Watching “Yakimono” has made me realize how little I’ve mentioned Raúl Esparza’s Dr. Frederick Chilton in my recaps. Certainly, Esparza deserves a fair share of ink. His Chilton, an effective mix of pompous intellectual and sniveling coward, has made for several excellent exchanges with both Will and Hannibal over this past season. What’s more, his blunt acknowledgment regarding his terror of Hannibal and the man’s potentially cannibalistic tendencies is a nice antidote in a show where characters tend to beat around the bush a lot. Moreover, despite the fact that Chilton is truly put through the ringer in this episode, he’s perhaps the only character that can do so while also adding an unmistakable sense of black humor to the proceedings.
It’s with great sadness then that we might be saying goodbye to the character (as well as Eddie Izzard’s Gideon)—another victim of Hannibal’s ever widening “grand design.” While I’m of the opinion that no TV character is dead until we see a body (which is why I suspected Miriam Lass would one day return), the exit wound caused by Miriam’s gunshot looks fairly severe. It also creates a major shift from the traditional Thomas Harris timeline, wherein Chilton is still alive at the time of Silence of the Lambs. Then again, the Beverly Katz character is also alive in that timeline, so this could very well be Bryan Fuller’s ultimate statement that he and his writers do not treat the source material as scripture never to be seriously deviated from.
Much of what precedes Chilton’s “demise” concerns the unexpected return of Miriam Lass, the eager-to-please FBI agent whose determination to please Jack and solve the Chesapeake Ripper case ended with her being abducted by Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal proceeded to throw her into a hole yet continued to keep her alive, even after he amputated her arm.
All of this means that we are given a fantastic showcase of guest star Anna Chlumsky. I feel as though Hannibal’s talent when it comes to casting well known actors only to subvert their traditional image is a recurring tradition that deserves no shortage of praise. It’s a show that makes you believe in Cynthia Nixon as a hardened FBI supervisor or funnyman Eddie Izzard as chilling killer. Watching Chlumsky here perfectly embody the traumatized, psychologically scarred Miriam—all images of Amy Brookheimer from Veep are instantly wiped away. In some ways, Chlumsky must internalize Will’s entire arc from the first season into a single episode. We quickly learn that Hannibal hypnotized her much in the same way he did our protagonist, with epilepsy-inducing flashes and perception-altering hypnosis. Of course, the episode kicks off with Miriam claiming that Hannibal was not her abductor, so whatever he did to here over the course of the past few years runs deeper than anything involved in Will’s mental breakdown.
So good is Chlumsky here that her performance risks overshadowing the other major turn of the episode—Will Graham’s release from the mental institution. Considering everything that’s come before, I was curious to see how the show would handle the inevitable face-to-face between Will and Hannibal. It begins with Will entering Hannibal’s kitchen and aiming a gun at him. Since Hannibal will obviously not meet his demise this way, Will promptly decides to instead clean himself up (complete with haircut and shave) and resume his therapy sessions with Hannibal. It’s tempting to call “Hamlet” on Will in terms of not killing his enemy when he has the opportune chance. Still, if the past few episodes (and multiple freaky dream images) have taught us anything, it’s that Will cannot live with himself as a killer. He wants to take Hannibal down, but he will not allow himself to be manipulated into base actions to do so.
Moreover, if I had any complaint with this episode, it stems from the sheer scope of Hannibal’s grand design. Last season, much of the events were shown from Will’s distorted perception, thus it granted more credence to the idea that Hannibal was setting everything in motion somewhere off-screen. With “Yakimono,” the writers risk pushing the limits of Hannibal’s forethought and knowledge to near Charles Xavier levels. I know Hannibal is meant to be frightening in his intelligence, but when it comes to keeping a woman alive in captivity for nearly two years just so he can manipulate her into pointing the finger at another person—well, that requires a whole other level of diabolical that I’m not entirely sure I can fully digest.
On another note, while the scene where Jack, in an attempt to unlock her memories, takes Miriam to be hypnotized by Hannibal proves to be as terrifying and effective as one would expect, it makes me seriously question Jack’s instincts as an investigator. I understand that he is still not entirely convinced of Hannibal’s guilt, but, still, it’s clear from previous episodes that Will has planted some shadow of a doubt. The fact that he would even risk having the victim again be hypnotized by a man who may have been doing it for years just invites vital memories to be further tampered with.
What saves all this from seeming completely absurd, once again, is the stellar level of writing. Unlike The Following, which often lapses into near comedic levels of pseudo-intellectualizing in order to justify its shocking imagery and turns, Hannibal’s brand of low-key, heady rapport actual feels as though it has some real substance to it. Even when you don’t entirely buy a character’s action on the first go-around, there usually comes an eventual speech that retroactively justifies it.
Hannibal is, above all else, a terrifyingly smart show. In an age where many TV viewers can effectively outline the progression of an episode or, better yet, an entire season based on the predictable formula typically woven into the DNA of network TV, this show is nothing short of an anomaly. Despite the fact that it’s based on a popular book/film series with several bookmarked plot points, it’s a program that still catches you off guard and leaves you wondering the ways in which it will zig and zag in reaching its inevitable destination.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.