I have been waiting for more than a year for this moment: Hannibal is back. Hallejuah!
Let’s bitch it out…
Hannibal is an incredibly unique show. There is, quite literally, no other show like it on television – network or cable. The fact that we’ve got three seasons of this modern masterpiece is worthy of praise all on its own, but after viewing ‘Antipasto’, it’s even harder to reconcile that fact. This is not an episode that anyone can casually watch; it is an immersive experience, one that is so inherently visual that to turn away for a moment is to risk missing crucial emotional and narrative beats.
The third season premiere is unique in a number of ways. I’ve been unable to resist reading reviews from critics so I was prepared for the absence of Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas). I can imagine that viewers who embargoed themselves against spoilers were frustrated, disappointed or even angry that ‘Antipasto’ offers no resolution to the cliffhanger ending from S2 that saw all of our heroes mortally wounded in Hannibal’s (Mads Mikkelsen) home. Instead of delivering answers, ‘Antipasto’ leaps ahead in time to depict the (mis)adventures of Hannibal and his traveling companion/fake wife, Bedelia DuMaurier (Gillian Anderson) as they settle down in Florence. The result is an intensely intimate episode that identifies the new narrative and thematic directions for the season while reintroducing viewers to the show’s unique aesthetic style.
Despite the familiarity, there’s a new visual and temporal palette on display, courtesy of the European splendour. There was often a muted, mildly antiseptic feel in the series’ first two seasons, so the pop of yellow and green not only lends the proceedings an infusion of warmth, it feels freeing, as though Hannibal is bursting with life. This is very apropos considering that Hannibal, the character, is living more freely than ever before. Without the cat and mouse game (and by extension the presence of Will Graham), Hannibal is free to indulge in his appetites and desires and the visual design of the show has changed to reflect that.
In reality, though, this premiere belongs not to its titular persona, but Bedelia, the show’s most enigmatic character. When she was revealed aboard his European trip in the stinger of S2’s finale, it was one of the most surprising developments in an episode filled with surprises and twists. ‘Antipasto’ provides some clarity around how she came to travel with Hannibal, even as it casts her in greater mystery. Anderson’s acting choices are superb: her Bedelia is virtually unknowable save for brief glimpses of her inner conflict. Is Bedelia solely interested in Hannibal professionally or is that a glimmer of sexual interest in her eyes when he emerges naked from her shower? Is she in turmoil (reflected in a beautiful sequence where she literally sinks into the murky waters of her ornate bath) or is she an accomplice? ‘Antipasto’ wants us to question her motives, going so far as to dedicate several scenes to her trips to the grocer, the butcher and the train station. The camera is like a roving suitor, capturing her face like paparazzi as her eyes seek out surveillance systems. Is Bedelia trying to signal the authorities? Does she wear bright colours in order to stand out and become memorable in the event she ends up on Hannibal’s plate? Or is she wary of being apprehended after the events of last season? We don’t know.
Bedelia’s secrets remain despite the time we spend with her, though it is clear that she is both threatened by and simultaneously drawn in by Hannibal’s extravagant activities. The plot of the premiere finds the pair living as imposters, having assumed the identities of Dr and Mrs Fell. Naturally that life is threatened when Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom, showing more personality here than in an entire season of Syfy’s Dominion) discovers their secret. The dinner scene when they host Dimmond is exquisite because Bedelia is waiting for the killing blow, but Hannibal defies her (and our) expectations by allowing the man to go. It’s not until the final scene, when Bedelia is on the verge of running, that Hannibal kills Dimmond as a demonstration – of power, of control, but mostly to make her complicit. After all, Bedelia expected Hannibal to kill Dimmond at dinner; she was prepared for it, had accepted its inevitability even. But, as we saw last season when Hannibal was trying to groom Will to become a killer, the cannibal isn’t interested in passivity. He expects agency in his pupils, be it Will’s rage, Bedelia’s complicity or Abel Gideon’s (Eddie Izzard) self-mutilation. And as ‘Antipasto’ proves, he’s just getting started.
- I loved that Dimmond seemed more interested in engaging them sexually than exposing them. There’s a sensual undercurrent to the show that is never fully explored, in part because sexuality is encompassed in the literal act of consuming the flesh of others. There’s something carnal and perverse in cannibalism and that has always translated to me in the luxurious food-porn shots.
- The scenes with Abel take this idea even further as half of the dialogue addresses the taste of someone and how it can be altered.
- I did love it when, during dinner, Bedelia discovers that her vegetarian option are foods the Romans fed their animals to improve their taste before slaughter. Her frightened, but controlled expression is priceless.
- We catch a brief glimpse of what I’ve long assumed is the moment that Bedelia’s relationship with Hannibal changed: when she was forced to murder her patient. There are no additional insights to be gleaned from the events that led to Neal Frank’s (a nearly unrecognizable Zachary Quinto) death, but the aftermath finds Hannibal rebuilding Bedelia, thereby inverting their roles. Small wonder she stopped being his therapist; she was no longer guiding his treatment so much as he was guiding hers.
- Although most of the episode belongs to Bedelia, the black and white sections featuring Abel’s slow murder belong to Hannibal. The starkness of the B/W lends these scenes a completely different feel. Abel is unlike Hannibal’s other companions: a near unwilling one who is prone to challenging his mentor/captor, antagonizing him with threats of what he will feel when Hannibal is on the other side of the hunt. These conversations not only shed light on Hannibal’s relationship to Bedelia and Will, they also play on our knowledge of what is to come by foreshadowing Hannibal’s downfall.
- There’s a repeated motif around liquids: the opening, Michael Mann-esque motorcycle scene (featuring quick cuts and elliptical time lapses) gains a lot of mileage from Hannibal’s motorcycle passing through rainy Parisian puddles. There are also several scenes of alcohol being poured into glasses, as well as Bedelia’s bath, which features close-ups of water falling from the tap. It’s all very sensory / hallucinatory, symbolic of cleansing, but also dirtying. For me these seemingly divergent ideas merge and crystallize in the slow motion drops of blood that strike Bedelia on the face when Dimmond is murdered.
- I don’t condone murder, but if one person bites it this season, I certainly wouldn’t mind if it is the hissable villain Sogliato (Rinaldo Rocco).
- The final image – Dimmond’s torso, left on display in the auditorium – is clearly a calling card for Will (who is mentioned twice, but not seen throughout the episode). Hannibal misses his friend/adversary. And so the game begins anew…
- Bedelia (when Hannibal asks if her interest in Will Graham’s health is professional): “Almost entirely”
- Bedlia (when he follows up by asking if she trusts him): “Not entirely.”
- Bedlia (reiterating Hannibal’s response to Dimmond that it “isn’t that kind of party”): “No, it really isn’t.”
Your turn: what did you think of the premiere? Did you pick up on the new visual style? Do you feel as though you know Bedelia better now? Was the super imposed image of Lucifer over Hannibal a bit too on the nose for you? Which visual image was most striking? And what do you hope happens when we return to Will next week? Sound off below.
Hannibal airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC. Here’s a look at the season to come, which is SPOILERY, so beware if you want to remain in the dark.