Richard Armitage monstrous, or: Thoughts on Hannibal 3.12 [Hannibal 3.12 review; spoilers; gore, violence]

[Tree, don’t read this.] One thing I want to mention at the outset. Although this episode probably would have been more comprehensible in terms of the principals’ plotlines if I had watched the first half of the season, I’m still not that interested in their power plays. I’m guessing a Fannibal will enjoy the episode precisely because of the jockeying between Jack, Will, Bedelia, Alana, Hannibal and (the ultimately unfortunate) Chilton. The opening scene is mannered and laborious for the non-initiate, dealing as it does with the Hannibal / Will love storyline and Jack’s fighting to see who is going to control Will — him or Hannibal. Thus the beginning of the episode bleeds energy for a viewer like me. The main purpose of the “let’s bait Dolarhyde” material and its aftermath of recriminations seems to be to raise the question, leftover from season 2, about the extent of the various characters’ criminal agency, as well as their respective desires for and capacities to take revenge. None of the principals are admirable any more (if they ever were), which also makes it hard for me to watch those scenes — they mimic a late-season episode of Seinfeld where all the characters do is snipe and snark at each other. As viewers, we can sense that the endgame is near for this constellation of these relationships, even if the series cancellation was not known at the time the episodes were made. Anyway, I’m mostly ignoring that stuff this time even though perhaps the heavy-handed use of biblical themes might potentially interest me.

The Great Red Dragon in the process of

The Great Red Dragon in the process of “becoming,” in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

The first Armitage sighting is that awful, contorting, almost spastic wrist joint. The visual suggests initially that the bloody violence Dolarhyde is doing to the Dragon is to his portrait — but at the close of the teaser, we realize it’s at least potentially to his own back. I think this level of cruelty would not be plausible had we not seen him gobble the artwork and beat himself up so badly in previous episodes. But the primary response it called forth from me was that the respite from the violence and gore in the last two episodes, presumably to create sympathy for the character, was now over. I really thought we’d be in for it. I was not wrong. What an onslaught.

At the same time, however, something I admired about Armitage’s work (and the way it was edited) all the way through this episode: that after starting with this extremely violent moment, the energy level could have escalated way too quickly and everything about the portrayal could have been over the top. It doesn’t do that, because Armitage’s instinct as an actor is almost always understatement as opposed to overstatement of whatever he’s letting us see. He is almost always willing to pull back; he uses his character’s status as a defense mechanism rather than a tool of aggression (as we’ve discussed before, for Mr. Thornton); at least initially, he virtually always lets us feel rather than see the entire depth of his anger (Proctor may be an exception to this general rule).

Silent resolve -- Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) on his way to assault Dr. Chilton, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

Silent resolve — Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) on his way to assault Dr. Chilton, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

So the quiet concentration of Dolarhyde’s drive to kidnap Chilton is all the more convincing because he’s not frothing at the mouth, despite the wild ferocity of his outbreak in the museum. Because those moments of furious madness remain episodic, Armitage can always pull us back from the energy of the monster and make us experience it anew (instead of leaving himself nowhere to go and simply tiring viewers out).

Dolaryhyde / The Dragon (Richard Armitage) examines Chilton (Raul Esparza) with predatory curiosity, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

Dolaryhyde / The Dragon (Richard Armitage) examines Chilton (Raul Esparza) with predatory curiosity, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

Cue the (relatively lengthy) Dolarhyde / Dragon / Chilton scene. I love the way the camera pulls back and forth out of focus against Dolarhyde, underlining the theme of Chilton’s anxiety and his capacity to see and understand his captor. That strategy, as well as the angle from which the scene is shot (in front of and below Chilton), along with the pitch of Armitage’s voice and that odd kimono, really give Dolarhyde an oddly, surprisingly imposing quality. I was surprised by this because I don’t think of a kimono as a frightening garment. I have the impression that something about the cut makes Armitage’s upper body look larger than it is. It’s not just the voice or the garments or the angle that enhance this impression of a monstrous monumentality. Rather, mannerisms from our previous acquaintance with the character call forth a reassessment of my reactions at that time. Dolarhyde looms over, and examines, Chilton (as he confesses he’s scared) in the same curious way that he put his face up against the tiger and watched Reba a few episodes earlier. Now the stance is openly predatory, and that intertextuality with the earlier episode unsettles because it jars loose a perception we had earlier — the Dragon was, indeed, always there, and always just about to eat Reba.

All mouth: The Dragon / Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) forces Chilton to look at him, in Hannibal 3.12.

