The Proverbs of Hell 9/39: Trou Normand
TROU NORMAND: A palate cleansing drink of apple brandy, sometimes with a small amount of sorbet. Your guess is as good as mine, frankly.
One of the show’s most emphatically memorable murder tableaus – probably the only one to give Eldon Stammetz and his mushroom people a run for their money. It also serves, however, as a case study in the schizoid nature of this season. More than anywhere else in the first season, “Trou Nourmand” demonstrates the degree to which these cases of the week are a charade. The totem pole murders are barely a feature of the episode, squared away with almost comical efficiency midway through the fourth act while the plot focuses instead on Will’s psychological collapse and new developments with Abigail.
BRIAN ZELLER: The world’s sickest jigsaw puzzle.
JIMMY PRICE: Where are the corners? My mom always said start a jigsaw with the corners…
BRIAN ZELLER: I guess the heads are the corners?
BEVERLY KATZ: We’ve got too many corners. Seven graves. Way more heads.
In which Zeller, Price, and Katz demonstrate that the aesthetics of murder tableaus are not their strong suit.
WILL GRAHAM: I planned this moment… This monument with precision. Collected all my raw materials in advance. I position the bodies carefully, according each its rightful place. Peace in the pieces disassembled. My latest victim I save for last. I want him to watch me work. I want him to know my design.
This monologue, especially the bit about “according each its rightful place,” evokes one of the less explicit ancestors of Hannibal, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, and particularly the memorable anecdote in which Moore made an error describing the placement of a severed breast within a historical murder tableau, only realizing the error after Campbell had drawn the page and several further. His solution is to have the killer pause several pages later, look at the severed breast, think for a moment, and rearrange it to better fit his strange and awful aesthetic.
WILL GRAHAM: I was on a beach in Grafton, West Virginia… I blinked and then I was waking up in your waiting room. Except I wasn’t asleep.
HANNIBAL: Grafton, West Virginia is three-and a-half hours from here. You lost time.
WILL GRAHAM: Something is wrong with me.
As Crowley would put it, Will’s encephalitis is a disease of editing.
HANNIBAL: I’m your friend, Will. I don’t care about the lives you save. I care about your life. And your life is separating from reality.
WILL GRAHAM: I’ve been sleepwalking. I’m experiencing hallucinations. Maybe I should get a brain scan.
HANNIBAL: Damnit, Will. Stop looking in the wrong corner for an answer to this.
(Will is briefly startled by Hannibal’s passionate concern.)
HANNIBAL: You were at a crime scene when you disassociated. Tell me about it.
This scene requires that we read it in the context of “Fromage” and its resolution and thus assume that Hannibal is motivated by a sincere desire for friendship with Will. It also requires that we read it in the context of “Buffet Froid” and Will’s encephalitis. Since one inevitable interpretation of that is that Hannibal has given Will this illness in the same sense that he gave Abigail psilocybin, his redirection of Will’s attention away from the illness must be made with the full knowledge that Will is actually very ill. On the other hand, the sincerity of Hannibal’s care about Will’s life is indisputable. Indeed, there would seem to be no alternate interpretations of these lines. “I’m your friend, Will” is straightforwardly true. “The wrong corner” is straightforwardly a lie. (The only alternative – that it is a “misdiagnosis,” is either traumatically banal or a poststructuralist game of negation that would involve mentioning Lacan and Derrida.)
In either case, it is the final redirection towards murder interpretation-appreciation-consumption that explains everything that comes before.
ABIGAIL HOBBS: I wish he was still alive so I could ask him… what did I make him feel? What was so wrong with me that he wanted to kill —
ELISE NICHOLS: He should have killed you. So he wouldn’t have killed me…
SHRIKE VICTIM: So he wouldn’t have killed me…
SHRIKE VICTIMS: So he wouldn’t have killed me… So he wouldn’t have killed me…
NICK BOYLE: He should have killed you… so YOU wouldn’t have killed me –
The episode’s real importance to the plot is the reveal that Abigail was her father’s knowing accomplice – a fact emphasized by the shooting script, which opens with this and not the totem pole. Note that the fact that Abigail is a killer is presented to the audience in terms of her guilt over it, instead of in terms of a desire to kill. (Indeed, she never displays a particular lust for it.)
