Hannibal, Will, and Francis Dolarhyde march resolutely toward their fates.

By Keith Staskiewicz
Updated August 30, 2015 at 12:43 AM EDT
Credit: Ken Woroner/NBC
S3 E13
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Hannibal has always abided by that existential maxim to live every season as if it were the last. As it turned out, a third season of artistically hyper-ambitious but scarcely watched cine-television was where NBC finally drew the line, and while it’s entirely possible we might see a few more courses at some point in the future, Fannibals also have to be willing to accept that the check has come and this extravagant, lovingly curated omakase meal is over. And in terms of an ending that could serve as a capital “E” Ending, Saturday’s finale went for broke.

If this is indeed it — if Hannibal and Will sailing over the bluffs in an eternal embrace like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty tumbling down Reichenbach Falls is the last image we’ll have of them — then I still find myself oddly satisfied. Could their struggle really have ended any other way? Was it ever possible for the Will that we knew to settle down with a family and be truly happy? Wouldn’t there always be that dark, soothing, goading voice in the back of his mind, and could he ever be sure that voice was Hannibal’s and not his own?

I don’t really think it’s worth pondering who might have survived the fall, or even how. After all, so many have died literal and metaphorical deaths on this show only to continue living as a dead-eyed, narratively driven revenant. Hannibal dream logic envelops the proceedings in questions more pressing and grander than just life and death. If we end up with more Hannibal, it’s likely that one or both of them will have survived; if not, then they’ll exist in a Schrodinger’s limbo in our own minds. But honestly, it’s really the same either way.

If I was glued to a wheelchair and forced at teeth-point to identify a problem with the back half of this final(?) season it would be the fact that the Red Dragon saga adhered to Thomas Harris’ source material more obviously and linearly than previous storylines. I re-read the novel less than a year ago so much of the story was fresh in my mind as I watched, and certain episodes lacked the “What in God’s and the Devil’s name is going to happen?” spontaneity that I usually associated with the show. But in making a clean break from the book’s denouement, the finale had my heart shoved two-thirds of the way up my esophagus.

It begins where last week’s episode left off, with Reba in the scaled clutches of the Dragon. Actually, no, not the Dragon — it’s Francis, but a Francis who has become strong enough to overcome himself. He lets her feel the key around his neck and then lets loose the dragonfire, but not before shooting himself. Poor Reba even ends up putting her hand in the pile of mush that used to be his head.

Or at least, she assumed it was his head. In reality, Dolarhyde’s plans aren’t quite done yet. He ambushes Will in his motel room and the endgame starts in earnest. For both Will and Hannibal it’s hard to tell how much each one knows. It’s entirely possible that both were aware they were walking straight into the abattoir in going through with their respective plans, but they felt they had no other choice. The dialogue between the two felt more like lovers’ words than ever before: “It’s not the same,” Hannibal tells him early in the episode, like a scorned partner. “You’ll see it’s not the same.” Then, at the end, “See, this is all I ever wanted for you, Will. For both of us.” Their “death” is tragic in the traditional way, like Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet. That is to say, inevitable.

Jack and Alana are so eager to see the end of Hannibal — something they should have thought of three years ago when they helped him avoid a needle in his arm — that they don’t see the danger in the game they’re playing. Alana signed along the dotted line of a contract with the Devil, well aware of the terms, and Bedelia similarly is furious and scared at the prospect of Hannibal’s freedom. She refers to this as Will’s becoming, and indeed he’s starting to look more psychopathic than ever: His hair is slicked, his suit well-fitted, and his demeanor more terrifyingly calm and collected than ever before. Even if he had survived this endgame, I would have feared for Molly.

Of course things go wrong. Dolarhyde can’t be controlled, nor his actions predicted, in such a way. He attacks the convoy, leaving only Hannibal and Will for a brief road trip to Hannibal’s cliff-side dacha, where he previously kept Miriam Lass and Abigail. The setting is like that of the Bronte novel Will and Hannibal were always secretly enacting. But just as they’re about to enjoy a nice glass of wine, Dolarhyde swoops in and it turns into a Mexican standoff between the good, the bad, and the ugly. It takes the combined efforts of the newly anointed couple to take down the Dragon.

They’ve survived, but for what? Their love is an impossible one, a thesis and an antithesis that can only be synthesized in the crucible of death. And so, they finally embrace the answer that was there all along and toss themselves — battling and embracing — into the void and, in the words of Will, “It’s beautiful.”

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