“Amuse-Bouche” features one of Hannibal‘s less memorable one-shot villains while also crafting one of the series’ most concise arguments for its own existence.

Eldon Stammets is a pharmacist with a penchant for inducing diabetic comas in his customers/victims. Stammets uses his victims’ still living bodies as fertilizer for a mushroom garden, deep in a Maryland forest. Like the Minnesota Shrike, Eldon sees a grand design in his crimes.

Eldon is obsessed with the connective properties of mushrooms. Fungi have a remarkable ability to “communicate” and interact with one another. Although no one would argue that a fungus is intelligent, mushrooms flourish because they reach out and use each other for sustenance and growth. It’s a remarkable evolutionary survival mechanism.

Eldon feels incapable of connecting with people in any meaningful way and convinces himself that he can only achieve that connection by turning people into mushrooms. If they become one with the mushrooms, they can be one with each other, and, perhaps, one day he can be one with them.

One of the most consistent themes of Hannibal is Will Graham’s struggle to reject the nihilistic and cruel worldview of the men whose heads he must inhabit.

Like many folks that are neurodivergent, Will struggles to connect. Will doesn’t have friends. He has his stray dogs that he cares for. He’s never been in a room alone with Alana Bloom when the series starts. She is the one person who seems to have any genuine affection and concern for Will outside of his profiling talents. Will can barely hold a conversation with Beverly Katz when she teaches him to shoot. He withdraws into awkward silence and forced small talk.

Will feels affection and concern for others. He stays at Abigail Hobbs’s bedside as she recovers from having her throat slashed by her father (although Will’s paternal concern for Abigail blurs with the remnants of her father’s psyche that still lingers in the dark recesses of Will’s mind). Will clearly enjoys Alana’s company when she comes to Abigail’s room to read to the comatose teenager. There is a subtle sexual energy between Will and Beverly. However, it is also clear that, for Will, navigating even the simplest social situations is a massive challenge.

It would be so easy for Will to give up. It would be so simple if he felt as empty about other people as Eldon Stammets does. In “Amuse-Bouche,” tabloid journalist Freddie Lowndes takes the low road (as she is wont to do) and paints Will as the FBI’s pet sociopath — a circus freak that they haul out because it takes a murderous mind to catch a murderous mind. Jack Crawford thinks Will has snapped as well in the aftermath of Will’s shooting of the Minnesota Shrike. Would Jack have had the same concerns if Beverly Katz had put Garret Jacob Hobbs down? Will knows that Alana will never be comfortable around him because he is damaged goods and it is her job to try and figure out what broke someone like him in the first place.

When Will has his therapy sessions with Hannibal, Will discusses Eldon Stammets’ pathologies. In his subtly manipulative ways, Hannibal forces Will to confront all that he has in common with Stammets. Will may have a powerful capacity for delving into someone else’s mind, but Hannibal knows how alone and isolated Will feels because of that talent. People don’t appreciate it when you can read them with so much ease, and how can you focus on the social demands of any sort of relationship when you are constantly overwhelmed by all of the thoughts and feelings of everyone around you. Will never stood a chance to have closeness in our brutalizing capitalistic and patriarchal society.

However, Hannibal at its most optimistic (the show is not afraid to dive into its own melancholy and insecurities) is a show about how Will Graham isn’t like these men even when he bends and breaks himself to stop them. Will can’t believe in the world that Eldon sees even as he makes himself see it with Eldon’s clarity. If Will felt that way, how would Will ever continue?

Tina and I have been friends for about three months now. We’re both non-binary trans. We’re both neurodivergent. We’re both Fannibals.

Tina’s the first person that I’ve started a new, close, non-internet friendship with in well over a year and to be perfectly honest, they’re one of the only people for whom I’ve been able to put in the work of a friendship in just as long. My depression makes maintaining friendships a Herculean labor, and the friendships that had really mattered to me in the last two years had all disintegrated.

In the wake of the implosion of my social circles and my professional life, I had started to convince myself I would never be well enough to have friends again. I wasn’t Eldon Stammets. I didn’t think connection was some metaphysical impossibility. I had just become certain that I couldn’t ever put that work in. I was too broken and too old to repair the relationships I’d fucked up or to take the emotional risks needed to forge new friendships.

And then Tina came along.

Tina and I had a common social circle when they reached out to me the first time. I am forever grateful that they were the one to take that first step. I’m not sure I would have ever done it otherwise. However, from our first conversation — when I realized I’d found another nb person in my immediate surroundings of the deeply conservative, rural Appalachian working class — Tina and I pushed at the boundaries of the vulnerability and honesty required in any relationship.

One of the most common reasons that neurodivergent people struggle to connect with neurotypical folks (and with each other) is that we understand deeply how much communication has to drive connection and how delicate those communications have to be so that we don’t harm ourselves and so that we can alert others to the ways in which we can be “difficult” (a self-description that I am trying to let go of). We’ve let too many folks in that dismiss us or use us or abuse us because our brains work a little differently. And so plenty of folks on the neurodivergent spectrum constantly push and prod against the limitations of the people we know to make sure we aren’t wasting our time with someone who will never accept us for who we are and how we interact with the world.

One of the big elements of my transition was realizing how toxic masculinity intersected with my social dysphoria and fed into my broader anxiety and depression. Since I’d started transitioning, I’d lost my capacity for navigating and surviving the messy brutality of the ways in which men try and interact with the world. I wanted to be open and vulnerable in ways my masculine upbringing had failed to socialize me, and it was creating an anxiety feedback loop that was making it so I couldn’t talk to anyone.

With Tina, I made a conscious decision to be me and to be an uncompromised version of me and to let my guard down from day one, and it’s been years since I’ve felt this close to another person (and considering I’ve changed their name on here, I’m sure they won’t mind when I say they’ve indicated they feel similarly). Tina and I are both healing from decades of friendships (and “romantic” relationships) that drained us of our best selves, but when we saw another person that struggled with that trauma and our particular Appalachian battles with queerphobia and mental illness, we took a risk that we could unlearn everything our lives had taught us about the walls we needed to keep up around other people. The payoff of our risk is the sort of closeness and ease in a friendship that I hadn’t thought possible anymore.

Will Graham shoots Eldon Stammets (but does not kill him) as Stammets attempts to kidnap and bury Abigail Hobbs.

Eldon tried to take Abigail because he thought Will understood the way he looked at the world. Eldon believed that Will would appreciate his efforts to turn Abigail into a fungus. With the confidence afforded solely to heterosexual white men, Eldon felt that if Will had seen the world through his eyes, then Will would empathize with his vision of connection and its human impossibility.

Will tells Eldon that he’s nothing like him, but Eldon makes a final plea to what he believes Will wants, and in that moment, Will is struck again by Eldon’s visions of the grand, microscopic webs of fungal connection.

“Amuse-Bouche” ends with Will back in Hannibal’s office for therapy. Will discusses how differently he felt after he killed Garret Jacob Hobbs vs. shooting Eldon Stammets. Will admits that he felt some pleasure from ending Garret Jacob Hobbs’ life. Hannibal’s response is chilling.

“It’s beautiful in it’s own way… giving voice to the unmentionable.”

Hannibal wants Will to admit to himself that a violent act can feel good. That we can justify it to ourselves and take satisfaction in its lethal application.

Less macabre and manipulative usage of “giving voice to the unmentionable” should be the root of any meaningful relationship. That’s what an emotional relationship is. It’s giving life to everything you’ve been taught you can’t say or share with another person.

It’s a tragedy for Will that the only person he feels he can truly open up to is Hannibal the Cannibal.