Relieving the Pressure
Hannibal has a “pattern” of having relationships with violent patients, according to Bedelia. Will is the one who not only breaks this pattern but completely upends it. Hannibal has to adopt various strategies in order to get close to people, let them “see” him and keep them in his life.
Bedelia: You have to maintain boundaries Hannibal.
Hannibal: When the pressures of my personal and professional relationships with Will grow too great, I assure you I’ll find a way to relieve them.
Hannibal “relieves the pressure” of those who he becomes personal with by neutralizing them. They can “see” him only if there is some other factor that prevents them from exposing who he is to the authorities. He does this by various methods and always by sharing in some kind of murder with the person. If all of these strategies fail, then he will kill the person before they can expose him. There is a definite pattern of how he does this even though it involves different situations and different people.
With Bedelia we don’t get much of a description about how Hannibal carried out his strategy of keeping her in his life while letting her “see” him. We don’t know how long they had known each other or how close they were before he deployed his strategy. What we do know is that he sent a violent patient to her and when she killed him in “self defense” he helped her to cover up her crime. They were bound together through that and Hannibal took advantage of that. When Bedelia said she wanted to retire, Hannibal was her only patient who refused to stop therapy with her. That’s both because Bedelia refused a more friendly or informal relationship with him and also because of the amount of work he put into being able to have any kind of relationship with her. However, Bedelia only saw “enough” of him, not everything. At the point when she saw more of who he really was Hannibal immediately took lethal action. He went to her home in his murder suit ready to kill her. She only escaped because she had already run away before he showed up at her home. And in the end, he is eating her with Will.
With how quickly Hannibal moved to establish a connection with Will and Abigail, we can assume that Hannibal probably moved at probably a similar rate with Bedelia. He realizes who can “see” or understand him pretty much right away and starts a strategy to establish the connection. With Bedelia it was with a violent secret. With Abigail it was the same thing. He knew that Abigail helped her Father kill the girls and he also helped her to cover up her murder of Nick Boyle and Abigail knew that he called her Father. Like Bedelia, she didn’t “see” all of him and once she hit that point of no return, Hannibal again initiated violent action against her. This time, because of the relationship he wanted with Will, he faked her death instead of killing her. But he still cut off her ear and isolated her from public life and does kill her in the end.
Will started out very much like the others, but because of the special nature of their relationship the pattern is broken pretty quickly. Will was also a very fast connection. Like with Bedelia and Abigail they are bound together by a violent action. However, unlike Bedelia and Abigail, the murder was ruled as legitimate self defense and didn’t have to be kept secret or covered up. Hannibal still used this to establish that trust with Will. Will admitted that he liked killing Hobbs, something he would not admit to anyone else. But Hannibal didn’t show much of himself to Will until he brought Will into the secret that Abigail and he already shared. We can see that at the moment Will says that he knows about Nick Boyle, Hannibal briefly contemplates lethal action by touching his scalpel. But he doesn’t do it.
When Will “sees” him more fully Hannibal still doesn’t take any lethal action against him. In a definite break of pattern Hannibal lets Will take the lethal action. Will tries to shoot Hannibal and he also sends Matthew Brown after him. And he also has a gun and a knife that he uses against Hannibal unsuccessfully. Then there is the ultimate ending when Will takes Hannibal over the cliff (however that action is interpreted; symbolically or literally). Initially it seemed Hannibal did want to neutralize Will and succeeded to some extent by framing him. Will knew who Hannibal was but because he was framed, nobody believed him. And when Chilton was framed instead of Will, Hannibal felt safe enough to let Will out of prison. When the authorities were getting too close again, and Will says that what they are doing isn’t “sustainable”, he doesn’t decide to protect himself by neutralizing Jack or Will. Instead he decides to end his life in Baltimore and he just wants Will to run away with him. In the end, Hannibal chose not to neutralize Will, certainly not with lethal action as he did and does with Abigail and Bedelia.
Hannibal decides to neutralize himself.
He gives himself up to the authorities, he relieves the pressure, so that Will can decide when he wants to see him again or not. By completely reversing the pattern, and their roles, Hannibal adopted a new strategy to try to make sure that someday Will might be in his life again. Though we don’t know exactly what their relationship looks like after this new strategy, we know it was successful. Hannibal has Will in his life in the end.
What I find so interesting about this pattern break and role reversal is that Hannibal didn’t need to do it. Will essentially neutralized himself in Digestivo before Hannibal did. He said he would not chase after Hannibal anymore and since Will is really the only person who could catch Hannibal, he could have run away again and been fairly secure in his new life. I think this speaks to the fact that Hannibal never wanted to truly neutralize Will. What he wanted was for Will to be in his life permanently. And as we see with the previous examples, neutralizing a person is never permanent unless it ends with Hannibal killing them. With Will it becomes permanent by Will “killing” Hannibal.