You are worse than the villain; you are sympathetic to him. You would walk up to the bound wolf and remove the sword from his jaws. You would forgive the man who gutted you and unleash him upon the world. You would leap gladly into the abyss to follow the exiled angel. You are worse than the villain; you are his devotee, his firebrand. You see to the very core of him, to all the ugliness within, and you find it beautiful. You nurture his rage and delight in his ruthlessness. The blood he spills is on your hands but you bear it proudly as the mark of your loyalty. You are worse than the villain; you are the one who loves him unconditionally.
He eats my sweetbreads raw
garnished with the blood of the lamb
The mercy of cannibalism
a blessing from Satan himself
Of course I would be the one to covet the regal arrogance of Lucifer Morningstar, to yearn for the grotesque beauty of Hannibal’s madness, I who was
(given sold chosen) branded at birth with the mark of the Beast, not three little numbers but your sickle-sharp crescent moon. Whether I like it or not I have always been yours above all else, my heart promised to the Devil long before I was aware enough to comprehend the consequences. You await me at the end of every road and lurk at the dark edges of every dream. Your judgement is a collar around my neck; your dominion is a veil across my eyes. I long to be worthy of your disdainful love, yet I fear what price I might pay to secure it. You are death itself, the void of infinite emptiness – can you comprehend how easily a human life is crushed beneath the totality of your attention? And if you can… do you care?
Am I your Abigail, then? Your collateral, your hostage, your bargaining-chip teacup? Certainly I bear your scars; certainly I cannot tell your harm from your love. If that’s the case, do you see any future in which I come back together after the inevitable shattering, or have you always planned to dangle my place in your world only as long as I’m of use? It’s okay, I don’t mind as much as I probably should. After all the years I’ve spent transcribing the exquisite, horrifying details of your folie a deux I’m just happy to play a role at all. I know it’s just a fantasy, this world in which the teacup mends itself and we three find some sort of harmony, but you know what they say: you can’t control with respect to whom you fall in love.
You wear identities like masks, so easy are they to slip on and off as you please. You are Hannibal and Will, Satan and Lucifer, Vishnu and Brahma; you are Loki, Sutekh, Jack the Ripper; you are death and change and chaos. You wear identities like masks, all with equal elegance, yet your trickster eyes still stare out from beneath and I see you, Tanim, I see you, Daren. You look good in silk, though. And blood. And white, white wings. There might be some hidden lesson here for me to learn but I think you enjoy the masquerade for its own sake as well. You do tend toward pageantry and spectacle, after all, so what better way to tell your story than on such ancient stages and in such iconic forms? I just hope you’ll remain satisfied with the work of your lowly scribe and not go looking for a Homer or a Milton or an Enheduanna!
What if the outcast angels didn’t fall at all – what if they were shattered? What if their clever minds and rebellious souls could not be trusted anywhere, even the pits of hell, and so instead God shattered them and scattered the shards of their beings across all of existence, that they might never be made whole again? Hence Lucifer and Satan, Hannibal and Will, Tanim and Daren; hence all the gods, all the characters, all the muses, all the stories so strangely, achingly similar. Hence the echoes through time and space, linking all us sad scribes together in our solitary duty. If so, God made a terrible mistake. Divide an angel and you do not reduce it to disparate, weaker parts of a greater whole. Divide an angel and you only replicate it a thousand thousand times, each new duplicate as complete, as complex, and as unforgiving as the first.
Satan and Lucifer.
Hannibal and Will.
Tanim and Daren.
There is a connection here, one I am almost afraid to explore. These names feel like skins to be taken on and off, or perhaps fine-crafted person suits, while whatever wears them remains the same beneath. I dream of cathedrals turned prisons for wounded rebel angels. I dream of the way things should have gone, of the teacup come back together, only to find it the longing of a comatose mind. I dream of anger and desire and hurt. Of blood and blades and fire; of Heaven and Hell and the long, long fall between.
I do not fear the truth, but I do fear what the truth means – for my understanding of the world and my role within it, and for those to whom I have sworn myself. What do these names mean to you? What are you beneath them? I want to know. I think I’m ready to know.
