If there is one compliment I would like to pay Richard Armitage, then it is this one: His performances are such that I would like to watch them over and over again. It doesn’t matter much who or what he is playing. His name – well, his presence – alone is guarantee that a character is portrayed as a multi-layered, complex personality who will engage and touch the viewer. Luckily Richard’s way of adding depth to his characters coincides with a stage in his career where he is not playing mere side-characters anymore. Otherwise his considerable acting talent would be wasted on a minor role – or, worse, throw a dramatic piece off-kilter because Richard is inadvertently imbuing his roles with too much complex emotional depth… because boy, he’s wreaking havoc with my emotions.
This week was the first time that I felt Hannibal was really going into thriller territory. And big time, because the show seemed to leap from climax to climax in this episode – Lecter egging Dolarhyde on – the actual attempt on Molly and Walt’s lives – Dolarhyde fighting the Red Dragon – Dolarhyde breaking up with Reba. What stood out for me was that the show did not concentrate exclusively on action for climactic scenes, but also used action-free visuals and especially the spoken word to create experiences of high drama. The build-up in the intro/extended conversation between Dolarhyde and Lecter was fantastic spoken word drama – and at the same time almost eerily quiet – which made the dread and fear even more impactful: A stern and rigid-looking Dolarhyde can be frightening at the best of times, but the extremes of emotions he experiences in his conversation with Lecter wreaks havoc with the viewers’ allegiance: His wonder at having touched (and having been touched by) “a living woman” appeals to your empathy, and his fear that Reba will be demanded as sacrifice by the dragon, makes your heart open. And yet, the implied threat directed at Will has not lost any of its power. Although the lighting in Hannibal is always atmospherically dim, Dolarhyde’s emotions were made brilliantly clear on his face, even in the half-light, or in profile, when we only get to see half of what is there.
And through his voice. For the first time, I was entirely and unreservedly convinced by Armitage’s voice acting. The variety of tone was impressive, as was the effortless switching between Dolarhyde’s own voice and a voice that was influenced by the Red Dragon. It was the stumbling over words, the choked stammers which made those highly emotional scenes between Reba and Dolarhyde, and Dolarhyde and Lecter so absolutely natural and believable. I always have the impression that those little sounds we make – the snorts, or chuckles, or whimpers, or even stammers, are so involuntary that they are near impossible to recreate believably. Here, I really liked what Armitage did, especially when characterizing Dolarhyde’s confusion through his voice. It was a powerful performance, and voice and body acting combined to elevate this scene, as well as the break-up scene between Francis and Reba, to outstanding moments in the show, where both Mikkelsen and Wesley were relegated to the sidelines. Mind you, I was heart-broken when Reba sniffled after being dumped.
I felt so much for Dolarhyde in those moments when he seeks out Reba and breaks off their relationship. And for the first time I cursed the fact that Reba is blind, because had she seen what we were seeing, she would have realized that there are deeper reasons that force Francis to dump her, and that he is not just looking for an excuse to get rid of her, but that he is actually protecting her by giving her up. To be quite honest, I was slightly disappointed in her – that she only *listened* to his words but did not *hear* them: Armitage’s breaking voice in the scene quite clearly indicated the sincerity of Francis’s statement “I don’t know what to say to you”. He is quite clearly distraught about various things – at giving her up, at giving up this new and unfamiliar (but enjoyable) feeling of love for a human being, and at being forced to succumb to the Dragon’s wishes. Reba focusses on what is familiar for her – being dumped by a man because a blind woman is more commitment than a fully able-bodied woman – and fails to understand that there is much more going on than a man getting rid of a burden.
But that was it with the softer side of Francis ‘Dolly’ Dolarhyde, too. When it comes to the Red Dragon story-arc on Hannibal, I think the “Top 5 Romantic Moments” of Dolarhyde are now behind us. Dolarhyde is dead, long live the Red Dragon? Well, Dolarhyde is not dead – but neither is the beast, and despite Dolarhyde’s attempts at shutting him out, he got the upper hand. The victim is the woman Dolarhyde has saved – Reba (so far) escapes unscathed, reluctantly but for the better given up by Francis, fearing the Dragon might take her. And Dolarhyde himself. How horribly, madly unsettling must it be to be caught in a mind like that, knowing that evil has taken root inside one’s brain, and yet unable to battle it and defeat it?
That particular internal battle was stunningly visualized. The fleeting glimpses of the beast battering Dolarhyde were perfect – any more of the plastic tail and wings, and it would’ve been comical. The switch to seeing a man literally fighting himself was surprising, and yet genius: The show very clearly delineates between Dolarhyde and the beast (effectively portrayed by Armitage with voice and posture), and thus our sympathy for Dolarhyde is kept alive, even though we are thoroughly against him when he acts as the creeping killer in the preceding scene with Molly and Walt. I loved all the close-ups in this episode, but particularly the one of the lock opening. The foreboding was almost unbearable, aided by the slo-mo captures and the intense, eerily quiet soundtrack. For the entire duration of the scene the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Dolarhyde zoning in on his victims, stalking his prey like a tiger, single-mindedly pursuing them despite the frustration of finding their beds empty – this was suspense at its finest. And despite all the sympathy for Dolarhyde – I rooted for Molly!
Besides Armitage, Dancy has become a firm favourite with me in this show. The scene between him and his (step-) son was fabulously acted, lots of detail in voice and posture. However, despite their best attempts, I can’t quite see the attraction between Molly and Will. She doesn’t convince me as a character. How much or how little does she know about her husband, how could she send him straight into danger despite his obvious reluctance to work for the FBI again? And now the hint of a whine when things have gone pear-shaped? Hm.
Some of the things in the show do not really add up to me, though, and I feel that I am asked to suspend my disbelief too often. If Jack Crawford and Alana Bloom have already figured out that the Red Dragon is using Lecter’s lawyer’s office to make his phone calls, then why do they not put the building under surveillance and catch him there? And where did the title of this last episode come in? “And the Beast from the Sea”? It’s all very clever to use the titles of the Blake paintings as the episode titles, but apart from a slo-mo shot of waves breaking there was no further allusion to a beast from the sea in this instalment. Couldn’t they have manufactured something to make that cohere a bit more?
But ok, let’s not pick any holes into the plot. The suspense was handled deftly and the Red Dragon arc continues to fascinate. The other characters by and large leave my stone-cold – probably due to me having ignored everything that has happened pre-Red Dragon. However, I can’t help but think that if it weren’t for Richard Armitage, Hannibal would already be out of favour with more reviewers than just this subjective fangirl…
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