Hannibal, Season 3, Episode 1, “Antipasto”
Written by Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Airs Thursdays at 10pm (ET) on NBC
“Mizumono”, the tour-de-force finale of Hannibal season two, left fans wrecked, the two year arc of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter’s relationship reaching its inevitable climax as Will, Abigail, Alana, and Jack lay bleeding out in Hannibal’s home while Hannibal strode off to start his life anew. Despite its title, the first two seasons of Hannibal have been Will’s story more than anyone else’s; picking up not in the aftermath of the finale’s carnage but an indeterminate amount of time later, with Hannibal, is a surprising but canny move that refocuses the series on its titular character. Free from the grounding influence of Will, Jack, and the rest of the series’ usual trappings, “Antipasto” is free to indulge in the elegance and romance of Hannibal’s world, painting a dark fairy tale of the sophisticated European gentleman and the woman trapped in his web.
And indulge it does, though not immediately. The premiere opens with Hannibal on the hunt in Paris, imagery evoking his gas stove, grinder, and smoker pulling back to reveal him astride a motorcycle, accompanied by a jazzy, muted trumpet and whining strings as he rides to his destination. It’s an energetic and playful start to the season, a far cry from “Kaiseki”’s bombastic fight scene, but intriguing nonetheless. Once inside, Hannibal remains separate from the crowd, the costuming telling the story—his leather jacket is a far cry from the suits and gowns surrounding him and Hannibal’s not there to socialize. He does engage with the party when approached by Anthony Dimmond, however. The classical soundtrack overtakes the scoring for Hannibal’s hunt as he slides seamlessly into character once more, focused on the present, but his thoughts and the audience’s are drawn back to Will and “Mizumono” when the champagne is sabered and tinkling shards of broken glass accompany the visual of droplets of champagne raining to the floor. Hannibal leaves the soiree to stalk his prey, wishing Dr. Fell a cheery—and then rather more disturbing—“Bon soir”, before dropping the needle on a lovely aria and enjoying a late night snack as he awaits Mrs. Fell’s return.
The entire pre-credits sequence is beautifully shot, as is to be expected from Hannibal, with returning visual motifs and imagery. At the same time, it feels incredibly new. Hannibal on a motorcycle? Surely that’s too modern for the cultured gentleman viewers have come to know. Yet it works, highlighting the contradictions at the core of the character. After all, this is a man whose preferred instruments are the harpsichord (invented in the late fourteenth century) and the theremin (patented in 1928); the opulent apartment Hannibal finds for himself and Bedelia in Florence is a far cry from the similarly impressive, but much cleaner lines of his office in Baltimore. Hannibal is not a character to be limited to a particular time period or artistic movement, he is drawn to quality. He appreciates the very best, the rarified, and it’s hard to get more rarified than his sleek new motorcycle.
After the return of Abel Gideon—more on this later—Hannibal whisks the audience away to Florence with a whimsical, “Once upon a time…”. Hannibal and Bedelia are reintroduced at a grand ball, dressed to the nines and waltzing to Dvorak. It’s a perfect introduction, and not just because the series finally takes advantage of Mads Mikkelsen’s background as a professional dancer. The romance and pageantry of the dance are intoxicating and Hannibal’s seduction of the audience starts anew. After the physicality of the season two finale, Hannibal’s first violent acts of season three remain off screen. It’s a return to the approach of early season one, welcoming in new viewers and enticing them with the glamour of Hannibal and Bedelia’s lifestyle before presenting the ugly reality of Hannibal’s evil.
Assisting in this is the humor pervading the premiere, from Hannibal’s propensity for puns to perhaps the funniest scene of the series yet, Anthony’s dinner with Hannibal and Bedelia. The performances by Mikkelsen, Gillian Anderson, and guest star Tom Wisdom are delightful throughout, their facial expressions, physicality, and inflections hilarious. Mikkelsen’s bemused glance to Anderson after Anthony’s, “Is it that kind of party?”, as if to say, “Well dear, is it?”, and Anderson’s horrified reaction (Bedelia has accepted she’s likely dining with Hannibal’s next meal—that’s plenty intimate for her) is a standout exchange in an episode full of memorable ones. Nearly as entertaining is Hannibal’s lecture on Dante, which opts for cheekiness over subtlety. Hannibal standing in front of the projector as the image of Lucifer looms is funny, but director Vincenzo Natali holds the shot as the image changes, the eyes lining up with Hannibal’s and superimposing over his, turning a comedic moment into a truly unnerving one. All episode, the audience has been wined and dined by the Devil, and this is an arresting reminder.
One of the premiere’s most effective tools in distracting viewers from this is the antagonists it sets up for Hannibal. Prof. Sogliato is insufferable, early season one Chilton taken to new extremes. From his first scene, viewers are rooting for a grisly end to this xenophobic prig. Anthony similarly ends the episode a slimy, manipulative opportunist who we’re only too glad to see get his just desserts. It’s an effective formula, one that kept Dexter in business for eight seasons: make the victim worse than the killer in some measurable way and the audience will cheer their downfall. The difference here is that the fun is cut short in the final Gideon scene, as he chastises the audience along with Hannibal, Eddie Izzard staring directly into the camera, for reveling in this violence.
