Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep9

Episode 9 – Trou Normand

The episode opens with the team on a beach in West Virginia, investigating a totem pole of bodies.  I don’t believe anything even remotely like this has ever been reported.  The show appears to be getting more fantastical, or more metaphorical in the murders.  The team tries to figure out where to even start.  Seven bodies.  Most are old victims.  Will does his metronome trick.  He believes the killer planned this for a long time, almost as a piece of art.  The most recent victim was kept alive to witness constructing the “art” piece.  “This is my legacy.”  And yet the why of this body of work is unclear.  Why a totem?  Totem poles served many purposes, including to public ridicule others.  This one happens to have multiple limbs coming off it towards the top, a little like a Hindu deity.  As a therapist, I might ask — “What is this trying to communicate to me?”  The first answer is “look what I can do.”  The killer is showing off, as in just killing isn’t big enough.  This is audacious on purpose.

Will finds himself at Hannibal’s office, not certain how he got there.  He’s losing time.  Now again, presuming that there isn’t an organic cause and this was an isolated symptom, we might view this as a dissociative fugue.  But combined with his other mashup of symptoms, he needs a medical workup urgently.  This would probably include blood tests, a head scan (ideally an MRI, but unfortunately many just do head CTs), and maybe an EEG.  Hannibal maintains that Will is “disassociating” to escape abuse, namely the terror of his empathy disorder.  That isn’t an awful hypothesis, but the constellation of symptoms warrants a medical workup first.  The rest should be a diagnosis of exclusion.  Hannibal indirectly suggests Will should quit.  Of course this would get him off his trail, too.  Will likes doing good in the world, saving lives.  Hannibal plays up Will’s life as a priority, as if he’s allying with him over the job.  The likelihood of Hannibal legitimately caring about Will in this way is low.  It’s more likely that this is a further deception to split Will from the work, so he won’t find the real Ripper (and I’m not talking about Anthony Stewart Head).  

Even Will thinks he should be checked out medically.  Hannibal pushes him away from that.  This would keep him sick, or even help him be more controllable.  Really Hannibal may have detected Will was sick a long time ago, when he smelled him.  Will tells him about the totem pole.  Hannibal hypothesizes that the stress was so bad Will had to dissociate to cope.  He opines that Will loses his own sense of self by over-empathizing.  This can definitely happen in those with dissociative disorders.  Hannibal suggests it’s dangerous, that he might even become a killer himself.  Ah, the master plan continues.  

Abigail Hobbs sits in a therapy group, discussing her dreams about her father.  She talks about how he killed girls so he wouldn’t have to kill her.  To bring our viewers up to speed.  She carries a lot of guilt over it, with each victim talking to her.  It’s a nightmare.

Will visits Jack, apologizing for the day before, trying to ferret out if he was acting strangely the day before.  Jack cues in quickly, as Will downplays it.  Jack instructs him — “if there’s a problem, you need to tell me.”  It’s not clear what Will is afraid of here.  

Abigail visits with Freddie Lounds, who tells her that all her family assets will be going to the families of her father’s victims.  She’s OK with that, and inquires if Freddie would help write a book about her and her father.  Of course she would.  Freddie dangles the carrots — money, plus the ability to change people’s opinion of her.

In the lab, the totem is deconstructed.  17 bodies.  The most recent victim was special, Joel Summers.  8 of the bodies are likely from accident victims whose graves were robbed.  Will claims they’re all murders.

In the classroom, he reviews each death with his class.  Each death different.  Each death is masked.  Will opines that the method was less important that that they die.  Unclear.  Based on this little evidence, could easily make the hypothesis that he just likes getting away with it, or being creative.  Will then changes his tune that what was important was to go uncaught, until now.  Alana interrupts him, and Will realizes there’s no class in the classroom.  He snaps back to reality.  These jumps are getting more frequent, it seems.  She tells him she’s going back-and-forth on whether she should have stayed with him after he kissed her.  There’s little reason for her to say this aside from testing him… to do it again.  She’s letting him know she’s still interested.  She throws down the gauntlet, stating she’s interested but he’s unstable, and can’t be involved until he’s stable.  She is his real ally. 

