Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep4

Episode 4 – Ouef

Warning: Wasn’t a big fan of the episode from a psych perspective, and may have vented a little.

We start with Will and Hannibal in therapy.  Will describes his house, and seeing it from a distance.  “It’s really the only time I feel safe.”  Hannibal pivots this to thinking about Hobbs and how Will knew him.  “Like a bloodhound.”  Will discloses that he tried very hard to understand him.  Hannibal furthers this to exploring how Will felt about finding the body of Marissa.  Will admits that he felt guilty, “because I felt like I killed her.”  Here we have the beginning seeds of Will losing his sense of self.  He imagines himself as other people so well, that he feels guilt over their actions.  He doesn’t naturally step back into himself.  I have seen this at times with some individuals with severe dissociative disorders, who might be quite out of their own body and forget their own perspective.  Will has lost himself in Hobbs even after he was dead.  The question of course being planted is whether this problem ultimately turns Will into a killer like Hobbs.  

Will immediately clarifies that he knows who he is, and he isn’t Hobbs.  All evidence to the contrary.  Will has seen Hobbs and seen himself AS Hobbs.  Which makes this statement that he isn’t Hobbs disingenuous, and perhaps Hannibal knows it.  Hannibal stiffens in response to this.  Hannibal might just know that Will is lying.  Even moreso, his statement is a challenge to Hannibal’s unspoken agenda to turn Will into a killer, even a psychopath.  And that might further irk Hannibal, that Will isn’t fully going with the program.  

Next we find a death scene, undisturbed.  Blood spatter on photos.  A whole family dead at the dinner table.  And of course Will is taking it all in.  Cue the metronome, as he reverse engineers the crime scene in his imagination.  This is one of the procedural elements of this show, recurring in many episodes.  He intuits that the killer wasn’t invited to the dinner, but that he forced it as an intruder.  In this scenario, the killer wanted control over this family, presumably to fulfill a fantasy.  He executed the children first, then the mother.  Will comes out of his imagination as Jack asks him what he sees.  “Family values.”  Jack asks “whose family values?”  Presumably it is the killer’s, enacted in his scenario.  

Interestingly [to me, I guess], this show chooses to illustrate each murder as somewhat constructed and orchestrated, “by design.”  In truth much violence is not that way, but instead an emotional act such as when in a rage or when feeling threatened.  Here, though, each of the killers are elevated psychopaths, calculated in their creation of each violent scenario.  

Hannibal pulls up to Will’s house in a Bentley.  He enters, feeding the dogs a snack, and snooping.  Will folds and rolls his clothes meticulously.  And apparently he keeps them in his living room.  He fixes a fishing lure, revealing his careful ability with a needle.  Hannibal was a surgeon before he was a psychiatrist, after all.  Anecdotally, I heard a story of a surgeon who decided to become a psychiatrist because “surgery wasn’t invasive enough.”  

Jack, Will, and CSI team [not them, people, that’s on a different network] review the victims and the crime scene.  Pillars of community yada yada.  Youngest son was probably kidnapped a year earlier.

Back at the psychiatric facility, Abigail Hobbs processes what happened with Alana Bloom.  Again, in the real world it’s highly unlikely that she would be kept in a psychiatric facility, as they wouldn’t be able to justify to an insurance company that she’s acutely ill enough to be in a hospital.  Abigail doesn’t like the other patients, as they talk like children or don’t say anything useful.  Alana gives some factoids [kinda] that “some traumas” can stunt vocal development.  Which really doesn’t address what Abigail was complaining about.  Alana also goes on to say some victims can “broadcast” their victimhood.  While this can absolutely be true, it’s a bit of a non-sequitur as it has nothing to do with what Abigail was talking about, and doesn’t bridge at all into anything relevant.  This is a device increasingly used on the show, making “insight” judgments that aren’t particularly grounded in what’s happening with the character or the scene, but seems to perhaps aim at steering the conversation in a certain direction.  Perhaps for plot purposes.

Abigail doesn’t feel that she broadcasts “victimhood.”  Alana disagrees, calling her [more or less] a famous victim.  This is also a jump in logic.  Broadcasting victimhood is a way someone portrays themselves to others, or a way they engage people.  Jumping to the celebrity angle as being the same thing is again an illogical jump.  When talking in somewhat more abstract terms, these conversations make illogical jumps.  Unlike many leaps in therapy, these just don’t make sense to me.  At best, they’re forced.

