Hannibal S01E05 ‘Coquilles’ Episode Review

Our review of Hannibal episode five, with spoilers

Hannibal performs a balancing act between character drama and police procedural. One criticism that could be made of the series so far is that it occasionally leans too far towards one at the expense of the other, but what episode five makes clear is that the procedural aspect comes second. It provides structure and an excuse for some elaborate, striking and gory tableaus, but Hannibal‘s primary focus is its characters. This week, it’s Jack Crawford’s turn to go under the microscope

In ‘Coquilles,’ Will finds that he’s started sleepwalking. Hannibal tells Will that Jack is placing him under too much pressure, an idea that Will initially dismisses, but quickly realises is true when a killer who turns his victims into angels gets under his skin a little too easily. Meanwhile, Jack has his own problems: his wife Bella is becoming increasingly distant, but after the Crawfords have dinner with Doctor Lecter she visits him in a professional capacity and reveals that her deception is not what Jack thinks it is.

The casting of Laurence Fishburne’s real-life wife Gina Torres as Jack’s wife Bella is a wonderful touch, and their scenes together are superbly played. Fishburne has mostly had ‘authoritarian’ and ‘bullish’ to work with so far, so it’s great to see an episode that allows him to stretch his dramatic muscles. As Firefly fans know, Torres can present an impressive veneer of unquestioning strength and loyalty, and the episode allows her to gradually break that facade apart. The revelation of Bella’s cancer won’t come as a surprise to Thomas Harris experts but it’s a beautifully played moment by the two actors and, more importantly, shakes up one of the show’s most unshakeable characters. Will’s offer of support to Jack at the episode’s close is a reversal that can’t be sustained.

The reason being, of course, that Will’s still heading in a downward spiral. The sleepwalking that opens the episode allows for a callback to Hannibal‘s recurring stag motif (which seemed rather too on-the-nose at first, but now fits nicely into the series’ general atmosphere of lush decadence) and prompts Will to examine his relationship with Jack. As far as Jack is concerned, he has brought Hannibal in to support Will, and that should be that. It’s important that Alana Bloom, the second of Will’s support figures, is missing from this episode. Although Beverly (Hettienne Park, continuing to put in good work) offers herself as a confidante, Will is continuing to rely on Hannibal, even if the good doctor smells him. What conclusions Will drew from the ornate stag figure on Lecter’s desk remains to be seen.

This week’s gruesome tableaus were the most shocking since the human mushroom garden in ‘Amuse-Bouche.’ The flayed victims with their wings of skin, praying over the killer while he slept, is an incredibly powerful image. It’s a shame, then, that the scenes from the killer’s perspective feel rather like something out of Millennium. The episode is beautifully shot by Guillermo del Toro’s regular cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, but the victims’ flaming heads felt a bit clunky and his motivation ties a little too neatly into Jack and Bella’s storyline. Given what we know about the major villains that will eventually appear, it’s interesting to note the killer’s fascination with metamorphosis, and that line about Will’s “becoming” is an intriguing link to the events of Red Dragon.

After the focus on Abigail Hobbs, it’s good that ‘Coquilles’ gave a little more time to a character in danger of becoming two-dimensional. Bryan Fuller’s fascination with exploring the cracks in Harris’ characters continues to pay off; Hannibal has been funny, shocking, and now it has been moving.