Hannibal and Will join Abigail, and warn her about Freddie Lounds.  Will reaches out to her, and she rebuffs telling him he isn’t her Dad.  Hannibal attempts to join with her, as a group having a collective experience.  If she went for that and identifies with the group, it’s then harder to go against the group or do things that would hurt the group members.  Hannibal pressures more, guilting her that if she cares, she would care about their approval (Hannibal and Will).  Now they’ve challenged his defenses.  She admits it’s really about changing people’s opinion that she was involved in the murders.  I believe the idea is that this is attempting to make up for her guilt about the deaths, the haunting dreams she has.  The problem is that the book wouldn’t reconcile herself with the dead, and thus doesn’t feel like it would help her guilt either.  Hannibal warns her that if she goes down this road, she won’t have control over what happens.  Perhaps a covert warning also that he could hurt her.  Maybe that’s a leap, though.  

In the dark, a man digs out a body with a pickaxe.

In the lab, Will hypothesizes that the totem is a timeline of the killings.  The last (Joel Summers) is the final victim, so the bottom would be his first — Fletcher Marshall (killed 1973).  No one convicted of murdering Fletcher.  Will believes Fletcher Marshall and Joel Summers will be connected.  Jack calls him into his office, along with Hannibal and Alana.  Jack reports the body of Nicholas Boyle was found, and he wants to use it to get some answers from Abigail.  Alana thinks it would worsen her trauma.  Will wants to be there, and Jack doesn’t think he’d be impartial.  Now we know that Jack’s instincts are right.  What interesting to me is how Abigail in feeling victimized, induces others to take care of her and protect her (Will and Alana).  This is probably not deliberate, but could reflect a dynamic she has played with others, such as her father.  Many times people recreate the family dynamics with others.  Hannibal believes Abigail might have more strength than others give her credit for.

As Alana walks Abigail to the body, we can see the hesitation.  Jack unveils the body and questions if he’s the one that attacked them in her home.  She affirms this, but appears to be struggling to hold back tears.  Like a pressured interrogation, Jack is using her vulnerability to try to get her to confess.  Jack asks more questions, and Abigail asks for the body to be covered up.  Alana goes to do it, Jack stops her.  He wants to pressure her.  This is more of a law enforcement/interrogation angle than the usual manipulation of the show.  Jack basically accuses her of gutting Boyle.  Alana threatens to leave.  This is an attempt to gain leverage in the situation, to get Jack to back down.  Jack tells her she can leave, that she’s there by invitation and to not interrupt him. Now we’ve seen perhaps the real purpose of having Alana there.  Both Will and Alana want to protect her.  It’s better for Jack to burn Alana a little than Will, who’s already fragile.  Jack has also displayed his dominance in the room, stripping away her protector and showing who is really in charge.  

Jack asks where she runs off to when she leaves the hospital.  Again, it’s very unlikely that she would still be in the hospital at this point.  But I recognize the bind of the writers.  She needs to get away.  He asks about whether she ever ran into Boyle, or knew anything about his death.  She remarks that she had feared her life, but that she survived, because Alana and Hannibal saved her.  She’s invoking her protectors again.  And maybe even shaming Jack a little, as he’s accusing rather than protecting her.  To be clear, we actually don’t know how complicit she was in the murders, though it seems she had an unknowing role in luring in the girls.  

Abigail leaves.  Jack states he doesn’t believe her.  Alana says she’s suppressing something, but nothing about Boyle, because Hannibal would have to be corrupt and she doesn’t have any reason to suspect him.  It may just be me, but that logic skips a beat.  Not clear to me how her lying about Boyle has anything to do with Hannibal.  I get the plt point they’re hitting, but it doesn’t quite connect (for me).  

Hannibal talks with Abigail that seeing the dead body could be comforting.  She says it isn’t, and that she’s the one who feels like a monster.  He raises that she was the one who uncovered the body.  She seems to indicate this was a way of getting over the fear of them finding out.  Now they know.  Hannibal feels betrayed.  He’s testing her, seeing if she’s still with him in their collusion.  Plus he sprinkles in a little threat.  “I need to trust you… and if I can’t?”  She knows what he’s capable of doing, or at least of covering up.  

