Hannibal: symbolism, symmetry, and parallels hidden behind extravagant murders

(WARNING: this post is not only ridiculously long, it`s also very in-depth, and filled to the brim with spoilers for the entire season of Hannibal. If you don`t like Hannibal, or haven`t seen it or parts of it yet and don`t spoilers, DON`T READ. Consider yourselves warned) 

Today, after much anticipation, I finally got to watch the finale to the first season of Hannibal. And man, does that show live up to its promise. I stick by what I said before: go watch this show. No really. Unless you`re squeamish about blood and gore and very creative murders. Then don`t.

But if you`re in it for the artistic side, yes. If you want a dark show that`s not just entertaining for 40 minutes, but that`s fascinating, philosophical, and that challenges you to think about everything, then yes. If you want a show with so much attention to details, to metaphors and hints and mind games, then yes.

Now that the first season is finished, and we have the big twists (and the first announcements for season 2), I can finally look back on these 13 episodes and jus go “wow”. Every little detail, everything in this show is done exactly right. My honest compliments to the cast and crew for creating such a sublime piece of art and managing to get it on air as a “procedural show”. You`re all just as manipulative as Hannibal, and we all love you for it like how you made us love a cannibal psychopath and doubt our morals while you`re at it.

I think what I liked most about this show is the parallels. I didn`t really start noticing them until episode 12, when Hannibal brings Will the sophisticated chicken soup. Here, let me give you some screenshots for visual enhancement (after all, this is a show that revolves around the senses – and misguiding them -, so I might as well make as much use of it as I can, too).

In the first episode, when Will and Hannibal have just met, Hannibal brings Will breakfast at his motel. We see them seated like this:


This is one of the first times they really talk, having only just met. Hannibal immediately has Will eat human meat. He pays very close attention to Will eating it, too, as if making sure he does eat it. Making sure Will is a cannibal too, knowingly or not. I think it`s very interesting how Hannibal does this to literally everyone, yet strangely stops doing it to Will later.

Let`s go back to parallels first here. Because in episode 12, when Will is in the hospital, we see this:


It`s almost exactly the same as that first, establishing shot of the two of them. The brown curtains, the white in between, the white on the sides of the frame, the cups on the same place on the table. It goes right down to their clothing (although granted Will only owns white shirts, as frowned upon by Hannibal). There`s only two differences, really:

1)Will`s pose. In the first shot, Will sits back, as if shying away from Hannibal. Of course he would, he only just met Hannibal, he`s still awkward and untrusting and not sure what to make of this man suddenly thrust into his life. In the second shot though, he`s leaning towards Hannibal, much more trusting of him. This is very showing of their evolving relationship, whatever their strange relationship might be.

2)Hannibal`s food. This might be one of the first times the entire season that we see Hannibal make something non-cannibalistic. And it`s for Will. I`m not 100% sure on what I think this means just yet, but I do know it means something.

Another parallel is the one between doctor Gideon and Will. In a roundabout way, doctor Gideon both foreshadowed Will`s future, and helped cause it. It was like a summary and an example of what was happening to Will, save for the encephalitis of course. Both lost their perspective of who they are. Both got played by their psychiatrists (the same ones, even). This makes it all the more interesting that it was Will who shot Gideon. In a way, this could be seen as Will helping to cause his own downfall, even if it was played to be like this by Hannibal. It was foreshadowing brought to an extreme.

But Gideon also helped in causing this future for Will. It was because of how Gideon escaped, that Will could, too. It puts a whole extra layer on Will`s case. It shows he can actually act on the things his empathy allows him to see, and it inadvertently makes him close the trap Hannibal has set out. It also makes sure we as the audience really doubt Will is innocent. If he`s actually capable of using the information he gathered from all those cases to break out, knock out two other men, and escape, in the exact same way another serial killer did, and if he`s really losing large periods of time and has these huge gaps in his memory, then what`s stopping him from actually killing people? Who says anything`s stopping him? And alongside Jack and Alana and everyone else, we also start doubting Will`s innocence, even if we all know all along that Will is innocent and is being played by Hannibal. The seed is planted, and once the doubt is put in your mind it won`t get out.

