Brooke Palmer/NBC
May 21, 2015 at 08:06 PM EDT

Now in its third season, Hannibal remains the most engrossing (and gross) serial-killer drama on television, and the most beautiful. Here, the acid never stops kicking in. The premiere’s opening sequence follows the titular cannibal as he drives through Paris at night on a motorbike, stalking a professor of Italian literature for two reasons: a new career and dinner. The sumptuous cinematography, the abstract imagery, the fluid editing, the jazzy-industrial score, and the deeply felt minimalism of Mads Mikkelsen’s performance work together to create an effect so rich, it’s like mainlining crème brûlée with your eyes.

For those wishing Hannibal would dial down the pretentious inscrutability: See the last paragraph. If anything, showrunner Bryan Fuller and his writers and directors have pushed the aphoristic scripting (“All sorrows can be worn if turned into story”) and dream- logic storytelling to the max. The new season abandons the grotesque-of-the-week structure for a surreal globe-trot exploring Hannibal’s life in Italy and tracking soul-mate foil Will Graham’s (Hugh Dancy) patient, elliptical pursuit of the devil he loves to love-hate.

The premiere is a nonlinear meditation on intimacy and betrayal focusing on the twisted pseudo-marriage between Hannibal and his shrink/thrall/captive, Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson). The second episode begins to reveal who besides Will survived last sea- son’s bloodbath finale, in a story about grief and forgiveness that blurs fantasy and reality. The season’s design takes shape in episode 3, as the accumulating murk coheres around a key line: “Who among us doesn’t want understanding and acceptance?”

Hannibal has always been about recognizing our fascination with abomination, but you get the sense that Will Graham & Co.—scarred by that fixation yet illuminated by more self-awareness—are ready to end their romance with evil. I’m ready for it. Are you? May Hannibal serve the final, defining dish of this protracted antihero moment, and in high, uncompromising style.  A– 

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