Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep10

 Episode 10 – Buffet Froid

A car drives up to a house at night.  A girl (BETH LEBEAU) gets out, and enters the house.  She plays with a cage bird.  We see her getting ready for bed.  As she tries to sleep something drips from her ceiling. She turns on the light to see multiple leaks coming through across her ceiling. She investigates the attic to find a hole in the roof, Big enough for a person to come through.   In fact we see what she doesn’t, footsteps in the snow, on the outer roof.  A good use of the Hanging Elevator technique — give info that the audience knows that the character doesn’t, which involves danger.  She finishes patching it up and returns to bed.   She sees water streaks towards her bed.  As she approaches her bed, she gets pulled under it, clawing for life.  A spray of blood tells us what happened.  Terrifying.  

Will sits in “therapy” with Hannibal.  I used quotes because it’s gone back and forth between defining it as therapy, conversations between friends, and sequestered conversations about a collective conspiracy.  Will takes issue with Abigail killing Boyle.  Hannibal tries to normalize it, since each of them have taken a life.  Will moves on to objecting to the coverup.  I love the dialogue.  It moves through issues and unlayering complaints one at a time.  Hannibal furthers that these deaths happened when there weren’t alternatives.

Hannibal questions if will has had any further losses of time, or hallucinations.  Will admits he has.  Hannibal asks him to draw a clock face.  This is part of a cognitive or neurological exam, looking at many complex functions in the brain.  It’s looking for constructional apraxias, or difficulty doing certain complex tasks.  The various ways this can go wrong are each revealing.    Will draws a clock that seems normal.  When he presents it, all of the numbers are on the right side, and some aren’t even in the circle.  The crowding to the Right with nothing crossing the midline suggest Right parietal lobe impairment, and it might even be expected to have hemineglect (where half the body is ignored).  He’s ignoring the left side, so the right side must be impaired.  There’s other areas of the brain impaired, but it would probably need other testing such as drawing tests to further elucidate it.  Hannibal of course doesn’t comment on this.

Will enters a house with a fish.  He cuts it open on the counter, and it gushes blood.  He blinks and suddenly is watching Beth bleed out, in real time.  He’s getting lost in his imagination, and now acting it out.  Previously it stayed in his head.  He stumbles out of the room, bloody and disoriented, having held the body and the blood.  Jack confronts him, noting he was uncharacteristically afraid.  “I just got disoriented.”  Disorientation is a symptom of delirium, a medical condition indicating global toxicity to the brain.  It may come and go, or wax and wane.  All the more evidence that he needs to get checked out medically.  He admits to having trouble finding the words for his experience.  Jack challenges him with the severity of the situation, that he contaminated the crime scene.  Will attempts to blame his process as making him feel like he killed Beth.  Jack tries to be rational, explaining to him that he should be taking the evidence and extrapolating the thinking of the killer.  That has never really been what he does.  At least not from what has been shown.  Jack explains his concern that he has “broken” him.  Will retorts that even when broken he’s better than any healthy person out there.  “Fear makes you rude, Will.”  Yep.  Fear and anger.  I think he blames Jack.  Maybe just because fear has never made him rude, before.  This also references the Hannibal motto — Eat the Rude.

Will and Jack rejoin the team as they reconstruct the crime scene.  Blood everywhere.  The killer seemed to care about her.  Based on broken photo frames.  Really that seems to indicate it didn’t like something about the images.  Not sure the leap to “caring” is clear.  There’s some skin on the knife, presumably the killer’s.  Beth scratch the killer enough to get skin, but didn’t draw blood.  The killer also tried to pull of the face, post-mortem.  Interesting clues.  

Will talks with Hannibal, and the issue of losing himself in the experience.  Hannibal has clearly now become the confidante.  Will complains of the intensity of the experience, so much that he now has memories that feel real.  This is a subtler form of him disconnecting from reality, and also shows the malleability or “plasticity” of memory.  Our memories are very changeable, even in the healthy.  Hannibal urges him to overcome the delusions that this is real.  This isn’t an issue of willpower (pun intended).  Will conveys that the killer was sad, not cruel.  Lonely and transparent.  Hannibal tries to remind him of the toll that his work has on him.  Will rebuffs this, saying it doesn’t fit his type of “crazy,” believing it’s medical.  Yes yes yes.  Probably not a tumor as his impairments seem to involve multiple areas of the brain.  Seizures are possible.  Hannibal says he’ll recommend a neurologist, but if it isn’t “physiological” (we usually say organic), he’ll have to accept it’s mental.  Well, yeah.  He should have been ruled out for medical causes several episodes ago.  But that wouldn’t be as interesting to watch play out here.

