Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep3

Episode 3 – Potage

We open with Garrett Jacob Hobbs and Abigail Hobbs observing a deer. They’re hunting together. She misses the first time, but succeeds the second. Yet she’s distressed over killing it. She’s internally conflicted about killing, while her father is happy. She tells her father about how amazing deers are supposed to be, with regret. Her father one-ups her on each statement; they’re still beautiful and smart, even in death. He has the plan to “honor her” and use all of her parts, but have his daughter do the cutting with a knife. She’s distressed. He’s desensitizing her to what she doesn’t want to do: the horror of taking a life and the gory reality of the body afterwards. “Eating her is honoring her. Otherwise it’s just… murder.” She cuts the deer and runs her hand through its fur, flashing to the hair and body of a victim of her father.

She wakes up in the hospital, her intubation tube still in place. She’s haunted by what she did with her father. It comes out in her dreams. Many dream theories, going back to Freud, believe we compartmentalize or hide away things that are unacceptable. Yet they sneak out in our dreams, often disguised. Maybe this is because only when disguised can they get close enough to our conscious awareness that we won’t try to shove them back down out of fear/shame/etc. 

We move to Will’s home, where he’s letting his dogs out. Alana Bloom shows up on his lawn to tell him Abigail has woken up. Will seems a bit shaken, and Alana presses them to sit down for coffee. She noticed that Will is shaken, and she presses him to take a pause before diving in. She’s fulfulling a basic role: protecting him when he doesn’t think to protect himself. His impulse is to dive in. They sit silently with their coffee as Jack calls on the phone. Alana conveys that Jack believes Abigail was an accomplice. Will wants to help her. Alana wants to protect him from having to “save her.” They agree to have Alana be the one to talk to Abigail. Alana posits that the first person to talk to Abigail shouldn’t be someone who was there. Another might argue that she would feel more understood by someone who was there. It would definitely complicate things for someone who has a tendency to over-empathize, though. Will needs distance. He needs boundaries.

Alana goes to meet Abigail, introducing herself. Alana says “not medicine… I’m a psychiatrist.” It’s a funny distinction. Psychiatrists are medical doctors. We go to medical school. Then we specialize in the mind/brain and behavior. The reason this is important is many people don’t know the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Both have doctorates, but in a medical setting some people believe it to misleading to call yourself a doctor without an MD (or DO – more on that another time). More often a psychiatrist will say “my specialty is psychiatry,” or “not internal medicine.” Things like that. Alana says that she specializes in “Family Trauma.” Psychiatrists do subspecialize. Technically psychiatry is the specialty (like surgery is the specialty of surgeons), and then a subspecialty can be practiced such as forensic psychiatry (presumably one of Bloom’s real subspecialties), or cardiothoracic surgery for a surgeon.

All the more interesting is Abigail being treated at the Port Haven psychiatric facility. This is never explained. People are psychiatrically hospitalized for only a few reasons — because they are suicidal, psychotic, or manic. Few other reasons are typical, aside from an occasional drug detox. For Abigail we’ve been given zero reasons for her to be hospitalized. We could presume a rationale such as concern for trauma and PTSD, but these aren’t reasons to hospitalize someone, usually.

Abigail notes that she knows her parents are dead, and Alana seems to have information. They’re dead. They haven’t been buried. Abigail’s mother was cremated. Her father “is more complicated.” Abigail admits she knows her father was “crazy.” Alana challenges that Abigail had told the nurses she didn’t remember. “I remember, I just didn’t want to talk to them about it.” Now this is an incredibly revealing moment. For one, it’s real. People don’t talk about everything with every person. More importantly, it reveals that Abigail can be duplicitous, and lie to people she doesn’t want to talk to. It further means that no one aside from her will really know what happened unless she chooses to disclose it. 

Abigail states she wants to sell her family house. Alana watches, with the faintest airs of surprise and suspicion. Wanting to sell the house might be an effort to distance herself from the horrors of her father. We’re not sure. Alana brought her clothes, in a very sweet and motherly way. In this way Bloom is mixing roles. If she’s a forensic psychiatrist, often her job is assessment for the court, not treatment. Forensic evaluators don’t have to maintain confidentiality, and spell that out up front. Bloom, though, is presenting herself more clinically. She’s playing the role of a caregiver, presumably to get Abigail to trust and open up. She has not spelled out her role though with her, as a clinician or evaluator. And for the drama it’s more interesting to leave it ambiguous.

