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Hannibal4

“This is my design.”

Will Graham is overwhelmed by intention. In Hannibal‘s pilot, Will tells his boss, Jack Crawford, that evidence can explain Will’s capacity to solve crimes and catch criminals. Evidence can explain Will’s inductive observations. Will doesn’t have magic powers. He isn’t seeing into the past when he reconstructs a crime scene. However, Will is not Gil Grissom. He is not a forensic crime scene investigator. Will uses the carnage of brutal crimes as a canvas for exploring purpose and intent. The crimes he investigates were committed by someone who made a choice; Will’s gift is opening himself up to the feelings that allow someone to make those choices.

Of course, Hannibal would be a lesser show if Will’s talents were so simple. One of the most horrifying symptoms of the identity disorder that haunts Will and makes him such a potent profiler is the way in which the lines between Will and the murderers whose psyches he inhabits can fade away.

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Letters and Long Car Rides

It was around this time last year that I came out to my parents.

It hasn’t quite been a full year. I sent my parents my sprawling coming out letter closer to Inauguration Day. I had an essay scheduled to run at Vice about resistance. I didn’t know how to write about resistance without discussing what Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s election meant to me as a queer and trans person. I couldn’t have that discussion if I didn’t make it clear that I was queer and trans.

So, I finally came out.

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“Tramps Like Us”

I spent my Christmas binging Lost.

I thought I had lost my capacity to binge. I’m lucky when I can give my full attention to a single episode of television, let alone three or four in one sitting. I can’t keep it together that long for anything except my day job, and it’s a minor miracle that I can handle its endless and traumatic emotional labor.

Yet, somehow, I’m a month and a half into the first sustained period in which I’ve felt functional as a writer in six months and the first sustained period ever that I’ve felt comfortable talking honestly about trans stuff and depression stuff (and how addiction stuff intersects with the trans stuff and the depression stuff), and I’ve decided to spend Christmas and Christmas Eve binge-watching the first season of Lost. I can’t tell if the mere fact that I’m capable of watching this much television in such a short time-frame means that I’m getting better or regressing. My decision to return to Lost only muddles the matter further.

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“Oh My God, Do I Pray”

(Lyrics credit to 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” for the headline of this essay.)

Kristy messaged me out of the blue yesterday. We hadn’t spoken in three or four months. The last conversation had orbited the mental health of a shared, quasi friend. The talks were earnest but oblique. We both knew how bad our friend’s situation had gotten, but we also knew how little we could do for her. That brief, angry sigh and then months of silence.

Kristy’s most recent message was about the music video for “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” by Run the Jewels. I had shown her the music video once. It’s a powerful video about police brutality (although here my friend and valued peer, Isaiah Taylor, makes a persuasive argument about its misguided shortcomings). I used to write about music videos every day for a paycheck. I was giving Kristy the rundown of my essential music videos of the 2010s. “Alright.” “Hood.” “Desire.” “Oblivion.” “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” We were cosmically stoned.

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As my mother and I work our way through Hannibal, the most common query I hear is “I wonder if Jack’s wife will be in this episode.”

Gina Torres plays Bella Crawford, the wife of Jack Crawford (head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit). Bella has terminal lung cancer, and her arc in the series initially involves the question of whether she should tell her husband that she’s dying and, later, whether she should kill herself because her suffering is so total. Bella is an intelligent and proud woman. She didn’t choose to die, but she can choose how to die. She doesn’t want to burden her overworked husband with her impending death, and when he does find out, she doesn’t want to burden him with how awful that death will be. She wants to control those final moments.

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A month or so ago, my dad and I watched The Matrix. I hadn’t seen it since since I was in college and lived in the dorms. That was 2010. I remembered not caring for the film anymore the last time I sat through it. The Matrix (and, to a lesser extent, its sequels) had defined action filmmaking in my early teens and preteen years. Then, I watched it with some friends my sophomore year of college and found it unwatchable. It turned out my childhood instincts were right… sort of.

