This time, it’s personal: On the end of Hannibal

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Disclaimer: This post is not written by me, @karvounaki, but by my dear friend @weirdymcweirder. It is her third post on Hannibal that I get to host in this blog. You can find her other two posts here.

Funny, the things you remember. It’s been years since I first read that Bryan Fuller was adapting Harris’ work and yet I clearly remember thinking “Oh great, another original voice wasted on a zombie franchise”. I remember exclaiming, “Damn you, Fuller! I’m only doing this for you” before watching the first episode. I often talk at the television when I’m alone and I was alone that Friday night, lying on the couch, sick and exhausted. I remember sitting up when Will first says “This is my design”, my body tensing as my brain realized that this would not be what I had expected. After a furious exchange of emails (in turn, gushing over and criticizing the first three episodes), I remember the first time I shared the show with two good friends, starting a tradition of weekly viewings that we unanimously consider our best experience in the fifteen years we’ve been watching television together. I remember another good friend apologizing for not making it past episode 2 (“I love you Eleni, but… mushrooms!?”). And after watching Sorbet, which I consider the first fully-fledged Hannibal episode in the series, I remember proclaiming: “This is too good for TV. It’s going to get cancelled”. I even remember regretting it, because it made me sound like an annoying know-it-all. I’m really good at remembering things like that.

What I don’t remember, is the exact point when I got too close and let it all became so personal.

I know it happened early on. Put an English teacher (that’s me, by the way), apsychologist, and an art historian (and those are my friends) in front of a screen playing Hannibal and they will each find something to love. The show was tailor- made to our interests, like one of the good doctor’s perfectly fitting suits. In the first season alone, it took subjects like memory and identity, the mind-brain dichotomy, perception and self-awareness, wrapped them up in poetic imagery and psychoanalytic symbolism, and spattered them across the screen in the form of spine-tingling, existential horror. As viewers and readers, these themes had been in our thoughts and conversations for years. Even our favorite stand-up comedian showed up as a guest! It was bound to get personal.

And yet I can’t remember the exact moment when I admitted that, in 2013, I felt like Will Graham. I felt unstable. I felt crazy.

Was it after Trou Normand, when Will is disappointed that Jack didn’t notice he lost time in front of a totem of bodies? It’s possible. At that point, I was on my fourth consecutive bout of bronchitis, having coughed my way through 8 months of sleepless nights and 6-day work weeks. I was shaking and on edge and I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without stopping for breath. I felt like I was moving in fast forward but going nowhere. I kept asking my friends, my students, if they could tell I felt so awful; if they could see it. They couldn’t. I looked fine. That meant that I was probably exaggerating, that it was all in my head, that I would have to keep going. I was devastated. Just like Will.

So it could have been after Trou Normand that I came out and said it. Or maybe it was after Buffet Froid, where Will believes his feelings are the symptoms of physical illness. That was my first thought, too. The last time I had felt so bad, I had a mild case of cancer (and if you don’t think that’s possible, then you’ve never had a stage-2 lung carcinoid. Good for you). Maybe this was all because part of my right lung was deemed “inefficient” and was unceremoniously dumped in a surgical waste basket during a thoracotomy back in 2006. But I had never felt that bad since.

Maybe my cancer had decided to make a rare comeback. That didn’t make sense. I’d been clean a year before and carcinoids don’t move that fast. Plus, this *felt* different. This was not my kind of sick. The shortness of breath, the knot in the stomach, the shaking, what if they had nothing to do with my condition? If this wasn’t physical, then I had to consider the possibility it was psychological. And that scared me more than anything. Just like Will.

Could it be? After years of relentless self-exploration, of questioning every action and investigating every motive, I considered myself fairly self-aware. I knew about my debilitating lack of confidence, my deep feelings of insufficiency and failure, my constant sense of embarrassment and guilt for not being perfect. I knew that they would weigh down my every step, but until then, I had always managed to keep going and I was proud of that. A little adjustment here, a little acceptance there, I had scaled the steep mountain of my self and I was lying at the top, naked and bloody. The air was thin and the view was ugly, but I’d made it. I saw myself clearly.