Changing the subject slightly now, but I want to delve into the symbolism of the show a bit deeper, too. It took me a long while, but I finally managed to collect my thoughts on the symbolism of this picture (gratuitously stolen from the Hannibal page on Facebook):


They said themselves that this shot is “one of the most symbolic shots of the season”. I`m not very good at symbolism, and I tend to miss it completely. They didn`t explain much either, though I kind of like it like that. This means I get to put my own interpretation to it. And this is my attempt at doing exactly that.

The first thing you notice about this shot is the symmetry. The chairs facing each other, the table and chair in the middle. Even the structure of the building, everything is symmetrical, with the camera right smack in the middle. It`s not only aesthetically pleasing, it`s symbolic.

This show loves symmetry. Everything is symmetric. You can see it in the screenshots of Will and Hannibal above. This symmetry helps explain the show too. It helps define the relation between characters. Will and Hannibal are always face to face. Will and Alana are often seen side to side. The murders are all symmetrical, too. It`s very clean and precise and exactly like Hannibal himself.

And it`s this last part that`s important in the scene above. The symmetry is broken. And it`s broken by Hannibal himself. He`s also not facing doctor Du Maurier, but he`s next to her. Or rather, he`s forcing her to stand, next to him, in her own house. He`s in control. It`s almost as if he owns her. This is enforced by the fact that he is sitting down. It is often said that the best way of keeping the upper hand in an argument is by staying on your seat. Standing up makes you give in to the opponent, and makes you lose control. Stay calm, stay seated, and stay in control. Hannibal is showing exactly who is in control here, right after Du Marier has confronted him about his behaviour towards Will.

They`re also both on the side of the paintings, facing the actual nature outside. This might seem meaningless, but in a show where everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) has meaning, there`s something to it. In this case, it adds to the character building.

The creators of the show have said that, when designing the homes of Hannibal and Will, they wanted to make sure Hannibal used natural colours, lots of wood, plants, things like that, to recreate a kind of nature in his home. But instead of creating actual nature, he changed it, controls it. Will, however, was said to have bought a home, left it largely as it is, and almost literally let nature find its way in by itself. In this house though, we see almost abstract paintings of nature, like watching through a fogged lens. Colours are distorted, shapes are changed. And Hannibal and Du Maurier are on that side, watching the nature outside.

If this shot isn`t symbolic, I don`t know what is.

Combine this with how Du Maurier behaved during the dinner Hannibal presents her with in the last episode, and I wonder what exactly she knows and thinks. She obviously knows more than she shows. There`s hinting she knows about the cannibalism (“controversial dish”, combined with the staring). The whole conversation is dripping with hidden meanings, too. It`s like both of them know what Hannibal actually is, but neither will admit to it.

As someone who has not (yet) read the books, this makes me very curious about what Du Maurier`s role will be in the future. She knows more than she lets on, but we all know by now not to judge by what we see. No one in this show is who they pretend to be. But who is Du Maurier pretending to be?

And that`s great about this show. It`s so deliciously complicated, deep, and layered. It`s not a show about gruesome murders. It`s not about people solving murders by being clever. If that`s all you see, you`re doing it wrong, even if it`s enjoyable in itself. But look deeper, pay attention, and there`s an endless treasure of details to notice, parallels to draw, symbolism to note. This show plays with your senses, it messes with your mind, and it`s amazing.

(Please note that I realise this might be overanalysing to the extreme, but if there`s anything I enjoy doing it`s overanalysing. All my life I`ve taken everything at face value, never looked deeper, so now that I have a show I can go loose on I`m going to grab this chance, thankyouverymuch)

And if you made it until here, wow. *claps and cheers*. Have a cookie. I promise it`s not people.

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