Gideon’s end of episode warning could easily feel hypocritical on the writers’ part, but the episode’s balancing of Hannibal and Bedelia’s perspectives counters this, as just as much energy is put into showing Bedelia’s suffering as luxuriating in Hannibal’s power. Bedelia has been a fascinating presence throughout the series, thanks in no small part to Anderson’s wonderfully subtle and considered performance. Bedelia steps into the spotlight here and immediately owns it, a woman both fascinated with and repulsed by Hannibal. She’s desperate for her freedom, spending her spare time sitting camera center at the train station in her most noticeable—and second most fabulous, because damn, costume designer Christopher Hargadon outdid himself with that gown—outfit, yet when given the opportunity to run, she subconsciously sabotages herself, going back to the apartment instead of fleeing immediately. It’s at least the third time she’s stayed, her previous opportunities to free herself from Hannibal shown in flashback. She asks for his help after killing her patient, a dead Zachary Quinto (who will undoubtedly be back later this season), and later, encounters Hannibal in her house, washing up after the events of “Mizumono”. Presented with a choice similar to Alana’s from the season two finale, Bedelia opts not to fire the gun she has pointed directly at Hannibal, putting it down and accepting a future as Hannibal’s pet.
The comparisons between Bedelia and Alana continue in the episode’s most visually striking sequence. As Bedelia sits in the tub, staring at a faucet that seems to stare back, the water dripping from the tap appears to darken and suddenly Bedelia slips below the surface of the inky water, sinking lower and lower into a seemingly unending abyss of black liquid. The low strings guide her descent with flat, vibrato-less slides until the will to live, to not lose herself entirely to Hannibal’s influence, bubbles up within her; the clarinet bursts to life and Bedelia’s head bursts above the water. Whereas in “Mizumono”, black water encroached upon an unsuspecting Alana as she tried to rest, here Bedelia draws the bath herself and steps in willingly, only realizing how far she’s sunk when she nears her loss of self. There is an agency in her situation that was lacking in Alana’s last season. Both are Hannibal’s victims, but the openness of his and Bedelia’s relationship gives an illusion of parity between them which both validates and damns Bedelia. Alana closed her eyes until “Ka No Mono” forced them open; Bedelia’s participation in Hannibal’s world is darker, but much more engaging.
This theme of participation versus observation—or in Alana’s case, willful blindness—is highlighted by Hannibal, who reacts to Bedelia’s betrayal not by channeling Dante (though likely some chewing is in both of their futures), but by scolding her as one would a child on the consequences of her actions. Bedelia may have been looking to escape, pushed to action by her experience in the bath, but that doesn’t free her from culpability in Anthony’s death. There is no such thing as observation in his world, Hannibal argues, and elsewhere in the episode, Gideon agrees. By maintaining civility, by playing along with Hannibal’s twisted game, he is participating in his own death. It is a choice, one Gideon acknowledges and toys with changing, much to Hannibal’s irritation. This is the last modicum of power left to Gideon: the power to annoy Hannibal.
Izzard and Mikkelsen are fantastic in their scenes together, their cordial conversations breaking down over time, starting off philosophical (“You smoked me in thyme”) and growing increasingly strained and even downright surly as Gideon nears the end of his life. Their dialogue is frank, Gideon acting as an audience surrogate and asking the questions so few have had the opportunity and wherewithal to pose. Izzard is frequently a larger than life performer and the script takes advantage of this, letting him play with and enjoy every line, the only defense left to the once powerful Gideon. The three scenes with Hannibal and Gideon give structure to the episode, bookending Hannibal and Bedelia’s peaceful time in Florence, with the middle installment coming right after Anthony appears, threatening their position. The use of black and white and change in aspect ratio separate these scenes from the rest of the episode, making them an aside or perhaps a memory, rather than the flashbacks shown with Bedelia. Hannibal has crafted a fantasy for himself in Florence, one that is short-lived and the death of which is foreshadowed by Gideon—Bedelia is interesting, but she’s no more Will Graham than Gideon is, and in the end, there is no substitution for Will Graham that Hannibal will accept. And so rather than employing the cement that hid away the body of the curator whose job Hannibal now holds, Hannibal twists Anthony’s body into a heart and offers it to Will, hoping to be found.
Many will likely be happy should next week see the return of Will and whoever else made it out of the Red Dinner, but it will be hard not to miss the fairy tale fantasy and horror of Hannibal and Bedelia’s time alone in Europe. We’re unlikely to get another episode quite like “Antipasto”. It’s a stylish, bold, and intriguing start to the season and, though I highly encourage anyone reading this who hasn’t seen the first two seasons to start there, it’s an effective introduction for new viewers considering jumping aboard. It’s hard to imagine the series meeting, let alone surpassing, the achievement of “Mizumono”, but if “Antipasto” is any indication, it will be a pleasure to watch them try.
Kate’s Classical Corner: Each week in Kate’s Classical Corner, I’ll take an in-depth look at the use of music in season three of Hannibal. Because of the sheer amount of interesting, evocative music in “Antipasto”, both soundtrack and score, I’ve moved KCC into a separate post. Please continue reading here!
For even more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti for Sound on Sight, This Is Our Design!