Usually, Hannibal episodes can do one of two things: they can develop the show’s protagonists in a meaningful sense, or they can have an engaging killer of the week. The pilot and “Amuse-Bouche” did both, but their job was to establish the characters rather than develop them, and in most subsequent episodes, either interesting villains or the advancement of the overall plot have taken the back seat. This week, in “Buffet Froid,” Hannibal elegantly ties Will Graham’s tortured psyche into a haunting plot about a killer with a chance for redemption.
The episode evokes overt horror elements in its opening; a pretty twentysomething woman living on her own discovers a leak and subsequently a hole in her roof in the episode’s lingering first shots. It’s very haunted house, but Hannibal dials up the horror all the way when she’s abruptly pulled under her bed, followed by gouts of blood and screams. It’s one of the series’ scariest scenes, and seems like the setup for a monstrous bogeyman, devoid of humanity in some way or other. Surprisingly, “Buffet Froid” goes the other way, and our bogeyman is the most relatable killer Hannibal’s ever done.
Most of Hannibal’s killers have a mental illness to complement their murdering, but not one that ever excuses it. Garret Jacob Hobbs had an unhealthy obsession with his daughter as well as an “every part of the buffalo” attitude that gave his murders a fascinating and disturbing motive. Brain Tumour Jesus’ visions added a small enough element of the supernatural that it mystified the crimes, but didn’t detract from the setting. This week’s Georgia Madchen, on the other hand, was revealed to be totally pitiable: she has Cotard’s Syndrome, and so doesn’t know she’s killing anyone, nor even that she’s alive.
The horror of Georgia’s situation is driven home in a reveal in the episode’s final minutes. She walks in on Hannibal mutilating Dr. Sutcliffe and sees a faceless monster who hands her incriminating evidence and calmly walks out. Aside from Hannibal’s appearance tying in nicely with his psyhiatrist’s comment about his “person suit,” the audience sympathises absolutely with Georgia in that moment. Her vision of the world is terrifying.
Not content with making a woman who rips people’s faces off relatable, Hannibal goes and ties her directly to Will, a man so close to mental breakdown he worries if he’s even alive. When he shouts, “If you can hear me, you’re alive!” at her, it’s an attempt to get her to understand, but it’s also an affirmation of his own vitality. If his empathy can save someone directly, rather than bringing him closer to psychopaths, he can control a part of his disintegrating world. The scene where he reaches out to her under the bed is a little unsubtle in the “bringing her out of darkness” thematic content, but it’s also heartbreaking. Will and Georgia aren’t criminal and FBI agent. They’re two human in desperate need of connection and understanding, and though it doesn’t provide the latter, a connection is made, however brief.
The second pre- opening credits scene with Will and Hannibal is quite well-done in its varying degrees of subtlety in foreshadowing. Will’s comment about knowing he’s still alive thematically ties him to the episode’s killer. Furthermore, the buildup to and implications of Will’s clock were lovely. It’s actually a shock to see that, yes, there is probably something seriously wrong with him, and an even larger one to see Hannibal withholding information from him that doesn’t have to do with murdering people. The scene shows that Will trusts Hannibal immediately, offering little resistance to or questioning of drawing the clock, and just as quickly damages that bond.
Jack Crawford hasn’t had much to do since that business with his wife’s cancer, but his scenes with Will bordered on the adorable. “I am not sand. I am bedrock.” would seem ridiculous in other circumstances, but Laurence Fishburne delivers it with such confidence that it works. For all his cold demeanor in the past few episodes, Jack actually cares quite a bit about Will, and the comparison to Miriam Lass actually reinforces his concern rather than being just a “I-couldn’t-save-her-but-I’ll-save-you” moment. It was that as well, but it managed to convey that, with all his protectors, Will might actually be okay.
If Will and Jack was almost cute, Will and Beverly bonding in a murder scene was downright adorable, in that twisted way Hannibal does everything. “Flirting” is definitely the wrong word for their attempts to discover Georgia Madchen’s motives, but it’s interesting that Will called her rather than anyone else to validate his sanity, and more interesting that she’s entirely on board with that. Katz hasn’t got much development, being a secondary character at best, but she does make one important contribution this week; when she says that Georgia was trying to claw off a mask, Will’s face reveals that he honestly hadn’t thought of that. She’s one of the only people not named Hannibal Lecter to offer Will any insight into a crime that hadn’t already occurred to him, which adds a new dimension to their relationship.
“Buffet Froid” lets Will Graham use his empathy powers in a way that actually helps someone in need rather than destroying his mind, which affords him a little stability and control in his life. It establishes that he’s got people who care about him and that want him to be safe, but at the same time it pulls the rug out from under his feet. His best friend betrays him and the audience is left unsure as to how far he’ll go to study Will. The season is building to some sort of mental collapse and with this week’s encephalitis reveal has sped events up dangerously.
In Memoriam: Dr. Sutcliff, a man killed for the crime of not enjoying immaculately prepared human flesh, also something to do with Will’s brain. But mostly because he wouldn’t eat Hannibal’s food. Although that may have actually been a pig, which is the probably the first thing Hannibal’s served someone that can be confirmed as not people.