Hannibal certainly took its time making its way back to our screens; over a full year passed since the season two finale, “Mizumono.” That being a particularly eventful–not to say intense–finale, with every major character not played by Mads Mikkelsen apparently dead, it was a year fraught with anxiety and speculation. If we kept up with the filming reports, the leaks, and the spoilers, we had some idea of what to expect: a European setting, elements of Lecter’s backstory from Hannibal Rising (Bryan Fuller once again expressed a desire to cast David Bowie as Uncle Robert), and of course the long-awaited adaptation of Red Dragon.
Of course, reading about Fuller’s plans and progress meant very little until the finished product was finally in our hands. Can this third season of the show live up to the standard set by the first two? Now the anticipation is over, and we can find out.
Shall we remind ourselves of the current state of play first?
The Story So Far: Season One
In the beginning, there was Will Graham, an instructor at the FBI academy with a very special “gift”: he can empathize with anybody, put himself in anyone’s head, specifically those possessed by murderers. This ability comes at a price to Will’s emotional stability, however. Special Agent Jack Crawford wants to use him as a resource to catch serial killers. To keep him stable, Crawford assigns another psychologist to keep an eye on him. Will’s fellow instructor, Alana Bloom, turns Crawford down for the job, on the grounds that she and Will have mutual crushes on each other that must never be acted on. She suggests Crawford approach her mentor, a surgeon-turned-psychiatrist named Hannibal Lecter.
Unbeknownst to Jack, Will, and Alana (but knownst to us), Lecter is in fact a serial killer. A sophisticated aesthete, Lecter is also a cannibal who cooks and eats the flesh of his victims. The press have dubbed his unsolved murders the work of the “Chesapeake Ripper.” The case of the Ripper is a personal one for Crawford, as he believes the ripper killed one of this students, Miriam Lass.
Will and Lecter go to Minnesota to investigate a series of serial murderers and correctly deduces the killer is one Garret Jacob Hobbs. While Will goes to confront him, Lecter secretly tips Hobbs off and the result is a gunfight that leaves Hobbs dead. Crawford, believing Hobbs’s teenage daughter Abigail might have served as her father’s accomplice, assigns Will, Alana, and Lecter to keep an eye on her, and the four develop a complex relationship with each other.
Will and Lecter develop a close friendship, with Lecter seeing Will as the only person with which he has much in common. To his mind, he and Will are the same, and he sets out to show Will what he believes is his true nature. Will’s mental state deteriorates as a result of encephalitis. Lecter discovers Will’s illness but keeps the knowledge to himself, proceeding to frame Will for the Chesapeake Ripper murders, doing such a good job that even Will believes himself responsible. The FBI arrests him after apparently murdering Abigail Hobbs. Season one ends with Will incarcerated at the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane, awaiting trial.
The Story So Far: Season Two
Hannibal takes up Will’s former role as part of Crawford’s team, while Will remains imprisoned under the dubious care of the Baltimore Hospital’s egotistical and incompetent director, Frederick Chilton, eventually coming to the realization that Lecter is the ripper. Crawford and his team remain convinced of Will’s guilt, but when the Ripper strikes again, there is no other option than to release him.
Will convinces Crawford of his innocence and Lecter’s guilt, but they have no evidence. Miriam Lass turns up alive, having been held captive by the Ripper; she implicates Chilton. The police capture the administrator and find evidence that he killed one of his charges, Abel Gideon; when asked to identify him as her captor, Lass grabs a gun and shoots him in the face. Will and Crawford suspect Lecter of brainwashing her during her captivity. (As for Gideon, Lecter is responsible for his disappearance–and eventual death–as well.)
Will, understanding that Lecter wants to see him become a killer, decides to use himself as bait to capture the psychiatrist, faking the murder of sensationalist blogger Freddie Lounds by his own hand. He also becomes romantically involved with Lecter’s newest patient, Margot Verger, raising the ire of her abusive, sadistic, and controlling brother Mason. Mason attempts to remove Will and Lecter from the equation, and fails; in response, Lecter doses him with drugs and convinces him to mutilate himself.
