Greg’s rite of passage is nothing like Will’s. There’s no reverence or candlelit atmosphere. He doesn’t even get the benefit of an insightful speech to introduce the ortolan. Tom, who barely knows what he’s talking about, simply says, “It is a deep-fried songbird. You eat it whole.” Then he adds the only detail that he ever really cared about and tells Greg that eating the ortolan is “a rare privilege and it’s also kind of illegal.”
Ah, what a wonderful summation of Tom and Greg’s existence. They’ll jump at any opportunity to boast about a privilege, even if it has the potential to land them in prison. At this point in their relationship, they just covered up a series of horrific abuses on board the family’s cruise line — a thankless job that could quite possibly lead to their arrest. But if that’s the price they have to pay to join the Roys, why the hell not?
It makes sense then that they opt to engage with the napkin shroud. Where Hannibal and Will wanted to see each other laid bare, searching one another for truth, these two have more to hide. From the world and from each other. “Some say it’s to mask the shame; others, to heighten the pleasure,” Tom says, re: napkin shrouds. He emphasizes the last part but body language and tone tell us everything we need to know. If we could see beneath the napkins, we’d see the horror on both their faces as they eat the songbirds, feeling neither ecstasy nor euphoria, but faking it to different degrees of success. Greg’s review of the dish? “If I eat any more songbirds, I think I’m gonna hurl.”