The team reviews new evidence.  Joel was Fletcher’s son, but apparently not biologically.  Joel’s mother died in a car accident.  No one was convicted of Fletcher’s murder, but there was a suspect back then — Lawrence Wells.  Will believes the murder of Fletcher was a “crime of passion.”  It was the clear murder.  It’s not clear yet why this was a passion kill while the others were often chalked up as accidents.  

Will and Jack go to the home of Wells.  He states he’s unarmed, sitting in a recliner.  All his belongings are packed up in boxes.  He’s been waiting.  He set this up to be found.  He claims he killer Joel to get himself caught, and because “he was never meant to be.”  This only makes sense to me if Joel’s existence was a sleight to him in some way.  “I had every reason to kill the others.  They just had no reason to die.”  This seems to mean he’s a killer, but his victims are random.  He goes on to describe his satisfaction having killed in secret, and no one the wiser.  He wants to be in prison because it’s better than the nursing homes he would end up in.  Interesting logic.  In his view this keeps him in a level of control of the system, which makes it allowable.  Will challenges him, revealing that (it wasn’t spelled out yet) that Wells believed Joel wasn’t his son, but that he had wanted a son.  So the sleight against him was that his ex chose Fletcher over him to have a child with, when in truth it WAS his child.  

In bed, Will has dreams of Abigail and Hannibal.  He goes to the lab and thinks about Boyle.  He imagines the death, and even how Abigail does it.  Perfectly imagined.  It’s not clear that this is really possible.  It’s a superpower that isn’t based on the evidence.  Now I could suppose that he plays out different suspects and ways in his head, and goes with the one that “feels right,” which is the only one we see.  Instead it just seems like magic.  

In his office, Hannibal sketches.  Will enters.  He tells Hannibal that he knows that Abigail killed Boyle.  Hannibal agrees, and admits that he helped her hide the body.  He hasn’t told Jack, because he hoped it wasn’t true.  Hannibal appears to have calculated here, knowing he can’t deceive Will, so goes into the difficult situation.  To do otherwise might not have worked, since Will probably already suspects him.  It’s surprising to us, though, anytime Hannibal is honest.  

Hannibal maintains that she did it in self-defense, and he helped her hide it to prevent Jack from crucifying her.  Partly true.  He also did it to control her through convincing her he was her ally and that he was protecting her.  “We are her fathers now.”  He’s inciting Will’s paternalistic bend towards Abigail.  If it works, it’ll mean that now Will is colluding with him.  One more level of leverage over him.  Will appears conflicted, but agrees to keep it a secret.

Hannibal serves dinner to Will, Abigail, and Freddie Lounds.   Will snips at Freddie, who questions if he’s upset she wrote he was “insane.”  She then goes on to call “insane” a gray area, that everyone is pathological in something.  None of that is really try.  Everyone has minor aspects of something that if more severe would be pathological, but not everyone is pathological.  Nor is insane a gray area.  It’s a legal term with a very clear definition, which she doesn’t have grounds to make.  If she said “crazy” or “nuts,” those are more colloquial terms that could have variable definitions.  Abigail says she has nothing to hide (in her story).  Freddie quips that everyone has something to hide.  Will stares at Abigail.  She sees him staring, and knows that he knows.  Hannibal reframes the situation, that everyone is in it to protect Abigail.  Abigail barely speaks.  She continues the role of being someone who needs protection.  Oh the eyelid flutter.   

Hannibal and Abigail dry dishes.  Abigail thinks Will knows, and Hannibal confirms it.  He reassures her that Will will keep the secret.  “No one will know the truth…[or] the truth that you’re trying to avoid.”  She’s vulnerable.  She admits she helped her father, and that she knew along the way.  She helped pull in the victims.  But she’s upset about it, and she doesn’t seem to be faking it.  

He consoles her.  “I’m a monster.”  “No.  I know what monsters are.  You’re a victim.” Beautiful.  Just beautiful. The monster consoling the scared girl who fears she’s a monster, giving her absolution for her crimes. He promises that Will and he will protect her.

We end on a flashback of Abigail with her father, on a train.  He sees a girl, a victim.  She nervously goes to her and strikes up a conversation.


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Digesting Hannibal – Season 1, Ep9

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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