The resulting bloodbath leaves four characters–Will Graham, Jack Crawford, Alana Bloom, and Abigail Hobbs–apparently dead. When last we see Hannibal Lecter, it’s on a flight to Europe, in the company of Bedelia du Maurier–his former psychiatrist, and now possibly his lover.
Season 3, episode 1: “Antipasto” (June 4, 2015)
“Antipasto means ‘before the meal’ and is the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal.” —Wikipedia
Guest stars: Eddie Izzard, Tom Wisdom, Rinaldo Rocco, Jeremy Crutchley, Zachary Quinto.
“Antipasto” picks up some months after the events of “Mizumono,” with Hannibal Lecter zooming around Paris on a motorcycle, stalking an insufferably pretentious academic named Roman Fell. If you’ve read Thomas Harris’s novel Hannibal or seen Ridley Scott’s film adaptation of it, that name should ring a bell, but even if you haven’t you find out its significance soon enough. Fast forward several more months, and we find ourselves in Florence, where Hannibal has secured a position as a curator at a prestigious museum. He lives with Bedelia du Maurier, and together, they’ve assumed the identities of Roman Fell and his wife Lydia.
In Florence, Hannibal has made a piece he claims he “would preserve”: save for his predecessor at the museum and the unfortunate Fells, he’s not murdered anyone since his arrival in Europe. But there are those who would disturb that peace: Prof. Sogliato, for example, who doesn’t see the non-Italian Fell as being worthy of his position. Others will come later. At the moment, one Antony Dimmond, whom Hannibal met in Paris while casing Roman Fell, provides the most immediate threat. He knew Fell at university, and still associates with him; should he show up in Florence, he could destroy Hannibal’s peace.
Guess who shows up in Florence.
For a man so dedicated to preserving peace, Hannibal certainly seems eager to give Dimmond enough rope to hang himself. When he tells Bedelia of his desire to preserve his peace, it’s a lie his longtime therapist sees through. She may be pleasant enough company for the time being, but she’s not an equal, merely a decent substitute for the only person Lecter feels he has anything in common with: Will Graham. (To drive the point home, Abel Gideon makes the same point in flashbacks to his captivity arc from last season.)
“Antipasto” is as standalone an episode as Hannibal offers at this point in the game: the “previously on” segment covers most of what you need to know, flashbacks take care of most of the rest. On the highly unlikely chance the episode serves as your entry point to the series, only the Gideon flashbacks require explanation. Even then, these scenes don’t serve much of a plot function; rather, they foreshadowing the noose tightening around Hannibal’s neck, as Gideon steers his conversations with his captor toward that subject. “Everybody gets ‘et,'” he says, expressing regret that he won’t be alive to see Lecter get devoured.
The performances are impeccable, as always, with Gillian Anderson setting herself up as the show’s MVP for the front half of season three, demonstrating exactly how someone with du Maurier’s intelligence and knowledge can still find herself manipulated by Lecter. “I believe I am in conscious control of my actions,” she says, but that’s another lie, a lie she tells herself. We finally see, through more flashback, the incident that put her under Hannibal’s thumb to begin with; later, he successfully shifts responsibility for Dimmond’s fate to her, at least in her mind.
Of course, with Hannibal being a strongly cinematic and visually-oriented series, “Antipasto” also serves to introduce the Italy story arc’s motifs, so you’d better start getting used to Boticelli, Dante, and snails. Vincenzo Natali, who directed two episodes last season, returns to the camera for the first of four installments this season (all of them part of the Italy arc), and does a great job of expanding the visual language David Slade developed for the series to fit the European locations. Overall, the pace has slowed down, something we’ll see develop over the next three episodes. Suffice it to say, we don’t learn what happened to Will, Jack, Alana and Abigail here.
So: a fine start to the new season, whetting the appetite for the turmoil undoubtedly to come.
Next on Hannibal: Will and Jack trace Hannibal to Florence, making new allies–and potential enemies–in a disgraced police officer and a former servant of the Lecter family, in “Primavera” and “Secondo.”