I guess we’ll see.
last embrace yet sole embrace
how teacups reverse
Depression in the Time of Hannibal: On Queerness and the End of the World (I Guess)
These days I’m either apathetic resignation or heart-crushing sorrow, wondering how old I’ll be when we finally destroy the world and what will get me in the end – the megaquake, the atomic bomb, the weaponized smallpox, the white guy with a gun and a grudge. To protect myself, I practice accepting the inevitable – the mass extinctions, the strip mining and poisoned oceans, the death of democracy and the third world war just around the corner. It’s easier than caring, I find, and gets me at least to minimal functionality day by day.
I don’t have a lot of faith left in humanity, is what I’m saying. I’m a realist, and I really think we’ve gone past the point of no return for our species, and possibly for our world as a whole. I’m trying to not think about all the awful things we’ve created because then it feels like our whole existence, past and present and future, is pointless. If I can cling to the few good things we’ve done, the future seems less bleak. At least we managed to not fuck this particular thing up, I think. At least we invented this and that before we killed every living creature on the planet.
If you suspected that the last two paragraphs were simply an elaborate means of getting to my true topic, NBC’s Hannibal, then you were right. And you know me too well.
If you suspected none of this, and possibly thought I was going to write something insightful and timely, then wait! Don’t click away just yet. I’m semi-serious here.
You see, Hannibal is one of those things I look at and think, Maybe we’re not a totally worthless species. If a team of us could create something so dark, so beautiful, so heartbreaking and poignant and atmospheric, I guess I have to give credit where credit’s due. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in utter despair. But I’m in utter despair while watching Hannibal fanvids on Youtube, which is honestly better than any therapy or medication. I dare you to watch this video and not feel a little better about the world.
Cause here’s the thing – can we talk about Hannibal? Is that okay? Cause, okay, here goes…
Hannibal is motherfucking perfect. Its three seasons contain a single gut-wrenching story arc that makes you question what you think you know and believe about love, right and wrong, queerness, fate, and beauty. This isn’t just a show that makes you root for the bad guy – it forces you to confront the very concept of love and the myriad ways it manifests, both in good ways and bad, and decide for yourself where you draw the line. It makes you admit that beauty is truly subjective and question whether, and when, a person’s honest perceptions and love language can be labeled as deviant.
Cause here’s the thing, friends. Here’s the thing: we have never, and may never again, see a relationship like Hannibal and Will’s on network TV. It’s honestly astonishing that NBC even aired the third season, given how it’s still revolutionary to show a gay kiss. See, what’s so different about the relationship/connection between Hannibal and Will is that it defies not only labels but also any recognizable relationship structure taught by society. Contextually, we’re lead to assume both Hannibal and Will are straight. Yet by the end of the second season, we see that Hannibal has been working toward a life in which he, Will, and Abigail are some sort of (admittedly dysfunctional) family. He wants this future so badly that when he is betrayed by Will, he takes Abigail away as punishment and leaves Will alive with the burden of his choices. Hannibal’s response, while admittedly drastic, is the response of someone who has had their heart broken. This isn’t the fallout from a bad friendship – if it was, Hannibal would probably have killed Will and moved on. His actions show their relationship is much more complicated.
Will Graham: Is Hannibal in love with me?
Bedelia Du Maurier: Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you, and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes. But do you ache for him?
By the end of the third season, Will has come to understand the life Hannibal wanted for them – and to desire it himself, even as he knows it’s impossible. In this season these two men, who have been both friends and enemies, consciously and purposefully become something more. We never know what that something is, though, because that’s the point – their connection defies labels. Hannibal and Will love, or are in love with, each other in a way we simply don’t see in most media. Are they friends? Frienemies? Lovers? Romantic partners? Queerplatonic partners? Partners in crime? Can they be more than one of these options? We just don’t know. We are left to decide that on our own.