How could this have crept up on me? And what was “this”? Was it anxiety? Depression? Both? And if it was, wouldn’t it be better if I had another case of that mild cancer? Easily identifiable, immediately treatable, totally-not-my-fault cancer?

Who wishes they had cancer??? Crazy people, that’s who. People like me and Will.

So, maybe it was after Buffet Froid, where Will hoped he had a tumor, that I finally said: “I feel that way, too”. But I don’t remember.

I did say it though, and that’s huge because I wouldn’t, normally. To the constant frustration of my friends, I’m the person who disappears for a month and then shows up at the bar and says: “I went through a rough patch, there. Over it now.” I couldn’t do that this time. I couldn’t retreat; I couldn’t disappear. No matter how bad I felt, I had to watch the next episode with my friends. How else would I unravel the symbolism and decode the elliptical dialogue? I couldn’t do this alone. So, when I finally came out and said “That’s how I feel, too. I feel like Will Graham”, I wasn’t talking at the screen. They were there and they heard me. Having spent hours together talking about story and character, they understood what I was clumsily trying to say and they found a way to help me. Much like Hannibal did for Will, Hannibal supplied me with the vocabulary and forced on me the opportunity to open up, get out of my head, and see what I was becoming.

The mere fact that I was becoming came as a surprise. I had never expected to change. My mountain metaphor had blown up in my face. Mountains are immutable only if you view them from a human perspective. Look at them from a geological perspective and they constantly rise and fall, shift and change. The mountain I had climbed up was not the same I was looking down from. Shaped by external elements and internal forces, I was becoming someone new, a new someone. And that new someone was thoroughly dissatisfied with the life the old someone had chosen for herself.

You see, I was also writing a screenplay at the time and, needless to say, it wasn’t going very well. I was always too sick or too tired, so I was just trudging along. That was until I saw Oeuf. After that, I wrote more, I wrote faster, I wrote more often.

Through CAT scans and blood tests, I kept writing. I changed my routine so I would have more time and energy to write. I am still writing, even though I’ll never be as good as the people who inspire me and it’s professionally futile at this time and in this place. I’m better than I was and I keep getting better and that will have to do for now, I guess. With its elegant storytelling and its open creative process, Hannibal has made me a better writer, but most importantly, it has made me want to be a writer more. Because as the credits rolled on Oeuf, I remember thinking: “This. This is what I should be doing.”

Funny, the things you remember.

It’s 2015 now and we are nearing some sort of end. Thirty episodes down the road from Sorbet, I’m glad it’s taken reality so long to catch up with my cynical vision of it. Though thirty-nine episodes may not be enough for a world so rich, they are, one and all and each in its own way, incredibly personal to me. I still see myself in Will. His battles against loneliness, isolation and the worst in himself echo mine and they’ve left us both with matching scars. But you’ll be happy to know, I don’t feel like him anymore.

Thank God. That guy is crazy.

Athens, 18/8/2015

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Haunted Houses: The house as a metaphor for the mind in Hannibal

(Disclaimer: This is the second post that @weirdymcweirder wrote on Hannibal, I only host it in my blog because she doesn’t have one. )

In Hannibal, houses reflect their residents’ identities and are imprinted with their presence. More than that, spaces are transformed into something more than a sum of dimensions in physical reality. They become visual metaphors for their residents’ minds.

The house as the mind

Will’s house in Wolf Trap is isolated, in the middle of an empty field, away from the city and close to nature. It is humble and unassuming, filled with his surrogate family of strays. It is simple and practical. In Aperitif and Potage, Will seems eager to return to it, away from the horrors of working for Jack Crawford.

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“It,s really the only time I feel safe”, Oeuf, 1×04

And then everything changes.

Hannibal Lecter is standing outside Will Graham’s house. He peeks through the window. He opens the door effortlessly. He is in. Will invited him into his house as a friend and into his mind as a psychiatrist and Hannibal went through his drawers and “scrambled his brain”. In his stroll around Will’s mind, Hannibal is condescending as he is admiring.

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He invades and provokes.

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“You stood in the breathing silence of Hobbs’ home, the very spaces he moved through. Tell me Will, did they speak to you?” Oeuf, 1×04

He interferes and manipulates.

