Liberty in Death

HANNIBAL -- "Takiwase" Episode 204 -- Pictured: (l-r) Gina Torres as Bella Crawford, Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford -- (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)

Death: an inevitable, concrete fact of life, and yet the mere utterance of the word can bring with it feelings of discomfort, denial, and even anger. Hannibal, of course, is known to do everything but shy away from death and its myriad nuances. These shades more often than not present themselves in the post-mortem flesh, as a blooming tree or carnal Valentine, but what if we were to leave alone the grotesque beauty of life’s ending note, and instead shifted the focus on the less tangible, though arguably more invasive? What if we were to look into what Death means for those who are not refined serial killers or unstable profilers?

Let’s take Bella Crawford, for instance. In “Takiawase,” Bella confronts the oncoming, unrelenting force of cancer, having agreed to undergo chemotherapy, if only to delay the inevitable for Jack: that he will endure an interminable silence after the disease runs its course. For Bella, the maintenance of the quality of her life, in opposition to how Jack views treatment, is a worthless endeavor that contains little to no dignity. Unlike Lazarus, she does not possess dominance over death, which makes one of her only comforts appear to be her conversations with Hannibal, whom she trusts enough to disclose what she’s unable to with Jack, despite her love for him: she wants to choose her ending. Bella wants her freedom, despite her having chosen to acquiesce to Jack’s wishes of chemo. She is painfully cognizant that her protection of him is as fleeting as the remaining span of her life, further realizing that she must put her own self first. Herself and her ending are prioritized, and that prioritization comes with the control over how she chooses to close out her story. Suicide for Bella is not only a viable solution, but one in which can be validated as a cure, as Hannibal said Socrates believed death to be.

This revelation is one that is transparently controversial, however, considering the context of autonomy and the narrative of Bella’s plight, viewers may find themselves empathizing with her decision to end her own life, recognizing her truth: if everyone has a right to choose how to live, then everyone deserves to choose to die with dignity. The opinions of others aside, Bella knows that she deserves to feel alive even in her final moments. In taking her own life, Bella is ultimately giving herself the gift of feeling alive and at peace one last time, instead of resigning herself to a diminishing existence filled with indignity and suffering. Being able to choose how and when to end her life enables her to live and die as the woman she has cultivated herself as, rather than as a helpless victim claimed by cancer. Despite these affirmations, however, suicide is certainly not an option for resolving one’s problems, though here the idea transcends into an honorable right for those plagued by terminal illness, a right that another character who falls outside of Fullerverse, and is of medical background, strives to honor daily.

Mary Harris (depicted by Fullerverse darling, Caroline Dhavernas), a woman who illegally assists in people’s suicides in the aptly titled series, Mary Kills People, is no stranger to the importance of one’s right to choose. To some, she can be perceived as a compassionate doctor dedicated to ensuring that no patient endures unnecessary suffering during their limited timelines delivered by their prognosis of terminal illness or otherwise inoperable masses. Mary’s mission, simply put, is to end the suffering of others. She maintains a clientele through her colleague Annie, who tracks these patients and passes their files along to her. From there, Mary moonlights as an end-of-life counselor, meeting with her patients in need where they then have serious discussions on whether said patients really want to do this and are certain that this is the right decision for them. Mary herself will never choose for them, believing that everyone should be in control of their life and death, which equates to authentic liberty; she only ever provides the means, sodium-pentobarbital served in a drink, to end their life. This, however, is only done after payment has been made, which confirms to her that they are legitimately serious.

Mary is respectful and conscientious of when and how a patient chooses to die, which creates an interesting parallel between the doctor and Bella. Both women firmly believe that the right to die peacefully and on one’s own terms is one that should not be denied, while being knowledgeable of the fact that pain and suffering are equally subjective. Bella’s pain is separate from Jack’s. Her pain is her own, and no matter how others might think her choice to surrender to her cancer before it further worsens her quality of life is selfish, to not be in control of the manner of her death is a disservice to herself as this would result in her being bereft of her own meaning; her own intentions of what she wants her memory to be. Dying isn’t a crime, as Mary herself would say, and perhaps Bella would find affirmation in that statement, as much as she has in Hannibal’s spoken insight.

Bella Crawford, like all people, fictional or otherwise, has autonomy. Autonomy can only sustain itself through carried out choices. How those choices are determined are not always free of ethical debate, or criticism, yet the choices belong solely to the person making them, and in this instance, a fictional person’s. Death, and all its accompanying baggage, is difficult to navigate; although these characters and the realities they live in do not exist to be comfortable. If anything, they remind us that we all have to make choices that bring our lives meaning; as to what meaning our choices give us depends on how we choose to define ourselves.

Candice Sanzari
About Candice Sanzari 5 Articles
Candice Sanzari is a Florida based writer who is working toward moving far, far away from the sleepy city of Fort Myers to pursue a career in writing for TV and film. She is in constant search for new opportunities in which to challenge herself and grow in.When Candice isn’t writing or staring at a new, blank page in terror, she is either talking to herself or her dog far more often than she cares to admit, working, traveling, completing her MA in Sarcasm, and discovering new reasons to love Hugh Dancy.

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