Alana goes on to offer her music as well, and discloses that she has a “problem” redeeming gift cards. It’s a subtle personal disclosure, for the purpose of trying to form a relationship. “By telling something about me, maybe you’ll trust me enough to tell me about you.” Abigail takes the bait. “Probably says something about you.”

Back at the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit), Jack sits down with Hannibal and Alana. He emphasizes the urgency of getting info from Abigail. Alana in turn emphasizes the need to create a safe space for her to get her to open up. This is a particularly self-psychology approach, a branch of psychoanalysis. Jack mistakenly views this as her being empathic and trying to protect Abigail. Alana reveals she questions her state of mind, believes she’s hiding something, yet doubts she could have really assisted the murders physically. She and Hannibal end up taking different sides, with Hannibal suggesting she might just be hiding the trauma, and Alana noting her history of manipulation. This is a common bias that health professionals of all kinds see: withholding of information is manipulative, and thus nefarious. In this context we don’t really know her ulterior motives, and the presence of selectively disclosing information is no more nefarious than openly disclosing everything is naïve. Jack wants Will to see her. Alana wants to protect Will, but Jack clarifies that Hannibal is Will’s psychiatrist. This hadn’t officially been spelled out before. Hannibal was at most an evaluator, rather than someone who focused on treating Will’s state of mind. 

Back in the lecture hall, Will lectures on Hobbs and his copycat. Jack and Hannibal step in and listen as Will describes the copycat (ie Hannibal): An intelligent sociopath who will be hard to catch, as he won’t murder this way again. He’s an avid reader of Freddie Lounds, and had intimate knowledge of everything of Hobbs (motive, procedure, etc). This is a fantastic device in continuing the cat-mouse dynamic of Will and Hannibal, which is played out on multiple levels. Will even opines that the mystery caller to Hobbs before his death was the copycat. The real drama in the scene is not Will, but Hannibal’s response to his own profile. The Act ends with Hannibal smiling, an uncommon act out.

At the psychiatric facility, Abigail [skeptically] talks with Freddie Lounds. It’s a game of manipulation. Freddie attempts to convince Abigail she’s worth disclosing her story to. Abigail is cautious and calculated. She gets Freddie to spill what she knows. “Your father was sick.” “Does that mean I’m sick, too?” Abigail works hard to hide the emotions, but lets slip the concern that she’s a psychopath like her father. In so many ways this parallels Will and Hannibal, with Will being the unwitting apprentice. 

Most courts do not consider psychopathy or its many forms (sociopathy, antisocial personality disorder, psychopathic personality disorder) to be a “mental illness” in the form that would qualify for exculpation. Typically the term is NGRI (not guilty by reason of insanity). There’s a whole history to this, but in short psychopaths aren’t considered “insane” in the legal sense, and thus are responsible for their actions. Furthermore there is little evidence that treatment by psychiatric hospitalization is helpful, though some select countries like the UK have tried. 

Freddie makes the case that the public will perceive Abigail as being like her father, so she needs to protect against that by controlling the information she gets out. Abigail counters that she doesn’t care what other people think. This is further revealing about her state, that if she doesn’t care then her reasons for withholding information from the nurses isn’t because of shame. Or at least that’s the profile she wants to portray to Freddie. Abigail asks how her father got caught, and Freddie describes Will (as he’s walking in) as a man who catches the insane because he can think like them, because he himself is insane. What an introduction!

Abigail admits that she remembers Will as the person who killed her father. Not a great place to start engaging with someone. They go for a walk and discuss her parents. “He was loving right up to the moment he wasn’t.” Such an experience would have to shake someone’s ability to trust ever again. Anyone in the future who appears trustworthy could turn on her. Will tells her she isn’t the same as him, and that the good she saw in him must have been because of her. She admits fearing the future— her own nightmares, the psychological effects of it all. Hannibal promises “we” will help. Will normalizes her experience, that there’s no “getting used to” it. He even discloses that he fears his own nightmares over killing, calling the experience “the ugliest thing in the world.” Hannibal watches. This is undoing his agenda to transform Will. 

On the way out they run into Freddie, who attempts to manipulate Will. She offers to undo the statements about Will she made to Abigail. “I can also make them a lot worse.” Will responds with a threat, that one shouldn’t piss off someone who thinks about killing people for a living. This of course actually proves her slanderous statements that he’s dangerous. Jack of course scolds them, including Hannibal for letting him say this. Hannibal furthers his connection to Will by “trusting him to speak for himself.”

