Ethics Become Aesthetics:

Hannibal Season Three Episode One

Hannibal’s season two finale was a catastrophic cliff hanger that saw almost every single protagonist bleeding out on the floor, life fading. The first thing we see in season three is a series of elegantly edited montages of Hannibal motorcycling through Paris. Rich cinematography, dizzying fades, and driving music. It’s an obtuse opening sequence with the word “bonsoir” repeated and little in the way of facts established. Then the episode continues on in this way for another forty minutes. It never leaves Hannibal and Bedelia’s European vacation. When season two ended the last shot was Hannibal and Bedelia heading to Europe, and this episode follows up on that and little else.

Which is delightfully obtuse and atmospheric. The episode, named “Antipasto”, flits between Hannibal and his therapist in Europe, the roots of Bedelia’s dependence on Hannibal, and Hannibal verbally sparring with Eddie Izzard over plates of food comprised of Izzard’s missing limbs. It’s everything a loyal viewer would want from the show, but pushed to the extreme. It was filled with philosophical rumination, double entendres, pitch black comedy, and beautiful European food. Truthfully the “have you for dinner” joke will never get old. There’s more than just establishing at play in this episode, although there is lots of that.

Bedelia is terrified of Hannibal. She’s abstaining from eating anything with a central nervous system, but it seems like Hannibal hopes she’ll be partaking in some more elaborate meals soon. When he finally kills someone onscreen in “Antipasto” he coldly asks Bedelia if she plans to “observe or participate.” When she quaveringly answers, “observe” Hannibal calmly explains why she’s truthfully participating. She has been ever since Hannibal seemingly set up a situation in which she would have to kill one of her patients (played by Zachary Quinto, so we’re sure to see more of this particular piece of backstory). Hannibal helped cover up the crime, and since then Bedelia has had to look over her shoulder and kowtow to the megalomaniacal murderer.

The gore in this episode is actually understated for the show. Hannibal dispatches a noted professor off-screen and takes his place in a school in Italy, lecturing on Dante’s Inferno. Later a quipping doctor confronts Hannibal on this subterfuge. It seems briefly like the two might work together, as it’s clear neither has any particular fondness for morality. As Hannibal puts it earlier, “There is no morality, only morale.” However Hannibal leads him back to his and Bedelia’s home. There’s a commercial break, and the next thing we see when the show comes back is a bloodstained bust of Plato whistling through the air.

Hannibal’s brief-lived ally lies on the floor, looking every bit as confused and concussed as you would think. Bedelia watches on in horror as Hannibal performs his signature killing move, straddling the corpse and tugging on his neck with both hands until there’s a horrendous cracking sound. The last shot of the episode is a flayed torso sitting in what appears to be Hannibal’s lecture hall. It seems he’s back to his old ways, presenting his kills in elaborate manners, more concerned with aesthetics than ethics.

Perhaps it’s the conversations with Eddie Izzard’s Gideon that reveal the most about Hannibal’s mindset. He cooks Gideon’s leg with rosemary and apple and then serves it to the man while they discuss cannibalism. “It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals” is one of the more precise summaries of Hannibal’s mindset ever. He feeds Gideon beautiful food to enhance the taste of his flesh, than feeds snails on his flesh to enhance their taste, than feeds the snails back to Gideon. It’s at this point that Gideon cuts right to the heart of an issue the episode has been dancing around. Gideon remarks that this elaborate dining is simply because Hannibal, like the snails, prefers to dine with company, and in this case Gideon is just a poor substitute for Will Graham. It’s no coincidence much of Hannibal’s lecture on Inferno revolves around Judas Iscariot and betrayal. He’s lost a brilliant student and an equal in Will Graham. Of course he’s also lost the only foe that could stand up to him. Gideon’s other cutting remarks revolve around that. He tells Hannibal repeatedly that one day the tables will turn and someone will eat him.

Characters keep asking Hannibal how he feels in this episode. One could write it off as missing the point – Hannibal doesn’t feel anything. Except that’s not entirely true. Hannibal feels betrayed, and it’s not entirely clear how this will affect his actions going forward. His nightmarish relationship with Bedelia seems fascinatingly self-destructive, as does starting his murders again so soon after stealing a fairly successful academic’s identity. But as the episode reminds us, things are rarely what it seems when it comes to Hannibal. When you think you’re about to catch him, that’s when he’s catching you. Hannibal’s actions may seem unhinged but he doesn’t, he seems more in control than ever.

Of course it’s the deliberate obtuseness of this episode that makes it special. It unapologetically fails to fill in the expected blanks, instead opting for an atmospheric and philosophical episode. Not that the show isn’t normally philosophical, but coupled with the increased stylization it really made for a stand-out premiere. The new European locations have injected the show with an impeccable new set, and the episode’s impressionistic editing and cinematography make full use of it. Brian Reitzell’s colourful synthesizers, sparse repeating motifs, and echoey sounds are a welcome return. The show just simply wouldn’t be the same without the visual and sonic stylization. From beautifully symbolic dream sequences to black and white flashbacks to incredibly presented, incredibly macabre dishes (that snail dish arranged on a halved shell look lavish) the show is back and swinging. It’s simultaneously a return to everything that made the show great and delightfully divorced from many of the tangible components of the two past seasons. Already the season seems like it will be rife with intrigue and stressful developments.

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Harry Edmundson-Cornell is obsessed with comics and film and writing, and he fancies himself a bit of an artist. He's dabbled in freelance video production, writing, design, 3D modelling, and artistic commissions. He mainly uses Tumblr to keep track of what he's watching and reading and listening to. Occasionally he uses it to post original works. You can find his email and junk there too, if you want to hire him or send him hate-mail.

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