For a show that’s all about murder, Hannibal ponders the concept of a dignified, self-inflicted death exceptionally well. As is the nature of procedural crime shows, the M.O. of this week’s killer dovetails a little too nicely with the personal struggles of Jack Crawford. But the case of the beehive killer sheds light on more than Jack’s internal debate over whether he should accept his wife’s desire to die with dignity. It also gives us, by way of contrast, more insight into Hannibal, for whom the idea of killing for mercy is so alien he decides whether to let a cancer patient die via coin toss.
Gina Torres returns to Hannibal this week as Bella, Jack’s terminally ill wife. She’s agreed to start chemo for her husband’s benefit, but as she tells Hannibal, the most treatment can do is manage her pain while she spends her days puking her guts out. A proud woman to begin with, Bella’s also seen firsthand how ugly the last days of lung cancer can be, thanks to her mother. And intentionally or not, it’s Hannibal who subtly endorses the idea of dying on her own terms. Death is a cure, Dr. Lecter tells her, though in his eyes we know it’s one he feels uniquely qualified to administer. As both a doctor and a killer, Hannibal loves the idea of playing God.
In that sense, he’s very similar to this week’s killer, one of the few female ones in the show’s run (though I won’t soon forget Molly Shannon; who could?). An acupuncture therapist and beekeeper, she’s soft-spoken and sociable, deliberately bucking the misanthropic type that usually perpetrates Hannibal‘s brand of death-as-art-installation. When her patients lose their way, she finds it for them. Both are lobotomized before they’re turned over to the bees, robbing them of any choice in the matter. Still, she’s so certain she’s doing the right thing that she calmly explains what she’s doing to Jack as if it’s nothing more than a slightly unorthodox treatment.
Which brings us back to Hannibal, who as Dr. du Maurier told us a few weeks ago has likely convinced himself he’s acting in Will’s best interest as well as his own by framing him for murder. Hannibal, however, can only extend that kind of empathy to those he sees as his peers. People like Bella—or James Grey, the Muralist—become chess pieces, or brush strokes, or whatever master-tool analogy we’re using this week.
When Bella comes to Hannibal in what she believes are her dying moments, she thanks him for reassuring her that suicide is the right thing to do. Right when the morphine hits, however, Hannibal decides to revive her not of his own volition, but by leaving it up to the coin she just gave him. Fate brings Bella back to the hospital, where she’s furious with Hannibal for not sparing her and Jack the agony of a protracted death. It’s a funny inversion of Hannibal’s psychopathic lack of empathy: just as he typically kills when he shouldn’t, here he doesn’t when he should.
The other, much less emotionally affecting plot line this week centers on Will and Beverly’s search for the truth. Thanks to Dr. Chilton’s dose of truth serum, Will finally figures out that his encephalitis was induced or at the very least encouraged by Hannibal, providing him with the perfectly unstable patsy for his killing spree. He even figures out Hannibal’s signature: not just taking trophies, but consuming them.
Unfortunately, Will’s only partner in crime is Beverly (though Chilton’s finally caught on to Hannibal’s “psychic driving” as well). Which means that Beverly inevitably makes the phenomenally stupid, classic-horror move of breaking into the serial killer’s house without telling her boss. I expect we’ve seen the last of Beverly for a very, very long time, unless she pops up soon in edible corpse form. We’ll miss her.