Will and Hannibal sit down with a neurologist, Dr. Sutcliffe.  He was a resident with Hannibal at Hopkins.  So we don’t know how trustworthy he is.  The off-white sportcoat, in contrast to Hannibal’s black suit seems to suggest he’s more trustworthy, though it appears to be a grayed doctor’s white coat.  Will conveys the history a little.  They put him into a scanner.  Hannibal tells Sutcliffe he believes it’s encephalitis.  Which really speaks volumes.  Hannibal needs to be honest with Sutcliffe, and probably only brought in Will because he couldn’t convince him otherwise.  Plus Hannibal has known all along.  Hannibal goes on to admit he’s known, but that he wanted to be sure, and the onset was gradual.  Sutcliffe doubts him.  Hannibal shows him the clock.  He also remarks about how rare it is to be able to study the psychological effects of this.  Sutcliffe responds it’s rare to study the neurological.  Is this a conspiracy brewing to hold back the truth and let him be sick?  Sutcliffe furrows a little, which makes it questionable that he’s really on board with that.  In the machine, Will suddenly starts seeing himself under the bed, witnessing the murder.  He can’t escape.

Sutcliffe sees inflammation across the right hemisphere of the brain, and makes a diagnosis of anti-NMDA encephalitis.  One could call this encephalitis, but I don’t think the cluster is specific enough to make this diagnosis without blood tests looking for anti-NMDA antibodies.  Sutcliffe’s prognosis is it will get worse.  He’s impressed that Hannibal could smell it, and asks what he smells on him.  “Opportunity.”  Hannibal knows he can get him to go along with this.  Sutcliffe presents false results to Will, telling him everything was normal.  This is wholly unethical, and the level of lawsuits this would bring down boggles my mind.  Not to mention criminal charges.  But amusing to watch another little conspiracy brewing.  This really continues to represent Hannibal as the devil — he brings out the worst in people, and brings them into little conspiracies that betrays their better nature.  Will accepts this, reluctantly.

Hannibal and Jack talk over a drink.  Hannibal emphasizes the toll this is taking.  Jack says it was worth it, for what Will has done.  Hannibal retorts that he caught the “killer’s disease” — to not stop thinking about taking a life.  This is one of the leaps of logic that will be done on the show now and again.  Sometimes a lot.  The problem of a violent psychopath, namely a drive to hurt or torture, is very different than thinking about murder and having a terrified reaction to it.  Will’s response to viewing himself as the killer has involved more and more fear and terror.  He’s not getting used to it, he’s getting more upset.  So in some ways this is going against Hannibal’s plan.  The only way his plan of turning Will into a killer is working is because of Will’s disorientation from his encephalitis.  Hannibal speaks up for Will, that he’s “an innocent.”  This is part of Hannibal’s approach to get Will off his trail.  Either he gets him out of the field, or he discredits him when he’ll get too sick.  Hannibal tells Jack about the neurologist and normal findings, and that he thinks Will is more or less “mentally ill.”  Hannibal goes on to explain the problem as Will having too many mirror neurons.  That’s a way of attempting to explain empathy in terms of neuroscience.  Mirror neurons are really only theoretical, though.  

Will returns to the crime scene in the middle of the night, armed with a flashlight.  He talks to himself, reminding himself of the date/time.  He sees someone under the bed, who hides when he looks closer.  Obviously he fears he’s hallucinating again.  This would be very different than all of his others, and thus unlikely.  As he looks below it, the bed flips over and a girl runs past him.  He grips at her arm, and the skin sloughs off in a sheet as she gets away.  Will blinks and finds himself in the woods.  More lost time.  He checks his watch and he seems to have lost almost three hours.  He speaks aloud about the time/date/location, and shouts to the girl that she’s alive.  He knows somehow that she doesn’t believe she’s alive.  It’s not clear how he knows this from the limited evidence available.  It’s a big leap of logic.  

Will returns to the crime scene, this time with Katz.  She questions why he called her.  They haven’t had a particularly close relationship, but they are honest with each other.  He admits that he isn’t sure the girl under the bed was real.  He says he figured out the skin has no direct circulation.  He doesn’t remember what happened to the skin.  His quick observations are that she had discolored eyes, jaundiced (yellowing of skin and eyes), malnourished, and appeared “deranged.”  I think we should count the number of synonyms used on this show for “crazy.”  Will intuits that she can’t see faces, and might not ever recognize she’s a killer.  This killer “can’t accept her reality.”  Again, this isn’t really established in the facts or the data.  At worst he’s projecting his own issues.  This is a superpower, though, so of course he’ll be right.  

Will joins Hannibal in his office, and draws another clock.  It’s the same pattern.  I consulted with a neurologist friend/colleague, who said this definitely evidences spatial neglect, but in such cases the perfect circle of the clock face would likely also be deformed.  The deficits seem a bit too focal, was his description.  Will talks about the killer as like “seeing a ghost.”  Hannibal affirms this is real.  Will tells him about losing time, again.  Hannibal offers to keep looking for answers.  Will questions if Hannibal would write a paper about him.  Hannibal states that if he did, he would anonymize it.  That isn’t a no.  Hannibal suggests the killer might have Cotard’s syndrome.  This syndrome involves someone believing their body is dead, or rotting.  It’s a delusional disorder, which is a kind of psychotic disorder.  Delusions are considered fixed false beliefs.  I’ve only seen a case once.  Hannibal talks about how inability to recognize faces is associated with Cotard’s.  That’s true.  It has some connection to Capgras, where people believe others are actually imposters (think of Invasion of the Body Snatchers).  Will hypothesizes that she reached out to someone she trusted, but felt betrayed.  Per Hannibal “She can’t trust anything… she once knew to be trustworthy.  Her mental illness won’t let her.”  He’s referencing Will as much as anyone else.  Sometimes I think this show is just the most twisted buddy cop show, ever.  

