Welcome back, mesdames et messieurs. Thank you for dining with us again. But before we dive into the meat of our meal, would you like, perhaps, something to whet your appetite?
We may have well been traitors and betrayers in the seventh circle, because the end of last season of Hannibal left us all hanging. The Red Dinner Party left an overwhelming majority of the show’s main characters on the brink of oblivion after getting a brief horrifying glimpse at Hannibal’s true self. But the fate of Will Graham and Jack Crawford, among others, will have to wait. After all, it’s not their name in the title.
Bryan Fuller starts the third season of his unnervingly succulent blood opera with the focus squarely on the motorcycle jacket-clad shoulders of Hannibal. After having his former life demolished, he’s built up a new one, amid the clinking cutlery and genteel disdain of the European intelligentsia. After all, home is where the heart is, and there are plenty of beating hearts walking around Central Europe just waiting for someone to take a bite out of them. Hannibal’s is a moveable feast, and he moves it first, of course, to Paris.
It’s a little hard to recap a show like Hannibal—which is to say, Hannibal, since I’m having a hard time coming up with another show like it—because a play-by-play of an episode’s plot points would be about as good a representation of the experience of watching the episode as a list of its props. It breaks away from decades of television tradition as a writers’ medium, as one whose virtues are based mainly in dialogue and narrative, as a filmed successor to the radio serial whose story one can still follow even while occupied with laundry or paying bills. Hannibal, however, starts wordlessly, with the combustible innards of a motorcycle, the streetlamp glow of a full moon, a black rider sleekly weaving through traffic along the quais. (The motorcyclist imagery, matched with the scores Pendereckian strings, reminded me entirely of that other dreamy Kubrickian diary of predation Under the Skin.) It’s all very hypnotic and abstract and entirely impossible to watch while folding underwear. At a time when there is more content (and more content providers) than ever before, it’s still surprisingly rare to find a show where form is that content.
Hannibal has always been a show that’s could be described as delectable. The surreal visuals, the dense sound design, the art-book murder tableaux, the food—it’s such an indulgently gorgeous show that when you watch you almost feel like you could poke the television screen with a fork and all the juices would come running out. If anything, the season 3 opener makes clear that the show will be embracing that side of itself, evolving its visual lexicon even further. “You no longer have ethical concerns, you have aesthetical ones,” du Maurier tells Hannibal. For the show, the two are intertwined. The violence on Hannibal is the most gruesome and brutal of pretty much any on TV, network or otherwise, but the show’s operatic atmospherics make it into something figurative, like fantasy. As Hannibal himself concedes to Abel Gideon in flashback, smiling like the Big Bad Wolf, “Let this be a fairy tale then.”
But Gideon’s right when he notes that Hannibal keeping him alive isn’t just about Hansel and Greteling him to perfection. Like his snails, he prefers to eat with company. That’s also one of the reasons he’s kept Bedelia du Maurier around (the other probably being so that we get more Gillian Anderson on the show). When she asks him to help her handle the murder he trapped her in, it’s like the mouse asking the cat to play with it a little longer. By the time Hannibal crosses the Alps into Italy, she’s got the tiger by the tail. The most she can do is buy two bottles of Puligny-Montrachet and white truffles and sit in full view of surveillance in the hope that someone will eventually be watching. That, and aim carefully with her shots, putting just enough english on that English so that he goes caroming into Hannibal at the right angle.
The poet wanted to be the Rimbaud to Hannibal’s murderous Verlaine, offering to help him “untwist” and presumably run off across Europe like a pair of Tom Ripleys who found one another. But Hannibal is much more than your garden variety upwardly mobile sociopath, and he ends up dispatching the poet in a manner similar to that of my high school history professor, by hitting him over the head with Aristotle. When he asks why du Maurier helped set them on this path, she delivers Will’s old diagnosis of Hannibal’s motivation: she was curious to see what would happen.
But if things haven’t turned out so well for Ms. du Maurier or the poet, Hannibal seems as happy as a clam. He glides down the stairs of the Palazzo like a Von Trapp child, so happy to be busying himself in Florence, studying Dante, and eating a rude academe every now and again. Gideon calls him the devil, and indeed, like Alighieri’s Satan, Hannibal is a fan of carnage and contrapasso, the ultimate confluence of ethics and aesthetics. And by the end of the episode, he’s still in control, while those around him remain in an unspecified circle of hell. So do the people he has left in his wake, but we’ll get to them next week.