Appropriately enough for a story about a serial killer who targets images of familial bliss, the Red Dragon arc that's closing out Hannibal's third (and final?) season is all about the process of finding the group of people you most belong in — your family, if you will.
But what's fascinating is that the families at the show's center are all ones formed out of horror and pain. There's real love in them, but not a single one fits the traditional "nuclear family" model. The nuclear families are the ones being torn asunder by the Red Dragon. And, somewhat fittingly, the only thing that can stop this horrible killer is a bunch of co-dependent partnerships that, nevertheless, look like they have just as much love as any family with two kids, a dog, and a white picket fence.
Let's take a look at all of these found families — healthy, unhealthy, and in between — and let's see how likely they are to survive the season.
1) Will + Hannibal = 4ever
If "The Great Red Dragon" really did make it feel like Hannibal and Will hadn't seen each other in years, then "...And the Woman Clothed With the Sun" (the name of this ninth episode) very quickly suggested that the two had left little pieces of themselves all over each other. Hannibal can even smell what's different about Will, suggesting he's been spending all those long hours in confinement imagining the scent of his dear friend.
What Red Dragon (the book) suggests that the show has heightened beautifully is that Will is not half as effective a crime solver without Hannibal lurking somewhere inside his head, pulling the strings. Episode director John Dahl spends several scenes framing shots so that reflections of Hannibal and Will seem like eerie ghosts haunting each other. They're literally beginning to blend together all over again, because that's what bringing these two into proximity with each other will do.
Hannibal and Will are supremely unhealthy together. Hannibal and Will are so much healthier when they're together. The only way the Red Dragon will be caught is if they work together — and yet the Red Dragon is already reaching out to Hannibal to betray Will. Danger and heartbreak, always intertwined on this show, lurk all over again.
Chances of relationship's survival: 20 out of a possible 10 points. We know how this show works. Will will never escape Hannibal; Hannibal will never escape Will.
2) Alana and Margot have a surprisingly functional partnership
Honestly, the last thing I would have expected was that Alana and Margot would somehow have a strong, functional marriage — or that they would be raising the child Margot always wanted together. (As a Verger baby, the boy is heir to a considerable fortune.) Alana is still trying to atone for being duped so badly by Hannibal in season two, while Margot has a whole host of issues that surely weren't fixed by her murdering her brother.
And yet this makes sense. On Hannibal, relationships that last are forged in the heart of trauma, and both Alana and Margot have been through a lot of trauma at this point. The two's seduction of each other earlier this season might have started because each wanted something the other had, but it shouldn't be surprising that this turned into an actual bond. And these two have been through so much that it's hard not to feel happy for them.
Chances of relationship's survival: 9/10. Maybe season four can just be about Margot and Alana trying to get their son into the best preschool.
3) Will and Molly have a healthy relationship, too
I opined last week that Will's wife, Molly, usually exists in adaptations of Red Dragon to give the hero something to lose. And in Hannibal, this makes dramatic sense — Will needs to have something worth going back to if his leaving the world of solving crimes is going to make any sense. Molly is the touchstone that pulls him back from the brink, again and again.
Molly appears in only one scene tonight, but it's a terrific one. Will calls his wife from his hotel room, simply wanting to hear her voice, and as the two talk, he imagines her in bed beside him, just another normal night at a farm with way too many dogs. (As the two are apart, each has adopted a brand new pup. You're not going to fill those emotional gaps with more animals, you two!) But she's not there, and he has to head out into the darkness completely alone once again.
Hannibal, of course, suggests that the bond between Will and Molly is one of convenience. Will is so worried about passing along his own crippling empathy disorder and/or tendency toward psychopathy that he doesn't want to have a biological child. By marrying a woman who already had a son, Will gets to be a father, without running the risk of unleashing another murderer on the world. But the bond between Will and Molly feels sweet and real and true. This isn't a marriage of convenience. It's a life raft.
Chances of relationship's survival: 8/10. I'm relatively certain these two kids are going to stick it out. I'm less certain successful Broadway actress Nina Arianda would sign on for another (hypothetical) season.
