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.

It’s the seed of a powerful story about self-determination, marital sacrifice, and resilience in the face of oblivion, and Gina Torres and Laurence Fishburne play their marriage with a shifting mixture of tenderness, confusion, and love. When Bella’s chemo is at its worst, they share medicinal marijuana and the playful banter contrasts the axe hanging over their lives. When Bella shows up at Hannibal Lecter’s office, having already overdosed on her pain medicine (before Hannibal cruelly resuscitates her), Gina Torres’ closing monologue is a defiant but yearning testament to her love for her husband as well as her right to do what she’s just done.

Like most of the women on Hannibal, Bella disappears for episodes at a time.

As much as I adore Hannibal, it’s a show where the stories of the lead men dominate above the litany of complex and fascinating women that support them. Hugh Dancy’s damaged profiler Will Graham is in every episode. The titular Hannibal the Cannibal is in every episode. Jack is in every episode. But the women who give the show so much of its humanity rotate in orbits around these men and the show drags them on screen when it supports these men’s narratives. Gossip columnist Freddie Lowndes, psychiatrist (and love interest) Alana Bloom, doomed forensic scientist Beverly Katz, the equally damned proxy-daughter Abigail Hobbs. The development and deep internalization that the men are afforded isn’t given to them, and, when it is, it means they are on their way out the door.

Hannibal is the first piece of popular culture that my mother and I have really bonded over in more than a decade. I watched the first four episodes by myself, and I knew almost immediately that I needed to share it with her. We’ve been working our way through it for the last month and a half. We are both all too aware of the secret horrors lurking beneath the placid smiles of men like Hannibal Lecter or the polite conversation of narcissistic sociopaths like Eddie Izzard’s Abel Gideon. We have faced the trauma of violent, abusive men and survived. We value the softness of Will Graham and the relentless determination of someone like Jack Crawford to stop evil. We have no shame in indulging in the series’ visual decadence. It’s a thought-provoking counterpoint to the horrific violence lurking in almost every scene.

We’re halfway through the series’ second season and a couple episodes removed from the murder of Beverly Katz, and for the first time in the show’s run, I’m finding myself disappointed with the work Fuller and co. have been delivering.

After Will winds up institutionalized for Hannibal’s murders (including the presumed murder of Abigail Hobbs), he begins a desperate quest to clear his name. This eventually sets Beverly Katz (played brilliantly by Hettienne Park) on a crash course with Hannibal Lecter who murders and then vivisects her to punish both Will Graham and Jack Crawford. Besides Jack Crawford, Beverly was the only member of the Behavioral Science Unit to foster any sort of personal relationship with Will. She helps him practice his marksmanship in the wake of his messy shooting of Abigail Hobbs’ serial killer father, Garret Jacob Hobbs. They look for Will’s dog together as Will begins the Hannibal-induced mental breakdown that brings season 1 to its tragic close. Beverly makes sure Will knows the rumors that are floating through the Bureau about him before he is framed as a murderer. She cares for him, and although Will struggles with social interactions, he cares for her.

But the complexity that is given to Will (or to Hannibal or to Jack) is never afforded to Beverly. She’s a forward, straight-talking scientist who ultimately risks (and loses) her life to solve a murder case and help a friend. She’s intuitive and knows to trust her instincts, but the contradictions and messiness that the men are allowed to exhibit aren’t there. The rich web of interpersonal relationships and tangled loyalties and the minefield of potential betrayals aren’t there. And then, when it suits the story’s need to move away from Case of the Week storytelling towards the show’s increasing art-house ambitions, she is tossed aside at the altar of plot and horrific murder.

When I got to Beverly’s death, I remembered the outrage on social media after it initially aired. It was limited to a very specific subset of my TL. Hannibal, even at its ratings peak, was not a show with a large audience. But folks were angry and it’s not hard to see why. Although Bella Crawford exists, she’s not a series regular and is in maybe three or four episodes of the show before Beverly’s death. Beverly Katz is the only woman of color on the show that is a series regular, and she was the woman who was in the most episodes of the show period. And then she died, and the actions surrounding her immediate death were… sloppy in a way uncharacteristic of someone with her training and background. Fridging the most prominent woman of color on your show while the other dies of lung cancer (and does so offscreen more often than not) is a surefire way to upset fans who want some respect for representation in their baroque horror programming.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Bryan Fuller and the rest of Hannibal‘s writing crew decided to kill off Beverly because they were intent on sticking it to the series’ fans that were women or people of color. And I don’t think Bella Crawford is relegated to a handful of appearances per season for that reason either. It’s not an example of intentional bigotry or prejudice. The handling and fates of those two women are, however, examples of the systemic patriarchal and racial prejudices built into the priorities of network television.

It’s not surprising, even if it should be, that a story about serial killers is told primarily through the lens of men (the serial killer himself and two men in the FBI who want to stop him). Despite all of my complaints about Mindhunter, one thing the show understands is the deeply rooted misogyny that is the most common pathology of American serial killers. They loathe women. Describing Hannibal as a show about serial killers is slightly reductive. It’s about empathy. It’s about pushing yourself to the limits because that’s the right thing to do. It’s about abusive relationships and surviving trauma. But, for most of the first two seasons, those dynamics are played out through the ritualistic horror of serial murderers.

Only (the white) Abigail Hobbs is afforded the luxury of exploring the internalization of that sort of trauma. Alana nurtures Will as he deals with his (then unknown) manipulation and abuse at the hands of Hannibal (and in his work of getting in the minds of serial killers). Beverly digs through the very viscera of those deaths with the rest of the forensic team. Freddie Lowndes exploits those horrors for monetary gain. But we don’t get to explore how these women deal with at home and with those they love this violence that (in real life) is directly almost overwhelmingly towards women.

Bryan Fuller effortlessly queers up the procedural crime drama with his use of classical aesthetics (and then underlines the bourgeois cruelty of those who are the primary consumers of “high culture”). He deconstructs the masculinist coldness of the Sherlock Holmes archetype with the broken but warm Will. He combats the stigma of Aspergers and autism in popular culture. But, ultimately, it’s a show about men, made by men, centering men.

And as I watch Hannibal with my mother and she repeatedly wonders if Bella Crawford will show back up, I start to feel her frustrations like I never did before I started to transition. She understands that  Bella’s stories matter in the Hannibal world just as much as Jack’s. She was almost ready to stop watching the show after Beverly’s murder because, intuitively, she felt a sadist’s touch in that death that had eluded the presentation of murder in the show up to that point. It was so much more personal in how it hurt the audience and the other characters… without having ever afforded Beverly any storylines that personal before she went.

Horror is horror. People die. Death and violence and mental illness and the macabre are the building blocks of the genre. Hannibal is horror. It shouldn’t shy away from moments that shock the audience and upset them. We turn to horror because we can navigate the unsettling and the upsetting from a safe, cathartic distance. It is the raison d’etre of the genre.

However, you always have to think about the social structures your art upholds, even when it isn’t your intention to do so. You have to think about the ways you can challenge those structures. And for all of the ways that Hannibal does challenge the conventions of popular art about criminal investigation and about mental illness and about abuse and about serial killing, it fails to challenge the way women are portrayed in that sort of art. It especially fails to challenge the lack of prominence that women of color are given in that sort of art.

Like Sense8, Hannibal does so much right (in its own subversive and implied ways) but until someone like Bella Crawford can matter as much as Hannibal Lecter, it has so far to go.

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