Francis Dollarhyde’s transformation into William Blake’s Great Red Dragon is in full swing now on Hannibal, but the introduction of the compassionate Reba McClane has thrown a curveball into his journey that he could not have expected. She’s the first genuine emotional connection he’s had in a long time, perhaps ever, in his life, and he’s still coming to grips with the difficulty of connection and intimacy that he faces when they’re together. It’s all self-conscious on his part, as he fears that she will get too close and eventually discover the darkness brewing inside of him. She’s his last real chance to find comfort in the regular life unless the Dragon consumes him from within.
It’s not like he isn’t trying, though. In one of the best scenes taken straight from Red Dragon, Francis takes Reba to the zoo, where he’s arranged for her to pet a tiger under heavy sedation. She’s never seen a tiger before in her life, and he sees this as a moment to bring them closer by allowing her this moment of discovery and sensation. In all iterations, this scene (like the painting Francis obsesses over) has managed to effortlessly blend the sensual and the creepy in its tone as Francis watches Reba slowly slide her hands around the tiger’s body. On the one hand, it’s a beautiful event for Reba as she begins stroking and the tiger’s fur glows brighter and brighter until its searing orange strongly contrasts with the darker palette surrounding it.
On the other hand, Francis is experiencing both pleasure and torment in equal measure. He’s pleased that the event is a positive for her, but he also displays an undercurrent of jealousy and pain as she caresses the animal’s mouth, an excruciating reminder of how he denies her the same touch of his lips. The tiger represents a gateway for them in the relationship; he sees the level of close intimacy she feels with it, and perhaps this is why he opens up to her physically later that night. But the influence of the Red Dragon remains a potent presence even during their love-making, with director Guillermo Navarro focusing his camera on Francis’ back tattoo as it flexes and contorts with his body. And then in a moment of ecstasy, Francis sees Reba as the woman from the painting, with her flowing hair and luminous gold robe.
Reba is Francis’ link to having a normal life, which is thematically flipped from Will Graham’s situation with Hannibal Lecter. Will and Francis are on opposite personal trajectories, for Will wants to maintain the emotional peace he experiences with Molly, and Lecter is the tempting fishhook waiting to pull him back into the dark abyss. Lecter and Will drop the formalities from their interactions and leave behind only a thick air of resentment, which manifests in Lecter particularly as he looks for ways to get under Will’s skin and even builds a relationship with Francis over the phone. This will prove to be a volatile and dangerous pairing in the future, especially since Lecter recently acquired Will’s home information.
In another parallel to Francis and Reba’s developing relationship, there’s an air of jealousy (like with the tiger) showing between Will and Bedelia as he confronts her hypocrisy over playing the victim when she willingly went along with Hannibal’s schemes. “We’ve both been his bride [of Frankenstein],” Bedelia fires back at him. It’s true that the two of them share the inexorable pull of Lecter’s presence, but unlike Will, Bedelia is more definitively not so different from Lecter, as seen by the flashback revealing how she killed her patient Neal. They’re creatures created from the same cloth, and whether Will believes it or not, it’s the weaker bad inside him fighting against the more powerful good and not the other way around. Francis is not so fortunate to be placed on the opposite end of that spectrum.
EPISODE RATING: 10/10