They talk about her lack of a home, and that Alana wants to help her find a new one.  More forced jumps.  They end with Alana encouraging her to find someone to “relate to in this experience.”  This is the plot point, to drive her back to Will or Hannibal.  They both understand her experience, and she’d rather do that.  The logic leading up to it… you get my point.

Alana shows up at Hannibal’s office, and we learn they have a relationship.  She drinks a beer, him wine.  Not many psychiatrists keep alcohol in their office, for obvious reasons.  As mentioned before, though, this is not your typical office.  Alana bemoans “professional neutrality,” and that ultimately she hates watching Abigail go “adrift.”  I haven’t really heard the term “professional neutrality” used in any psychiatric circles, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t.  Regardless, this is basically untrue for Alana to say.  First, she has clearly shown an agenda with Abigail on multiple occasions, and conveyed it, even in the scene just prior (telling her to go to support groups).  Secondly, neutrality doesn’t mean being neutral about caring about the person, as she’s implying.  You always side with the person.  Neutrality, when used, is about not taking sides in debates that someone is having.  It’s a particular belief in psychodynamic therapy, the particular kind of therapy conducted on this show.  I had a patient once who was torn on making a really basic decision on a small issue.  He pushed and pushed me to tell him what to do.  I told him what seemed to be the decision he was articulating, that he preferred one thing after another.  He did it, but then was stuck on believing that he should have made the other decision.  “I only did this because YOU told me to.”  

Furthermore, Abigail doesn’t seem to be “drifting.”  She has definitely been wounded, physically and mentally, and that takes time to come back from.  But C’MON!  If anyone should be cut some slack to be adrift for a little bit, it’s a girl who discovered her father was a serial killer and killed her mother and almost killed her.  Hannibal suggests she should be released from the psychiatric facility.  “Where?  Back into the wild?”  Again, this reflects an unrealistic ability of a psychiatrist to protect their patient from the world.  No hospital in the country (unless you pay a lot of money in cash) will keep someone inside for treatment indefinitely just to protect them from “the wild” of… basically… LIFE.  Hannibal pushes to get her back into the world, to learn how to survive in the real world.  I wholeheartedly agree.  Coddling people isn’t particularly useful, as it can foster a state of dependency.  Support should be aimed at developing independence and the ability to survive.  The only exception is if you really do believe the patient is so fragile that they’ll fall apart.  In which case all efforts should be aimed at getting them ready to be out in the world, rather than “protecting” them.  

Alana makes just this case, that Abigail is in “no condition…”  She even says that Abigail was very attached to her parents, and that Hannibal “stepping in as a surrogate would only serve as a crutch.”  First off, Hannibal never proposed doing anything himself.  Second — pot, kettle.  Alana is the one inadvertently being a crutch through trying to protect her.  Alana argues that Abigail should figure things out before leaving the facility.  This is a common belief system, but it always runs the risk of avoiding anything possibly overwhelming, which can worsen the anxiety through anticipatory anxiety and a progressive avoidance cycle.  See my other blog posts on this stuff.  Hannibal defers to her judgment, in a bit of a come on.

In the medical examiner’s office, they discuss guns and families.  Someone guesses that Will was an only child, because “family friction is a catalyst for personality development.”  This implies that Will doesn’t have a personality of his own.  Which isn’t exactly true.  Will has one, though much of what we’ve seen has been in response to his excessive empathy/TOM traits, to protect himself.  Otherwise, much of the factoids thrown out tend to be relatively true as to birth order.  They end with Jack pointing out that the mother lacked any defensive wounds, unlike the children.  “There’s a forgiveness.”  Indicating she’s forgiving her son, as a mother.  Again, a little bit of a leap in logic.  Acceptance, to me, makes more sense than forgiveness.  Forgiveness is after the fact.  Acceptance implies an allowing in of what’s happening.  But maybe that’s semantics.  The conclusion still makes sense, though, that a mother might accept her child.  Probably not in reality, but it’s an interesting clue to get us to the conclusion.  