4) Will, Jack, and Hannibal are all trying to play one another
Now we're getting into some recognizable family dynamics!
Once you introduce Jack Crawford into the picture, the relationship between Will and Hannibal turns into a weird, passive-aggressive attempt by all three to turn one of the others into a weapon to kill the third leg of the triangle. Jack knows that pairing Will and Hannibal is a dangerous idea, but he can't help himself, even if he might lose his life. Hannibal knows Will is almost certainly going to side with Jack, but he can't give up his friend. And Will can feel the way he's always in danger of utterly falling apart, but he's got no way to really withstand the other two.
All I'm saying is that this sounds remarkably true to life.
Chances of relationship's survival: 7/10. These three will always be bound together. Eventually two of them will kill the other, though.
5) Freddie Lounds loves true crime more than life itself
One of the nice things about this little Red Dragon miniseries is how it's reintroducing characters we loved from the first two seasons who didn't have a place in the first seven episodes of this season. Last week, lab geeks Zeller and Price returned, and this week, we become reacquainted with Freddie Lounds, tabloid journalist and all-around provocateur.
Using the pages of her true-crime publication — now a print one, thanks to her successes with the twin incarcerations of Will and later Hannibal — Freddie recommits herself to sniffing out the most dangerous criminals around, then taunting them in the press. It doesn't seem like a smart survival strategy, but Freddie loves her work too much.
Chances of relationship's survival: 4/10. You'd think Freddie would have been scared off after being used in an elaborate fake murder scheme last season. You'd think incorrectly.
6) Francis Dolarhyde falls in love
One of the beautiful things about Red Dragon is how it has ticking clocks within its ticking clocks. As the moon cycles toward full every month, pushing toward the moment when Francis will kill again, he's slowly but surely falling for Reba, a blind photo developer he meets when having his own film processed. Reba, then, gives Francis emotional stakes of his own. If he could just fight off the voices in his head, he might have a chance at happiness. But we have a pretty good idea of where this is going, which heightens the tragedy.
Francis only meets Reba tonight, but the connection between the two is palpable. As played by Rutina Wesley, Reba is kind, warm, and surprisingly insightful about the demons that haunt Francis. She hears the way he tries not to speak once she mentions speech therapy, and she tells him he speaks very well in front of her. And she likes the way he doesn't immediately pivot to sympathy when he meets her.
And yet we know what's coming. There's a stunningly beautiful shot when Francis catches Reba's hand, mere centimeters from his face. She wants to feel it, to know if he's smiling. He can't let her touch him. To touch Francis is to know the real Francis, while to fall in love is to exchange the beautiful gift of touch, at least a little bit. So long as Francis is ruled by his demons, this relationship is doomed.
Chances of relationship's survival: 0/10. I mean ...
7) Hannibal trains his surrogate daughter in the ways of murder
Since Red Dragon likely doesn't have enough story to quite fill out six full episodes, Hannibal is using that space to fill in some of its backstory gaps. In this episode, that means the return of Kacey Rohl as Abigail Hobbs, who was murdered in the season two finale but keeps turning up to help everybody fill in the holes in their subconscious.
Here, she's part of Hannibal's reminiscences about the time she spent living in secret with him, the time in which he was steadily training her to embrace her own darkest self, in hopes that she and he and Will might run off together to be a little family of death and destruction. That ended, of course, because Will chose Jack instead of Hannibal, Abigail pushed Alana out a window, and Hannibal cut open Abigail just as he promised he would.
In and of itself, this little flashback story doesn't signify much. But when it comes to the larger picture, it signifies everything. Hannibal might seem like someone capable of real emotion. He might seem like someone capable of love, even. But he's not. He's the devil, and when he gets the chance, he will murder you — even if it's just to prove a point to someone else in a pointless feud. To know Hannibal is to be waiting for when his knife slices into your skin.
Chances of relationship's survival: -100/10. Abigail is already dead. That would seem to put a damper on things.