at work?
But the religious imagery continues right up to the climax, when Graham and Crawford find Budish in the barn where he nearly died in a fire as a child, having by some Herculean effort managed to flay open his own back and hang himself up in the manner of his second victim. He resembles an angel like his previous creations, but I couldn’t shake the additional image of Christ on the cross, having sent the criminals on to Paradise before him.
Even the title of this episode has a spiritual bent; ‘Coquilles’ stands for scallops, the shell of which also happens to be the emblem of St James, and scallop shells are a popular item for pilgrims on the road to the saint’s shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Spain), even to this day. I don’t think of myself as particularly religious, but my mind can’t help but join the dots, especially when Lecter and Graham begin discussions on the subject of God and whether Budish is truly carrying out his work.
Speaking of Lecter, that’s another type of fiend in this series, not wreathed in flames but hidden in plain sight. Once again Lecter and Graham share some wonderful scenes, but from the very beginning of the episode, when the host makes his guest a rather suspicious hot drink - when Lecter says a line like “My kitchen is always open”, I’m automatically on edge by this point - he’s constantly being the devil on Graham’s shoulder, voicing doubts about Crawford and his concern for Graham’s well-being, while discussing the goals and methods of the man he hunts.
I notice a running theme with china, by the way; Crawford regards Graham as a delicate tea service, while Graham is coming to think of himself as a worn out mug. Abigail - who is curiously absent from this episode - broke a teacup back in ‘Ceuf’, and the image of the pieces of a shattered cup coming back together will have great importance to Lecter in the future, if Fuller sticks to canon.
It’s interesting to see Lecter be the man of supposed faith, as opposed to Graham’s skepticism - “God gave him insight into the souls of men,” Lecter posits; “God gave him a tumor,” Graham retorts. But then again, is Lecter a man of faith? “If you can’t beat God, become him,” he suggests earlier, and what we’ve seen of Lecter so far hints in his own belief of becoming God. In any case, it gives him the chance to play once more upon the secular similarities between Graham and the man he hunts; minds that play tricks upon them, the sweet desire for peace. He suggests that the man they hunt will be destroyed by what’s inside his head, while Will doesn’t have to be. All this while Will is absorbed in a bronze cast of a stag that resembles a certain animal from his dreams.
And then, standing behind Will while he’s thus absorbed, much as the stag did in the dream at the start, Hannibal inhales his scent. From his neck, not from his hand; the latter would have been a little awkward. A source of great hilarity ever since this particular snippet was revealed in the trailers, and a source of heightened eroticism. I will say again: oh my. But the comedy and chemistry is soon quelled when Lecter learns Will’s headaches have been getting worse. Could that be concern or curiosity on his face? And could Graham have even more in common with Budish than he realises, when it comes to what’s in his brain?
Graham has several devils at his heels, and by the end of the plot they’ve pushed him to the breaking point. He’s already woken up on the roof. As was the case with Abigail, I am amazed Will finished the episode without breaking, actually trying to offer comfort to a man he by now doubts.
Or perhaps he has broken, taking into account that when he is left alone, a certain someone hobbles into the foreground, giving me quite a shock…
Budish literally seems to come down from the cross and tempts Graham - now also engulfed in flames; does he hallucinate himself this way? - with bringing the demon out in him, making him an angel, granting him majesty. Making us do yet another double take, this too is an illusion…but yet another killer, however imaginary, sees what Graham is. How many more will do so? How can they all have this understanding? Or it Graham taking one delusional step closer to becoming just as much a monster as the people he hunts, with a fiend that doesn’t ‘close behind him tread’ but inhabits his very skin and is fighting to get out?
There’s more than one fiend within. Budish had his tumor; Graham, inn addition to his cursed sight that is slowly breaking him down (admittedly with some help on Lecter and Crawford’s parts) possibly has the same condition; Phyllis ‘Bella’ Crawford, it now emerges, has Stage Four lung cancer. The episode has some powerful scenes where she discusses her feelings about her impending death with Lecter: ’I am slowly shrinking,’ she says, ‘while this tiny thing grows each day - and yet I feel fine.’ Yet Bella claims not to be mad at the cancer, as Lecter suggests; it is, after all, only natural - a detached liver cell trying to make another liver in her lungs. What’s so evil about that?