Jack wants to let Abigail go home. Alana thinks it’s reckless, and that she doesn’t appreciate the dangers of going home, as well as the risks of taking her out of a controlled environment. Again, the psychiatric system, most specifically dictated by insurance companies, doesn’t hold people because it’s risky to go home. They usually have to justify keeping someone by something they’re actively doing in the hospital, some kind of treatment. Jack inquires “you said she was practical.” Will offers “That could just mean she has a dissociative disorder.” This seems like a leap in logic. A dissociative disorder, which usually manifests as a splitting off of a part of functioning, or feeling out of one’s body, doesn’t seem connected at all to her issues. And yet, maybe it does. Many people dissociate as a way of dealing with extreme emotions such as experienced during a trauma. They leave their body a little. There’s probably a PTSD subtype where this is the response (vs. the hypervigilance subtype). In which case if she’s dissociated she might not be able to appreciate the emotions and dangers there. More commonly people would avoid the triggers of the emotions, just as dissociating it away is a way to keep the emotions at bay and not have to experience them. In this case, Abigail has shown visibly having to suppress emotions, which makes a dissociative disorder much less likely.

Alana hypothesizes about the bad outcomes of letting Abigail return to her home, including re-traumatizing her. Jack reaches to Hannibal for his opinion, who sides with Alana but notes that there’s an opportunity to use the experience to heal her. Jack openly states he’ll go with the opinion that serves his agenda. As usual, it’s an interesting power dynamic to watch play out. As usual Hannibal is the most successful at being strategic: he has his own endgame he’s working, now on Abigail as well. 

Freddie talks with NICHOLAS BOYLE, the brother of one of the victims (actually the victim of the copycat). He’s still upset over the brutality of her death. Freddie feeds him the bait that Abigail came of her coma. She is setting into motion a new antagonist.

Hannibal, Will and Alana accompany Abigail to her home, where they find graffiti covering the house, with “CANNIBALS” written everywhere. Abigail goes step-by-step through the house. Where her mother died. Where her father was killed. All cleaned up. She doesn’t seem to have any emotional response to the situation. We don’t know if this is because of her being a psychopath, or because she’s detached. Based on the earlier emotions we’ve witnessed her having, detachment (dissociation) is much more likely. Abigail asks Will about his process of pretending to be others, like her Dad. This leads back to the copycat. She talked to him briefly on the phone, before he warned her father. Does she remember his voice? This is a fantastic bit of tension building. Abigail asks whether you can “catch someone’s crazy.” Alana responds that it’s called “Folie a deux.” Technically that’s incorrect. Folie a deux is a shared delusion (a false belief). Such as if you and your partner both believe the neighbors are poisoning you. Distinguish this from the “crazy” they’re referring to, which is psychopathy. Psychopathy isn’t contagious. Though situations like cults seem to open up the possibility of violence and even enjoying violence amongst people who are suggestible but not psychopaths. Oh, and no one uses the word “crazy” in legal or psychiatric circles. At least not officially. Hannibal further clarifies that false beliefs aren’t “delusions” if they’re accepted in their culture.

Abigail mentions her father was a perfectionist. Will agrees, noting there was little evidence. She jumps on this as the reason they let her come home, questioning if it was to find evidence. As if it wasn’t her idea in the first place. Though she ask about “letting her” come home vs. bringing it up in the first place. Abigail takes it a step further, excitedly wanting to re-enact the crime, making Will play her Dad, Alana her Mom, and Hannibal “the man on the phone.” Chilling. Does she know? Probably. We aren’t sure, but her decisive ending pointing to Hannibal seems to be her not-so-covert way of telling him that she knows it was him. Not covert to us, at least. She stares at Hannibal, trying to get a reaction, but without a response aside from him walking away.

MARISSA SCHURR, a classmate of Abigail’s, shows up to talk. She tells Abigail that everyone thinks she participated in the murders. This brings home the reality that public perception is important for her. Nicholas Boyle steps up from the woods and calls out Abigail as being the bait that got his sister killed. They scare him away, including by Elise throwing rocks at him. When Hannibal and Will catch up, Hannibal conceals a bloody rock. He’s trying to protect Abigail, or perhaps just form an alliance with her to protect himself.

Will dreams of a stag, and of himself as Hobbs, slitting Abigail’s throat. For him it’s a nightmare.