The Matrix is a deeply problematic allegory about being white and realizing that you’re both trans and that your politics sit somewhere on the spectrum of revolutionary socialism. Mr. Anderson is Neo’s dead name. It’s the one he has to adopt to survive in the corporate blue collar cishet world he inhabits by day. At night, he escapes to a world of genderqueer ravers and hackers seeking valuable corporate data. But, by day, Neo wears the mask of a person who is forced to exist past their death. Keanu Reeves plays Neo with a soft, feminine sincerity and warmth. It’s what he brings to many of his best roles. He falls in love with the masc Trinity, embodied by Carrie Ann Moss’ lean vulnerability and strength. The sapphic undertones of The Matrix are only slightly less apparent than the Wachowski sisters’ crime drama, Bound.

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I’m at my dad’s for the evening.

Back in June, I realized I was in a suicidal depressive state. I was in the “oh, transitioning is harder than just saying you’re trans” phase of coming out as nonbinary. I was living in literally toxic health conditions with another severe depressive. The most intimate friendship I’d had in the last decade ended suddenly and forcefully, and it took away two other friendships that were vital in me accepting I was genderqueer. 2017 in all of its misery and greed and cruelty was happening in national and local politics. Nazis were emboldened each day. They killed publicly. Rape culture was on full display through our President (and the litany of post-Weinstein revelations more recently). I was finally confronting the trauma of being a sexual assault victim as well as reckoning with how rape and sexual violence plagued so many of the closest women in my family and my dearest friends.  There weren’t days that I didn’t want to kill myself. There were occasional hours where I could be more protective than “lying in my bed, almost catatonic” but that was only if I was high. I had just dragged myself across the finish line of my final semester of college, and I was only able to batter my corpse across that achievement because I had started going to class high. It was the only way I could force myself to be around people.

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In an early episode of Hannibal, FBI profiler Will Graham describes Stockholm Syndrome as an evolutionary defense mechanism. His point was that if you can learn to empathize with and gain the affection of your captor, then you’re more likely to survive. If you antagonize someone who has total, lethal control over you, you’re more likely to be killed. There are few things more hardwired into people than their survival instinct, and so the drive to do what your oppressor asks of you is natural because the alternative is death.

Will is portrayed as a prodigy at psychological profiling. Will has high-functioning autism, and unlike the majority of folks portrayed as being on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum in popular culture, Will isn’t a mathematical or scientific savant. Will is a vessel for overpowering, disorienting empathy. Will can figure out how the show’s serial killers think because Will has a singular ability to place himself in another person’s mind. To feel how they feel. To see the world the way they do. To interpret their motivations and fears and desires.

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At the end of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus‘s second act, B.J. “Terror Billy” Blaskowicz infiltrates the smoldering remains of the New Orleans ghetto. After the Nazis dropped an atom bomb on New York City to end World War II, the Reich turned New Orleans into a walled-off prison to house all of America’s undesirables — Jews, people of color, LGBT folks, Communists, etc. B.J. Blaskowicz, an American G.I. and Nazi killer extraordinaire, is searching for the last remnants of resistance and finds it in Horton Boone and his band of hedonistic, Communist revolutionaries just trying to survive and kill every last Nazi they can before their time finally comes.

B.J. and Horton ultimately become comrades, but their initial meeting is a tense, drunken screaming match where the pair trade shots of Horton’s homemade shine and B.J. throws the entire kitchen sink of liberal critiques of Bolshevism at this person who has spent years staying alive and fighting against the Nazis in America. He implies that Horton is a coward because, before the war, Horton and his crew protested the imperialist American war machine. He thinks that Horton’s entire viewpoint about American politics and capitalism nearly amounts to collaboration with fascism because, maybe if he had worked with America instead of against it, the Nazis would have never won the war.

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There’s a moment in A Room With A View where the novel/film’s Edwardian romance is interrupted by horrific, fatal violence. Lucy Honeychurch, the story’s temperate heroine, is wandering the Piazza della Signoria — the square outside Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio that now houses the reproduction of Michelangelo’s David and a host of other, priceless Renaissance sculptures — when two Italian men get into an argument. One of the men is stabbed in the ensuing brawl and dies.

Lucy has spent her days in Florence wandering churches, evading lectures from the prudish Reverend Eager,  and barely listening to equally magnanimous sermons from her aunt and chaperone, Charlotte. Lucy has also caught the eye of a strange suitor, George Emerson. George is the son of an equally puzzling journalist, atheist, and political radical, and the Emersons have brushed against the coarse strictures of turn of the century English mores in ways that Lucy finds both offsetting and exciting.

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