The first episode of the third season of NBC’s Hannibal made a big splash – literally. There were rivulets of liquid in nearly every scene: water, blood, fine spirits, champagne, raw oysters, and a few tears. Besides being thematically relevant to the idea of fluidity – of identity, of morality, of memory – it’s also a testament to the outstanding production values of showrunner Bryan Fuller and company (in this case, director Vincenzo Natali of Cube and Splice fame and DP James Hawkinson).
When this episode opens, Hannibal is zipping around on his motorcycle. He waltzes into a fancy party. He stares at a man surrounded by a throng of friends. A rather dapper looking gentleman, who happens to look an awful lot like Will Graham, sees him staring and catches his eye. Clearly Hannibal attracts a type: boyishly handsome and extremely observant.
Will Graham look-alike Anthony Dimmond (played by Tom Wisdom; I swear I’m not making that up) sidles up to Hannibal and snarks that he’s not a fan of Dr. Roman Fell, the man Hannibal is staring at. Next thing you know, Hannibal’s outside of the party, staring at a not-very-sober Dr. Roman Fell and blankly addressing him with a “bonsoir.” Then he’s outside of what is presumably Roman Fell’s residence. “Bonsoir.” Creepy, Hannibal. Very creepy.
Next, Hannibal is cooking liver because he loves his organ meats. A well-dressed lady wanders into the dining room with a pleased look on her face. But instead of Roman, she sees Hannibal, and her face crumbles and we all realize (as if we didn’t already suspect) whose liver Hannibal is eating. “Bonsoir.”
This is all before the opening credits.
The strains of Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” open the next scene, one drenched in dark blues and greys, and starring Hannibal and Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard), so we know this is a flashback. Hannibal is serving Gideon dinner, and it’s Gideon’s leg that’s on the menu. Izzard gets so many great lines here (“You really are the Devil. You certainly seem to enjoy it; there’s a click in your hoof”) but so does Mads Mikkelsen (“It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals”).
Then the curtain is drawn back, and a farce is played as we see an elegant party filled with exquisitely dressed guests dancing, including Hannibal and Bedelia (Gillian Anderson). A rather surly man approaches Hannibal, and sneers, “Dr. Fell, I hope you translate as well as you waltz.” Looks like identity theft is on tonight’s menu.
Turns out that Dr. Fell/Hannibal appointment to Lo Studiolo has been confirmed by the board and Surly Man isn’t happy about it. Bedelia tries to break the tension and perhaps save poor Professor Sogliato’s liver by asking him to dance. As they walk away, Hannibal recites Dante’s first sonnet in flawless Italian as the music stops and everyone stares. “If he’s such an expert on Dante, let him lecture on Dante to Lo Studiolo,” sniffs Sogliato.
Cut to Hannibal and Bedelia sipping brandy in Dr. Fell’s gorgeously appointed home. “I’ve killed hardly anybody since our residence,” Hannibal remarks, but Bedelia reminds him that he created a vacancy at the Palazzo Capponi by “removing the former curator.” “Morality doesn’t exist. Only morale,” declares Hannibal. After a comment about being in “conscious control” of her actions, Bedelia takes a bath and then, we have another flashback.
Hannibal is skilled at teasing the viewers. It gives us a lot to chew on (so to speak), but it’s those unanswered questions, the things we don’t see but wonder about, that also compel us to keep watching, no matter how horrific or grotesque the visions might turn out to be. This time, it’s Hannibal escaping to Bedelia’s home after the slaughter at the end of last season, with more informative flashbacks to appear later in the episode.
He steps out of the shower and hears the click of Bedelia’s gun as she sits on her bed and watches him. Hannibal towels himself off, his manhood eclipsed by the wineglass Bedelia is holding. “May I get dressed?” Hannibal asks. “You may,” she replies coolly. Don’t think we didn’t notice the subtle downward turn of your eyes just then, Bedelia. Hannibal has taken off more than just his person suit; we don’t blame you, girl. The double entendres keep coming: “You let them see you.” “I let them see enough.” (Fannibals everywhere are cackling and mentally creating animated GIFs for Tumblr at this point.)
I love when Mikkelsen plays Hannibal as bitchy and he does so very well in this scene, throwing the cessation of his and Bedelia’s doctor/patient relationship in her face when she’s just trying to find out how he FEELS. She asks if Will is still alive; he evades the question.
Back to present day Italy: Bedelia gets white wine; Hannibal prepares his lecture for Lo Studiolo in a room that looks not unlike the therapy cage room at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Dapper in a double-breasted suit, Hannibal strides towards the lecture hall when he hears a familiar voice call out “Bonjour.” Uh oh, it’s Will Graham look-alike Anthony Dimmond, who refers to Hannibal/Dr. Fell as “Mr. Jakov,” the fake name he gave back at that party. “I never forget a face,” remarks Dimmond, wondering if Jakov/Hannibal is working with Roman. “If you are free, my wife and I would love to have you for dinner,” says Hannibal. You scamp.
Another flashback: Hannibal’s got Gideon’s arm, covered with hungry snails, in a glass cage. “Like all of us, what they eat greatly enhances and influences their flavor,” instructs Hannibal. “Imagine what you must taste like,” Gideon wonders. “Won’t be long before someone’s taking a bite out of you.” (The fanfic practically writes itself, you guys.)
A very awkward dinner with Hannibal, Bedelia, and Dimmond follows. Dimmond notes that her plate is filled with what Ancient Romans fed to animals to improve their flavor as Bedelia chews uncomfortably. “My husband is very particular about how I taste,” she notes. “Is it that kind of party?” Dimmond queries, and everyone holds their breath waiting for another three-way sex scene. Hannibal looks at Bedelia, amused, before answering “No.” The speculation that he might have considered it is another example of Bryan Fuller’s devilish wit at work.
Another flashback within a flashback, as Bedelia awakes next to a dead guy and remembers pulling her bloody arm out of his throat. This is Hannibal’s former patient who attacked her. We’ve been waiting months for this scene and it raises more questions than it answers. Damn you, Fuller.
Hannibal shows up, ready to provide comfort and an alibi, although he reminds her “you were not defending yourself.” In an exchange much like the one he had with Abigail after she stabbed Nicholas Boyle, Hannibal says he can help her if she asks him to. She asks him to.
Now to Hannibal’s lecture at Lo Studiolo, where he kills it, talking about Judas and making Bedelia quite nervous. She leaves, but Dimmond, who Hannibal had invited, shows up. He plays along, pretending that Hannibal is Victor Fell. Dimmond promises he has “no delusions about morality.” Whispers about twisting themselves into uncomfortable positions ensue and we wonder if Hannibal might be on the market for a new Murder Husband.
Nope. Back at the house, Hannibal and Dimmond arrive just as Bedelia, suitcase in hand, is about to leave. Hannibal brains Dimmond with a bust of Aristotle and barks, “Observe or participate” to a visibly rattled Bedelia. She admits she’s “curious what would happen” (nice callback) and Hannibal rationalizes that her thought process makes her a participant anyway. Hannibal breaks Dimmond’s neck and offers to hang up Bedelia’s coat. Such a gentleman.
Next: Hannibal is on a train, fondly reminiscing about that time he served snails to a one-armed Abel Gideon. “Snails aren’t the only creatures who prefer eating with company. If only that company could be Will Graham,” Gideon taunts. Back on the train, Hannibal fashions an origami heart out of paper printed with Michelangelo’s Vitruvian Man. It’s just practice for his real work of art: a flesh origami heart made from someone’s body, installed on an easel in a church. Oh Gideon, how right you were.