Our favorite cannibal connoisseur is back.
Bonsoir, Hannibal. It’s been far too my long, my friend, since we last left on that insane cliffhanger that saw all our favorite FBI colleagues left dead and/or dying on our favorite cannibal connoisseur’s kitchen floor. A traditional show would kick off its premiere episode answering – or at least addressing – the terrifying questions last year’s season finale left us with. Hannibal is not a traditional show. No, Bryan Fuller doesn’t even bother to let us know who of our main characters are dead or alive (kind of an important detail!!), but instead takes the season three premiere episode to focus solely on Hannibal post-kitchen-nightmare-sequence and experiment with the show – trying out new dynamics in new locations in new styles, and my god if he doesn’t pull it off and then some.
The season three premiere titled “Antipasto,”(Italian for “appetizer”) is one of the most interesting (both narratively and stylistically) episodes of the show yet. It opens with Hannibal ripping through the streets of Paris on a motorcycle, passing by the city nightlife like a demon on the prowl. Visually it reminded me of something a modern Michael Mann might shoot (especially the opening shots that focused on the physical workings of the motorcycle jumping to life with the turn of Hannibal’s key, visually evocative of Mann’s study of the physicality of computer hardware in Blackhat), which is fitting, as he directed the first cinematic iteration of Hannibal with his 1986 procedural masterpiece Manhunter. It’s a great sequence that is a quick reminder of what this show has always been about – not the procedural plot, but the visceral, dreamlike atmosphere and the way it’s informed by/and informs the characters and themes.
Over the first two seasons, as we got increasingly closer to Hannibal – he was actually considered a supporting character in the first season – the rules of what started as a crime procedural slowly started to bend. As Will (and we, the audience) travelled deeper down the nightmarish rabbit hole the show had us viscerally feel it. All of a sudden the line between the shows stylistic nightmare sequences and the reality of the situations started to blur – that’s because Hannibal is a walking/talking/cooking nightmare, and this premiere (which takes place solely with him and his travelling companion Bedelia) is here to remind us of what it’s like to be around him. Note all those quick edits and dissolves as he enters the party in search of his prey, emphasizing the unnerving, dreamlike world he lives in – a world where champagne spills like blood.
As it turns out, Hannibal, who we last saw on a plane with his former psychiatrist Bedelia, was stalking – and then murdering and eating – a professor named Roman Fell whose identity he assumes to get a teaching position in Florence, Italy. (He needs to chat philosophy with someone!) He and Bedelia have taken residence in a Dracula-esque home in Italy where their relationship has seemingly been tested – Bedelia, very unsure of how she feels about her new life as part-time husband to Dr. Fell and part-time murder conspirator to Hannibal. A lot of the episode focuses on where she is emotionally. One sequence sees her wish she could fall back into her bathtub and just sink endlessly, another compares her to stalked/captured meat, that being the position she’s in mentally. Though on a good day she at least feels in control, she’s seemingly given up on trying to be comfortable around Hannibal’s now very casual psychopathy. The person suit is off, folks! He’s now 100% genuine monster – even during the lecture he gives (a throwback to Ridley Scott’s Hannibal) on Dante Inferno as Dr. Fell, the slide projector places Lucifer’s face directly over his, which is on-the-nose, but effective).
And yet the cannibalism is only half of what makes Hannibal truly terrifying, the other half is the way he manipulates and dominates the human mind, and that’s what he’s done here to Bedelia in hopes of turning her into his partner-in-crime, an equal that can participate in his curiosity and analyze the results like he thought Will Graham was sincerely doing last season. Hannibal got a taste of what it felt like to no longer be truly alone and he’s looking to get it back. Unfortunately, though Bedelia is incredibly smart, she’s still living in a world where ethics mean something, not just aesthetics – great, great line – so she’s not up for it. Throughout all this there’s also a series of flashbacks that in traditional non-linear fashion help inform both Bedelia’s actions (seeing how long she’s felt criminally in bed with Hannibal for) and Hannibal’s (seeing how desperate he is for company that understands him on some level). And it’s just like Hannibal to – three seasons in – play around with aspect ratios and black-and-white, making the show feel even more like a European art film disguised as a network crime/drama.
In the end we see Hannibal trap and murder a foreign traveller that just happened to be in two wrong places at two wrong times (you’re never travelling alone, dummy!), discovering the identity switcheroo going on here. He snaps the mans neck in his lair right in front of Bedelia, trying to further coerce her into participation despite the fact that he just caught her trying to run away from him, but the rest is left a bit ambiguous. The last we see of Hannibal he is travelling by train alone, seemingly having left Bedelia behind, having just transformed the foreign travellers torso into the shape of a human heart and propped it up where he gave his Dante lecture earlier in the episode. The last thing we see is Hannibal looking depressed, lonely and wounded. Will Graham’s teasing him with the possibility of a true partnership and then betraying him has now infected his enjoyment of his craft. He can longer live without that form of companionship.
So yeah. Wow. What an episode. Hannibal is undoubtedly one of the best shows on television, and this season premiere – rich with gorgeously haunting, meaningful imagery and fascinating new character dynamics and themes we’ll no doubt see play out this season – is a great example of why. “Antipasto” marks some changes in terms of pace and style, but this is very much still the unnerving, operatic (sometimes abstract) character study it’s always been. And if “Antipasto” was just the appetizer, I can’t wait to see what the actual meal looks like.