Three years after the events of “Digestivo,” Hannibal returns this week with the introduction of “The Great Red Dragon.”
“There was an opinion he wanted. A strange view he needed to share; a mindset he has to recover…’I have to see Lecter.'” -Will Graham, Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (1981)
The first passage to ever mention Hannibal Lecter occurs early on in Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon. Hannibal’s surrender at the close of last week’s episode left viewers off at the opening passage of the book that started it all. If you’ve read the novel, chances are you already felt a sense of familiarity over the past two and half seasons. Framing Lounds’ death in a flaming wheelchair, Will’s musings on Hannibal as God in the Norman Chapel, the abundance of stray dogs, are each details from Red Dragon. But one paramount detail from the novel was always missing in Hannibal.
The focus of Fuller’s Hannibal has always been the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and FBI profiler Will Graham. The battle of Will versus Hannibal seduced audiences. Their shared trains of thought, the psychological torture, the incredibly intricate meals, combined to lure fans to a place where they felt comfortable enough to dismiss the corruption that carried their story along. Francis Dolarhyde’s tale of isolation runs a strikingly parallel path.
Francis Dolarhyde exists at the center of Hannibal‘s (most likely) final story. He is a man whose killing spree caught the attention of Harris’ most infamous character, Hannibal Lecter. Appearing only in brief passages, the air of mystery surrounding Hannibal was enough for Harris to expand upon in his subsequent novels, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Rising, and Hannibal. But Dolarhyde, his first fully developed killer, serves as the catalyst that brings Will back to Hannibal three years after cutting all ties to the FBI and Lecter. Which is just what Hannibal needs at this moment.
Hannibal, the series, would not be complete without his story. In fact, we’d go as far to say that Francis Dolarhyde will be Fuller’s Clarice Sterling– the one character no adaptation can touch after. Casting Richard Armitage in the role almost guarantees that prediction.
Who are we meeting?
The Tooth Fairy, Red Dragon, Francis Dolarhyde, are they the same person? Yes. And no. The tale that begins in episode 8, “The Great Red Dragon,” will focus on the man Francis Dolarhyde and his “Becoming” to a higher self, the Dragon. It is very much a story of one man versus insanity. Not unlike the transformation that Will went through under the influence of Hannibal, Dolarhyde battles the fantasy life that engulfs his sane mind and awakens his suppressed urges developed in his less than ideal childhood upbringing.
Born with a cleft lip and left by his mother, Dolarhyde never truly found acceptance, but what he interpreted as “Love” from his grandmother who took Dolarhyde out of an orphanage at age five. His first venture into the world was intended to torture his mother at the instruction of his grandmother. From a young age, Francis felt the desire to protect his grandmother, more so as her heath deteriorated. But in his pursuit to find a means of standing up to potential danger, he found a release for the overwhelming feelings he classified as “Love” through murdering chickens.
Dolarhyde went on to boarding school and the army, where strength, stamina, and a gift from a surgeon allowed him to exit as a force of discipline with a slightly corrected face. He took his grandmother under his care until her death.
Harris’ language has often been described by Fuller as “purple and operatic.” This language resonates Dolarhyde’s internal struggle between accepting his isolation as a blessing, a gateway to a greater Becoming. The process of Becoming is a disturbing narrative of personal strength, graphic recreations of home videos, and a one track obsessive mind.
However, Dolarhyde is a villain whose moments of human connection, though rare and fleeting, are crafted in such a way that they almost allow you to forget the brutality that he is capable of during the 27 days he is not out murdering families. You’re filled with the desire to see a man who takes a blind coworker to experience a tiger up close in a way only she could appreciate, find some salvation. Then again, this same man murdered two families, shred them with shattered mirrors, and left them on display.
The first two Dolarhyde-centric episodes, “The Great Red Dragon,” and “…and the Woman Clothed in the Sun,” reference the title of a William Blake painting and the ultimate inspiration for Dolarhyde’s transformation. The painting is not a prop. Rather, it is what Dolarhyde sees as the ultimate representation of his higher self. Who or what he is trying to become.
“The picture stunned him the first time he saw it. Never before has he seen anything that approached his graphic thought.” –Red Dragon
Richard Armitage is taking on the daunting task of portraying the role that has only been seen before by Tom Noonan in 1986 and more recently by Ralph Fiennes in the 2006 film, Red Dragon. Something about Richard Armitage’s Dolarhyde, however briefly we’ve seen him thus far, will perhaps be the best interpretation of the chilling monster lifted from Harris’ pages.
If you missed the extended footage from Comic-Con take a look here.
Red Dragon is the book that launched the Hannibal franchise. Unfortunately, this story may also close what is perhaps the most chilling interpretation of Thomas Harris’ work. Fuller and company are not leaving fans without first presenting a gripping narrative. Dolarhyde rivals Hannibal’s composure, elegance, and backstory on all accounts. His ability to pull all the key players of Hannibal into his orbit is worth tuning in to see.
Watch Hannibal season 3, episode 8, “The Great Red Dragon,” Saturday, July 25 at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC.