Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep2

Episode 2 – Amuse-Bouche

We open on bullet shells hitting the ground. Will at the firing range. He’s haunted by Garrett Jacob Hobbs. Even in his dreams. He awakens to entering a crime scene with Jack, the attic of Hobbs, filled with mounted antlers. Jack maintains that his daughter, Abigail, could be an accomplice in the prior murders. “Hobbs killed alone.” As usual, Will is very certain. But someone else was there in that attic. Someone with red hair. We meet FREDDIE LOUNDS, an online tabloid reporter.

Will stands in his classroom teaching his students. And yet he is still haunted by the experience of shooting Hobbs, to the point of having apparent intrusive memories. This is a classic symptom of PTSD, aka Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If we follow the textbook, a traumatic experience is a single scary event with threat of death or bodily harm, or witnessed threat to someone else. Though at this early stage it would at most be Acute Stress Disorder.

Will alludes that there is a copycat killer already, opening up the question as to who is it? Alana and Jack talk with Will after class, letting him know he’s free to return to the field, but that he needs to have a psych eval done, with Hannibal or Alana. Will clarifies that it’s mandated, and attempts to dismiss it by stating “Therapy doesn’t work on me. I know all the tricks.”

Of note, Jack wasn’t proposing that Will go in for therapy. He proposed he go for a psych evaluation. In the clinical and forensic worlds, evaluations are usually for the purpose of assessment and diagnosis, rather than treatment. So really therapy would be irrelevant. A better twist might be mandated regular counseling or therapy while in the field. But maybe I’m just being nitpicky. 

Hannibal immediately “rubber stamps” Will, for the purpose of moving on to therapy. Getting on with it. And the banter begins. Hannibal alludes to Will feeling obligated to Abigail (Hobb’s daughter). Hannibal states he too is obligated to her. In their dynamic, Hannibal asks a question and Will pushes back without answering. So Hannibal answers instead. This can be a therapeutic strategy to get a patient out of a defensive position, which Will definitely was in. And it works. Those in classic psychoanalytic practices would not use this technique, because it challenges the “blank slate” of the therapist. 

Deep in a wood in Maryland, three boys hike and find a dead body, in fact a whole garden of dead bodies and mushrooms.

Meanwhile, Will is back at the shooting range. Beverly Katz joins him, critiquing his stance and his need to practice. Will reveals that he was stabbed when he was a cop. This is presumably in line with the history of Will from the books, where he was a homicide detective in New Orleans prior to going to grad school for forensic science.

Back at the grave garden, Will examines the scene with Jack. Nine bodies, all buried alive and kept alive with IV fluids, to feed the mushrooms. At the periphery, Freddie Lounds covertly questions a cop. And Will does his metronome trick, imagining the scene from the beginning, again in the shoes of the killer. As he imagines this though, he continues to be haunted by Hobbs. One of the grave bodies also grabs Will’s arm, still alive. Good scare moment, author.

Will returns to Hannibal, handing back the clearance letter. He’s admitting he needs help, which is usually (but not always) where therapy begins. Will admits to having a “hallucination” of Hobbs in a grave. Hannibal attributes it to stress, yet continues his slow seeding of making Will into a serial killer, by calling Hobbs Will’s victim.

If I had to hypothesize a strategy that Hannibal is taking, he’s beginning by desensitizing Will to the process of being a killer. He has fed him presumably human remains as sausage, and now he talks to him as a killer, which Will dislikes. Will admits he doesn’t like putting himself in the shoes of a killer.

They discuss the case, and like many of the frankly bizarre murders on this show, has a deeper meaning. Each murder seems to be a metaphorical process for the killer to find a basic human need, such as connection or as a twisted cure for loneliness. 

Freddie Lounds pretends to be a patient to get to meet Hannibal, even using a pseudonym. Hannibal calls her on quickly. This is a fantastically tense scene. What might he do to her?

Jack and Hannibal dine together, eating a beautifully prepped loin dish. We’re clearly intended to wonder if they are eating Miss Lounds. They have a friendly relationship, and Hannibal clearly digs psychologically with most people he know socially.

Will in the lab, discussing the case with the techs and doctors. They deduce that since the killer was feeding the bodies sugar water (dextrose solution), that they were likely diabetic. Will presumes it was from changing their medications that he was able to make them hyperglycemic. And we follow that logic in to a pharmacy, where GRETCHEN SPECK-HOROWITZ shows up to pick up her medication.

Gretchen is the only crossover character (and second actor) from my favorite Bryan Fuller show, Wonderfalls. I encourage everyone to pick up the dvds for that brilliant but short-lived show. Apparently Gretchen moved from Niagara Falls to the Maryland area. 

Physiologically this makes sense. Diabetes Type I involves the body not being able to make insulin. Insulin helps sugar get taken up into muscle (and other areas of the body). If a pharmacist swapped insulin for saline, then blood sugar levels rise steadily, which severely dehydrates a person. Without the sugar being usable by cells of the body, fat is broken down releasing ketones. The complications of all of this is Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). 

