The wonderful staff of Fullerverse.com decided to collaborate on one ultimate article: Hannibal Death Tableaux. Featuring the writings of Jamie Harsip, Taylor Walker, Monica Codina, Polanetta, and Liz Mahlstedt, this article compiles our writers’ favorite death tableaux in NBC’s Hannibal. Enjoy the feast:
“Tree Man” by Jamie Harsip
Ah, “Tree Man”. What is there to say about “Tree Man”? This tableaux is one of my favorites – and not just because it gives me one of my favorite Zeller moments (“They’re varicose vines!”). It’s largely because it served so many purposes. It’s also different from most of the previous tableaux this show has treated us to in that the victim was completely irrelevant to Hannibal’s plans to frame Will Graham. It’s some unpopular politician. And yet the amount of care and detail Hannibal devoted to making it an appropriate scene for the guy is still on point.
This man paved over a rare bird habitat, so he was left in a parking lot, wearing a bird’s nest for a crown. Okay, that’s pretty on the nose – no offense, Hannibal. But there are also the flowers put into the torso of the politician, and this is where Hannibal really gets creative. There are four different kinds of flowers arranged in such a way that they essentially are replacing each of the organs that were removed. And the real kicker is that every one of them is pretty, but poisonous (and apparently Jack Crawford is a part-time botany buff because he could identify all of them and knew they were poisonous). But of course, there has to be a larger purpose to the tableaux than simply being a medium for Hannibal to get creative.
Now, the clues he leaves on this human canvas are some of his most thought out and intricate ever. First, there’s the water the body and tree were soaked in. Clearly Hannibal is very well rounded in his knowledge of, well, everything, because he knew about those diatoms. You know, the little single-cellular organisms that are as good as a fingerprint for figuring out exactly where a sample of water came from. Then there was the very specific bark found at the scene. I mean, seriously, how does this guy do it? He got bark from a tree only growing in one tiny area inside the area from whence the diatoms came. Honestly, I can’t even name a rare tree, never mind knowing exactly where one would find it.
I think the thing that I find the most enthralling about the “Tree Man” tableaux is that it really indicates just how thorough and knowledgeable Hannibal is. He put together an appropriate tableau for the completely irrelevant person he killed. He attached the guy to a tree using extremely difficult endoscopic surgical pathways through the body. He left the most obscure clues that required very specific expertise to figure out. And this all led to the massive bombshell of Jack finding Miriam Lass, still alive. If I had to pick Hannibal’s most impressive tableaux, it would surely be “Tree Man”.
“Human Mural” by Taylor Walker
Hannibal is known as much for the brilliance of the show in general as it is for those infamous death tableaux. Through all the gore and fire, the tableau that stays with me is the “Human Mural” in season two, episode two: “Sakizuki”.
A name like “Human Mural” may sound innocuous enough, but it does not convey even one tenth of the revulsion I felt when I first saw body after body literally stitched together in a color wheel of skin tones. Out of all the deaths in two seasons of murder, from the girls impaled on stag antlers, the throats made into cellos, and the men hollowed into trees, it is the Mural that gives me nightmares. (My, this show sounds delightful, doesn’t it?) But like everything in Hannibal, this tableau isn’t presented just so it can disgust you and make you question why you ate a large dinner before watching the show. It’s meant to remind you that Hannibal Lecter is dangerous.
This tableau gives us a new killer of the week, our mural artist. Here is a guy stealing people from subways, shooting them up with drugs, lacquering their skin into a flaky donut glaze, and sewing them into a mural in the shape of an eye to gaze on the heavens—and he’s not even the worst one out there. Hannibal didn’t commit this crime, but the chilling ease with which he was able to track down (super sniffer) and overpower (with elegance and poise) the mural artist reminds the audience that this Dr. Lecter is still a very serious threat. To seal the deal, Lecter even turns the tables on the mural artist and sews him up in his own creation. If that doesn’t refocus your attention on the good doctor, nothing will.
In addition to being a stellar plot device, the “Human Mural” provides us with a lot of really fun themes, the most obvious of which is the idea that death will come for us all regardless of race or gender. I also spy existential and spiritual themes about human autonomy and the validity of god and religion. Don’t be intimidated, though. The biggest lesson I took from this tableau has nothing to do with god or nature: if someone caresses my hand on the subway I am getting the hell out of there.
My favorite death tableau would probably be the “Human Angels” from the season 1 episode “Coquilles”. It is easily one of my favorites because of how strikingly and strangely beautiful the angels look and the biblical symbolism. The first time I saw this episode and first laid eyes on the angels, I immediately fell in love with this show. I think it was because of the extremity of how mutilated these people were with the contrast of them being positioned looking holy and pure. I love the vigilante parallel between the Angel Maker and Hannibal. They see themselves doing no wrong and believe that they are serving justice.
