Tweetable Takeaway: Hannibal is back in form by getting back inside Will Graham’s head.
Airtime: Thursday at 10ET on NBC
By: Dana Leigh Brand, Contributor
HANNIBAL is, once again, an actual pleasure to watch and I couldn’t be happier about it. The second season took the subtle, slow psychological style the series was known for and amped it into some bizarre mindscrew that thought it was being smart. Now, with both last week’s “Antipasto” and “Primavera” we’ve returned to a more introspective and, therefore, more horrifying style. Thank god.
The first ten minutes of “Primavera” is just a complete replaying of the climax from the season 2 finale. You’d think this would be pointless, but removed from the overblown context of the rest of the season it’s a perfect setting of the stage for Will’s messed up headspace. I had a lot of fun last season trying to explain to everyone why Abigail was still alive. It essentially boiled down to “they take the stuff from the novels but twist it a little and the novels said she was okay now.” Again, here, they’ve taken that and twisted it a little, but they did it with an old school Will Graham mind-trip. It’s so well-done that you believe his delusions. I haven’t believed Will’s delusions in a long, long time. Abigail functions as both the part of Will that still loves Hannibal and as a coping mechanism for what happened. I know it’s a dorky narrative trick but I always love when people “hallucinate” loved ones. It just gets me.
This episode also serves as the necessary balancing act for the all-Hannibal-show of the season premiere. Either one could function just as beautifully as the first or second episode (though I definitely think they made the wisest choice giving us Hannibal first.) If you want to talk about elegance, “Primavera” has it in spades. The scene when Will and Abigail are confronted with Hannibal’s latest victim is a beautiful crash into Hannibal’s activities, even as it’s unrelated to them. It feels coincidental and in a scripted series where everything is carefully planned that kind of organic shock is astonishing. The elegance of revealing Abigail’s death is just as gorgeous, with the dual montage of ER doctors and undertakers. The whole thing is just pretty and deeply satisfying to experience.
The creeping antlered torso on caribou legs is the most disturbing image this series has cooked up, and this series is known for its disturbing images. Kudos. The Boticelli crime scene is gorgeous, which should probably worry me, but I’m beyond feeling weird about the manipulative aesthetics of this show. The pendulum that used to separate Will’s consciousness from his murder scene recreations is replaced here by a blurry fade into Hannibal’s consciousness. I’m glad the series has gone back to believing its audience is smart enough to figure stuff out on its own. All these subtle stylistics are fabulous. See, show, I knew you still had it in you. You don’t have to be over-the-top to achieve your goals.
The coolest thing about this show has always been how it takes the like, two pages from Red Dragon that deal with Hannibal Lecter at all and extrapolates from that the seriously intense relationship between Hannibal and Will. I don’t go in for the sexual side of fandom because it’s reductionist and… hm… let’s say inelegant. But that the relationship between Hannibal and Will (such as it is) is the bedrock of the series is undeniable. Whatever the hell was going on last season, they’re back to their dangerously codependent emotional philosophizing. As far as I can tell, the goal was to see how far Hannibal could push Will and still have him come back. It’s toxic, but man is it real. Will is still screwed up and it’s still uncertain what the hell he’s actually going to do when he finds Hannibal (bless), but that uncertainty has more charm and suspense than any plain police apprehension of Hannibal actually could.
A few things of note: Pazzi is legit the police inspector from Hannibal (Novel) who almost catches Hannibal but is instead hanged and gutted. Jack and Alana are still no-shows, which is cool because we haven’t needed them yet, but they were left in pools of their own blood just like Will and Abigail. It’s a bit disingenuous to have a season finale end on literally “everyone is dying” because obviously most of them aren’t going to die. Is that supposed to increase suspense? It had the opposite effect on me: I stopped giving a shit. Also, and I know I’m the horrible snob about adaptations, but judging by the little of season 3 I’ve seen so far, season 2 is the only bit of the main plot that is completely without reference to the novels. There are nods here and there (Freddy Lounds’ “death” and the stuff with Mason Verger for starters), but otherwise it’s just sort of floating out there unmoored. Getting back down to brass tacks can only help.
I think, what’s so annoying to me about last season, is that the first season of Hannibal is creepy as hell entirely because it’s so in Will Graham’s head that you feel like whatever Hannibal is doing he’s doing it directly to you. There are ways they could have continued that intimacy but instead they went for alienation. I rolled my eyes through every episode because I felt like they were pawing at me with tired tricks rather than engaging me in the story. I’ll try to stop bitching about it henceforth. Now that we’re back on the singular, psychological, deeply personal level, I’m giddy to give my mind over to Hannibal every week for a little thought experiment. The cathartic and possibly criminal break from reality it provides is refreshing and I missed it. Keep it up, dear show.
Dana Leigh Brand is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.