Back to the Will-Hannibal dynamic.  Hannibal asks about his mother.  Will deflects through critiquing the strategy.  To me I have to wonder if the writer has been in therapy before.  While this reflects on cliches, it doesn’t transcend it very much.  Will inquires about Hannibal’s mother.  Hannibal actually discloses his history.  For most practitioners of psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy, this is a big no-no.  Self-disclosing isn’t a good idea since it turns the attention away from the patient.  The only exception might be if a little harmless disclosure might help the patient feel closer, and thus more willing to open up.  A skillsd therapist probably wouldn’t do it here, since this appears to be an attempt to evade, rather than an exploration of whether the therapist is trustworthy.  Further indications that the writer probably doesn’t have much experience with actual therapist.  Then again, there are a lot of bad therapists out there.  Hannibal describes his childhood as an orphan, followed by adoption by an uncle.  Will points out that this is a similarity to Abigail.  Hannibal mentions that Abigail is similar to both of them.  Again, the jumps in conversation don’t seem organic, but based on planned out story beats.  

Will discloses that he doesn’t relate to family, though he did create a family of strays.  We learn that he invited Hannibal to feed his dogs while he was away.  Will further divulges that his family was poor and blue collar, wandering around the south with his father, compared to the Turner family (the victims of the episode).  This could be fitting for Will who would have trouble attaching to others or building close relationships, as he would be moving around.  Just another reason in addition to his excessively developed ability at TOM (Theory of mind).  

Hannibal serves one of his decadent meals to Jack, at his home.  They joke about the rabbit they’re eating.  We see flashes though, indicating it’s really a person that Hannibal hunted in the woods.  They discuss Will as “haunted,” with nightmares, which Jack hypothesizes is about being wrong about Abigail.  Hannibal goes on to wax, in near gibberish cloaked as poetry.  “The tug of life.”  “That life is an anchor streamed behind him in heavy weather.”  I can think and speak on multiple levels, and even trained in some areas of using pure metaphor in therapy (Ericksonian), but this still doesn’t make much sense to me.  There are cleaner and even more poetic ways to say that he may get lost in his own childhood memories, and that that’s dangerous.  That’s the most sense I can glean from his statements.  And here I continue using up page space to try to rationalize it.  Simply put, Will getting lost in his childhood doesn’t clearly connect to what we’ve seen in the story, nor to any clear risks or stakes for his character.  

In the medical examiner lab, the team (Katz, Jimmy Price, Brian Zeller) discusses evidence such as shoes found whose wearer had uneven legs.  Lots of exposition.  The son (killer) is estimated to be so tall.  Fingerprints found on an Xbox controller.  Shoe prints.  They narrow it down.

In the lecture hall, Will teaches until Jack enters and prematurely ends the class.  He tells Will that the prints found came from a different missing kid.  So, ending the class abruptly and rudely (artificially dramatically) didn’t really spring up for any clear reason.  It was flash for flash’s sake.  It served no plot purpose, and doesn’t make sense with these characters.  Alas.  Jack takes him to the home of this other kid, where they expect another crime scene.

And there is one, decorated for christmas.  Many dead from gunshot wounds to the head.  Smelly.

The lab goes over these new bodies.  Similar killing order.  The mother had to be shot twice, because the first shot didn’t kill her.  The second was from a different gun, “to put her out of her misery.”  A burnt, unrecognizable body.  Will just guesses that it’s Connor Frist, the missing boy who they presumed went on this rampage.  He opines that he was “disowned” for screwing up.  This is another massive leap with no foundation.  Not only is there no hypotheses to weigh in here, there’s no emotional logic to reach this conclusion.  This could be anybody.  At least tell us there aren’t other children in the house.  There could be so many other ways to unfold this story of kidnapped children being brainwashed into murder and an artificial family.  None of this resonates or follows any emotional logic (for me).  Nor does it fit any psychological paradigms.  The factoids of the episode are disconnected from the plot and character.  If we do go to the actual script, there is slightly more information for guessing about Connor, regarding a goose-down pillow and compassion before killing him.  But this was edited out of the episode, apparently.  

In a diner, EVA (a kidnapper) sits with three young boys.  She works to convince them that they’re “making family,” and that Connor had to die because he couldn’t let go of his original family.  So these murder sprees are somehow intended to free these kids of their former family.  So again the show portrays a twisted psychopath attempting to have some type of basic human connection.  

