FILMDOM’S MOST FAMOUS serial killer, Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter, has been reborn on television as a Danish dandy. Pre-Silence of the Lambs, TV Hannibal has impeccable taste, kickass culinary skills (of course), and an exquisite wardrobe replete with only the finest three-piece suits.
But as with everything in Hannibal, nothing is as it seems. Hannibal is more than an elegant psychotherapist who loves to throw dinner parties. Will Graham, Hannibal’s patient slash nemesis slash protegee, is more than a damaged empath with the uncanny ability to see the world through serial killers’ eyes. And suits are more than just the preferred wardrobe of a sharp-dressed killing man.
“How long will you have my suits?”
While last season almost no one was aware of Hannibal’s true nature, this season Will is onto him. Unfortunately he’s also been pinned, thanks to Hannibal, as the “Chesapeake Ripper,” a serial killer known to eat his victims’ organs. While Will has been institutionalized in a hospital for the criminally insane, this doesn’t stop him from accusing Hannibal of the horrific crimes.
No one believes Will, but evidence must be taken.“It’s just a formality,” agent Beverly Katz tells Hannibal. “Nobody expects to find anything.”
Hannibal’s beloved duds hang in the forensics lab, wrapped in plastic. “How long will you have my suits?” he asks with a hint of concern.
To Beverly the concern may seem to be about his clothes. To the audience, he may seem anxious about the FBI finding evidence. But the more we get to know Hannibal, the more we realize he’s not concerned at all. He’s toying with Beverly and the FBI, and he’s toying with us too.
Later in the episode we learn why Hannibal isn’t concerned about leaving behind any evidence. It’s because whenever he commits a crime, he wears his crazy plastic killing suit.
The first time we catch a glimpse of the crazy plastic killing suit, hereby known as CPKS, is through one of Will’s hallucinatory recalled memories. We see a blurry Hannibal and his plastic-covered arms and torso force-feeding Will the severed ear of Abigail Hobbs, a victim of Hannibal’s. In a previous episode, Will vomited up the ear, which to the FBI is more than enough evidence to link him to the murder of Abigail.
The CPKS has a triple purpose: it prevents Hannibal from leaving behind any evidence, protects his fine threads, and because the plastic is transparent, also shows them off. There’s no way his victims won’t know it’s him.
Hannibal’s “person suit”
Who says therapists don’t need therapy? Hannibal has his own psychoanalyst, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier. Bedelia is afraid of Hannibal, although we’re not sure why and neither, it seems, is she.
“What exactly am I guilty of?” he asks her, and she can’t say exactly.
“I’ve had to draw a conclusion,” she says, “based on what I glimpsed through the stitching of the person suit that you wear.”
Stitching is also the technique used by the killer of the episode, dubbed the Muralist. He shellacs his victims of many hues (his latest is brown-skinned Ronald Umber), then stitches them together into an eye-shaped color palette. “He doesn’t see people,” says Jack Crawford, the Agent-in-Charge. “He sees material.”
No wonder Hannibal admires him. “I love your work,” he says to the Muralist in the silo where he’s set up his person palette, right before Hannibal descends in his CPKS (which we now get to see in its full glory) to get down to business.
“There’s no God,” the Muralist tells Hannibal as Hannibal drugs and stitches him into his own creation. There is no God, therefore life is meaningless — colorless, if you will. Because life is colorless, the Muralist, whose name is James Gray by the way, needs to build his own life of color. His own person suit.
“With this psychosis he got into it somehow, tamed it, made a suit out of it.”
Diagnosed with species dysmorphia, Randall Tier, a former patient of Hannibal’s, believes he’s an animal trapped in a human body. He’s also behind a series of brutal killings that at first look to investigators like they’ve been done by an animal, either a bear or a wolf, or perhaps a bear and a wolf.
After the next killing, Will, who by now has been released from prison due to the unexpected appearance of evidence that clears him (thanks, Hannibal!), realizes it’s neither a bear nor a wolf.