ABIGAIL HOBBS: Do you still want to tell my story?
FREDDIE LOUNDS: I think you need to tell your own story. But I’m the one to help you tell it.
Freddie’s focus on helping Abigail tell her story is a near exact mirror of Hannibal’s periodic offers to “help you tell the version of events that you want to be told.” This is unsurprising – within the context of Hannibal it is the ultimate devil’s offer – a way to control the gap between author and audience, dictating the terms on which your art shall be interpreted. Alas, it is only ever utilized by people whose terms are the removal of their authorship.
ALANA BLOOM” I’m telling you to be honest about how I feel. Don’t want to mislead you but I don’t want to lie either.
WILL GRAHAM: I won’t lie if you won’t.
ALANA BLOOM: I have feelings for you, Will. But I don’t want to just have an affair with you. It would be reckless.
WILL GRAHAM: Why? It’s not because you have a professional curiosity about me.
ALANA BLOOM: No, it’s because I think you’re unstable. And until that changes I can only be your friend.
This is a refreshingly mature and interesting take on interactions with people suffering from a mental illness and, for that matter, on romantic rejection. As usual, Alana is great in moments, even as her overall arc is… well…
ABIGAIL HOBBS: Could you cover him up?
JACK CRAWFORD: I need you to answer the question.
(Alana goes to pull the sheet over the body but Jack stays her hand.)
ABIGAIL HOBBS: No. I haven’t seen him since… he attacked me.
JACK CRAWFORD: Nicholas Boyle was gutted. With a hunting knife. You knew how to do that? Your father taught you?
ALANA BLOOM: Jack, I won’t be party to this –
JACK CRAWFORD: Then leave. You’re here by invitation and courtesy, Dr. Bloom. Please don’t interrupt again.
Jack has performed manipulations this overt before – most notably his use of Freddie Lounds to try to goad the Chesapeake Ripper. And in many ways, that was worse – a move that can only be read as an active attempt to get someone killed. And yet the stark cruelty of this, even when we know his suspicions about Abigail are right, jumps out in a way unlike almost anything Jack Crawford has previously done. Central to it is his humiliation of Alana, which is shockingly unearned based on anything that’s happened so far.
JACK CRAWFORD: Do you believe her?
ALANA BLOOM I think Abigail Hobbs is damaged. There is something she’s using every ounce of that strength to keep buried. But it’s not the murder of Nicholas Boyle.
JACK CRAWFORD: How can you be so sure?
ALANA BLOOM: Because any reservations I have about Abigail don’t extend to Hannibal! And he has no reason to lie about any of this.
Of course, this humiliation is immediately followed by her making the most blatantly failed assessment in the entire series. Obviously loads of people spend time missing that Hannibal is a cannibalistic serial killer, but this is (I believe) the only time anybody actually stands over a body and wrongly proclaims “Hannibal couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with this!” And the exclamation point is key – an aspect of Dhavermas’s delivery that does a lot to establish this scene’s unusually lame melodrama.
What’s interesting (and conspicuously never followed up on) are that Jack’s reservations apparently do extend to Hannibal or else he wouldn’t have staged this bit of theater.
LARRY WELLS: I had every reason to kill them, they just had no reason to die. No one ever saw me coming unless I wanted them to see me coming. I could smile and wave at a lady, chew the fat in church, knowing I’d killed her husband. There’s something beautiful about sitting in the ball of silence at a funeral, all of those people around you and knowing you made it happen.
Larry’s monologue quotes Fuller’s (entirely false) claim that their depiction of Hannibal was someone you “wouldn’t see coming.” On one level, this crass revelry in murder for the sake of feeling better than people is a cartoonishly undercooked account of why someone would make a gigantic corpse totem pole. On the other hand, it is an accurate summation of a key part of Hannibal’s aesthetic. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a good thing for the show to depict a murderer who is, in point of fact, just a complete and utter bastard as opposed to someone in pursuit of an interesting if (literally) fatally flawed creative vision.
HANNIBAL: Now you know the truth.
WILL GRAHAM: Do I?
