Remakes are a weird thing, because as much as we try to take them on their own merits and ignore the original versions of stories, the very nature of remakes means that there will be areas that heavily remind us of those original interpretations. I’m certainly in the minority on what I’m about to say, but I found the divisive first half of Hannibal’s third season to be an incredibly engrossing mind trip that reached for more ambitiously contemplative heights than the show had previously attempted. Whether or not it’s up to par with the sterling first two seasons is up for debate, and there are certainly head-scratching plot elements to be found (some hazy reveals, almost anything with Chiyoh), but the show pushed itself further and further into the abyss with complete control of its intent. So while the arrival of the Red Dragon arc has been a relief for those that were left adrift by the leisurely opening episodes, there’s an air of déjà vu passing through that wasn’t present before.
Last week, although “The Great Red Dragon” went through many of the same beats that Thomas Harris (and Michael Mann…and Brett Ratner of all people) already hit, there remained a feeling of freshness. Oddly enough, “And the Woman Clothed in Sun” has more original material woven into the old story, and yet there’s an element of greater familiarity that wasn’t as strong in the prior episode. Perhaps it’s the dialogue between Hannibal and Will that has been lifted almost wholesale from Harris’ pages with its talk of atrocious aftershave, pilgrims, and blood in the moonlight. None of these scenes are done with any less skill than the rest of the show, and yet after becoming so absorbed in Bryan Fuller’s fresh take on the infamous cannibal, it’s tough not to want less of the old and more of the new.
There’s still plenty of new to be had here, though, and as I wrote last week, it’s been fascinating to see how small dialogue and plot tweaks have shifted the context of material that was previously viewed in a vacuum without the backstory filled in. Will’s hesitancy and fear of “getting the old scent back” now holds far more weight than originally written, because we have seen the damage firsthand caused to his mental stability by working with Lecter and also getting into the minds of many disturbed individuals. Mann and Ratner’s adaptations differed in visual palettes while still remaining straightforward in their storytelling, whereas director John Dahl pumps this version with the Hannibal flourishes we’ve come to expect that (in this case literally) crack open the minds of the characters and lay them out bare.
Dahl visually links Francis Dolarhyde’s hatred of mirrors to Will’s fracturing grip on reality, because Francis is looking to break down the images of his current flesh form while Will is struggling to hold the pieces of himself together. That contrast between the two characters brings the struggling humanity of Hugh Dancy’s portrayal of Will to life in ways that William Peterson and Edward Norton’s renditions of the character could not have achieved without fully understanding what he went through leading up to the Tooth Fairy case. There’s also the “child” that Hannibal took from Will and Abigail Hobbs, who we see more of here as Hannibal goes through the intricate process of staging her death in flashbacks.
One of the more straightforwardly adapted segments right from the page is the relationship between Dolarhyde and blind film processor Reba McClane, played by Rutina Wesley of True Blood. Armitage exudes Dolarhyde’s creepiness wherever he goes (“Trust me…I’m smiling”), but there remains a sweetness to their interactions that breaks through his brutish demeanor. He doesn’t seem to understand why she is being so nice to him, because he’s probably never felt that level of kindness from anyone in his life (his abusive mother has only appeared in quick flashes so far but she’ll surely show up later on). They have both experienced hardships in life due to their physical ailments, and they both find comfort in each other because they do not judge based on his cleft palate or her blindness. With the extra time that a season of television affords over a two hour movie, I can’t wait to see how the show expands on their relationship and Dolarhyde’s tortured background.
EPISODE RATING: 7/10