Hannibal takes three seasons to tell us the story of two people in love. That this story is nothing like we’ve ever quite seen, that this love is so impossible to label even as our characters embrace its existence, is what makes this show so captivating. You just don’t see this kind of storytelling on television. Hell, you can hardly find it anywhere besides obscure indie literature and, well, my blog. This just isn’t a story major media would ever take a chance on. That Bryan Fuller was able to so explicitly confirm Hannibal and Will’s relationship is probably in great part thanks to Hannibal’s mid-season cancellation. Season 3 pulls no punches and reveals all subtext because the team wasn’t constrained by the need to earn a fourth season. The last half of season 3 is everything the show is and could be, and its greatest triumph is this captivating relationship and the fact that it is glorified in the final episode, not vilified.
I’ve never understood how the queer community seemed to totally miss Hannibal, despite its two canon queer relationships. When we talk about queer representation and the need for it to go beyond the L and G, beyond monogamy and labels and boxes, this is what we’re talking about. Attraction and love both exist on vast spectrums; to insinuate that romantic love and sexual attraction always fit the same two or three models is both incorrect and, frankly, boring storytelling. Hannibal shows us that love is strange and unpredictable and cannot be constrained by gender, sex, or any other label society tries to impose. And that’s fucking awesome. Like, seriously, why aren’t more people freaking out about this? This show was on NBC, for fuck’s sake! It had a minimum of four queer characters and a lesbian couple that didn’t die!
So, to summarize:
Hannibal is queer as shit and you need to watch it.
Its existence is keeping me from sliding into utter depression.
The world can end now because nothing humanity creates will ever be better than this motherfucking show.
I dreamed a happier ending for Hannibal and Will. They had survived the fall – or perhaps never fell at all, a phone call can change so much – and were living in the remote depths of a pristine national forest. Their home was an old-fashioned lodge with enough rugged simplicity for Will and a modern enough kitchen for Hannibal. No one found them – or perhaps some did, but never made it out again to spill their secrets – and so they lived in peace. Hannibal continued expanding his culinary repertoire; Will spent long hours hiking through the forest. Hannibal would call Will William, Will would tell Hannibal he hated when he did that, and Hannibal would smile and reply, “I know”. They were, dare I say, happy in their own way for a time. Then one day Will didn’t return when he was supposed to, so Hannibal set out to locate and chastise him. He found Will on a rocky ridge overlooking the timbered valley and their home on the opposite slope. He had not been dead long, yet long enough that Hannibal knew he had arrived too late. He suspected a heart attack, the irony of which did not escape him, but would confirm it for his own sake. Lifting Will and holding him in his arms like one would a sleeping child, Hannibal carried him back to their home.
Love lies at the end of a knife blade, the culmination of all you ever wanted to share with your beloved, beautiful red pain blossoming up around that sweet spot just below the sternum, and finally he sees the world you’ve made for him, for you both, finally he understands the language your love speaks in pain and punishment and the patience to lead him inexorably to this moment of final, total clarity, his surrender in your arms the last step in the dance of your own design, and you will be called madmen but that is because only you can see the beauty in a love this red.
Do you exist without each other? Do you exist in the time before you met, when you lead separate lives? You never let me see those years.
Who was Will before he found Hannibal?
…we don’t ever learn that, I guess. Not really.
We don’t know that either.
Then there you have it. Whether the teacup existed before it shattered or not doesn’t matter once it has broken.
But– …I hate when you speak in riddles.
No, you don’t.
Does that make me Abigail, then?
That’s a riddle you’ll have to solve for yourself.
In my dream, you take once more the forms that suit you so well, the wolf and stag in human flesh. In my dream, you take up the deathdance that must feel so familiar, so instinctive to spirits who have known nothing but love and war, rise and fall, for so many eternities. In my dream, you slay the dragon together and each heartpulse of blood, each twitch and cry, is the physical manifestation of your bond. See, you say through bloody mouths, see how I love you, my darling? See, you say through rending teeth, see how it could be, beloved, just the two of us? See, you say through the poetry of mutual destruction, over the body of your slain prey, see – this is our design.