Back in the lecture hall (apparently Will doesn’t have his own office), Will discusses his case with Katz.  He points out that the children were smaller and thinner for their age, and hypothesizes that this could be due to ADHD and use of stimulants.  This is a bit controversial, and not really representative of the research literature.  Most of the research these days has concluded that overall ADHD medications might at most slow growth (even that is arguable), but doesn’t change the overall height of the person.  This is therefore putting out inaccurate health information.  

Here’s some references to refute Will’s statements:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20605163http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25180281http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23216890.

Katz brings info about the ballistics.  Will continues the discussion with the team, including Jack.  This now helps them identify one of the other kids.  Not someone who seems like he has conduct disorder (some consider this the precursor to psychopathy/ASPD.  This scene feels like exposition, like something ripped out of Criminal Minds.  

In a convenience store Eva pays for something while a little boy Chris stands nearby, and the older boy CJ stares at Chris.  Chris wets his pants, and Eva is embarrassed.  Now this scene really really makes no sense.  We know that Eva, Chris, and CJ all know each other, because we saw them in the diner earlier.  In reviewing the script, it seems like this was originally supposed to precede the diner scene, but they reversed them and never course corrected the script.  This is indicated by Eva getting a descriptive sentence in this scene, usually reserved for when a character is first introduced.  So it makes little sense the way this plays out.  It would have been creepy if the diner scene wasn’t there.  Instead it’s just weird.

Will returns to Hannibal’s office.  He’s torn over a gift he bought for Abigail, but decided against giving it to her.  Again, their interaction in this episode departs from their usual interaction style, and doesn’t fit most forms of therapy.  Will is angry, and attributes it to not being able to help those boys, because he “can’t give back what they just gave away.”  This is very focused on external circumstances, that of family, which is so different than the usual internal preoccupation and sense of losing himself in other people.  It just isn’t consistent with the usual Will to this point.  The premise is that Will identifies with these boys, but it wasn’t very well established.  He wandered with his father a bit in his childhood.  That doesn’t seem to make it emotionally resonant to us as viewers (or again maybe it’s just me).  Hannibal offers that they can help the lost Abigail find her way, even if they can’t help these lost kidnapped boys.

Hannibal meets with Abigail.  “I don’t think I’m allowed to leave after I climb the fence.”  This is a curious sentence.  Is he telling her to climb the fence and run away?  And if so, then how permission play into it.  Hannibal appears to suggest that come his home and he makes her a meal.  This is again the adopting of the apprentice.  Abigail’s father taught her to hunt, and attempted to perhaps instill in her the “killer instinct,” perhaps even trying to turn her into a psychopath like him.  Hannibal up until this episode has been attempting to do the same with Will, just without Will’s knowledge or permission.  Here now he’s bringing Abigail under his wing as well.  Abigail asks to spend the night there, since she doesn’t like the institute and has bad dreams there.  He asks her to tell him about the dreams.  Since when is he her therapist?  This is a transition in the relationship, in line with his “tell them I’m one of your guardians” role.  

She describes a dream of Marissa sending her crime scene photos of Nicholas Boyle, dead.  She describes the fear that others will find out that she killed him, and think she’s like her father.  She relates that in her dream she has fear that she won’t be able to live with herself, and while awake she knows she can live with it.  “Does that make me a sociopath?”  Hannibal tells her it makes her a survivor.  Dreams for many represent the message we don’t allow ourselves to be aware of when we’re awake.  It’s about a forbidden message or image of ourselves.  Or at least that’s one possibility.  In this case the dream could make sense in the context of Hannibal’s manipulation.  He’s making her believe that she’s a killer, and that that’s acceptable.  The part of her with a conscience is screaming out against it, but can only find voice in her dreams.  She’s not a sociopath, though Hannibal is trying to help shape her into one.

