‘Potage’ starts with a definition of murder from a man we know to be a psychopath: Garret Jacob Hobbs (Vladimir Jon Cubrt), while teaching his daughter Abigail (Kacey Rohl) how to hunt deer. When she expresses squeamishness, Hobbs tells her that what they’re doing isn’t murder because they’re using every part of the carcass; they’re honouring the animal. We’ve heard this reasoning before, used by Will (Hugh Dancy) as he divines the motivation for Hobbs’ killings. Will teaches, and so did Garret.
‘Potage’ is certainly a less gruesome episode of Hannibal than the nightmarish ‘Amuse-Bouche’, but it’s no less gripping for it. When Abigail Hobbs wakes up from her coma, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) tells the reluctant Alana (Caroline Dhavernas) and compliant Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) that Will should talk to her. As Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) tries to find a way to get close to the story, Alana, Will and Hannibal take Abigail to her home to find out just how much she knows and what her state of mind is.
Will Graham is a character incapable of forging normal relationships with anybody else, although that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to; Will has been put into a position where he’s forced to be social. Admittedly, both Alana and Hannibal are there to provide professional and moral support, but the problem of Abigail Hobbs shows that Will was not entirely happy in his isolated state with no one but his dogs to talk to. But interacting with actual people isn’t going to go smoothly either. His antagonising of Freddie Lounds is one of the episode’s funnier moments (especially when Jack repeats his threat verbatim from the Tattler website), but it’s another reminder of Will’s darkness, which is precisely why Hannibal didn’t stop him.
While she was in her coma, Abigail was a beacon of hope for Will. She was the human life he saved by killing her father. But Jack’s still treating Abigail as a potential accomplice to Garret’s killings, and Alana isn’t ruling it out either. “Dogs keep a promise a person can’t,” she tells him. But Abigail represents a lot of things to a lot of people. To Will, she’s a reminder that he pulled the trigger with good reason. To Freddie, she’s the key to a story that’s worth manouvering a few people into danger for. To Hannibal, however, she’s someone with fascinating potential.
The last ten minutes of ‘Potage’ see the character taking a more active role as he knocks out Alana and tells Abigail the police won’t believe that she killed the vengeful Nicholas Boyle in self-defence. He also confirms Nicholas Boyle as the prime suspect for the Minnesota Shrike copycat by killing Abigail’s friend Marissa (an off-screen murder that’s confirmed to the viewer as his with little more than a raised eyebrow). It’s a rare show of force, both physically and mentally, and indicates that we can expect more where that came from.
But for the most part, Hannibal spends the episode observing behaviour, dropping hints here and there when it suits him. Mikkelsen gives another wonderfully subtle performance, balancing unreadability with the occasional slight smirk (his expression when he hears Will telling his students about the Minnesota Shrike copycat is fantastic). He hovers over Will’s shoulder like a protective big brother when Jack Crawford is in the room, but his interest is focused on Abigail. When she asks if they think that her father cooked and fed the girls he killed to her, Hannibal responds quickly and in the affirmative. It’s also interesting that he chose to lie about why he called her father. He’s obviously got a plan in store for her, but she’s not ready for it yet.
‘Potage’ is less extravagant than its previous two episodes (although it’s beautifully shot by David Slade). There’s no immediate threat as there are no creatively gruesome murders. The procedural aspect is allowed to take a back seat to character study, and it’s a very well-written exploration of the characters’ ability to manipulate, as Jack’s bullishness contrasts with Hannibal’s quite suggestion, and how the characters bend under influence. It’s an excellent ensemble episode, and Rohl is particularly good as the fascinating Abigail. The idea of ‘folie à deux’, that madness might be passed on, is what Hannibal, Abigail, and to a great extent Will are obsessed with. If Abigail does take up her father’s bad habits, what does that mean for Will and his violent dreams?