Abigail leads the group back into her father’s cabin. It’s quite clean. She recognizes now that what appeared to be a philosophy about life and hunting — “no parts went to waste, or else it was murder” — might actually be his way of preventing getting caught, leaving no evidence. She even realizes that he was probably feeding parts of the victims to his family. As she tells them about his confession, that he murdered other girls so as not to murder her, blood drips onto her, leading her to find her friend Marissa murdered upstairs. Abigail is shocked, legitimately. This doesn’t track with any level of psychopathy unless she’s a very very good actress. Abigail, that is, not Kacey Rohl, the actress who plays Abigail, who obviously is very talented.

The presumption is that the same copycat (we believe to be Hannibal) killed Marissa. Jack shows up questioning Will’s profile about the copycat, which even Will is now questioning. Hannibal makes the prediction that Nicholas Boyle killed Marissa, as well as his own sister. Hannibal has a possible scapegoat for his crime, and he’s seizing the opportunity. 

Will doesn’t think Abigail had anything to do with either murder. Jack questions this, wondering if Abigail is manipulating Will. I see no evidence of this based on the evidence in the episodes. Abigail’s “manipulations” are fully explainable within a normal personality structure, considering the circumstances. But of course we only know as much as the show chooses to reveal at this moment.

Will and Hannibal conclude that the copycat killer must have done both murders, since the wound patterns are the same. At this point there seems to be very little evidence connecting this directly to Nicholas, though. Hannibal tells Jack that Abigail isn’t responsible, but she may be a target. Jack instructs Hannibal to take Abigail out of Minnesota. We aren’t given any evidence to explain why Nicholas would be a suspect aside from his approaching them angrily the day before. It doesn’t explain at all why he would kill his own sister. In short, their profile of him is kinda weak. One could see, though, that the picture is confusing Will and Hannibal might be capitalizing on that by putting in a new explanation. 

As Abigail is escorted back to her house, Marissa’s mother breaks through the police, accusing Abigail of murdering her daughter. Hannibal escorts her away. Freddie Lounds appears, wanting to talk to Abigail. This plants the possibility that a predatory reporter might even be responsible. Is she so desperate for a story that she’d kill? She has no scruples, but we haven’t seen any violent history. 

Hannibal and Alana stay outside with the police. Abigail sits in the house. She visibly shakes, shocked and emotional. This is further evidence that she is really shocked and not acting. Aside from us as audience members, she doesn’t believe anyone is watching. She remembers the “not wasting” any part of the hunted, and cuts open a pillow to find it stuffed with hair.

Suddenly Nicholas appears, telling her he didn’t kill Marissa. Abigail tries to run but Nicholas grabs her and slams her against the wall. She stabs him in self defense, shocked at what she has done. As she heads up the stairs with bloody hands, Hannibal sees this. He knocks out Alana to prevent her from seeing, and instructs Abigail to show him what happened.

They go down to see the body, and kneel next to him. In a shocked, suggestible state, Abigail is vulnerable. Hannibal says this doesn’t look like self-defense, but butchery, and that they will now assume she was an accessory to her father’s murders. This gives Hannibal a point of leverage to manipulate her. She knows about him on the phone. This gives him a way to manipulate her. “I’ll keep your secret and protect you [if you keep mine].” Though it’s not stated as such. Yet.

Hannibal offers to help her, at risk to himself. He offers to help her hide the body, something that would never occur to her. We move to Will, Alana, and Jack outside at the ambulance. They’ve created a narrative that Nicholas attacked them, and Abigail was able to scratch him as he fled. This fits the picture that he’s a killer. Though we know better. The blood remaining of Nicholas matched the tissue found on Marissa, further confirming the frame job. We know Hannibal probably got it off the bloody rock that he hid.

We find Hannibal back in his spacious office. Admittedly I’m a little jealous of his office. I know no psychiatrists of therapists with anything like this. Abigail has snuck in, and he welcomes her. She’s afraid to sleep, and he knows it’s about her dreams. She believes that because she didn’t “honor” him by using his parts, it’s just murder. He reassures that it was probably self-defense. This of course goes contrary to his earlier manipulative rationale. Now he’s admitting what it was. 

She identifies that he called the house. Hannibal lies, stating he only asked if her father was free for an interview. She sees the truth, though, calling him out as a serial killer calling another serial killer. He denies it. “I’m nothing like your father… I made a mistake… like yourself.” And he offers to keep her secret.


Return to index

Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep3
Tagged on:                                                                     

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.

One thought on “Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep3

Comments are closed.