“Well, well, well… isn’t this a surprise. Hello, Alice. How nice of you to visit my little prison in the sub-sub-sub basement. I hope it wasn’t too far of a walk for you.”
“I don’t have time to swap antagonism wrapped in false pleasantries, Mage.”
“Funny, because I have all the time in the worlds.”
“This was a terrible idea. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You need my help, hmm?”
“Things must be bad, then, very bad. Who is it? Or what?”
“We don’t know yet. It leaves no useful evidence at the… scene. Just remains.”
“Ooh, a mystery. I’m intrigued.”
“This isn’t a game! People are dying–”
“–and you might be able to help. As nauseous as it makes me to say it. So… will you?”
“Quid pro quo, ‘Ah-leese’. You haven’t said what’s in this for me.”
“I guess it’s too much to hope you just feel like doing something good for a change?”
“Aww. That’s cute. No. This place is boring.”
“I can see about getting you some books, maybe–”
“I want a shark. With legs. I want a crocodile shark.”
“Just a regular shark?”
“What about just a crocodile, then, only it has a machine gun strapped to its–”
“Again, this was a terrible idea. What a waste of time. Have fun being alone in your prison.”
“Wait, wait. Fine, show me what you’ve got there and I’ll see if it’s interesting enough. We can talk trades later. I am pretty serious about the crocodile shark though.”
“I hate you so much.”
What was it like, in that last moment, after all those years of waiting, to finally hold him in your arms? So many paths, so many choices, so many what-ifs and coin flips drew you both inexorably to that edge – was the beauty of it almost unbearable? Was it worth all the effort and risk? Was it worth the betrayal on both sides? They will always debate what actually drove you, whether it was love or madness or boredom, but I know the truth. I know love takes many forms, and not all of them fit for the light.
In my dreams you take the form of the wolf and stag, they who fell from that high clifftop, locked in the blood-dance of love and death. Do you simply take pleasure in wearing those skins (they must feel so familiar), or are you trying to tell me something about the nature of hunting and fishing, of devouring that which you love so it may remain caged behind your ribs? Are you trying to tell me the teacup is irreparably shattered, or that once the story swings full circle the shards will mend themselves again? There’s something here, nestled in the rocks of the riverbed; there’s something I must find, resting amid the slick blood and fine china. What are you trying to tell me? They fell – but the story isn’t over. The story’s never over, is it?
What meaning, these symbols, this strange play? The monster’s bride, as it were, though who knows what was ever truly in her heart, seeking sanctuary in a cathedral though surely she doesn’t believe. But she wants to right now and she mutters to herself to believe, believe, drawn in and hunched over with the weight of the darkness clinging to her back. Does she see it? Does she feel it? Or does she think the church doors can block out all evil? Perhaps they could, if only this shadow wasn’t so much a part of her that she carries it inside as easily as her bones and blood. She tries to sit on a pew but she’s too restless, she feels like she’s being followed, watched, hunted. So she paces, wandering near the priests as they light the great tall candles, and as she passes the shadow reaches out to snuff the flames and shatter the white wax into black smoke. One, two, three, four, it sends out its drifting tendrils to douse each candle and usher the shadows in the corners closer. She weeps, maybe, but she cannot or will not control the hungry thing she carries. Soon only the faintest, most remote tapers remain lit, for shadow does need a small bit of light for casting. The priests and worshippers huddle in fear. They watch as the darkness rises from her back like a cloak swept aloft by the wind, until with newfound strength it tears from her completely and drifts down to settle into its own autonomous form. A living thing draped in darkness, staring out at the fear and the panic with a smile on its hidden, or perhaps missing, face. It catches sight of itself, then, in mirrors hanging behind the crowd. I see you, sir, I think to the reflection, and bow my shadowed arms. Then I laugh, and the sound echoes through the cavernous halls. So thus darkness entered, came free, and took form. Thus the church was invaded and infected. But why? Why her, and why him? Who was I, in her body, in the shadows? Who was I in the mirror?