All mouth: The Dragon / Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) forces Chilton to look at him, in Hannibal 3.12.

I also felt in this scene that the use of the mask — again, like last week, to emphasize the cleft lip when Dolarhyde chooses to reveal it, to reduce the character to nothing but a bloody, mutilated, voracious mouth — not only enhances what Dolarhyde / the Dragon calls “other” here, but also (paradoxically) helps with the backing off. Armitage has pitched the character’s voice so deeply at that point, that when he voices the creepy line, “Do you think that G-d is in attendance here?” just as he crouches over Chilton, positioning his hands as if to hurt him, the fact that he is in practical terms faceless at that moment helps to bolster the understatement — and the horror and threat — of the moment.

And then there’s this weird, almost-caress, as Chilton admits he should think about whether G-d is responding:

caress

The Dragon / Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) pulls back from the apparent impulse to crush Chilton’s head between his hands, in Hannibal 3.12.

It’s truly dragon-like, somehow — a response that can also be read as “the better to calm you before I gobble you, my dear,” as he subsequently rocks Chilton back and forth a few times as well. Rocking a baby in the cradle; unsettling his victim.

Also, another great shot of the Dragon as all mouth in Hannibal 3.12, as Dolarhyde answers the door. Screencap.

Also, another great shot of the Dragon as all mouth in Hannibal 3.12, as Dolarhyde answers the door. Screencap.

Given what a jerk he’s been all the way through this television show, it’s hard for me to sympathize much with Chilton, but I am indeed relieved when we hear Reba’s voice and the Dragon is forced to pull back from him. The huskiness with which Dolarhyde responds to her at first makes me hope, at least briefly, that he can pull back from the Dragon. (Side note: the scene is shot so dimly that all we can see of Reba is her eyes — which is a neat effect.) The mask in this scene has the additional effect that Reba confronts Dolarhyde at his least physically vulnerable, so that we can see hardly at all how he responds to Reba’s attempt at persuasion. I thought the dialogue here was poorly written, too obvious, and rather cheesy, but Rutina Wesley still does it well. Armitage has to show the character’s entire response in his shoulders and his breathing.

“Is this art?” Dolarhyde’s gesture at the Blake work, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

The Dragon growls in the background, and mercifully for now, at least, Reba goes. He turns back to Chilton, to show him who he is. The repeated line, “Do you see?” against the score is truly effective here — with a subtly building tension as Dolarhyde shows Chilton slide after slide. Building the energy effectively in this scene is incredibly important, insofar as the intermediate stopping point of it, after Dolarhyde’s rushed questions about whether Chilton will tell the truth now, is the slide with the Blake print and Dolarhyde’s question — “Is. This. Art?” which carries the double rhetorical whammy of being a rhetorical question and fully demonstrating the character’s delusion. Armitage gets a ton of mileage, in my view, from the curiously open hand-gesture he uses here — pulling the monster back into human territory, as if it were possible that we would be inclined to believe that Dolarhyde’s species of barbarous oeuvre was an attempt at redefining aesthetics.

Dolarhyde rues Chilton's position that he is insane, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

Dolarhyde rues Chilton’s position that he is insane, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

Armitage continues this encounter in the backed-off style we’ve seen heretofore, with lines that have the potential for a maniacal rage delivered with the Dragon in the position of a slight stoop — as he repeats the litany of his achievements, his vision, his status. He saves the viciousness for the point at which he crouches at Chilton’s level — willing to scream only when he is speaking directly into Chilton’s face. This varying energy level makes the scene intriguing to watch, but it also makes it (I can’t believe I’m saying this) more credible (since nothing in this show is all that credible). It’s not so much that Armitage’s Dolarhyde is human or humane, so much as that he is (his own wishes to the contrary) only able to bring forward the horrifying potential of his creation, the Dragon, in short, intense bursts. Thus he brings us only very gradually to the summit — in which Dolarhyde drops the kimono, and insists, “You. Owe. Me. Awe!”

The Dragon (Richard Armitage) unfurls his wingspan, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

The Dragon (Richard Armitage) unfurls his wingspan, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

The extinguishing of the lamp against the brief blend-in of the moon are truly effective — even as theatrical as the technique appears — at this moment.

Screen shot 2015-08-22 at 8.45.02 PM

The Dragon (Richard Armitage) gets ready to film Chilton, in Hannibal 3.12. Screencap.

