So there was once this television program…
It was a concept concocted in the mind of a visionary, if idiosyncratic writer and brought to vivid life by a filmmaker primarily known for his feature work. The series would incorporate no shortage of heightened, meticulously constructed dialogue and dozens of colorful, rich characters, but its primary thematic focus would center on two men—one, an authority figure being pulled between conflicting loyalties and the other a monstrous, imposing figure who nevertheless surpassed his moral shortcomings due in no small part to his immense charisma.
This series would last for three eventful seasons and, while cracks would start to show in its final year, it would be embraced by critics as well as certain niche groups of TV watchers. It would then be abruptly canceled, with promises of a renewal ever-present but never tangible.
I, of course, am referring to Deadwood, my favorite TV show of all time—the visionary in question being creator David Milch, the filmmaker Walter Hill and the dueling characters Timothy Olyphant’s Seth Bullock and Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen. Needless to say, between Bryan Fuller, David Slade and the Will Graham/Hannibal Lecter characters, the same could very well apply to Hannibal.
Over the past few weeks leading up to the Hannibal finale, I’ve thought a lot about Deadwood and how my relationship to it might inform my intense love for Hannibal. Obviously, my own personal history with the Thomas Harris books and film adaptations is one layer, but I think it’s something deeper than that. Indeed, despite their vast differences in theme and execution, there’s a kinship between the sensibilities of these two shows that hit me in a particular way. What that is, I can’t exactly put my finger on, but it’s something I’ll no doubt be mulling over in the weeks to come.
Likewise, I feared that the premature conclusion to Hannibal would, like Deadwood, end the story with a proverbial question mark, thus leaving fans wondering what could have been. And though there are some elements of that, “The Wrath of the Lamb” is about as perfect a conclusion to Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal saga as one could hope for. As a series finale, it works as an organic end to this sprawling, blood-soaked affair that spanned continents, years and various psychological mind palaces. At the same time, it also leaves a fair amount of space where the story could, if pressed, continue into future chapters.
The episode’s opening concludes the Dolarhyde/Reba confrontation from last week. As a terrified Reba attempts to reason with her boyfriend, Dolarhyde orders her to take a key from around his neck and lock the front door. Reba tries to make an escape, but Dolarhyde is prepared to catch her as she flees. He returns her to the house where he puts a shotgun to her face.
“I wish I could have trusted you,” he bemoans. “I wanted to trust you.” This is a bit of an odd phrase to lift from the books considering—in that context—Dolarhyde believed Reba had cheated on him. Here it’s because…she tried to escape after he informed her that he was a serial killer? Doesn’t really have the same heft.
But I digress. After setting the house on fire, Dolarhyde claims he can’t stand to watch Reba burn and blows his brains out. Reba, ever the resourceful gal, finds the key around his neck and makes her escape. Later, as she’s being questioned by Will in a hospital, Reba wonders aloud what it was about her that attracted a psychotic killer. “You didn’t draw a freak,” Will assures her. “You drew a man with a freak on his back.” Though Will is attempting to assuage Reba, he might as well be talking about himself and his own warped connection to Hannibal. With the Red Dragon presumably taken care of, Will returns to Hannibal and makes yet another attempt to end their relationship. “Was it good to see me?” Hannibal inquires, to which Will offers up a less-than-convincing, “No.”
But, of course, this story is far from over. Those familiar with the book will probably recognize Dolarhyde’s big deception. On a side note, as tonally out-of-step as it may be with the rest of the finale, I adored the scene between Price and Zeller, where they gleefully deconstruct how he managed to fake his own death. It’s a nice, winking nod to one of the more popular criticisms of the book concerning the absurdity of this fake-out. In any case, Dolarhyde reappears to Will and informs him that he wishes to kill Hannibal, who he perceives as having betrayed him.
It’s here that the episode transitions into a sort of bizarro version of Ocean’s Eleven, with Will devising a plan to bait Dolarhyde by faking Hannibal’s escape and having the doctor arrange a rendezvous. Hannibal is amused to no end that, after literally just cutting ties with him earlier, his “cunning boy” has returned for help. “I believe that’s what they call a mic drop,” Hannibal says, referring to Will’s previous dismissal of him. “But here you are having to come back to pick it up again.” Remember mic drop…that’ll be important later.
Will’s plan causes no shortage of concern among his colleagues and friends, particularly with Bedelia, who remains convinced that it will fail and that Hannibal shall return to fulfill his promise of eating her. Jack, for his part, intends to have Hannibal killed after Dolarhyde is disposed of—just to be on the safe side.
