Hannibal Recap Episode 3.8 – The Great Red Dragon

Hannibal - Season 3

“The Great Red Dragon” marks the beginning of a new phase for Hannibal, shifting back to the show’s procedural roots as it prepares to unravel the mystery of the Dragon. It makes for a welcome change of pace. The high wire psychology that played out in Italy was extraordinary, but that balancing act becomes more difficult to maintain the longer it goes on. “The Great Red Dragon” gives the show the opportunity to regain its bearings, serving as a nostalgic reminder that Hannibal, Will, and Jack first came together to help solve crimes.

The episode is primarily exposition, although it covers the ground with far more panache than most other shows. After a three-year jump in time, we learn that Jack is back in charge at the FBI, while Alana is running the institution where Hannibal is a prisoner. Chilton is on the celebrity doctor circuit penning books about serial killers. He occasionally visits Hannibal to gloat, though it’s unclear if he’ll get his comeuppance before the show runs out of episodes.

As for the key players, Hannibal has been declared insane, which doesn’t spring him from his cell but does keep him off of death row. Thankfully, it’s always Italy in Hannibal’s mind palace, so he’s able to enjoy much better décor and cuisine than most people in such a sterile prison.

Will, meanwhile, has managed to escape the darkness. He’s happy living the rustic life in a cabin with his wife Molly (Nina Arianda), her son, and their new pack of dogs.

The new normal gets knocked over with the introduction of The Tooth Fairy (Richard Armitage), a serial killer who would much rather be referred to as the titular Great Red Dragon. Jack convinces Will to come back after the Tooth Fairy slaughters two families in step with the full moon, while Chilton suggests that Hannibal may not appreciate having such a rival. (There’s a clever, if self-serving jab about Hannibal being too intellectual for the public’s more sensationalistic taste.)

The rest of the episode gets down to the business of solving crimes, reintroducing the FBI lab, the surviving forensics team (Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams), and “This is my design.” The crime scenes are as visually stunning as ever, and Will’s reconstruction of the murders is a wonderful callback to a more quiet time.

Yet despite the familiar trappings, there’s a lingering sense that things aren’t quite the same as they were before. The characters have settled into their new lives after experiencing trauma, but they’re all aware that they were sharper and more capable when playing Hannibal’s games. That level of intensity is ultimately dangerous and unsustainable (even Hannibal has enjoyed some downtime). However, there is a growing realization that they’ll need to go back to that place in order to catch the Dragon, which is why Will goes to visit Hannibal at the end of the episode.

“The Great Red Dragon” is a necessary breather for everyone involved. The mind games have drifted into the background. The psychological maneuvering is relatively minor, outside of Jack’s appeal to Will’s compulsive nature. Like us, these characters needed to step back to prepare for the warfare that is sure to follow.

Unlike the first season, in which crimes were frequently resolved inside an episode, “The Great Red Dragon” represents a switch to long form storytelling. The final six episodes will offer a mini-series that has already been explored twice on film, and knowing that Will has achieved a degree of peace will only amplify the emotional stakes and increase the value of what could be lost. Will needs to become the predator he once was, and he knows all too well that he won’t be the same when he returns.

Need more Hannibal? Here’s a full list of our recaps.

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