The Proverbs of Hell 35/39: And The Woman Clothed With The Sun


AND THE WOMAN CLOTHED WITH THE SUN: This is not the picture that Dolarhyde worships, which is “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun.” The distinction flummoxed Harris himself, who got the wrong one in Red Dragon, and the most satisfying explanation for this preceding the episode named after the story’s central painting is that Fuller is providing an homage to the error. In any case, this painting is essentially Dolarhyde’s from the opposite perspective. The result is that the woman is the central object of the painting, with the Dragon looming above her, mimicking our own act of looking at her. The picture Dolarhyde prefers is on the whole the far more interesting framing, which we’ll get to next week.

HANNIBAL: That's the same atrocious aftershave you wore in court.

WILL GRAHAM: Hello, Dr. Lecter.

HANNIBAL: Hello, Will. Did you get my note?

WILL GRAHAM: I got it. Thank you.

HANNIBAL: Did you read it before you destroyed it? Or did you simply toss it into the nearest fire?

WILL GRAHAM: I read it. And then I burned it.

HANNIBAL: And you came anyway. I'm glad you came. My other callers are all professional. Banal psychiatrists and grasping second-raters. Pencil-lickers trying to protect their tenure with pieces in the journals.

WILL GRAHAM: I want you to help me, Dr. Lecter.

HANNIBAL: Yes, I thought so. Are we no longer on a first-name basis?

WILL GRAHAM: I’m more comfortable the less personal we are.

HANNIBAL: Your hands are rough. I smell dogs and pine and oil beneath that shaving lotion. It's something a child would select, isn't it? There a child in your life, Will?

WILL GRAHAM: I’m here about Chicago and Buffalo. You've read about it, I'm sure.

HANNIBAL: I’ve read the papers. I can't clip them. They won't let me have scissors, of course. You want to know how he's choosing them.

WILL GRAHAM: Thought you would have some ideas.

HANNIBAL: You just came here to look at me. Came to get the old scent again. Why don't you just smell yourself?

We may as well just do the entire exchange here. The sections in boldface are original to the show. The remainder is more or less from the book, with a few small adjustments. (It’s a card in the book, the “dogs and pine oil” is new, and the murders have been moved north from their original Atlanta and Birmingham locations.) This exchange, of course, is the most iconic in Red Dragon, and for obvious reason. Fuller to do anything other than let Mikkelsen and Dancy at it would have been criminal. Matthew Morettini has done a supercut of the three adaptations that’s interesting a much in its disjuncts as its unities. Within the context of Hannibal, however, what jumps out most aggressively is the degree to which the scene is stilted. Fuller’s version of these characters has become so much more than what is in Harris’s book, and while Mikkelsen and Dancy acquit themselves well upon the lines, it still feels momentarily odd to see them in this more stripped down iteration.

The other big question with a sequence like this is how to frame it. This shot is called for in the script, and nicely sets up the “smell yourself” line with its implicit mirror structure, but it’s also just a savvy way of having your cake and eating it to with the shots. As I said, the primary appeal of this scene is at this point as a performance exercise for Mikkelsen and Dancy—watching these particular actors take on a well-defined piece. It’s the lurid thriller equivalent of the big Shakespeare monologue or the singer tackling a jazz standard. And so picking a camera angle that lets you get both actors faces into the frame maximizes the effect.

WILL GRAHAM: I expected more of you, doctor. That routine is old hat.

HANNIBAL: Whereas you are a new man. Are you a good father, Will? Let me have the file. An hour, and we can discuss it like old times.

WILL GRAHAM: Thank you.

HANNIBAL: Family values may have declined over the last century, but we still help our families when we can. You're family, Will.

(Elaborate cross-fade)

ABIGAIL HOBBS: How many people have you killed?

And immediately we drop from the recitation into a rapid-fire demonstration of the show’s independence from its source material, starting with the cheeky lampshading of the fact that Hannibal’s “you’re just like me” line is preposterously primitive within the context of these two characters. But then the episode plays its real trick with the cut into an Abigail flashback, revealing the full scope of its intentions in finally adapting the most famous bit of source material available to it, drawing on a thread that is entirely its own invention and using it to expose resonances that are wholly outside of any possible intention of Harris’s text, and yet ruthlessly compatible with them all the same. 

HANNIBAL: Even if you know the state of who you are today, you can't predict who you will be tomorrow. You are defined up to now, not beyond.

