The Proverbs of Hell 4/39: Œuf
ŒEUF: One of the least nuanced titles (and indeed episodes) of the show, œuf simply means eggs, a straightforward reference to the episode’s themes of family and parentage.
WILL GRAHAM: Sometimes at night, I leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields. When I look back from a distance, the house is like a boat at sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.
One of the more curious interpolations of Harris’s original novels, this comes from his 2000 introduction to Red Dragon in which he describes the circumstances of writing it, working in a small shotgun house in a cotton field while taking care of family in Mississippi. Fuller’s addition (this scene having been imported from the previous episode, where it originally preceded Hannibal and Abigail’s end-of-episode encounter) is that Will feels safe when he does this. This is curious – the security and isolation of his house as a boat in the sea coming only when he is outside of the boat, lost in the darkness of the vast sea. This suggests that safety, for Will, is a sort of dissociative state, only attainable when he is outside of himself.
WILL GRAHAM: I got so close to him. Sometimes I felt like we were doing the same things at various times of the day. Like I was eating or showering or sleeping at the same time he was.
HANNIBAL: Even after he was dead?
WILL GRAHAM: Even after he was dead.
HANNIBAL: Like you were becoming him.
WILL GRAHAM: I know who I am.
The use of “becoming” foreshadows Red Dragon, but the larger point here is the clarification as to why Will requires dissociation to feel safe: because the thing he is afraid of is himself. In other words, the surface bucolic tranquility of the image (and indeed of Will) is a feint – the point is the isolation that it provides Will, an isolation that can only be completed by removing himself from the equation as well.
WILL GRAHAM: Table has been set. Family dinner. I wasn’t invited. I take my seat at the empty plate. My seat. My place setting, next to Mrs. Turner. I am the guest of honor.
“Œuf” occupies a strange position in Hannibal. Fuller had the episode pulled from the running order, with “Coquilles” airing in its place and the arc-relevant scenes of “Œuf” being released online. The cited reason was the social climate following the Sandy Hook Massacre, but the episode’s resemblance to those events is at best oblique. Indeed, pulling it was in many regards odd, in that it’s the episode with by far the tamest actual murders in it. One suspects that the reasoning was at least partially prosaic – “Œuf” is something of the black sheep of Hannibal. It’s the only episode in which neither Fuller nor his main deputy on the show Stephen Lightfoot have a writing credit, and it is consistently a tonal mismatch with the series. At the heart of it is the logic of the murders themselves, which are rooted in a “true crime” psychology you’d expect to see on a dozen other crime-of-the-week shows, as opposed to in the phantasmagoria of excess that Hannibal actually trades in.
JACK CRAWFORD: What am I about to put in my mouth?
JACK CRAWFORD: Should have hopped faster.
HANNIBAL: Yes, he should have. But fortunately for us, he did not.
The other big problem with “Œuf” is that it simply doesn’t do a great job with any of the major characters. Jack’s cavalier “should have hopped faster” is unusually callous and simply not the sort of joke Jack usually makes. But the larger question is “who the heck is this guy?” It’s established in “Entree” that the Chesapeake Ripper hasn’t struck in two years. Meat kept in the freezer that long would suffer a drop in quality Hannibal is extremely unlikely to tolerate. Is he, in addition to the Chesapeake Ripper and the Copycat Killer, running a third set of murders? Does he just create murder personas like alt-right trolls create Twitter accounts?
WILL GRAHAM: Most of the time in sexual assaults the bite mark has a livid spot in the center, a suck bruise. In certain cases, they do not. For some killers, biting may be a fighting pattern as much as sexual behavior.
This lecture, swiftly interrupted by Jack, uses a bit of Red Dragon to provide Will’s “generic lecture” dialogue. But the subject matter is thus interesting, in that it’s one of the vanishingly few times in which sexual assault even comes up in Hannibal. This is due to an active policy of Fuller’s: the show will go to any number of dark places, but it doesn’t do sexual violence. It has certain advantages in this regard compared to other shows, since its rich semiotics of food and consumption give it an alternate route to get to anything interesting that rape could be used to represent, but it stands in marked contrast to Harris’s books, which are awash in sex crimes. It also, however, further clarifies why “Œuf” was deemed a poor fit for the series. Its grounding in actual psychologies of violence doesn’t have all of the same problems as using rape for entertainment, but it has many problems of the same basic type.