The FBI raids a pharmacy, trying to catch the killer, ELDON STAMMETS. But he has escaped, leaving a body in the trunk. A story is released by Freddie Lounds about Will, with excessive detail. She worked another FBI agent for info though, leaving us wondering how much she got from Hannibal, if anything.

Will sleeps in Abigail’s hospital room. As he hears Alana walking through the hallway in heels, he dreams about a giant stag walking through the hospital. He awakens to find Alana reading to Abigail. They have a warming conversation. “I feel… good.” Will exclaims this, almost with confusion.

Freddie leaves her motel, to be confronted by Detective Pascal (who she tricked into giving up info earlier). It’s clear she’s a shark, willing to steamroll over people to get what she wants, but is willing to help others afterwards. Until Stammets walks up and kills Pascal, point blank. With blood spatter on her, he demands she tell him about Will. He’s looking for someone that can understand him.

Freddie Lounds informs Jack that Stammets is going to go find Will. “He wants to help Will Graham coonect to Abigail… he’s going to bury her.”

Now this type of thinking that burying someone to make a personal connection to them via fungus and plant interconnectivity, I would venture to fall into the realm of magical thinking. Magical thinking, when believed literally and outside of fairy tales, is considered a form of psychosis. So here again we have evidence that this man is as much psychotic as he is psychopathic. Some might argue that he’s a psychopath because he’s willing to hurt people without any apparent remorse, though in his delusional system (his false belief system that burying people helps to connect them through plant life) it’s not for any goal of cruelty or torture. So the evidence that Stammets is a psychopath can be challenged.

We follow Stammets going into the hospital where Abigail is admitted, and changing into scrubs and hospital garb. We move on to Will entering the hospital as if any other day, but then gets a warning call from Jack that Stammets knows about Abigail. Will draws his gun and switches into game mode. He finds that Abigail isn’t in her bed, and that the nurse believes she was “taken for tests.” We don’t really need any more medical specificity than this. Tests is enough for the plot point, because we’re caught up in the chase. Will finds Stammets and shoots him in the shoulder. Stammets continues on his psychotic delusion that by burying her “she’d be able to reach back.”

A fascinating belief, but quite detached from what many would consider reality. Furthermore the emphasis on “connection” seems to weigh against psychopathy, as psychopaths are considered less interested in helping or connecting to others. They’re both kind of selfish. In that way narcissism and psychopathy are considered connected, Otto Kernberg, and psychoanalyst, wrote about a spectrum of pathological narcissism, and that psychopathy and what we now would call narcissistic personality disorder all exist on it.

Hannibal questions who Will saw when he killed Stammets, and Will replies that he didn’t see Hobbs. Hannibal continues his psychodynamic therapy through interpretation. Interpretation is a tool in primarily psychoanalytic/psychodynamic therapies, to “interpret” what is happening and give “insight” into the person’s unconscious process. Hannibal makes an interpretation – that Will isn’t haunted by Hobbs but by the “inevitability” that eventually someone will be so bad that Will will (pun intended) enjoy killing him. Here again Hannibal is making a suggestion and couching it as a psychodynamic interpretation. As if he has great insight into Will, and when Will considers it, it has an impact. Hannibal has thus implanted the possibility that Will could enjoy killing. It’s a very subtle and slow psychological manipulation. 

Will doesn’t buy it, distinguishing that he felt “just” when he killed Hobbs, and that he didn’t even kill Stammets. Though he might have had the intention to kill him. Maybe. Hannibal furthers his manipulation through interpretation, stating that if Will intended to kill Stammets, it’s because he understands why Stammets killed. “It’s beautiful in its own way.”

Hannibal is furthering the manipulation, lessening the stigma behind killing through these suggestions. He’s developing Will’s empathy (caring) for killers, rather than just his ability to think like them. In that vein he’s also desensitizing Will to the process of murder. Again, it’s a subtle slow manipulation, presumably to turn Will into a killer who enjoys killing. Every time he gets Will to consider that he himself might be like a psychopath, Will explores whether it’s true and accepts it a little more as possible, eventually as true.

Hannibal furthers the interpretation – “did you really feel so bad because killing [Hobbs] felt so good?” Will admits that he liked killing Hobbs.

And we move into the closing of their “therapy” session, where Hannibal compares man to God. God must enjoy killing since he does it so often. He killed a church of his followers during worship. Will counters “did God feel good about that?” Hannibal “He felt powerful.”

Visually this ending really illustrates the difference between Will and Hannibal. Hannibal is calm and emotionless. Will is shaky and scared. From this alone, we can see that Hannibal fits the picture of a psychopath, and Will is scared to explore that world, but will do it when led by Hannibal. The manipulation continues.


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Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep2
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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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