Bella Crawford does not turn her head to look at the frightful fiend, or tell her husband of its presence, in the hopes that she can preserve the normality of what remains of her life. It’s not so much a case of ‘if I’ll ignore it, it’ll go away’, she’s perfectly aware of how fatal it is, but she doesn’t want to expose her husband to the thing that’s eating her life, believing he can’t help.
Watching Crawford finally realise what’s been troubling his wife, when faced with the near identical story of Budish’s spouse, is incredibly painful. He looks as if he’s been physically hurt, not just by his epiphany but by the fact that Bella kept it from him. He withdraws from questioning, leaving Graham to try and make sense of the killer’s motives; when he joins the conversation again his hands shakes and his voice cracks. But he’s determined not to be driven away by his wife, no matter how much Bella still dances around the issue and repels him, and they end by clasping hands. It’s tragic, but also triumphant.
Still, Crawford ends the episode staring into space, even as Graham states that he will not go away, again similar to Jack’s declaration to Bella earlier. In addition to his beauty sleep being disturbed by victims and their killers, Crawford is now lumbered with a fiend that will follow him for the rest of his wife’s life.
(I apologise for not saying more on this plot thread or looking further into it, but I’m really not qualified to talk about cancer and the devastating effect it has on so many lives; nor do I have the right.)
As I’ve stated before, the imagery has rather a religious theme this episode, and is more disgusting than ever. I was prepared for the images of the ‘angels’, and yet the raising of their wings and their exposed backs, the paleness of the ribs and spines showing through the pink meat, still gave me chills. But there was still a strange sort of beauty to be found in Budish’s kills, as well as a suspension of disbelief. (How did he manage to get that not-security guard hanging up there? How did he manage to geld himself - I presume it was himself - without bleeding to death or going into shock? Once again, how did he manage to create his own wings and string himself up to die?)
The cut from grizzly horror to Lecter’s exquisite place settings was a nice touch - although I do have to cry, ‘What the hell, Crawford?’ I’ve wondered why they don’t eat at a restaurant or the Crawford’s house for a change, but Lecter’s stated dietary preferences and the Crawfords’ lack of ability to cook does go some way to explaining why Lecter keeps inviting Crawford over. Poor Crawford; I do pity him when he eventually finds out the truth.
Also; Lecter employs an ethical butcher, it would seem. Oh, the irony.
The computerized special effects were also put to more work this week than just the constantly recurring stag, as heads wrapped in flame made Budish turn his head more than once to select the canvases for his transformation.
The quiet scenes, without any gore or illusions, are even more powerful. Gina Torres plays Bella Crawford superbly, as a woman who is determined not to lose her dignity, more willing to confide in a near stranger than in her husband and hurting deep within, yet holding it all back. We get to see a far more vulnerable side to Jack Crawford, as he learns about the secrets his wife has kept from him and almost breaks down. I can’t imagine what it must have been life for this real husband and wife to have to act out this agonizing scene between the two of them, in which they reconcile against a dark inevitability.
Mikkelsen and Dancy once again nail it in the scenes between Lecter and Graham, as Hannibal both reassures and manipulates Graham - although do they really need to keep saying Crawford’s full name? They know who they’re talking about! Besides the temptations, I enjoy how they work together to solve problems, bouncing ideas and theories off of each other. This is a dynamic I will sorely miss during the ‘break up’ of season two, assuming we manage to get there.
And I’m raring for the next episode, 'Entrée', which would appear to kick things up a notch. We have Eddie Izzard - a comedian and actor who I adore, this series is really spoiling me - who might possibly be taking the fall for a certain cannibal. There are glimpses of ‘Wound Man’, a possibly updated tribute to the picture with canes, not arrows, thrust through the victim, and hints of Graham’s eventaul epiphany (although I do think it’ll stay ‘eventual’ this season). Most of all, we see Dr Hannibal Lecter, a fiend in human shape, looking disturbed, possibly even nervous.
Perhaps he recognises that his own fiend is treading close behind - and the fiend is William Graham.