In Defense of An Artist

NBC’s drama Hannibal once again left chaos in its wake after the airing of season two’s tenth episode, “Naka-Choko.” Showrunner Bryan Fuller gave viewers several sprigs of zest to discuss, not the least of which was the much-advertised “ménage a cinq.” But it seems the biggest talking point has been the direction Fuller is taking with the show’s portrayal of Margot Verger.

During “Naka-Choko,” viewers were presented with an intensely sensual and even slightly uncomfortable interlocking sex scene between what was essentially five different entities: Hannibal Lecter, Will Graham, Alana Bloom, Margot Verger, and… the Wendigo. In true Fuller fashion, the scene played out as a pseudo-psychological experience with the sexual pairings altering as the focus shifted from person to person. Alana and Hannibal embraced each other initially while Will and Margot did likewise in a different location. As the scene progressed the partners appeared to change: Will saw Alana’s face instead of Margot’s, and Alana wound herself between both Will and Hannibal. The coupling of Will and Margot is what caused the uproar amongst a segment of the show’s fans.

In Thomas Harris’s novels Margot Verger is canonically lesbian. Critics of the episode purport that she should never have been written into a situation where she has sex with a man. Several have claimed that as a result of this scene they believe that Fuller is disrespectful to homosexual relationships or that he does not understand what it means to identify as gay. These claims can, and should, be put to rest after a little research and expansion.

Fuller has previously stated that Margot will be faithfully represented as a lesbian in the show. There was indeed a reference in one of Margot’s scenes where she wryly points out that she has “the wrong parts and the wrong proclivity for parts” to be in control of her family fortune. She verbally declares her sexuality in this manner, but then proceeds to sleep with a man. Why would she do this? The answer has many facets. Fuller has said that the show’s version of Margot Verger would revitalize the way viewers experience her and her story. Rather than giving the audience a strictly canonized figure, he explains:

“It was important for her to have a strength to her and the idea of the reason she’s going into therapy not being because she was this victim of horrible abuse. Which she is, in a different way. She grew up with a sadist, who was incredibly cruel and will be even more cruel in the future, but I like the idea that she’s in therapy because she tried to kill him, as opposed to because she was so victimized, that she had taken an active role in her victimization and had enough, tried to turn it around, and it didn’t go well for her.”

You see, even though she’s a lesbian, Margot is not actually driven to act by her sexual orientation. She’s driven by her end game, which has nothing to do with her sexual identity: she wants power for herself and over her brother. This desire is what motivates her, and instead of creating a passive victim representation of Margot, Fuller chose to write her as a proactive character. This Margot is as in control of her life as it is possible for her to be under the influence of her sadistic brother. The control she exercises in the show comes in subtle incarnations, but it is there and one of the most obvious ways is in her desire to have a child as a tool to control the Verger Empire. Since it would be impossible for Margot to pursue artificial insemination or adoption without her brother finding out, pregnancy by way of heterosexual sex is her last hope.  She did not appear in “Naka-Choko” as a victim of passionate whims or the poor choices of inebriation. Rather, she directly pursued the encounter with the attitude of a businesswoman completing a transaction.

Regardless of some fans’ interpretations of the scene as a lack of sensitivity to non-hetero identities, Fuller’s intentions have been made clear as an attempt to strengthen Margot and provide her with the opportunities to create her own fate. Her participation in heterosexual sex was not a lapse in judgment. Instead, it was a conscious and concentrated effort to put Margot squarely in her own driver’s seat. Artistically and aesthetically speaking, Fuller was able to use the ménage a cinq to reinforce Margot’s independence and identity by placing her in the scene only as much as necessary. The viewer is able to watch and understand that the consensual sex taking place between Margot and Will is actually happening, but that neither of them is emotionally drawn to the other. Will replaces his experience with Margot with one of Alana, and Margot fades from the scene entirely. There is no glorification of Margot’s choice, no glamorous image of her reveling in a forbidden romance. She is simply there for a purpose, and once it has been fulfilled she leaves the viewer’s consciousness.

It is staggering to consider the difficulty of adapting a well-established book series into a unique version for the small screen. Fuller is human and he is not perfect, nor should we expect him to be. But he has so far succeeded at fabulously redecorating Thomas Harris’s furniture into a more contemporary and even somewhat more complex layout. By taking the core elements of who these characters are and redirecting them in different scenarios, he is brilliantly redefining what it means to adapt literature while being wildly creative in the meantime. He may have changed a number of specific novel events, but he has certainly been motivated by the desire to see these paper people become breathing entities of beauty. Whatever criticisms he receives, Fuller cannot be faulted for his dedication to the Hannibal world. The argument claiming misrepresentations of gender and sexuality should be put to rest. They are groundless and without legitimate seeds of truth. Fuller’s Hannibal is as layered and compelling as any true fan could possibly hope it to be, with all the right motives and goals. After all is said and done, this is his design.




this article was written by former Staffer Taylor Walker

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