The hypocrisy of network TV is immediately obvious in this week’s episode of Hannibal as a subtly censored version of Botticelli’s Primavera fades into a macabre reimagining of the painting. Then later when a mangled creature made of deer and a horribly rearranged corpse strides towards the obvious it becomes apparent again. Of course that has long been Hannibal’s MO. Since the show’s first episode it’s been perfectly acceptable to show a naked woman impaled by a deer antler so long as the antlers carefully cover her nipples. Wouldn’t want to disturb the children. Truly it’s the manifestation of some creepy father figure who hoards canned food and lovingly polishes his rifles while enforcing a strict dress code amongst his children. Then he watches them swimming for way too long. Sorry this metaphor got creepy and overlong, but censoring a printed photo of a Botticelli painting on Hannibal is fucking hilarious. It was subtle, I had to rewind and check, it wasn’t intensely blatant. Somehow the quiet approach to it made it funnier, like the show was ashamed, holding it’s little fuzzy filters behind it’s back and whistling discreetly. “No censoring of classical artwork here nossir that would be silly.”
After season three’s obfuscated premiere only caught us up on a small percentage of the show’s cast, the second episode, “Primavera”, is an almost perfect inversion. Instead of an episode catching us up on Hannibal that feels haunted by Will Graham we get an episode catching us up on Will Graham that feels haunted by Hannibal. What’s surprising is that the episode gets it’s own counterpart to Bedelia in the form of Abigail. Anyone who watches the show will understand why that’s surprising. Abigail almost died in the show’s first episode, spent some time in a coma, spent some time getting psychologically manipulated by Hannibal, then was killed. Except she wasn’t, and returned at the end of season two as Hannibal’s broken puppet, at which point he cut her throat, onscreen. Sure everyone almost died in the finale, but Abigail seemed like the least likely to return. She’s a core part of the dynamic between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, as the show reminds us by replaying Hannibal and Will’s “teacup” exchange from the season two Hannibal. Hannibal wanted to surprise Will with Abigail’s arrival and lead the two of them to a new world like some demented family.
Will and Abigail apparently survive, and early on in his recovery Will has a dream and realizes where Hannibal has gone. Last week’s dream sequence felt pretty rote by the show’s standards, so it’s wonderful to see Will dreaming again. The tip of a deer antler pushes through the bandages in his torso before he appears in Hannibal’s office, then flashes back to a conversation he had with Hannibal on the eve of their final confrontation. The conversation was about Hannibal’s memory palace, and the place a specific Italian cathedral holds in it. Eight months later Will and Abigail are there.
The two ruminate on Hannibal and his relationship to God while visiting the cathedral almost daily looking for some clue to Hannibal’s whereabouts. “Hannibal’s not God, I think he’d find being God boring.” It slowly comes out that Abigail’s purposes for coming are a little at odds with Will. She still believes in Hannibal’s familial vision and wants to follow him to a new world. While they visit the cathedral two things happen. The human body mangled into the shape of a heart from the last episode’s end is found and Will is recognized by Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi.
Pazzi chased a serial killer called Il Mostro many years ago. It was Hannibal then too, during his student days romping around Europe. Pazzi investigated a Primavera inspired killing, then actually met Lecter at the gallery looking at the painting. He recognizes Will Graham but seems to believe that Hannibal has been orchestrating the situations to shift suspicion to Will. Will having another detective on his side for his chase of Hannibal is interesting, and I can’t help but wonder at this season’s structure. Will it be case-of-the-week again or even more focused on one narrative? This is all especially interesting given that the show still hasn’t revealed who else survived the finale. Promotional material sort of undoes the speculation, but I’m still not sure what kind of role the surviving characters will take and what the show will look like. I’d like to see it evolve a little outside of the more episodic format, as the plot was always the best part, but we’ll see.
Will Graham looks at Hannibal’s broken heart and something horrifying happens. The cut and sewn and rearranged corpse unfolds itself into a roughly human shape. Deer hooves and antlers begin to slide from it as it confronts Will. However it’s shortly after this nightmarish vision that the episode’s biggest gut punch comes. Abigail died that night over eight months ago. Will has been speaking to some twisted and externalized fragment of his subconscious. This is unveiled by a beautiful montage simultaneously showing Will being wheeled in and operated on and Abigail being bagged and prepared by a mortician. It’s a dense and phenomenal series of images.
Will then realizes Hannibal is still in the building. He notes an entrance to the catacombs and he and Pazzi enter them. Will seems committed to dissuading Pazzi from his investigation, going so far as to point out that he shouldn’t enter the catacombs with Will, as Pazzi can’t know where Will’s allegiances lie. “If you could possibly be content, I suggest you let Il Mostro go.” Will is fully aware now that hunting Hannibal is self-destructive. The two men run in circles in the shadowy catacombs narrowly missing Hannibal on a few occasions. Pazzi returns to the cathedral as Will continues to work his way around. We get a glimmer of Hannibal’s face when he hears Will Graham, the man who broke his heart, call his name. No moment is more devastating than the episode’s last however. Will shouts into the shadows that may or may not contain Hannibal. “Hannibal. I forgive you.”