The next scene opens with a scraped up Dolarhyde preparing Chilton for his journey home, with the cryptic statement that they will need ice. By this point, I am truly creeped out, perhaps as much as anything by the fact that I am seeing a version of Richard Armitage’s work that I’ve never seen before. I think to myself, I know that sniff, I recognize that gesture — and yet, as Dolarhyde begins to tape Chilton, I feel like I am witnessing a character in whose presence I have never sat before. The mood, the weirdness, the odd changes of energy, the lighting — they all make Armitage unrecognizable to me. There is only Dolarhyde / the Dragon. And at this point, he’s this weird combination of almost careful — if mysteriously threatening — speech and naked vulnerability and predatory attention and technical calm. Where does Armitage get these moods from?

I don’t watch monster movies, so I don’t have the context for interpreting the entire textual world into which this performance falls, but there’s something so simultaneously abominable and warm about his speech as he agrees to let Chilton go. “I will. Although …” is not threatening at all, it’s husky, almost contemplative, and not what I expect — right before he prepares to do one of the more revolting things I’ve seen a character do on this show. The contemplative mood becomes fraught; Armitage pulls Dolarhyde’s mouth into an astoundingly grotesque shape with the dentures in. He turns around; the panther version of the Dragon is there — and then he bites Chilton’s lips off.

I really, really hope I am not going to be seeing animated GIFs of that for the remainder of my presence in the Armitage fandom. I can’t even imagine what it was like to act that. But Armitage never pulls back from the savage ferocity of the moment until he can gloat with his victim’s torn, bloody flesh between his (prosthetic) teeth and then spit them into his palm.

[In this scene and the subsequent ones, it becomes clear that Richard Armitage must have been so horrified by performing the scenes in this episode that he forgot that in fact the violence and gore were not mostly hidden or shot around the corner. I’ll leave it at that — but no rational person would believe that self-justification after seeing this episode, Mr. Armitage.]

Which brings to the end of the episode and the beginning of Dolarhyde’s end for Reba. Rhetorically, this piece is a condensed repeat of what we learned in the scene with Chilton, so I have somewhat less to say about this, except for two things —

The moment where Dolarhyde tells Reba to “shut up,” and then when he grasps her jaw after she almost said “fairy,” produced some of the most shocked feelings I’ve ever gotten from Armitage’s acting.

The aforementioned moment. Screencap.

The aforementioned moment. Screencap.

The same.

The same.

Second — it’s interesting how Armitage uses his eyes in this scene. There are echoes of the busy, threatened eye motions of both Guy of Gisborne and Thorin, and to some extent John Porter — but he’s significantly refined all of those moves.

And then he leaves us with this view of himself, as Dolarhyde tells Reba who he is. Screencap.

And then he leaves us with this view of himself, as Dolarhyde tells Reba who he is. Screencap.

In the end, Dolarhyde no longer needs the dentures to be the Dragon. He balls up all the energy with which he explains his identity to Chilton in the earlier scene and compresses it here into a handful of explosive declarations. So as he appears with his wings in the subsequent seconds, the last of the episode, we again see that pull back. Dolarhyde has made his effect. He’s reached his summit. Now he can stand back for a second and observe the impressions — and the havoc — he has created.

~ by Servetus on August 23, 2015.

22 Responses to “Richard Armitage monstrous, or: Thoughts on Hannibal 3.12 [Hannibal 3.12 review; spoilers; gore, violence]”

  1. Ich hoffe auch, uns bleiben Gifs der Rollstuhlszene erspart. Ich fand schon die Twitterei um den verkohlten Chilton reichlich geschmacklos. Nein, nicht meine Art “Humor”. Ungeachtet dessen: Was für eine Performance, Mr. Armitage! Fürchterlich verstörend und erschreckend beeindruckend.

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  2. This is a Richard Armitage none of us has seen.. and although this last episode really did creep my out and made be seriously turn on more lights, what a privilege to watch him as Francis..I have seen all the films, read the books,but his take on Francis is by far the most spectacular to experience..The lighting, the cinematography, the music, the editing , his facial expressions and those damn eyes make “his” episodes a feast for the eyes…..(pardon the pun) I foresee an award nod, and if not, than those in “Hollywood” are indeed deaf, dumb and blind….

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    • I often attribute most of his success to him but I do think that the lighting and editing in this episode were spectacular.

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      • Also Raul Esparza’s acting was excellent as well. That scene was so powerful for all of the above reasons.

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        • yes, fair enough. I’m not an Esparza blogger, though in general agree that having a good counterpart makes all acting better (Armitage has said things to this effect as well).

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      • Yes I agree, but this man is SO sinister and So evil,with lights on he would scare the bejesus out of me…. to watch and he could grab the nod for “best supporting actor in a guest appearance” (if anyone is paying attention)…He should anyway, just my thoughts……..