Will shivers in bed, asleep.  Outside, the girl watches his house.  She creeps to his window.

Jack and Will talk with the girl (Georgia)’s mother, after matching tissue samples.  Georgia apparently had a mental illness.  At nine she was threatening to kill her mother, and that she (Georgia) was already dead.  Apparently she had seizures, hallucination, psychotic depression.  Cotard’s, which is already uncommon, as a psychotic disorder usually doesn’t go with seizures.  She would be expected to have a medical cause of seizures, or even that he seizures might be causing some of her other symptoms.  Thus, it might be very treatable.  And none of this fits her skin issues.  So far.  Georgia’s mother said all the tests by the doctors were inconclusive.  “Mostly I learned… how little is actually known about mental illness.”  Yes and no.  I do like that by keeping it non-specific, they can make a commentary about the field as a whole. “It’s rarely about finding solutions.  It’s more about managing expectations.”  That’s true for some disorders.  And there’s a level of truth that many conditions should be expected to be chronic and lifelong.  But that’s true for most of medicine.  There’s very little that we “cure” aside from infections and cutting out certain diseased organs (which aren’t really cured either).  Everything else is managing chronic conditions with the limited tools we have, and getting things into “remission.”  At least that the way we describe them all now.  It prevents people from stopping meds because they feel better, thinking they’re cured and then getting worse again.  

Jack and Will talk alone.  Jack carries a lot of responsibility, starting with Miriam Lass, and now with Will.  They both know that the work is bad for Will, but neither actually wants him to quit.  Jack lets him know that he will be a foundation for him, to keep him stable.

Hannibal serves diner to Sutcliffe.  They discuss food, and Will.  Hannibal admires Will for having a pure imagination, pure empathy.  He still calls Will his friend, though, and that they will “put it out when it’s necessary.”  But he still has the intention of hiding it from him in the future.  Such a mixed message.  If this is how he treats friends, remember how he treats enemies.  We can assume Hannibal picked Sutcliffe because he knew he would go along with it.  

Will goes back into the scanner.  When he comes out, no one is there.  We wonder, is he dreaming?  He gets dressed and walks the hallway, seeing blood on a door handle.   He finds Sutcliffe, dead.  The team arrives and studies the room, finding the same tissue as on the other knife, from Georgia presumably.  The lack of blood on Will means he’s innocent.  Yet he feels guilty since there’s no other reason this happened.  We are not given a clear reason to suspect that Hannibal did this, since no motive was revealed.  Sutcliffe did furrow his brows a couple times, maybe indicating a little conflict over their conspiracy.  

Jack grills the subject.  Why him?  Maybe he thought Sutcliffe was Will, since unable to see faces.  Then why Will?  Maybe because he told her she was alive, and no one had said that in a while.  Worthy of murder?  

Will back in bed, sweating and shaking.  He hears the dogs growling.  He looks under his bed and sees Georgia under it.  Freaked out, he stills talks her down, letting her know she’s not alone.  She reaches out her hand, asking “am I alive?”

Georgia is put into the hospital, into hyperbaric oxygen.  Jack asks Hannibal if she’ll recover.  He gives the prognosis, which is fair.  Most of her problems are treatable.  Jack wonders how much she’ll remember.  Hannibal says “I hope not much.”

Flashback of Georgia walking in on Hannibal killing Sutcliffe.  He gives her the scissors.  She can’t recognize him.  We’re not really let in on the why he would kill Sutcliffe, but presume he was a little conflicted over continuing to withhold info from Will.  Or maybe it was just on a whim.  Or some unspoken old sleight.  Or maybe he was just tying up loose ends.  

It was also never explained why her skin would slough off that way, like a glove.  I’m not sure that’s explainable through dehydration alone.

I particularly love this episode (and a later one) for using Ellen Muth, particularly for this character.  On Dead Like Me she played Georgia Lass, a girl killed prematurely who was turned into a grim reaper.  Georgia on Hannibal is a brilliant callback to that, turning the fantasy into a Hannibal pathology.  I’m just waiting for Alana Bloom to start talking to inanimate objects.


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Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep10
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Paul Puri

Dr. Puri is a board certified psychiatrist, in private practice in Los Angeles. He practices multiple forms of psychotherapy, including hypnosis, in addition to managing medications. He attended medical school at University of Rochester, and specialty training at University of California, San Diego. He is currently on the Vol Clinical Faculty at UCLA. In his non-clinical time he writes TV pilots, and designs iPhone apps.

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