HANNIBAL: Everything you know about that night is true. Except the end. Nicholas Boyle attacked us. Abigail’s only crime was to defend herself and I lied about it.
WILL GRAHAM: Why?
HANNIBAL: You know why. Jack Crawford would hang her for what her father’s done. The world would burn Abigail in his place. That would be the story. That would be what Freddie Lounds writes.
It’s easy to miss the lie in Hannibal’s story, which is not in fact “Abigail’s only crime was to defend herself” (she panicked and deliberately used lethal force, yes, but this would almost certainly not constitute a murder charge given the FBI’s shocking failure to secure the situation) but rather the omission of Hannibal’s knocking Alana out.
Note Freddie’s liminal role in this process. She is clearly flagged as a creative force – the fact that she will write a story is unquestionable and immutable even in the face of Will and Hannibal’s respective designs. And yet even here, Hannibal presents Will with his signature choice – the erasure of authorship.
WILL GRAHAM: It’s not our place to decide.
HANNIBAL: If not ours, then whose? Who knows Abigail better than you and I? Or the burden she bears? We are her fathers now. We have to serve her better than Garret Jacob Hobbs.
HANNIBAL: If you go to Jack, then you murder Abigail’s future. If she is ever to have the life she deserves, then we have to tell no one.
HANNIBAL: Do I need to call my lawyer?
Hannibal gives a classical three temptations here, only succeeding on his third. The progression is interesting, moving from moral principle to empathy for Abigail to, finally, empathy for him, a direct appeal to his friendship with Will.
HANNIBAL : What we’re doing here is the right thing, Will. For Abigail. In time, this will be the only story any of us cares to tell.
Hannibal’s design for a murder family with Will and Abigail is slyly disguised in the phrasing of “the only story any of us cares to tell.” As tidy a devil’s bargain as can be.
HANNIBAL: I feel terrible, Miss Lounds. Never entered my head you might be a vegetarian. A lapse on my behalf.
FREDDIE LOUNDS: Or a subtle way to set the power dynamic for this little soiree. Research always delivers benefits.
This is constructed so as to leave clear support for the interpretation that Freddie has figured out Hannibal’s game and thus far opted not to tell anyone. This interpretation is, like the “Hannibal is literally the devil” reading, consistently sustained without ever being given primacy. Even if it is not true, however, Freddie is successfully asserting a form of dominance over Hannibal,
May 23, 2017 @ 9:32 am
“within the context of Hannibal it is the ultimate devil’s offer – a way to control the gap between author and audience, dictating the terms on which your art shall be interpreted.”
As Joe Hill wrote in “Horns”, “the Devil is first a literary critic”. What’s interesting is that here the critic conspires with the author terrified of what their creation reveals about themselves in order to obscure the true meaning of the work. One wouldn’t think Hannibal would go along with that, seeing how he craves acclaim. But if there is any other thing he claims, it’s a sense of control, and this conspiracy gives him that. The obfuscation might also be a test of the audience: who will be clever enough to see through the layers and grasp the truth? Hannibal is nothing if not elitist. (See also: “It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals”).
“This is constructed so as to leave clear support for the interpretation that Freddie has figured out Hannibal’s game and thus far opted not to tell anyone. This interpretation is, like the “Hannibal is literally the devil” reading, consistently sustained without ever being given primacy. Even if it is not true, however, Freddie is successfully asserting a form of dominance over Hannibal.”
This, for me, is one of the greatest bits in all of “Hannibal”: that the one person we might be predisposed to dislike at this point (because of their vulgarity and dealing with low, populist forms of creativity) is the one that slips through the net and, in a way, asserts her moral superiority over everyone else. Everyone who eats meat is tainted, she remains pure.
We can also read Hannibal’s meals as fairy food: eat them and you will be dragged deeper into the wondrous, nightmarish world. You will be changed. Even if other characters manage to eventually get out of the narrative (like Alana and Margot, aided by the series’ cancellation), only Freddie manages to emerge unscathed, unchanged.
May 23, 2017 @ 12:27 pm
“But if there is any other thing he claims” should, of course, read “But if there is any other thing he craves”.
May 23, 2017 @ 9:55 pm