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“Somebody got inside his head and moved all the furniture around.” Roti, 1×11

From this point on, Will’s house is desecrated, little by little, as Will’s mind is being corrupted. What used to be a refuge, becomes a space defaced by nightmare. In Fromage, Will himself takes a hammer to it just like he allows his mind to get hammered by images of violence. However, he insists it has become easier for him to look. From the outside, his house looks idyllic. Inside, there’s a gaping hole in the wall.

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“In the walls of our hearts and brains, danger waits.Mizumono, 2×13

Later on, in Roti, house objects melt as Will dissolves into water, losing his grasp on reality and identity.

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It is fitting that it is on this same bed, where Will lost all sense of self and became fluid, that Jack and Alana debate his true nature in Kaiseki.

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“He came here looking for Will. -Isn’t that why you’re here? Kaiseki, 2×01

They both went back to Will’s house looking for answers, but he is no longer there. An absence pervades the space. There are no answers to be found.

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Will has closed off his mind. No more confessions, no more “house visits”. Alana is not allowed into the house for the rest of the season. Jack just runs through it to reach the truth about Hannibal on the other end, when he sees that Chilton can’t possibly be the Chesapeake Ripper – he’s not “certain” enough. Only Margot is reluctantly invited in, bringing with her a sense of understanding and a hope for connection. But it’s a relationship driven by necessity and lined with duplicity. Their first scene in Will’s house, in Shiizakana, is staged more like a session or a polite interrogation.

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There are fishing rods lined up behind Will, as they are both on a fishing expedition, trying to learn more about Hannibal, but without revealing too much about themselves. Even their sex scene in Naka-choko begins from a place of intimacy but ends with them apart. Will is in another bed, inhabiting in his mind a different space, and Margot sneaks out of the house, nothing there that she needs anymore.

But more important than the people invited into Will’s house are the people who forcefully invade it. This is not a simple stroll anymore. We’re past fiddling with lures and going through drawers. It is not just nightmares that paint the walls. It is actual blood. To complete the desecration of Will’s safe space and establish his superiority after being challenged by Will in the opening scene of Tome-wan, Hannibal makes Will’s living room the stage of his most brutal performance: Mason’s guided self-mutilation. Nothing about Will is “clean” now: his house is a crime scene, his dogs have been fed human flesh and his mind can now perceive the most despicable acts of violence as “problem-solving”.

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“[In a crime scene], the very air has screams smeared on it.” Buffet Froid, 1×10

When Randall Tier comes through the window in Shiizakana, he does so as a stag, as an instrument of Hannibal’s immovable will. It’s a visualization of what Hannibal did to Will’s mind: he broke through his defences, made an opening and leaped confidently inside; majestic, omnipotent, terrific. And by the end of the season, Will almost dies getting him out of his head.

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“A stag got lost in the storm, came through there…” Naka-choko, 2×10

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“…got a few scratches getting him out.” Naka-choko, 2×10

In Yakimono, we get a rare glimpse of the house of a secondary character when Chilton discovers what happened to Abel Gideon. Chilton’s house, referred to as “my property” by Chilton rather than “my house” or “home”, accurately reflects its owner’s persona. There’s nothing in the house that is his. It doesn’t feel“lived in”. It feels like it jumped into existence right out of an interior designer’s portfolio. Beautifully decorated, expertly crafted, completely empty.

But it is Hannibal’s house that makes the metaphor as subtle as a red plaid suit in a court house. In the dining room, a “living wall” of herbs covers the stench of death coming from the basement through bullet holes in the floor.

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“There are holes in the floor of the mind.” Mizumono, 2×13

The kitchen hides horrors behind hi-tech appliances and pristine chopping boards. The bedroom evokes the violence of a drowning as much as the relieved abandon of letting yourself sink into the deep blue.

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His home is everything Hannibal is: elegant and vulgar, beautiful and grotesque, welcoming and forbidding. When Hannibal’s true nature is revealed in Mizumono, duplicity is no longer necessary, appearances no longer important. His kitchen becomes what his mind has always been; a red abattoir that smells of rust and rosemary.

