Tonight’s episode of Hannibal recreated one of the most iconic scenes from the books and films from which it draws its inspiration. But, as we’ve come to expect from this series, Bryan Fuller put his own spin on the sequence and made it more disturbing than any previous incarnation. While it wasn’t as dramatic as one might expect a penultimate episode to be, “The Number of the Beast is 666” was a memorable hour of television with some wonderfully twisted moments.
While most episodes turn the spotlight on Mads Mikkelsen or Hugh Dancy, it was Raúl Esparza who had the chance shine, delivering a truly phenomenal performance that developed his character far more than two seasons worth of appearances had already. In his first few minutes of the episode, we’re reintroduced to Chilton as he whines to Hannibal about how the psychopath had embarrassed him by disproving his recently published book. The scenes immediately reminds the viewer of how unlikable and self-centered Chilton is, as does another moment where he cockily plans on drawing out the Red Dragon for his own personal gain. Esparza was better than ever in these opening moments, adding an almost comedic sensibility to his unbelievably greedy character.
But it’s when Chilton is put in danger that Esparza really gets the chance to show how talented he is. Unlike the original series, which finds (a male) Freddie Lounds being kidnapped and tortured by the Red Dragon, it’s Chilton who is tied to chair and forcibly given a tour of Francis Dolarhyde’s twisted mind. As a result, the episode, essentially, becomes a twenty-minute two-man-show between Esparza and Armitage. Esparza is Emmy worthy thanks to his work during the extended sequence, simultaneously making his character pathetic and oddly sympathetic. As Chilton’s situation becomes increasingly disturbing, it becomes hard to blame him for the way he tries to scream and bargain his way to safety. But, at the same time, watching him put others in danger to save himself only makes his character more despicable. It’s a tricky balancing act that Esparza handles flawlessly.
The sequence also gives Armitage the chance to further impress as the Red Dragon. Once again, he’s absolutely terrifying in the role and, impressively, relies largely on vocal tones and body moments to create the character. Despite having his face hidden throughout the scene, the audience is always aware of what Dolarhyde is thinking, and that can be entirely credited to Armitage’s ability as an actor. The climax of the sequence, which finds a particularly gruesome act of violence acted out on screen, allows both actors the chance to capitalize on the absolute horror of the sequence, making a potentially over the top moment seem both believable and terrifying. In a series filled with disturbing moments, it may be the most nauseating scene so far.
Unfortunately, the episode is not without its problems. While Gillian Anderson was, previously, a highlight of the series for me, her character now seems to be completely pointless since Hannibal is behind bars. Her scenes with Will don’t feel organic to the story. Instead, they seem like brief moments that allow Anderson to fulfill her contractual obligation. She gives them her all, but they are still unnecessary moments. Other characters, specifically Jack and even the titular cannibal, also feel like they’re stuck in a narrative rut, failing to be developed in any significant way.
There is also the unavoidable fact that this was the second to last episode of the season and, possibly, the entire series, yet it didn’t feel like the stage was set for any sort of finale. While I’ve enjoyed the Red Dragon subplot thus far, having the last episode of the series serve as a showdown between Will and the Tooth Fairy will certainly be a disappointment, especially since Hannibal really hasn’t done much over the past six weeks. The relationship between Hannibal and Will was, essentially, the heart of the series. It just doesn’t seem right for the show to come to an end without further exploring that dynamic. Thankfully, Bryan Fuller is taking this storyline in a direction that is considerably different from the books and films, so there is a chance that the finale will be much different than what I’m expecting. But, as of right now, I’m a bit worried about how this terrific series will come to a close.
Still, as a showcase for Armitage and especially Esparza, “The Number of the Beast is 666” is an undeniable success. Terrifying and absorbing in equal measure, I found it difficult to take my eyes off the screen, even when the violence got particularly gruesome. The episode took a scene I’ve seen performed in two separate films, not to mention parodied on South Park, and somehow made it feel fresh. Even with a handful of flaws, this was a pretty satisfying episode.