Well nobody thought Hannibal would end with pretty rainbows and bright sunrises. Bryan Fuller’s conception of Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter had little choice but to stare into the dark abyss and dive headfirst into its murky waters before finding even a modicum of salvation. Yet, as dark and extraordinarily violent as the final showdown between Hannibal, Will Graham, and Francis Dolarhyde got, Fuller and his co-writers Steve Lightfoot and Nick Antosca along with director Michael Rymer found their own twisted sense of hope and cathartic release amongst the madness illustrated onscreen. If Hannibal is to finally and definitively end as it does here in “The Wrath of the Lamb,” with Will embracing Hannibal and taking them both over the cliff edge into the rough waters below, then what a beautiful, emotional, violent, and even subtly romantic ending it is.
Their story is brought to its final grace note by the increasingly dangerous presence of Francis Dolarhyde, who had ultimately lost his personal battle with the Red Dragon infecting his mind by the end of last week’s episode. He uses the last remaining scrambles of his humanity to give Reba an exit out of the burning house so that he cuts her off from the monster he’s become and show that he still cares about her safety. The logistical details of his faked death remain questionable, mostly because Rymer cheats by including a shot of Dolarhyde pointing the gun at himself just before he pulls the trigger, though it’s too small a quibble to latch on to. Most similarities to the source material end here as the show takes off in a new direction that manages to homage the endings of both Red Dragon and Manhunter while also creating a wholly new climatic confrontation between Will and Francis.
Hannibal was not a major presence in the original Red Dragon; he was a background player, the demon wiggling his way back under Will’s skin and pulling some strings from behind the scenes. But Hannibal’s presence in this revamped Red Dragon arc takes on new significance when placed in context of the show’s overarching story, and thus the finale rewrites the conclusion to best incorporate itself into the ongoing psychological battle between the two leads while still providing Dolarhyde’s story with a fiery end. The transition to the meeting of the three men is less than sound though; Will’s plan to bait Dolarhyde with Lecter is hazily defined at best and brazenly thoughtless at worst. Did he really think it would be so easy to trap one crazed killer by releasing another, far more cunning one back into the world? As it happens in the episode, Will’s plan backfires spectacularly in another fashion when Dolarhyde ambushes and eliminates the entire police convoy so that the protagonists can isolate themselves.
Hannibal takes Will to the house where he kept Abigail Hobbs hidden from the world, one of the cyclical callbacks to earlier seasons that “Wrath of the Lamb” does without feeling like a curtain call of references, so that they can enjoy a brief moment of respite before the Red Dragon comes to claim their lives. This doesn’t last long as a shot rings out and hits Hannibal in the chest from behind. Whether it was intentional or not, a fun little detail is seeing Will sit to the side with a wine glass as Dolarhyde sets the stage for Lecter’s death, almost as if he’s ready to kick back and enjoy the show of his nemesis’ delicious demise. This doesn’t play out like he’d wish though and the violent killer burrowed into Will’s subconscious is finally brought out in the climatic three-way brawl.
After being stabbed multiple times by Dolarhyde, Will sees the Red Dragon in all his glory with crimson wings outstretched revealing the monster hidden underneath the flesh. He understands what he must do and righteously embeds the knife into Francis’ body. Rarely has there been a greater case for the use of computer-generated blood than this lurid series, and the finale doubles down on that as the two frenemies team up against the raging beast and tear him asunder to the ominous sounds of Siouxsie Sioux’s ballad “Love Crime.” Aesthetically gorgeous in its violence to the very end, Hannibal ends with its biggest non-cannibal villain eviscerated and left to rot as his blood looks quite black in the pale moonlight.
The final embrace and fall over the cliff between the protagonists might be the cruelest final joke that the writers could’ve come up with as fans still clamor for the possibility of a season four and/or movie and now they’re left with a literal cliffhanger. However, while the possibility of their survival is certainly there, the ending can also be viewed in a much more final light, with Will realizing in true “can’t live with him can’t live without him fashion” that the only way for this to truly end is if he takes down Lecter with him. This likewise goes for the post-credits scene with Bedelia’s table set for three with her leg as the main course, where many fans seem to interpret this as Hannibal and/or Will still alive and forcing Bedelia to eat herself Abel Gideon style. It’s much more enticing and fitting for the show to see it as Bedelia offering herself up to them now that she knows Hannibal is free and would most likely come for her, with the final image of the episode leaving her destructive anxiety unanswered. In the world of Hannibal, nobody ever gets a truly clean break from the evil waiting to consume them all.
EPISODE RATING: 9/10