My favorite scene ever in the two years this show has been on is when the FBI find an angel in the alley way. Seeing a bloodied “Human Angel” hung up to judge those below it is hauntingly beautiful to me. The cinematography in that scene always gives me goosebumps. Also, this episode is practically a shout out to The Silence of the Lambs when Lecter guts and displays the security guard, which again, is my favorite scene in that whole movie. All in all, the “Human Angels” will never cease to amaze me.
“Turducken” by Polanetta
“Peter. Is your social worker inside that horse?” “Yes.” That was a pun. Hilarious, fascinating and I like watching this episode many times because of certain reasons. One reason was definitely the intriguing idea for the crime scene.
It wasn’t just any case of the week this week. A dead woman was stuffed inside a horse—and inside of the dead woman, there was a starling (that was so “wow”, a linkage to Clarice?) The body’s grotesque placement wasn’t the work of the actual killer—it was an attempt to honor the victim by a psychologically and physiologically damaged Peter Bernardone, a man who liked to collect and care for animals. It turned out that Bernardone’s social worker, Clark Ingram, had killed at least 14 other folks in addition to the lady in the horse, and while Bernardone knew about it, he was worried no one would believe him because of his mental troubles—something Ingram was apparently happy to use to his advantage.
Hannibal often uses its cases to speak to some larger issue at play. It’s why the show sacrifices the “Who?” part of the procedural mystery and focuses more on the “Why?” and the “How?” In the case of “Su-zakana”, it was more a matter of Will looking at Peter and seeing himself reflected in the poor man’s existence. Peter is an unkempt collector of animals in the same way that Will was/is an unkempt collector of stray dogs, and like Will, Peter knows a horrible secret about a polite gentleman who dresses better than he does, but no one would have listened to him. It might’ve just been Will projecting himself onto Peter—”I know what it’s like to point at a killer and have no one listen”—if the episode hadn’t introduced Clark as the “Hannibal”.
Presenting these mirrored versions of our central pair at the turning point of the season’s story is hardly insignificant. As Will crafts himself into the bewitching lure for Hannibal, he’s faced with not only the lost version of the man he used to be, but with an opportunity to act out the reckoning he promised to himself and to Hannibal not too long ago. When Will told Jack at the beginning of the episode that to catch a wily fish, “you have to create a reality where only you and the fish exist,” I doubt he meant it quite this way, a reality where Hannibal, Will, and variations of both men exist, and, for a brief moment in time, no one else.
Will is playing a dangerous game (alongside Jack, as their ice-fishing conversation made clear with its pointed indirectness), shifting between the role of a hapless victim when he’s with Jack and that of a confident and deliberate investigator when in therapy with Hannibal. The idea is to sell the con that Jack isn’t in on it, but where does the con begin and end? Did Peter’s predicament rattle something loose for Will, loose enough that he was willing to kill Clark? Or was Will nearly shooting Clark a conscious act of vulnerability on Will’s part, to create the illusion that the Will Graham in his therapy sessions is the real fake, as it were? I think it may likely be a blend of both, depending on the perspective. I think Will was ready to kill Clark to satisfy his desire to feel good while doing a bad thing to a bad person—particularly that bad person—but I also think that Hannibal sees the therapy with Will as something that isn’t at full strength, and thus something that can be broken again, even if he can’t fully anticipate Will’s actions.
Will has found himself in a similarly sticky position, and all he’s got left is the wait for an opportunity to punish Hannibal, even while fantasizing about killing the good doctor with his own two hands.
In the end of the episode we saw Hannibal petting a lamb (linkage to The Silence of the Lambs?) and – of course, for me the best scene – a wonderful “Hannigram”-moment, when Hannibal looked so smitten with Will, touched the profiler, and for the viewer they formed a heart with their heads. Okay, you can interpret what you want. I was cheering and after “Su-zakana” the series went step to step to much more darker depths and you could ask yourself: when will this huge bubble burst and the cat comes out of the bag?
I wished that this wonderful picture of Hannibal and Will had frozen in time – but then we hadn’t received a 3rd season. And that really is much better.
“Randall-Tooth Tiger” by Liz Mahlstedt
Randall Tier. We were initially introduced to this terrifying animal man in “Shiizakana”, who met his demise by Will Graham himself in the next episode, “Noko-Choko”.
The main reason I chose this tableau as my favorite is because of the enormous meaning behind it; Will’s proof to Hannibal that he has adopted the grotesque mindset that he had been trying to push away for so long. Whenever the two discuss Tier–which means “animal” in German, by the way–they always speak in reference to each other. Also Will famously says it makes them “even-steven” about sending someone to kill the other, although Will took it a step further and actually killed Randall Tier, while Hannibal never killed Matthew Brown.
There are so many more details I could add, but I’ll stop myself now. Randall Tier was a fascinating character on the show, and I’m glad they were able to use him in such a symbolic way, and also as a sort of, what I believe to be, Francis Dolarhyde shout-out in case they didn’t get another season.