Hannibal preps a meal, and inquires with her about if she’s applied for schools.  She counters that her father killed girls at each school she applied to.  She baits that she wants to work for the FBI, but that they wouldn’t let her because of her father.  Hannibal mentions that they wouldn’t let her if they believe she’s like her father, in her nature.  “Nature vs. Nurture.”  He reassures her that “you aren’t your father’s daughter anymore.”  No.  She has a new surrogate father.  Hannibal offers the idea of making the memory of her father less painful.  Again, through destigmatizing her father, it becomes acceptable to become like him.  He introduces the idea of Psilocybin.  Hallucinogenic mushrooms.  He made her a special tea with it in it.  He mentions that there are psychiatrists who believe hallucinogens can be used to access traumatic memories.  This is actually true, though it has mostly been a fringe area of the field.  Research going back to the 1960s, including with LSD in research settings such as with Timothy Leary (a psychologist).  Don’t be fooled, though.  It’s still schedule I in the US (schedule III in CA).  She takes it.

Will, Jack, and the team, attempt to trace the geographical pattern on the map.  500 miles apart.  Middle children from affluent families.  Will hypothesizes that this is all due to capture bonding.  That’s a fancy way to reference stockholm syndrome.  The idea being that there’s an evolutionary advantage to bonding with your captor, probably descended from women in “cave man” times who were kidnapped.  If they could bond with their captors, they were more likely to survive.  This doesn’t really have anything to do with the “WHY” of these children, or the 500 miles, or any of that.  It’s a technical concept that explains why these kids would participate, but doesn’t fit the rest of the profile they’ve created for these kids.  I suppose their rationale that middle children have more difficulty fitting it makes them more vulnerable to Stockholm Syndrome is interesting, but it’s not like the kidnapper would know that if they weren’t a mental health expert.  Nor am I aware of any research data to support this.  It might as well be the oldest kid who wants to excel, and thus prove themselves to the kidnapper.  

Abigail’s trip isn’t going so well.  Hannibal cooks for her.  She’s remembering hunting deer, gutting it, and gutting Nicholas.  She asks if Alana approved this, and Hannibal admits they have a differing opinion.  Umm.  Yeah.  He offers that psilocybin during therapy can be beneficial, as it gives back power to those that have felt powerless.  Subjective sense of powerlessness can be a part of many psychological issues, including depression and anxiety.  I wouldn’t say that hallucinogens are necessarily the way out of that, though.  Her trip isn’t going well.  He reassures her to let in the experience.  She identifies he’s making the same breakfast for her that was the last meal she had with her parents.  Again this can all be viewed as steps in him manipulating her into bonding with him, in this twisted apprenticeship system of encouraging someone to become a psychopath.  

Will, Katz, and Alana go through profiles of missing kids, to find the next kid and next victim’s home.  Will speaks of the profile.  An outsider who doesn’t look like one.  Again, not certain from what data he’s drawing this profile.  “He’d have a vocation, something inventive or mechanical.”  I challenge my readers to find data to support that one.  Seems out of nowhere to me.  Will brings part of the profile to Jack, that he believes the kidnapper is a woman, playing a mother since they’re killing mothers last.  Jack contributes to the profile.  These scenes have no contrast or conflict.  Since they don’t even seem technically based on anything, they’re tough for me to watch.  They find a good suspect of CHRIS, the next kid.

We see Chris ringing his doorbell.  We know what’s coming.  The FBI arrives just in time.  Chris runs away.  Will calls him, and he pulls a gun on Will.  Eva steps up and holds him, telling him to kill Will.  Katz shoots Eva in the shoulder.

Jack sits with Chris in the car.  Chris asks to go home.  Jack says that’s not going to happen, since all that anyone knows is he came to kill his family, then that’s what they’re going to believe.  This is probably intended to echo Abigail’s situation, where people’s perceptions of her as a possible killer will haunt her for a long time.  

Alana rails at Hannibal for taking Abigail out of the hospital, since she’s her patient.  He apologizes, and mentions that she’s in the dining room.  He tells Alana that he gave Abigail a bit of valium.  We know better.  She goes in and joins them at the table, sitting down for a meal.  “Breakfast for dinner.”  And the picture is complete.  Mom and Dad at the table.  Dad is a killer.  Mom is innocent.  Rebuilding her family.  A twisted corrective emotional experience.  Hannibal has solidified his bond with her.  

At home, Jack sees his wife join him in bed.  He inquires if it’s too late to have kids.  “It is for me.”  Will sleeps in bed, alone.  Tossing and turning.  He’s the only one without a family now.  


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Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep4
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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.