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The mind as the house

In Hannibal, the mind is often described as a finite space, concrete and three-dimensional. It has walls to keep things out, floors to keep things in, even furniture that can be moved around to confuse. Hannibal intends to live there if he is caught. He will turn his memory palace from a mnemonic device into a home, a vast construction of recollection, perception and impression. He will wander through its countless chambers, basking in the light in some, hiding in the shadows in others. He will see his sister and he will sit in his office, opposite Will, talking about good, evil and everything in between. He will remember and he will fantasize and he will plot.

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“The foyer is the Norman Chapel in Palermo.” Mizumono, 2×13

But will he be happy? Hannibal knows that minds are dangerous places to live in. Climb a staircase and you can stumble on a repressed memory. Turn the corner and feel an old scar ripping open. Peel the wallpaper and find betrayal writhing underneath. Should you choose to live inside your head you can only ever be alone, untouchable and untouched.

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“…can’t get out of your own head” Roti, 1×11

Will also knows that. He has been living in his own head for so long that now all he wants is to lead a more exterior life.

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That’s why even his mind palace, his innermost sanctuary, is the “great outdoors”, a stream that flows always onward, structureless and serene.

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But Will can never be alone there. Without walls to hide behind, the world will keep finding ways to intrude and disrupt the peace.

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By the end of the season, there is no safe place for Will to escape to anymore.

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“…Stay with me.” Naka-choko, 2×10

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Even in Mizumono, Will does not follow Hannibal’s advice. He does not wade into the quiet of the stream. He remains on the blood-stained kitchen floor, there, in the middle of unspeakable horror, present until the very end.

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And if “our sense of self is a consequence of our social ties”, as Will says in Sakizuke, maybe that’s for the best. Living in your mind, however vast or beautiful, with nothing but imagos to keep you company, is an impoverished existence, as Hannibal is bound to find out.

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PARALLEL LANDSCAPES: IMAGE AND LANGUAGE IN HANNIBAL

DISCLAIMER: It is with great honour and joy that I get to host in this blog @weirdymcweirder‘s (my personal editor/proofreader and my dear friend) first meta-analysis on Hannibal. I hope you ‘ll all enjoy it as much as I did.

“I feel fluid.”

When I first watched “Aperitif”, I had a feeling there was something wrong. I loved the visuals and the premise and the acting, sure, but there was just something “off” about it. A need to pinpoint what was wrong, rather than a desire to enjoy what was right, drove me to watch the episode again. As a fan of Fuller’s previous work, I was shocked to discover that the problem was the dialogue. It was the language that was “wrong”. However, this second time around, I also remembered that I had had this feeling before: after watching the first episodes of Deadwood and Justified, two of my favourite shows. And it dawned on me.

The language wasn’t wrong. The language was just right. It was my perception of what language should sound like on television that was wrong. For all the excellent shows on TV this past decade, very few have their own distinctive voice. And they stand out. And they surprise. And they confuse. Because we are not used to brothel owners delivering soliloquies while getting a blow-job, or miners quoting literature before they shoot, and, of course, we have never seen a psychiatrist and a profiler lock horns in a battle of similes before.

This has nothing to do with general eloquence. This is not about crafting beautiful turns of phrase. It is about giving each character an individual voice and arranging these voices on the page, like a choir singing, sometimes in unison, others in counterpoint. For example, both Hannibal and Will use figurative language masterfully, and never more so than when they speak to each other. What I would like to point out is that they don’t do it for the same reasons, as becomes evident by this exchange in “Sorbet”:

Hannibal: Sum up the Ripper in so many words?

Will: Choose them wisely.

Hannibal: Oh, I always do. Words are living things. They have personality, point of view, agenda.

Will: They’re pack hunters.

For Hannibal, the use of language is an aesthetic endeavor, like cooking or music. But even as he strives for beauty, his language is calculated, methodical, insidious. Hannibal’s words are contract killers. In contrast, Will’s words are pack hunters. They are wolves (or dogs) hunting for food. They need the sustenance to stay alive. His words are always running after a truth so elusive, that literal language would be too heavy and too slow to catch up with it.

