“Potage” begins with Abigail Hobbs killing a deer.

Abigail’s father — Garret Jacob Hobbs, trophy hunter and infamous serial killer — has taken his teenage daughter hunting for the first time. Abigail bags her prey, and when she and her father take the deer back to her father’s cabin to be cleaned, Abigail is already regretting her actions. She discusses the emotional complexity and intelligence of deer with her father. She compares their capacity for personality to that of a four year old and appreciates the tender care they show for their environments.

Garret Jacob Hobbs, the Minnesota Shrike, proclaims his almost religious reverence for the sentience of these animals he hunts. He rationalizes their slaughter by telling Abigail that the ways they will use these animals in death honors their “sacrifice.” They will eat the meat. They will turn the bones into knives. The pelts can be used for clothes and pillows. Garret Jacob Hobbs knows that these beings have feelings, that they have an element of self-awareness, and that they can feel pain. He tells Abigail that hunting them would be murder if every element of the deer weren’t utilized after their deaths.

The Minnesota Shrike felt a similar way about the women he murdered. Garret Jacob Hobbs felt a murderous obsession towards his daughter and displaced that lethal possessive tendency on to women that resembled her. The Minnesota Shrike thought he loved his daughter and that he loved the girls he was murdering so that he wouldn’t have to murder Abigail. He was acutely aware of their personhood. Garret Jacob Hobbs knew he was ending the lives of real women. He knew the pain he was causing. He could only live with himself if he told himself that he was honoring them in that barbarous act.

Growing up in rural West Virginia, I knew a lot of hunters. My dad hunts. My cousins hunt. One of my two paternal grandfathers would have friends from across the country over when hunting season rolled around. School would be closed on the opening day of buck season. If you were a guy and you didn’t hunt where I grew up, you were the exception and not the rule.

I never got into hunting. I’ve been hunting. My dad would wake me up at the ass crack of dawn and take me out into the woods with him. We’d sit out there for hours, and, eventually, a deer would wander by. Pa would line up a shot, and he almost always got his kill. We’d give the deer meat to neighbors who fancied it. My dad has had an eight-point buck mounted on his wall for as long as I can remember that he killed when he was much younger, but, for my dad, hunting was about going out in the woods, destressing from the bullshit of modern life, and then that moment of catharsis when he snagged the buck (and much more rarely, the doe).

I took the hunter’s safety courses growing up. I took the gun safety courses. I remember taking the hunter’s safety course the year I was supposed to go on my first hunt. There were a couple dozen people there at a local middle school trying to get their licenses for the first time for their kids or adults getting their licenses renewed that had expired. I got the highest score in the class.

Dad took me out at least twice with the intent of me getting my first deer. I know how to use a gun. I’m actually a decent shot. The first time we went out where I was supposed to get something, we actually didn’t see any deer. The second time, I had a clear shot at a spike. I didn’t take it. I couldn’t make myself pull the trigger. I told my dad I couldn’t line up the scope and get the shot.

I remember riding the school bus and kids would see deer out the window and pretend to shoot them. I never understood that particular fantasy. To the extent that I appreciate deer hunting at all, it’s centered around deer meat (and just one deer can feed someone for a long damn time) and keeping the deer population under control, but the kids on this bus weren’t interested in pretend shooting these deer for their meat or because it would keep the deer that do live from starving because now there would be enough food. They got off on the violent fantasy of ending an animal’s life.

Abigail Hobbs is a strong contender for my favorite character on Hannibal. For better and for worse, she becomes the canvas on which Bryan Fuller explores many of the nature vs. nurture arguments that the first season of Hannibal revolves around. Is Abigail Hobbs a sociopath like her father because it’s in her genes or because he socialized her to be that way? Did Abigail Hobbs help her father murder his victims because that’s how she’s wired or because she didn’t know any other way to live and because she was a victim of her father’s violent abuse (even if it was just the implied psychological terror and not the death that his victims faced)? If Abigail had spent more time with Will and less in the horrible manipulative clutches of Hannibal, would she have been able to escape the cycle of violence and fear that could have been gone when her father died? Or was she too far gone? Had her father put his claws too deep into her?

Garret Jacob Hobbs did not love Abigail Hobbs. A father that loves his daughter would not want to murder her. He wouldn’t have to murder other women (that he also didn’t love despite what he convinced himself) so that he wouldn’t kill Abigail. Garret Jacob Hobbs isn’t capable of love in any meaningful sense of that word. Garret Jacob Hobbs is capable of obsession that masks itself as affection and respect. Yet, Garret Jacob Hobbs internalized so much of the violence and narcissistic possession of our culture (and that toxic patriarchal violence is deeply ingrained into white hunting culture) that he could make himself believe that this violence he felt was love.

What must it have been like for Abigail Hobbs to grow up in that home? It is eventually revealed that Abigail knew what her father did and that she helped him bait the victims of his murders. But before the Minnesota Shrike goes on his killing spree, what was the atmosphere in the Hobbs home? Abigail is an extraordinarily perceptive woman. She knows how to convey just the right presentation (and presentation of emotion) to defuse the suspicions of trained psychologists. Is Abigail that gifted at manipulation because she’s a sociopath or because it was the survival mechanism she had to develop to survive at home? What did she have to do before her father killed his victims to keep the peace?

When no one is watching, Abigail is horrified by her and father’s actions. She walks through the world like a PTSD victim, and it’s one of the few things about her in “Potage” that isn’t a carefully practiced show. Abigail has survived a deep trauma. She carries the secret of her complicity in her father’s crimes, but she is ultimately a teenage girl that was made to be a part of something she didn’t want to do and didn’t know any way to get out from it.

And then she kills a young man in a moment of justified fear, and Hannibal ensures that she will never have any chance to get better.

Ever since I started transitioning my gender, I’ve been thinking a lot about how men view relationships and what another person can mean to them and what the responsibilities/praxis of that sort of relationship can mean. I’ve been thinking about those things a lot because one of the things that made me realize I wasn’t a man was that I was increasingly horrified (or depressed) by everything I saw from how men interacted with women and each other (or folks who didn’t fit either of those definitions).

I have a coworker at my day job that I’m pretty sure is a high-functioning sociopath and low-grade sadist. I’m pretty sure he thinks he likes his coworkers. He must think he feels something resembling affection towards us. However, the only way he can actually display that is through constant psychological aggression and then affirmative manipulation to mask the abuse. The other guy in our group probably isn’t a sociopath. He’s also shorter than me (and I’m very short) and even more deeply rooted in toxic Appalachian masculinity than I am, and he has to present at a hyper-masculine disaffection because otherwise the men that he grew up around would have eaten him alive.

The thing that scares me the most is that I know there’s a world where I’m not too far removed from either of these two. I have all of the capacity for manipulation and evasion of the sociopath because I had to learn to be that way to survive when I was younger. I just began to hate myself and who I was becoming and how hollow all of my relationships felt anymore. For me, the manipulation and abuse was nurture and not nature. The performative masculine distance was another hat I tried to wear and just couldn’t because even when I was still identifying as man, I’m built like such a twink that nobody ever bought masculinity from me.

Who would I be now if the cultural capital of masculinity was something that had ever been afforded to me? Who would I be if I hadn’t suffered so much abuse from family and peers as a kid that I hadn’t begun to felt a sickening repulsion when I acted on those impulses myself? Who would I be if I had been the sort of person that could have pulled the trigger on that deer as a kid? How much of Abigail Hobbs is inside of me?