ABIGAIL HOBBS: How would you have done it? If you were going to do it?

HANNIBAL: How would I have murdered you? I would have cut your throat like your father did.

Hannibal’s proclamation that Abigail is defined up to this point is belied by the flashback structure; the audience knows full well that in fact Abigail is defined beyond this point, just as it knows that Hannibal’s hypothetical murder is in fact how he will murder her. Although relying on audience knowledge like this does rather complicate the aborted “do an adaptation of Red Dragon to maybe win some ratings back” trick.

ALANA BLOOM: How did it feel to see him again?

WILL GRAHAM: Like Hannibal was looking through to the back of my skull. Felt like a fly flitting around in there. I had the absurd feeling that he walked out with me. Had to stop outside the doors and look around, make sure I was alone.

The dreamscape in which they are all enmeshed makes a significant and necessary evolution here—Will and Alana have had this conversation before, back in “Hassun.” Both times, of course, the lines are coming from Red Dragon, and so in a very real sense this iteration, nineteen episodes after the other, is the original, with the events of “Hassun” as much an unknowing echo of the future as Abigail and Hannibal’s earlier conversation.

HANNIBAL: If this pilgrim feels a special relationship with the moon, he might like to go outside and look at it before he tidies himself up. If one were nude, say, it would be better to have outdoor privacy for that sort of thing. One must show some consideration for the neighbors, hmmmm? Have you ever seen blood in the moonlight, Will? It appears quite black.

Another classic bit of dialogue from the first Will/Hannibal scene in Red Dragon. The knowledge of how blood appears in the moonlight is an odd sort of knowledge. On the one hand it is easy information to discover. You could probably verify it tonight, cloud cover willing. And yet actual knowledge of it forms a strange fellowship that Will is not (yet) a part of.

HANNIBAL: Have you come to wag your finger?

ALANA BLOOM: I love a good finger-wagging.

HANNIBAL: Yes, you do. How is Margot?

Hannibal does not usually go for the crude sex jokes, and this line makes you wish desperately that he did.

HANNIBAL: Will came to me.

ALANA BLOOM: Yes, he did.

HANNIBAL: I advised him against it.

ALANA BLOOM: I’m sure.

HANNIBAL: Are you suggesting I don't have Will's best interests in mind?

ALANA BLOOM: I’m stating it as fact.

HANNIBAL: You've got Will dressed up in moral dignity pants, nothing's his fault. 

Hannibal’s strangely childish response, with the uncharacteristic “moral dignity pants” and petulant victim blaming, reveals the truth of Alana’s observation. He absolutely did have Will’s best interests—or at least his own idiosyncratic interpretation thereof—in mind once, but somewhere along the line (presumably Florence, certainly by the time Will spurned him in “Digestivo,”) this has changed, and Hannibal’s motivations with regards to Will are based in something much more like spite.

ALANA BLOOM: I know what you're afraid of. It's not pain or solitude. It's indignity. You're like a cat that way. I'll take your books, I'll take your drawings, I'll take your toilet. You'll have nothing but indignity and the company of the dead.

Is Alana correct here? It’s certainly consistent with Hannibal’s aesthetic, both in his cultivation of luxury and his distaste for rudeness. And yet the actual evidence for the claim remains weirdly spare. Mason Verger threatened Hannibal with a variety of indignities in “Digestivo,” and none seemed to phase him. And when, in a few episodes, Alana actually does take his toilet, this too does not actually seem to phase him. Surely he does not like it, but then he doesn’t like pain or solitude either. It’s still not, seemingly, his fear, if in fact he has one. 

This scene is the extent of origin story we get for Dolarhyde—a cryptic allusion that communicates horror without specificity. This is quite a cut; Red Dragon is tremendously interested in the psychological “why” of Dolarhyde. Hannibal, on the other hand, mostly treats “because he is becoming the Great Red Dragon” as an entirely sensible explanation for why one would become the Great Red Dragon. (See also, of course, its ambivalent relationship with Hannibal’s own origin story.)

Previously we spoke of Dolarhyde’s hauntological character as a monster linked inextricably to the medium of film. But as portrayed here he is firmly of the weird, the snaking tail being semiotically indistinguishable from a tentacle. Certainly this is keeping with Blake, whose aesthetic is based much more on the strange otherness of what is depicted. Blake’s spirits are not a hidden world peered into with the faculty of imagination, but an imminent and incomprehensible world that appears as the striking and unexpected result of imagination.

