In an early scene of 'Coquilles', Jack glosses over Will’s ever-escalating mental health issues in favor of coaching him up. Get your head in the game, Will. Because what you’re about to witness pushes the envelope even more than the last gloriously grotesque crime scene you laid eyes on. He’s right. A terminally ill vigilante killer can’t seem to sleep unless he’s staged angels by his bed. With fishing line and wings made from skin. Welcome to Hannibal episode five.
'Coquilles' is the first episode I felt I had a grip on. That I exhaled for the first time in the show’s run. Okay, my brain thought, this IS a procedural even though it’s totally not. Maybe it was the absence of Abigail Hobbs. Even though the rest of the season will subvert this formula again and again, there was enough of a respite from the breakneck pace of the first third of the season that any doubts I had that I could or want to keep up were temporarily allayed. Smart, Bryan Fuller. Smart.
But really the episode is designed like the rigid, patterned, beautiful shell for which it is named, one with clear traceable grooves, symmetrical ridges but an inner-body so soft, so incredibly delicate that it would never survive the world without its outer cover. Never. The characters by extension are portrayed in the same fashion. This is their design. A framework to each personality marked by predictable actions and words covering a gooey center of indeterminate fragility. Jack’s wife has cancer, Will’s sleepwalking increasingly a danger and neither can allow themselves to show their weakness to Jack, which, in turn, sends him down the rabbit hole of his own inadequacies. Then there’s the aforementioned killer, Elliot Buddish, whose brain tumor allows him to see his victims' demons (he really can) before he 'elevates' them. And Hannibal, the toughest shell to crack open and see inside but not impossible, if you know how to look. And Will is starting to.
A lot of the interaction between Hannibal and Will in 'Coquilles' involves Hannibal casting doubt on Jack’s ability, his desire even, to protect Will and his sanity. Repeatedly pointing out what his sleepwalking is really a manifestation of, aggressive thoughts threatening to run amok. The risk of someone with Will’s capabilities called forth by a selfish man with no intention of containing it. And when Hannibal pushes Will too far, he quickly moves with the tide, feigning interest in the profile of Buddish. Never missing the chance to point out this man is looking for angels to watch over his sleep, not unlike Will. But there’s a moment in Hannibal’s office when Will briefly touches the bronze statue of a stag, a glimmer of recognition of his dreaming and waking reality criss-crossing, Hannibal’s wavy patterns momentarily noticeable.
Parallels abound in this case to Jack’s situation, too. It’s when Jack is interviewing Buddish’s estranged wife that with silent dread he figures out his Bella has cancer, that this pattern of withdrawal from life that cancer patients experience is what has caused the change in her, in them, recently.
The Buddish case and the secondary characters mirror the internal themes alike. Bella’s presence is a beautiful and tragic insight into Jack. For the first time, Jack shows real emotion, real tenderness when he finally confronts her about her cancer. And in one of my favorite moments, Beverly tells Will she’s becoming keen to his ways, and will he tell her if something is wrong. He’s visibly touched by her gentleness. It’s a rare moment.
In the climax of 'Coquilles', Will and Jack find Buddish in his childhood barn having made himself into an angel. This resolution just outside the pattern these men are accustomed to, the killer has never taken himself out. It’s enough to embolden Will to step beyond his nature long enough to tell Jack that he’s not well. Then he has a hallucination. He’s not sleeping right now. The tide’s turning.
Odds and Ends
*In the opening scene, Will trudges barefoot down a lonely road, sleepwalking, followed by a stag, THE stag, nudging him on.
*Hannibal reveals his gift to smell illness on people. He smells Jack’s wife then Will creating much foreshadowing for the latter.
*Jim Morrison gets a moment in the sun when Beverly quotes him during an autopsy.
*Bella pushes back on Hannibal at his own dinner table when she refuses a course because to consume it is a tacit endorsement of inhumane treatment of animals. A first!
*In a pretty short time, we get a good sense of Jack and Bella’s relationship. Their history, individuality, respect and love of each other are very clear.
*In the episode’s final scene, Will joins Jack in his office, committed to staying, silently, until the two really talk. It’s ambiguous if Will knows about Bella but even if he doesn’t, it’s a tender gesture to show that he will not abandon him.
Police Officer (gesturing to Will’s side): “Is that yours?”
Will: ”Hey. Hi, Winston.”
Police Officer: “Do you have a history of sleepwalking, Mr. Graham?”
Will: “I’m not sure I’m awake right now.”
Hannibal: “Jack Crawford’s gotten your hands very dirty.”
Will (about Jack): “Abandonment requires expectation.”
Will: “I thought about zipping myself up in a sleeping bag before I go to sleep. Sounds like a poor man’s straight jacket.”
Will (to Hannibal): “Did you just smell me?”