“It’s not an animal,” he says. “It’s a man who wants to be an animal.” A man who got into the psychosis somehow, Will continues. Who tamed it and “made a suit out of it.”
Hannibal knows it’s Randall but doesn’t let on. He tells Jack, “Your killer could have built a bridge between who he appears to be and what he now knows he’s become.”
“He didn’t build a bridge, Doctor,” says Jack. “He built a suit.”
However, his suit isn’t enough to protect him. When he attacks Will, at Hannibal’s behest, Will is able to overpower and kill him.
“That’s one of my suits.”
Mason Verger is the sole heir to his family’s meat packing fortune. He’s also a sadist who’s training his pigs to eat humans.
He’s more than delighted to show his sister Margot, his favorite victim. Amid a recording of what may be Margot screaming, he hangs a clothed meat-dummy over the squealing pigs.
“That’s one of my suits,” Margot says.
Margot tells Hannibal, who’s her therapist natch, that Mason is less than human. “And you’re less human for it,” Hannibal says. Indeed, Mason sees his sister as no more than meat in a suit.
Hannibal feels the same way about people but also perhaps about himself. While others are meat puppets, he too is something inhuman, and needs his person suit to conceal it. The difference is he knows it.
But perhaps Hannibal doesn’t believe in humanity at all. It’s only something that others have fooled themselves into believing, and because he’s the only one who knows the “truth,” he has the power to manipulate.
He sets into motion a chain of events involving three of his patients, just to see what happens. He pushes Margot and Will together, persuades Margot to get pregnant, lets it drop to Mason that the Verger family may have a new heir, which persuades Mason to go to drastic means to get rid of said heir, and this, at least Hannibal hopes, will persuade Will to finally commit murder.
To Hannibal it’s all a game and he’s a very good player, better than the Muralist or Randall Tier, who both made the fatal mistake of trying to externalize their internal selves. The Muralist wants meaning and color and eventually ends up in his own creation, weirdly getting his wish. Randall as an animal may have thought himself invulnerable.
Hannibal doesn’t bother trying to match his internal and external selves. He expresses his true nature through his actions and ingests the results, keeping it allinside. The person suit he has built hides him in plain sight. He might as well do it in style.
Excellent article! I love the way the script plays with the idea of clothing as a metaphor for civilization. I feel like this is echoed in Thomas Harris’ original novels particularly Red Dragon, where Jame Gumb is attempting to create a suit out of women’s skins.
One of the reasons I am really enjoying the TV series is due to Mad Mikkelsen’s mind-bending performance. His Hannibal is both cultured and feral, athletic and cerebral. Those tailored, almost foppish!, suits would not look quite as striking on a less physical actor.
Thanks Sharilyn! That’s a great point re: clothing and civilization and Jame Gumb creating suits out of women’s skin. You’re also so right about Mad Mikkelsen being one of the few actors who could pull off wearing those suits, some of which are borderline tacky.
I assumed the article was going to be all about Hannibal’s wardrobe (which to be honest I could talk about for hours on end) but you brought up some wonderful comparisons and imagery that I had not previously considered. Thank you very much! I’ve been rewatching season 1 and the symbolism in the show, not just in terms of suits, is mind blowing; there are so many secrets buried in so many small details. Such a beautifully crafted show. I thought it was worth a mention that the first time we see the ‘CPKS’ was in fact in episode 10 of season 1 as he is carving Doctor Sutcliffe’s face open. Unless of course you were referring to the first time in season 2, in which case ignore me! Thanks again for your very thought-provoking article.
Hi Nia! Thanks so much for your comment and sorry for the delay in replying. Yes! I totally missed that first viewing of the CPKS. I was indeed focusing on season 2, but had ideally wanted to capture every sighting of Hannibal’s crazy killing suit. So I appreciate that. Now I’ll have to rewatch that episode — or maybe all of season 1! :)