FREDDIE LOUNDS: We're coconspirators, Will. I died for you and your cause.

WILL GRAHAM: You didn't die enough. You came into my hospital room while I was asleep. You flipped back the sheets and shot a picture of my temporary colostomy bag.

FREDDIE LOUNDS: Covered your junk with a black box. A big black box. You're welcome.

WILL GRAHAM: You called us "murder husbands."

Freddie ends up having the right of this one, less because of her deference to Will’s cock size as because the phrase “murder husbands” is the first time anyone has actually done a good job of describing Will and Hannibal’s relationship. 

FRANCIS DOLARHYDE: I need some infrared movie film. Hot, sensitive up around one thousand nanometers.

REBA MCCLANE: Better off shooting digital.

FRANCIS DOLARHYDE: I’m not a fan of the format.

This exchange serves as the series’ main acknowledgment of Dolarhyde’s technologic legacy. There are several instances in the series where the limitations of Red Dragon are lampshaded (we’ve already discussed one), but this is something different—a determination to preserve the dated details and justify them. Somehow moving Dolarhyde away from film just doesn’t work; it’s an integral if inscrutable component of his horror in exactly the way his grandmother apparently isn’t. Also, you lose the justification for why Reba is in the story. 

REBA MCCLANE: Let's talk about something for a minute and get it out of the way. You haven't said anything since I mentioned speech therapy. I understand you fine because you speak very well and because I listen. People don't pay attention. If you don't want to talk, okay. But I hope you will talk. Because you can, and I'm interested in what you have to say.

Forced by circumstances to use someone else’s female character, Fuller ends up creating the best one of the series. Much of the power comes from the treatment of Reba’s disability, which has an uncompromising vividness to it. She is wholly free of delicacy and angst over her blindness, and capable of extending that viewpoint to others, the skill that allows her to improbably connect with Dolarhyde. The decision to race-bend her casting from the book is also rock solid, if only because it leads smoothly to Rutina Wesley’s casting. 

Mads Mikkelsen’s look of surprised delight at the news that Dolarhyde is becoming the Great Red Dragon is one of the softest and most charming moments of comedy in the series.


David Anderson 2 years, 11 months ago

Blake's compositions are often dictated by the need to have the characters that are - not 'good' (a difficult word for Blake) but embody whatever set of values he approves of at the moment - facing upwards and the characters of whom he disapproves facing down. That works when he has a single figure but when he tries to depict two figures interacting it leads to awkwardnesses. (The disapproved figures have to be higher in the composition for one thing.)
There aren't a lot of genuine interactions between figures in his poetry either though. Interactions aren't really Blake's area of expertise.

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Przemek 2 years, 11 months ago

A great essay, as always.

This show's strange reluctance to deal with origin stories seems to me to follow naturally from the decision to make Hannibal a demiurgic figure. His ability to bend reality around him, to pull other characters into his nightmarish dreamscape, enables him to almost erase his own point of origin. To have no beginning is to have no end. Without clearly defined roots he's untethered, timeless, undying. The same goes for Dolarhyde - his origins don't matter because his real point of origin is Hannibal himself. Without the connection to his creator, his demiurge he couldn't exist.

On an unrelated note, can anybody point me towards a source where I could learn more about the "hauntological vs weird" dichotomy? It keeps cropping up in these essays and I'm not sure I fully understand either of those terms.

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Przemek 2 years, 11 months ago

Nevermind, mx_mond already provided me with a link to the wonderful Miéville essay. Marvelous.

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jean allen 2 years, 11 months ago

Honestly I feel like the decision to de-center origin stories is refreshing. You take the Harris novels out of the campy psychoanalysis of their time and there's nothing that you can say about someone who's decided to murder people in order to become a Blake painting that will make that pathology make sense. Same thing with Hannibal. The movies try to have it both ways by both turning him into a comicbook villain while humanizing him which leads to his character being both fucking ridiculously horrible and a far more sympathetic character than anyone else in the movies.

2010s Hannibal has a lot more awareness of why this kind of path leads you to a dark place. Hannibal is interesting yes, but there's nothing that can be done to humanize him, and frankly Hannibal would be angered at the very concept of humanization. Same with Dolarhyde

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Rrr 5 months, 2 weeks ago

"Moral dignity pants" comes straight from The Silence of the Lambs book, to me it does not seem uncharacteristic at all.

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