On the surface, Will telling Hannibal “I don’t find you that interesting” seems unbelievably rude. Ah, we think, Hannibal must find Will special if he puts up with that. But, this early on Hannibal has only shown Will his mask, his human suit. To most people, the facade is interesting enough. That’s the point. All the trappings were put there by Hannibal to distract everyone from his real self. When Will is not impressed by this smoke screen, he has passed an important test.
*This is an essay about Hannibal’s ability to feel. I would say that yes, he does have emotions, but I would argue they are somewhat truncated, not as fully developed as they should be in a grown man, as he rarely, if ever expends emotion on anyone other than Will or himself.
It’s not that Hannibal’s emotions are fake, (although I believe in some cases they are), but when we do see him showing emotions towards others, I think that he’s simply going through the motions, pretending to care about Jack, or Alana, for example, and when he does have genuine emotions for others, like Abigail and Will, it’s only in relation to how close/useful that person is to himself.He certainly has emotions when it comes to something directly affecting him, but something that directly affects others, not so much.
In other words, Hannibal lacks empathy.
”Will loves Hannibal because he doesn’t have emotions and so Will can be himself around him because he can’t pick up feelings from Hannibal with his empathy disorder.”
I’ve seen this idea a few times and it’s baffling. Here’s a list of reasons why that’s wrong:
1. Hannibal has emotions. Many emotions. His emotions are not fake. He shows emotions when people aren’t even observing him or in the same room. He was upset at what happened to Margot after Will left the room. He was upset that Bella died and was crying over it by himself in Italy. He moped around about Will in Italy the entire time. He missed Will so much in Sorbet he was fidgeting around and clearly upset about it. He was mad that Gideon was calling himself the Ripper. He gets super annoyed at rude people. These are all emotions.
2. Will can “read” the Ripper enough to know which crimes scenes are his and which aren’t and also give a history about his childhood to Jack. Will can also “read” the copycat. Hannibal is the Ripper and the copycat. So, Will can read Hannibal. Which is why Hannibal got super defensive about Will in Season 1 and framed him and put him in prison. Because he knew Will would find him out eventually.
3. Will can “seduce” and “deceive” Hannibal in S2 because he can empathize with him or “understand” him. Hannibal says this directly and Will agrees.
4. Hannibal and Will share a memory palace. Will goes to places he has been to “read” him, just like he does at crime scenes. Will knows Hannibal “intimately” as he says himself. If he likes being around him because he doesn’t “pick up” things from his empathy, then that makes no sense.
5. Will doesn’t automatically know who a killer is, even if he’s investigating their crimes. Tobias is a prime example. Hannibal realized Tobias was a killer immediately, Will didn’t. Another example would be Abigail. Hannibal knew she was a killer before Will did. If anything Hannibal has more insight into people than Will does. That doesn’t mean he has less empathy than Will, it means he has the same amount or more. “I can’t turn it off anymore than you can” Hannibal says to Will in Aperitif. When Hannibal was doing Will’s job in S2 for Jack he got the job done, he figured out who the killer was and why he was killing and exactly where he was, he just didn’t tell all that info to Jack because he wanted to go kill him first. Hannibal can in fact do Will’s job and he helps Will do his job better, “Will has never been more effective than he is with you inside his head”. Hannibal knows all about the Shrike enough to help Will figure out who the Shrike really is, right from the beginning of the show. “He had to show me a negative so that I could see the positive, that crime scene was practically gift wrapped.” My point being that just because Will doesn’t know Hannibal is the Ripper for a while (about 3 months) doesn’t mean that he can’t “read” Hannibal’s emotions. His empathy disorder doesn’t make him psychic and it isn’t supernatural.
I get it’s hard to understand why Will didn’t realize Hannibal was in love with him, but this is no explanation. It negates the entire show. Other explanations should be entertained. Will knows that Hannibal is very sad over him, “He sent us his broken heart” and he knows that the key to understand him is love, “No one can be fully aware of another human being unless we love them” and he knows he can take advantage of Hannibal’s feelings for him, “You’d only do that if I’d rejected you.” So, taking all that into account, the explanation that he just didn’t want to fully believe it, he was lying to himself, or wanted it confirmed by Bedelia (because he was afraid Hannibal loved her or because he believed she would know more than anyone else), or some combination of those is the most likely.
*I loved this particular meta. I have yet to start reviewing season 3, so haven’t discussed Will’s mind pendulum yet.
Has anyone else noticed the difference between Will analyzing Hannibal’s crime scene and Will analyzing someone else’s crime scene?
When he investigates the Leeds murder in The Great Red Dragon, his mind pendulum makes an appearance for the first time in season 3.
The pendulum is a way for Will to get into the murder empathy mindset, but it also represents a physical barrier between him and the subject he wants to analyze. In essence, it establishes a defensive barrier between his sense of self and his sense of the killer’s self, keeping them completely separate from each other. The stronger the pendulum, the stronger his sense of self.
Compare this to his analysis of the Hannibal’s crime scene in Primavera. Here, Will doesn’t use a pendulum. There is just a brief blur in and blur out to signify his entrance into Hannibal’s state of mind.
At this point, his mind is so intertwined with Hannibal’s that he doesn’t need the physical act of the pendulum to get him into the correct mindset. His sense of self is already almost entirely wrapped up and muddled up with Hannibal’s. Not only does he not need to use his pendulum in this moment, he probably can’t use his pendulum to put up a mental barrier between them. They’re already conjoined after all.
In Dolce, Will says to Hannibal, “You and I have begun to blur.” I think it’s pretty neat that they were able to illustrate that with the simple absence of a pendulum effect.
*Here’s a more scholarly approach to why the show, Hannibal, is the way it is, and what that means to the larger culture.
White Collar Cannibal: the Gentrified Grotesque in NBC’s Hannibal