Any review of this Thursday’s episode of Hannibal would be incomplete if it didn’t address the cannibalized episode that should have come before it. “Coquilles” was actually supposed to be next week’s episode, but the subject matter of this week’s original episode was deemed too controversial to air and subsequently pulled. Apparently, the episode featured a killer who convinces children to murder each other, and after the events at Sandy Hook (the episode was filmed before the tragedy occurred) it’s obvious why Bryan Fuller and NBC might want to avoid any of those controversial associations. That being said, the missing episode can certainly be felt in the plot of “Coquilles.” While pieces of the episode important to character development were made available as a webisode series, there is still definitely a noticeable gap between last week’s episode and “Coquilles.” The most notable absence is the presence of Abigail Hobbs since last week ended with such a cliffhanger between her and Hannibal, but at least the webisodes clear up how that relationship is beginning to develop, and I would recommend the web series to anyone interested in the story line between these two characters.
Besides the initial, jarring lull in the story due to the missing episode, “Coquilles” is a fine episode in its own right. While still not as good as the fantastic pilot episode, “Coquilles” manages to avoid the overcrowded plot of “Potage” and focus on really examining its central theme: abandonment. The “killer of the week” is not particularly exciting (certainly not as innovative as the mushroom guy from “Amuse-Bouce”), but he manages to set up the thematic scenery for the episode well. The “angel-maker,” as he’s called, is a man dying from a tumor in his brain, which causes him to kidnap people, skin their backs into large, fleshy wings, and tie them up so that their bodies appear to be praying over him while he sleeps. Before he kills these people, his tumor causes him to see them as fiery faced demons. His murderous acts are, in his mind, attempts to offer these people ascension from their earthly, corrupt bodies. Finally, he makes himself into one of these “angels” and is found dead in a barn by Will Graham and Jack Crawford. What drives the “angel-maker” is a fear of dying in his sleep and really death in general–the ultimate manifestation of a lack of control. His tumor has left him feeling abandoned by God so he feels the need to create angels to watch over him instead, and also finally taking his ascension into his own hands. This all serves as a back drop for the real focus of the episode: the relationship between Will Graham and Jack Crawford. We finally get some development regarding Lawrence Fishburne’s character, and the result is well worth the wait.
Jack is in an interesting figure. If Hannibal is the devil, then Jack Crawford is the deity. He is a protector. He is supposed to be looking after Will, but he is also trying to use Will to protect others by catching serial killers, the strain of which is actually harming Will, who experiences several fits of sleep-walking within the episode. Will, who is afraid of what spending so much time within killers’ minds is doing to him, begins to resent Jack for manipulating him into doing it (an emotional chasm Hannibal seizes upon and begins to subtly encourage). Hannibal asks Will if he feels abandoned by Jack Crawford, and it seems to get Will thinking. It’s not clear as of yet why Hannibal wishes to create distance between Will and Jack, but we’ve already seen that he is interested in corrupting others (Abigail) and he is certainly infatuated by Will’s similarities to himself. Perhaps Hannibal’s version of getting closer to Will manifests itself in an attempt to distance Will from everyone else.
In addition to the growing distance between Jack and Will, there is also a distance between Jack and his wife Bella (played by Gina Torres of Firefly fame). Bella is the second character in this episode with terminal cancer and the theme of death being the great agent of alienation between human beings is heavily prevalent in “Coquilles.” Bella doesn’t tell Jack about her cancer, an omission that seems to really trouble Jack who is used to being someone responsible for fixing problems, for preventing death. When he discovers Bella’s secret, he tells her that he is going to “be in her corner,” help her beat the disease, make sure she isn’t alone, but Bella reluctantly admits that those words don’t give her any comfort. She knows before Jack does, that he is powerless in the face of death, that in the very end she will be alone in this because that’s the nature of death. This scene echoes Will’s words about facing the evil they hunt alone. Since he is the only one who can enter the minds of these killers, he will always be by himself no matter how much Jack says he doesn’t have to be. And in the middle of all this loneliness and abandonment stands Hannibal Lecter, the embodiment of emotional distance, pulling the other characters away from each other.
It was a dark episode, even by Hannibal’s standards. Since the preview of next week’s episode mentions the Chesapeake Ripper, which is, according to the novels, Hannibal himself, we may be seeing Hannibal outed as a killer sooner than you would think. Perhaps next week will be more plot focused as “Coquilles” seemed to be more focused on high-concepts and theme.