So, I believe that the use of figurative language in Hannibal is not just a vacuous exercise in aesthetics. The extensive use of excerpts from “Red Dragon” has informed the rest of the dialogue and Harris’s tone of heightened realism has spilt over and blended with Fuller’s obvious love for language, making Hannibal, not just a visual, but a literary experience. It has also made it very difficult to follow.

This is why – and I know I might be alone in this – I love captions. Apart from the practical considerations for us, non-native speakers of English, captions help visualize the language. They clearly divide the screen in two: the top part is a visual landscape, shaped by mise-en-scene, cinematography, production design. The bottom part is a verbal landscape, inhabited by verbs, nouns, adjectives and lined with imagery and metaphor. In Hannibal the two landscapes exist parallel to each other, in a symbiotic relationship where image feeds off language and vice-versa.

There are two episodes where this symbiosis is clear. The first one is “Fromage”. On the top part of the screen, a dead body becomes a cello. On the bottom part, a brutal murder becomes a serenade. On the top part, stringed instruments line the interior of Tobias’s shop. On the bottom part, a profiler is played like a fiddle by a free-form psychiatrist who plays between conventional notes. On the top, the notes from a perfectly-tuned harpsichord mark the end of a killer’s quest for companionship. On the bottom, some people’s lives are pieces of music not worth hearing again. The second episode is “Roti”. On the screen, a man sees a tidal wave wash a totem of bodies away. He then sees his own body turn into water. In the captions, he feels fluid, like he’s spilling. On the screen, a sweating, melting man is trapped in a thicket of antlers. In the captions, his psychiatrist wants to contain his madness like an oil spill. But apart from these two episodes, the two landscapes, the visual and the verbal, exist in parallel throughout the season.

Bryan Fuller must love animals. They dominate the screen and roam the captions. A stag struts around Will’s nightmares in the visual landscape. Jack Crawford keeps a broken pony in his stable in the verbal. Dogs jump around happily waiting for more sausage, as a madness-smelling bloodhound is being groomed to catch killers. Maggots eat away at a family’s last supper and Hobbs is just a swarm of black flies, temporarily assuming the shape of a man. Ravens peck at dead bodies, while screams are perched under chins. And a lion is in every room that Hannibal enters.

A similar parallel can be drawn between other themes in the series. As Will looks at his little house from a distance, seeing a floating boat and feeling safe, a certain psychiatrist becomes a paddle and a gauge, eager to steer him through troubled waters. Will fishes, but it is a young girl who is used as a lure. Hobbs hunts, but so do words. On the screen, a cannibal cooks human flesh and serves it on fancy china. In the captions, a good man kills a bad one with a sprig of zest and is treated like a fragile little teacup, but feels like an old mug. And for all the well-tailored suits Hannibal wears in the visual landscape, the most meticulously constructed one is the person-suit he wears in the verbal landscape. In contrast, Will considers the concept of family to be an ill-fitting suit. On the screen, it is the concept of suit that is ill-fitting for him.

Hannibal is a feast for the senses. But it is also a show about the senses. Vision haunts Will. Taste drives Hannibal. Images of Will taking off his glasses to “see” a crime scene and of Hannibal indulging in a meal run through the whole season “like a thread through pearls”. One episode is dedicated to each of the other senses. “Coquilles” is the episode of smell where Hannibal exhibits his almost supernatural olfactory abilities by smelling disease on Bella and Will. “Fromage” is the episode of hearing, where people are killed to make music and their killer ends up with half his ear shot off. It is also the episode where Will’s hearing is impaired, both by auditory hallucinations and the noise of a gun. “Trou Normand” is the episode of touch where Hannibal ensures confidence and establishes trust by touching Will and Abigail.

In the captions, senses are less like threads and more like neurons, diverging, intersecting, or firing all at once. Seeing might be terrifying for Will, but so is being blind – especially because someone has moved all the furniture around. And when the scales fall from his eyes, that’s when he truly sees who he is – and who Hannibal is. In this verbal landscape, senses are the chemical elements that nightmares are made of. Spaces speak with noise, serenades are heard behind closed eyes and nerves make clicking sounds. Thoughts are not tasty, bloodhounds smell madness and screams are smeared on the air. Through the season, this sensory attack sandblasts Will, causing the light and colour that make him alive to fade.