Indeed, Will’s plans collapses almost instantaneously as, while transporting Hannibal, Dolarhyde descends in the guise of a cop and demolishes the security detail, leaving only Hannibal and Will alive. And here is the only other sequence in the finale that gives me pause. After an entire half season spent building up his humanity, Dolarhyde does end up becoming a bit of a Terminator-figure in this final hour. Moreover, though I fully expect Hannibal to be perfectly callous to the deaths of all the cops Dolarhyde killed, the fact that Will doesn’t even take a moment to consider this loss of life seems a bit inconsistent with his character.
This subsequently leads to the episode’s home stretch—Hannibal drives Will to his secret home overlooking the ocean, the same location where he hid both Abigail Hobbs and Miriam Lass. As day falls into night, the two prep themselves for the Dragon’s arrival, having one last heart-to-heart before the madness commences. “I don’t know if I can save myself,” Will says. “Maybe that’s just fine.”
And then, the shit hits the fan.
A battle-ready Dolarhyde enters through the window like some kind of dark specter, firing off a shot right into Hannibal’s abdomen in the process. When Will reaches for his gun to intervene, Dolarhyde pulls out a knife and guts Will’s face. The fight tumbles out to the outside patio where Will and Hannibal, blood gushing out of their wounds, form a quasi-tag team against Dolarhyde. While their adversary spends the first half of the fight tossing the two around like rag dolls, our heroes quickly gain the upper hand and take turns slashing at his legs. As the music swells and the action transitions into operatic slow motion, Will and Hannibal deliver their final blows—Will performs a devastating slash across Dolarhyde’s leg while Hannibal, appropriately, rips out his throat with his teeth. The Dragon collapses— finally vanquished.
And so we are left alone with the bloodied Will and Hannibal. As the two gaze into each other’s eyes and the Tumblr fan fiction begins pouring in, Hannibal comments, “this is all I ever wanted for you, Will—for both of us.” “It’s beautiful,” a breathless Will concedes before entering into a gentle embrace with the good doctor and subsequently pulling them both over the ledge to the crashing waves and large rocks below. It’s Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunging over Reichenbach Falls to their supposed deaths
And the microphone did promptly drop…
With this, Fuller and his writers have constructed an ending that placates all sides. After years of build-up, Will and Hannibal are finally given the chance to consummate their relationship via the slaughter of the Red Dragon. It’s at this moment where Will recognizes that he has fully embraced the darkness he long sought to keep at bay. As such, he decides that the best course of action is to nip it in the bud. After all, despite all his charm, Hannibal remains, first and foremost, a monster—a monster with the capacity for compassion, but a monster nonetheless. The episode itself reiterates this in a previous scene where he threatens to come after Alana and her family if he escapes. And so, while Will can never really deny his bond to Hannibal, he also knows that the Devil cannot be let out of the box again, lest he hurt more innocent people. In this way, going over the cliff is Will’s last, definitive act of heroism.
Or is it? In a post-credit sequence, we find Bedelia sitting at a long table decorated with food. We quickly notice that her leg is missing and it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the slab of meat being served is none other than her severed limb. It’s also worth noting that the table is set for three guests, indicating that either Bedelia has prepared herself for Will and Hannibal’s arrival, or this takes place in the near future where the two have survived.
And that’s it for now. With both Fuller and his actors moving on to different projects (Fuller with American Gods, Hugh Dancy with Jason Katims’ The Way and Mads Mikkelsen with both Star Wars: Rogue One and Doctor Strange), “The Wrath of the Lamb” is likely the last we’ll be seeing of the Hannibal-verse for some time. And, as devastating as that is for me as a fan, the excellent sense of finality that accompanies the hour’s thrilling final sequences makes me feel at peace with this notion.
In general, this whole journey has been an especially personal one for me. I first encountered Hannibal Lecter after catching it on a basic cable channel late one night. Even edited for content and with commercial interruptions, it gave me nightmares for weeks. Later, upon discovering a copy of Red Dragon hidden away in the family bookshelf, I devoured that story in a single weekend. Though I certainly didn’t understand all of its content, this marked the beginning of my lifelong love of literary horror. The downside of my newfound obsession with this Thomas Harris-penned world is that, between my first discovery of Silence of the Lambs and my first viewing of the Hannibal pilot, it was close to 13 years of nonstop disappointment—from Harris’ bafflingly bad Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, novels to their equally horrid adaptations (Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon was the closest to a satisfying experience and that adaptation boasts a whole myriad of problems).
Then, in 2013, I greeted Hannibal with the same revelry and awe that DC and Marvel fans surely greeted, respectively, the advent of Nolan’s Batman franchise and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Sometimes good things do happen to those who wait. And though the series has not been without its share of stumbles and misdirection, it’s these imperfections that added to the experience. Perfection, in a word, is overrated.
And, so, it is here that I must bid goodbye, adieu, ciao and adios to what has swiftly become one of my favorite TV shows of all time.
THIS IS MY DESIGN…
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.