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  3. I too am wondering about the possibility of awards

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  4. You totally nailed it with spotting the understatement that Armitage continuously acts with. I could not have pin-pointed that, but reading your review, I think it is spot on. The Red Dragon is a monster, and we would expect this monster to roar and to stomp and to mutilate from the get-go. And yet Armitage does none of that – and is all the more frightening for it. The unexpectedness (at least for me) of that behaviour/characterization does it. I may be biased, but I think that only truly proficient actors can balance that line, or can resist the temptation of acting monstrosity through animal-like threatening behaviour.
    As to Armitage’s statement re. refusing to act horror – yep, I was thinking of that, too, when he proceeded to bite Chilton’s face off. If that isn’t horror, then what is? But well, APM always at the ready, I suppose it all feels slightly less horrific when one is actually chewing silicone lips shrugs?!

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  5. What a great review! I agree that Armitage was all the more menacing because of his restraint. He could have a true career in horror if he wanted to. He went way beyond creepy and into truly terrifying in this episode, and honestly… the lips part was the least of it. The moments leading up to that bite were exceptional, especially the crawl over the furniture… but taking out that OTT visual would not have diminished the terror for me. =)

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    • I agree with that — the visual is awful but it would still be ffrightening even so.

      Gosh, I hope he does not decide to finance his artsy stage career with more horror films — don’t know how many of them I could really see.

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  6. This was a great read S and i think you absolutely nailed it! I had a feeling about the man without the mask being more menacing and such but i never thought about the graduation of the impact and how he modules the acting too to it. We suck his every little gesture, whisper and breath up in such a way that we tend to forget how understated many of his gestures are. They are all important to us but there is a world of nuances and tones to it. And i think you also point out very rightly that it is so quiet in some ways. It has been all throughout the episodes i think, he’s only ever raised his voice a few times and hardly ever at the level we know he can (See Proctor). Being a novice to the genre i’ve certainly learned that there is more to horror than meets the eye 😉
    And from RA that one can build tension masterfully in a subversively spiralling way so that the journey is much scarier than the climax of it.
    And yes the brilliant use of his size as well, especially his shoulders. I don’t think i’ve felt ever before quite so intensely how complete he is as an actor, every bone in his body, every fibre of his being, every look in his eyes, every lash surrounding them, every tone in his voice, he is now the complete master of them all. And the wealth of detail in all of those at his disposal is staggering… I truly believe that there isn’t a thing he cannot do.

    That long scene was amazing but i think what scared me even more was that last interchange with Reba, that was where i jumped and my heart stopped: When he told her shut up! in hat menacing, controlled way and when he grabbed her chin. Yes it was all acting, but i can’t imagine anyone being at the receiving end of that not wanting to run away crying.
    I really really don’t want to see him in a role where he has to do a lot of that as he is too good at it and it would just be torture 😦

    As to the bite, uff. I managed to avoid it first time round by turning away as i know from S2 where my limit is. Unfortunately i had to go back to it for the 2nd time for the few caps i wanted and while i was copy/pasting forgot to not watch that. There is a part of me which wants to sit him in front of a screen and play that back to him in a 5 min loop and hopes he gags profusely and is done with eating for the day! Alternatively i’d want to actually feed him that soup Reba made (retching noises). (I too have gotten in touch with my basic evil instincts it seems with this series 😉 )

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    • It makes me wonder what Proctor might have been like if he hadn’t been so shouty.

      re: having to watch it — I am with you. He says he tries to avoid watching his own work. Unfortunately it’s hard for us to avoid watching it.

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      • I just never felt, past the 1st time i saw it that Proctor was too shouty… one of the things i didn’t like about it when Yael came back. But i have lovely memories of the normal run with less anger in it generally.
        I’m hoping/thinking this will be the worst of gore he will put me through 🙂 Truthfully what tormented me much more was D’s treatment of Reba. I realised some of my fears were totally unfounded and new ones have risen their ugly head. I am no longer afraid of seeing him as a killer, wife abuser/beater is something i am dreading and i can’t completely rule out that possibility. Darn the man and his acting talents, he makes it just too realistic!

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        • That’s an aspect that’s gotten almost no attention, and it’s frustrating that if he was going to talk about violence, that he didn’t refer to that specifically.

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          • I think it is mostly because people and press tended to address just the physical violence in this rather than the psychological, which was just as bad. At least now i know what it is that i won’t be able to watch him do should he ever go for something 100% like that.

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