This tableau – the episode’s one real swerve into macabre theatrics – is doubly strange considering the complete lack of evidence anywhere else in the episode that it’s Christmas. Indeed, by episode’s end it seems to be summer, with an open swimming pool. The script suggests that the lack of seasonality is deliberate, with the Lost Boys apparently bringing the Christmas decorations to create a suitably weird murder tableau, despite that not really fitting with their pathology. This, however, is markedly less satisfying than just assuming that time is weird in Hannibal.
The script also calls for a sight gag at the end of the scene where the dog comes out from behind the Christmas tree with a severed arm in its mouth. So that’s something to be sad we missed.
HANNIBAL: You bare gifts when you’re angry?
WILL GRAHAM: Better gifts than teeth.
HANNIBAL: What is it?
WILL GRAHAM: Magnifying glass. Fly tying gear.
HANNIBAL: Teaching her how to fish. Her father taught her how to hunt.
A doozy of an exchange. The detail that Will buys gifts when angry comes from Red Dragon, though “better gifts than teeth” is an invention of the show and frankly marvelous. Meanwhile, the metaphor of Will’s fishing as an alternative to hunting makes its first appearance. This metaphor is interesting, not least because it’s in sharp contrast to how Will was presented in his first cinematic appearance as a Manhunter. Aesthetically the difference is straightforward, with hunting being a violent activity, as opposed to fishing’s calm. This is not entirely fair or honest, in that both involve killing, but like a pack of stray dogs it’s useful in establishing Will’s gentle nature. Eventually it will also actually start describing his method of catching people, but that’s a way’s off.
EVA: I couldn’t make him understand. The family you’re born into isn’t really family. Those are just people you didn’t choose. You have to make family. That’s what we’re doing. We’re making our family.
CHRIS O’HALLORAN: What happened to your family?
C.J. LINCOLN: We’re her family.
Even when Hannibal is playing at being a procedural, it has its oddities, chief among them its lack of actual focus on its killers of the week. Even here, in its most traditionally procedural episode, Eva and the Lost Boys are broad sketches, with his scene basically the extent of actually explaining her motivation. This ends up being an impressive waste of Molly Shannon, who has fourteen lines in the script, several of which were cut from the episode. Still, as with Eldon in Amuse-Bouche, her pathology reflects aspects of Will and Hannibal, who similarly assemble their own families.
One of Hannibal’s more delightfully unorthodox therapies, the involvement of explicit psychedelia is perhaps the one bit of Œuf that one really wishes had been taken up by the show more broadly. (Although this isn’t its last appearance by any means.) It has precedent in the books, where Hannibal uses psychedelics both to convince Mason Verger to rip his own face off (preserved in the show) and in the breaking and reshaping of Clarice Starling (removed by the films and never gotten to by the show), but this more casual use of it is full of potential. A particularly intriguing detail: Hannibal has two teacups.
On one level this is a missed opportunity: one of the most visually inventive shows in television history has the opportunity to do a big psychedelia scene and doesn’t do anything beyond a blurry fruit bowl. On the other hand, the reality is that psilocybin generally doesn’t produce anything more than visual distortions like this (although the resultant psychological state is rather more intense, and Kacey Rohl does a good job communicating this). This more mundane and realistic approach, though probably down to “Œuf”’s general excessive grounding in reality, ends up establishing Hannibal’s default mode as something above and beyond ordinarily accessible visionary weirdness.
ABIGAIL: Eggs and sausage was the last meal I was having with my parents.
HANNIBAL: I know. It’s also the first meal you’re having with me.
