Guest Post: Hannibal
By James Factora
One of the saddest things for me about finishing Pop Tarot is that I’m not going to get to share other people’s beautiful pop cult and tarot writing with you anymore. So it’s with great joy and sorrow that I say, for the final time, this piece is fucking great and I’m very happy that I get to send it out.
“This homosexual dream of perfect metaphysical union is not so much a reflected heterosexual ideal as it is the compensation for having wept in the darkness.” — Thomas E. Yingling, Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text: New Thresholds, New Anatomies
“We're conjoined. I'm curious whether either of us can survive separation.” — Will Graham, “Dolce,” Hannibal
As a child, when I was merely unruly and not yet monstrous, I was convinced that it was my lot in life to never quite be satiated. In my mind, the world was divided into people who got what they wanted and people who didn’t, and I fell squarely into the latter camp. Even in high school when I thought I had evolved beyond this archaic mindset, I stayed with a girl for far too long, the two of us entangled in mutual destruction, because I believed I was so singular, so wretched in my desires that no one else would ever love me.
I didn’t watch Hannibal until 2019, long after my desires had proven too much for my high school girlfriend, but I still felt uncomfortably exposed, in a number of ways, by its depiction of the relationship between Will and Hannibal.
In season 2, episode 12, the psychiatrist and his patient are sitting shrouded in shadow. It’s unclear if they’re in a session or if this is an after hours visit; it’s unclear whether there’s a real difference anyway.
“We are just alike,” says Will. It’s unclear if there is a difference. “You're as alone as I am. And we're both alone without each other.”
To clarify, I do not mean to present the relationship between Hannibal and Will as an example of a “healthy” relationship, nor as “good gay representation.” I do, however, mean to present it as the apex of a particular queer fantasy, an obsession so strong that one must constantly resist the temptation to be consumed by the other — in Hannibal, of course, that desire for consumption is quite literal.
But Hannibal and Will never quite merge into that singularity, as close as they come. Instead, they sublimate that desire through acts of violence, and, to Will’s horror, take pleasure in that violence. In Hannibal’s words, Will delights himself in wickedness and berates himself for the delight.
The Hannibal Lecter canon as a queer and trans story has been explored endlessly — including quite excellently by the main author of this newsletter, whose essay on Hannibal and trans self-creation inspired me to write this (also because they so kindly asked me to). Oddly, the BDSM themes of the show haven’t been explored quite so extensively, even though every letter in the acronym is represented.
Hannibal appears bound in rope quite a few times throughout the series — including in many of Will’s hallucinatory dream sequences. Yet even when it’s Will fantasizing about tying Hannibal to a tree to be torn asunder by a nightmare deer, or Will holding a blade to the neck of a straitjacketed and suspended Hannibal, Hannibal is still the one who gets what he wants in the end — total psychological domination over Will.
He even goes so far as to ask Will, “Do you fantasize about killing me?” in their first session after his patient has been freed from false imprisonment, which he facilitated.
“How would you do it?”
“With my hands.”
As is, it’s difficult to believe that this exchange, layered with double entendre, aired on network television. Ironically, the words are rendered acceptable through the lens of violence, rather than through the lens of queer desire, an overt depiction of which would likely get the scene axed. The trick is that in Hannibal, gay lust and bloodlust are one and the same. This is a classic tactic of queer-coded villainry, yes, but it’s also the sadomasochist’s creed.
This is also the only reason why Alana Bloom is allowed to ask Mason Verger if he knows what happens when you stimulate your prostate gland with a cattle prod, which Hannibal naturally knew.
“He helped us milk you,” she says, before tauntingly holding up a vial of his sperm and proceeding to shove him into the pool in the middle of his room, holding his head underwater with help from her lover (who happens to be Mason’s sister!) until the eel he’s been keeping there forcibly worms its way into his mouth. In other words, death by deepthroat.
It’s not the only death by deepthroat in the series either. There’s also the scene where Hannibal’s therapist, Bedelia du Maurier, reaches into a former patient’s mouth trying to “save” him. There’s a moment of hesitation before she gives in and shoves her arm ever deeper, withdrawing it from his mouth coated in blood. Naturally, she later blames this impulse on Hannibal’s influence. Bryan Fuller himself has said that he came up with that scene partially because “the imagery of Gillian Anderson fisting Zach Quinto tickled” him.
In the same interview, Fuller says that the camp of Hannibal comes from the storytelling being “so dark, it’s so unrelenting that you can’t help but giggle at some of the ridiculousness.” This, too, is a crucial aspect of leather and BDSM — that might be why we call the associated activities “play,” after all. And ultimately, play is about storytelling, stretching the boundaries of our reality for the length of a scene, living our wildest dreams, until we come back down to earth. Almost like the escapism of a good episode of television.
James Factora is a writer and musician in Brooklyn. You can find them on Twitter @jamesfactora.
Second-to-last week, so I’m not going to advertise subscription anymore, but get in touch any time for a tarot reading, tarot tutoring, or if have any questions, and you can tip me at @james0ctober on Venmo and Cash App and at jamiebeckenstein at gmail dot com on PayPal. Be safe, watch TV. <3