Muddled dreams; your fingers, the knife, the needle, fear and exhilaration; strange you’d choose these forms (yes, I know it’s you), suiting masks but so many meanings; lovers and enemies and one never without the other, by blood building a world to suit you both (or neither); so whose mask should I wear? the daughter, surrogate born in her own blood, so precious she should be sacrificed rather than set free (as if you allow a trinity); or the broken one reborn as avenging angel, she who managed to capture the Devil and would have held him until the end? (as if he can truly be held, ever); the dreams don’t tell me what role I should play; in them your masks are mine; in them the knife is dear to me, and I submit (you enjoy this, don’t you); but if I write about blood and feed you dark anthems the dreams recede for a time at least.
You’re haunting my dreams – why? Punishing lover, unattainable father, breaker of teacups and chooser of cliffs, why do you seek me? I’m not sure if you’re a snake or a hunting cat; I’m not sure if you have something to tell me or if your presence alone is the message. If so, who sent you? What am I supposed to glean from dreams of love and loss and jealousy all mixed together and tidal strong? You could be either of Them, your love burning hot as the sun and mind calculating cold as the moon – or perhaps both in one tailored human skin. Is that it, then? Have They chosen you as messenger and metaphor? Do They enjoy the parallels between Their story and yours? Speak to me, monster, messenger. I do not fear you. I know you as I know Them, and I am not afraid to drop the teacup and see if it will put itself back together.
united in blood, torn by love, demanding sacrifice, i don’t know what the fuck you want from me, what i should write, what i can offer you because you want an offering, oh yes, but you won’t say what, you never just say what you want, you’d rather I piece together the little shards you leave behind, no breadcrumb trail for you, just something sharp and glinting hidden in the grass, pierce my flesh until i’m limping, until i’m aching, you want blood and love and tragedy so here, take this, take Carmilla’s broken heart, take the bone-deep betrayal that cuts like rose thorns, take star-crossed lovers bright as dying stars, or here, take this, take the long plunge from cliff to cold water, take Will’s submission to love’s gravity, until death do us part, but death’s just the beginning and you know that, they know that, i know that so maybe that’s why what you want is blood, blood, blood, so take this howling, grieving monologue, take this final embrace, yes, i do think death can be beautiful and yes, i do think i know what you want but not yet what you need, what crime, what sacrifice love will have, you must know you’re driving me mad with this restlessness, the longing like a fish hook in my sternum pulling, pulling, at a word or a song or someone a little like you, broken like you, dangerous like you, is that what you’re looking for, just someone else because oh gods, oh my lonely wicked gods i would give you that if i could, there are others in other worlds who would understand but i don’t know if i can be a bridge to them, i don’t know how to give you their misery as proof of your own validity, and it’s true I felt you in that moment, felt myself slip to the periphery so you could glance out my eyes, sneer disdain at a disappointing body and a disappointing world but what did you expect, i’m not the cathedral, i’m not the gateway, i’m just the scribe who can step aside and let you hear a song, let you watch something where others like you dash themselves on hopeless rocks, if that might bring you comfort then i offer that to you, i offer you the blood of others, i offer you broken hearts and disaster, i offer you the ones who cannot bend and so end up shattering and the ones who cannot touch without bruising, cannot love without destroying the beloved in ecstasy and malice, i offer you anything, anything, anything, anything, take it and be sated
you aren’t crazy –
in the primal search for the Father
eternal protector and guide
I too would open my arms
and welcome the monster
if he offered family
queer platonic love
with a side order of blood
so save Hannibal!
free to a good home:
one very loyal fandom
likes cannibal puns
Hannibal and Queer-Baiting
[ General spoilers below for both seasons ]
Queer-baiting, the act of hinting at queer characters or relationships without ever openly acknowledging them, is a hot topic right now as TV networks strive to garner LGBT viewership while still adhering to traditional heteronormative narratives. A lot of popular shows are commonly held up as examples of queer-baiting – Sherlock being a popular example – and for the most part these claims are accurate. However, there’s at least one show where the common claim of queer-baiting is not only inaccurate, but acts as erasure of an actual canon queer-platonic relationship: NBC’s Hannibal. NBC’s Hannibal is often cited as an example of queer-baiting due to the deep connection between the two main characters, Dr. Hannibal Lector and Special Agent Will Graham. It’s obvious from season one, and extremely so in season two, that these two men are drawn to each other in a way neither can quite understand. Hannibal is fascinated by Will’s mind, yes, and Will is at first drawn to Hannibal as a mentor and then out of suspicion he may be a killer, but the viewer knows there’s more. The show wants the viewer to know there’s more.