Presumably the sausage is made from Marissa Schur, as Hannibal’s adoption of Abigail would be in his mind incomplete without feeding her friend to her. (One similarly assumes that the last meal she had with her father was not, in fact, human flesh, as her father would likely consider it disrespectful to kill Elise Nichols until he was done consuming his previous victim.)
WILL GRAHAM: It’s not just C.J Lincoln. There’s an adult with some… formative sway. It’s a woman, a mother figure I think. And she’s looking to form a family.
JACK CRAWFORD: A family can have a contagion effect on some people. Influences them to adopt… similar behaviors and attitudes.
WILL GRAHAM: Whoever this woman is, she wants these children..to burst with love for her. But… she has to erase their family to do that.
JACK CRAWFORD: So she abducts them. Convinces them no one can love them as much as she does, and then makes damn sure of it.
It’s notable that the solve on this is more or less entirely unconnected to Will’s profiling – the insight that there must be a mother comes from Alana (who just sort of shows up working on the case having been entirely uninvolved with it all episode), and consists of fairly banal pop psychology as opposed to any sort of baroque aesthetic. The scene’s one good phrase, “burst with love,” is of course from Red Dragon.
WILL GRAHAM: Chris, wait. Don’t shoot. It’s OK. You’re home now, put the gun down, Christopher.
EVA: Shoot him, Christopher.
WILL GRAHAM: Christopher, please.
Perhaps nothing flags “Œuf”’s status as a script for a series other than Hannibal better than this “SWAT team just in the nick of time” denouement, in which Will desperately tries to stop Christopher from killing anyone, a bit of pulse-pounding contrivance that sits miles outside of what the show usually does. It’s not that this scene is bad per se, although it’s difficult to identify anything about it that’s particularly good or interesting. It’s just that it’s a logic borrowed entirely from procedurals like Criminal Minds. Hannibal will spend its first season and much of its second pretending that this is the sort of show it is, but this is the one moment where it seems to forget that this is an act and to mistake its procedural suit for reality.
CHRIS O’HALLORAN: Can I go home now?
JACK CRAWFORD: Well, I don’t think you’re gonna go home for a long time. You came here to kill your family, that’s all anybody knows. It may be all that anyone ever believes.
CHRIS O’HALLORAN: I wasn’t gonna do it.
JACK CRAWFORD: Well, you’re gonna have to talk to a lot of people about it. And those people are gonna try and help you understand what you were really trying to do.
Fishburne’s dialogue has been softened markedly from the script, where he’s far more visibly angry at Christophe. That’s is arguably the better version of the scene, at least in terms of Jack’s character, which is often brusquely callous. But the originally scripted moralizing – “I wish to god you hadn’t gone with that woman, but you did. All of that can’t just suddenly be undone. But in time, if you trust me, we can start undoing what we can” – is awful in its own right, displaying the script’s worst instincts. The beige and motiveless version that was translated does nothing instead of doing harm, and has the more suggestive turn of phrase “try and help you understand what you were really trying to do” instead of the scripted “try to understand what you were going to do.”
April 17, 2017 @ 1:24 pm
Pedantry, I’m afraid; while one bares teeth, one bears gifts.
As someone who doesn’t watch Hannibal, I’ve been reading these and essantially gathering what the series is like from first principals, and from that perspective, the “negative space” of “this episode is exactly what the series isn’t” is really interesting.
April 17, 2017 @ 1:25 pm
“Essantially”. Darn you, Muphry’s Law!
April 19, 2017 @ 6:30 am
I don’t think the episode does that negative space very well. One can imagine an alternate reality where the show did this on purpose (it’d be a nice bit of formalism, actually, since a similar negative-space murder is how Hannibal points Will at Garrett Jacob Hobbes) but this episode isn’t really that. The review might be better than the episode, honestly. It’s not bad, but I spent about the first half of the review trying to remember which episode it even was, which is I think a fair comment on its mediocrity.
April 22, 2017 @ 9:04 am
Sorry, I wasn’t clear; I meant the review was interesting, because it uses the not-great episode to define what Hannibal is.