This loss of light, this dimming is evident in both the visual landscape and the verbal. The three scenes set in Hobbs’s kitchen become progressively darker. In “Aperitif”, when Will enters the kitchen, it’s early morning, it’s sunny and light is coming in through the curtains. Everything is clear, everything is open and there is not much to say, but a lot of things to do. In “Potage”, it’s an early autumn evening and everything is darker. Still, there is enough light in the kitchen for Will to talk to a shadow suspended on dust. There can’t be shadow without light. Unless, of course, your world is made of shadow. By the time Will enters Hobbs’s kitchen for a third time in “Savoureux”, his world has been overrun by the shadows of Hannibal’s crimes. In the world of images, it is right before dawn and everything is dark. Appropriately, in the world of words, Hobbs has also become darker: a shape made of swarming flies, black and vibrant and crawling with life. How else would we be able to see him now that the light everywhere has dimmed?

Parallel to these two landscapes, the visual and the verbal, runs a third one: an auditory landscape or “soundscape”, as Fuller called it in an interview. Much has been written about Brian Reitzell’s work in the show by people a lot savvier than me. The sounds coming from the screen are an integral part of the feel of the show and add texture and depth to the images and the characters. But there’s also a soundscape in the caption world, eager to be discovered, sometimes shouting in assonance (the repetition of vowels) and other times whispering in consonance (the repetition of consonants).

When the mongoose under the house sees the snakes slither by, we hear their threatening hisses. When Will talks to shadows suspended on dust, we hear the shadows speaking softly in his ear. When a killer finds peace in the pieces disassembled, we hear them fall into place, flesh on flesh, bone on bone. When Will hears his heart dim but fast, like footsteps fleeing into silence, we hear it too, fluttering with fear. Of course, in moderation, madness can be a medicine for the modern world, but all we hear is Hannibal’s madness humming in the background like an old fridge in the silence of the night.

There is one last instance of “verbal soundscaping” I would like to mention and it comes, rather fittingly, from the season finale, “Savoureux”. Will is standing in the kitchen where he killed Hobbs and looks at the wall, reliving the moment when he shot him. He sees the space opposite him assume Hobbs’s shape, filled with black and swarming flies. And then he shoots him. Not with a gun, but with a word. By spitting out hard and fast the strong syllable of the word “scattered”, while essentially eliminating the weak syllable, Will shoots Hobbs οne last time; not with a gun, but with a word.

I would like to close with a line from this excellent article on the season four finale of Justified: “If television aspires to act like literature, then it shouldn’t be afraid to sound like literature”. It’s a good thing Hannibal appears fearless in this respect.

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Peace in the Pieces Disassembled: Deconstructing Hannibal, part IV

Waiting for a TARDIS that never comes.

IV. The Sessions

i. A Dull Ache

“Being alone comes with a dull ache, doesn’t it?” , asks Franklyn in one of his sessions with Dr. Lecter. Hannibal replies with a simple “It can”. He will later comment further on the subject, when he tries to persuade Will that he is a killer. “At a time when other men fear their isolation, yours has become understandable to you. You are alone because you are unique.”

Loneliness is a key theme in “Hannibal”, one that runs throughout the series. In the third part of this analysis we touched the subject of loneliness, by means of a discussion on introversion, social exclusion, and the psychiatric term “folie à deux”,  defined by Hannibal as one’s need to share one’s madness with another person, in order to feel socially included and, therefore, sane.

In “Hannibal” loneliness is always painful. It is painful for Franklyn, the dumb…

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Fearful Symmetry

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Feed your Fear: Awesome Hannibal Fan Art

Waiting for a TARDIS that never comes.

I’ ve been been browsing Hannibal fanart in DeviantArt and discovered some pretty amazing stuff. Unfortunately, I am uploading these via mobile and I haven’t yet figured out how to use hyperlinks on the wordpress app in order to provide the original sources.

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How do you keep those whites so clean?

Waiting for a TARDIS that never comes.

“If you’re going to show me those pictures, you should put a blood pressure cuff to my genitals. I find it gets a much truer gauge of reaction.”  – Dr. Gideon

Take Dr. Gideon’s Rorschach test now, and find out what kind of crazy you are!

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