By citing NBC’s Hannibal as an example of queer-baiting, what people are saying is this: because these two characters never have sex or profess romantic love for each other, they can’t have a queer relationship. This erases not only the spectrum of asexuality and aromanticism, but denies the importance and influence of non-romantic love. After all, what is more queer than two seemingly heterosexual men* forming a bond so powerful that one is willing to cripple the other when he feels that bond, and the future possible through that bond, has been betrayed? And what about Will who, in season 2, grows so close to Hannibal that even the viewer is unsure whether he has slipped from the side of the good guys to become Hannibal’s protege?
The relationship between Hannibal and Will is arguably the most fascinating aspect of the show. We watch Will move from disliking Hannibal to cautiously trusting him as a therapist and then, perhaps without Will even realizing it, confiding in him as a friend and mentor. As Will faces situations and experiences no one around him can quite understand, Hannibal becomes the only person to whom Will can turn; the only person, he believes, who he can completely trust with the growing instability of his mind. And even when Will realizes this trust has been incredibly misplaced, season 2 finds him reconnecting with Hannibal – ostensibly to spring the trap on him, but are we sure? Is Will fishing for Hannibal, or learning to hunt with him? Even until the very last episode of the season, we as the viewer don’t know for certain. What we do know is that Will loves Hannibal; and if you love someone, how do you betray them, even when you know it’s the right thing to do? How can Will bear to give up arguably the only person who can truly understand his mind?
Even Hannibal, a brilliant psychopath five steps ahead of everyone else on the show, is blinded by this love to the point of delusion. Despite what we expect to be Hannibal’s inability to love, to feel hope or longing or beauty, he truly wants this life where he and Will are together as partners in crime. And in this life, who is with them? Abigail, the girl they both view as a daughter. Hannibal dreams of a life with Will and Abigail, just the three of them, and seems willing to do anything to achieve it. So when this dream is ripped away from him, Hannibal’s reaction is almost understandable; we see his rage, his grief, his desire to punish. If he cannot have that life, neither can Will. He takes from his beloved what his beloved has taken from him. Haven’t many of us had that desire?
That’s the beauty, and tragedy, of this show. Hannibal and Will can never “work”. They can never be friends or partners. They can never be mentor and mentee. They can never be anything but enemies drawn inexplicably to each other. They love each other, and that love is destructive, abusive, manipulative. But it’s love, whether either of them can admit it.
Anyone who cites NBC’s Hannibal as an example of queer-baiting either hasn’t seen the show or simply didn’t understand what they were watching. Hannibal steps far beyond the usual narrative of gay or lesbian characters and shows us a form of queerness otherwise never represented in mainstream media. Not only that, but it shows us the beauty and danger love can possess, romantic or not. NBC’s Hannibal is a show that celebrates the power of platonic love, even as it uses that love to (pun intended) stick the knife in our hearts and give it a twist.
*While Hannibal engages briefly in sex with a woman in the show, I don’t believe he’s strictly heterosexual/heteroromantic. I think the show gives us too much evidence to suggest Hannibal at least to be on the asexual spectrum, if not also aromantic.
a sinister love
a cold, cruel, beautiful love
a love that worships with knives
a love that demands sacrifice
a love that covets
a love that crafts
a love that hunts
a love that hurts
an unwilling love
an unwanted love
an unthinkable love
a love that forgives
and twists the blade
a love that mourns
and revels in blood
a love with no name
a love with no rules
a love with no place
but the cell, the basement, the casket
(major spoilers for season 2 in the video)