Hannibal, Season 3, Episode 5, “Contorno”
Written by Tom de Ville and Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot
Directed by Guillermo Navarro
Airs Thursdays at 10pm (ET) on NBC
In my review of “Aperitivo”, I called for Hannibal to find a sweet spot between the slow-moving introspection of “Secondo” and plot-heavy momentum of “Aperitivo”. “Contorno” does just that, though not in the way expected. The first half of the episode crawls (particularly the scenes with Will and Chiyoh), dragging its feet to prevent the characters from intersecting, before the second half throws this concern out the window and sprints forward, bringing first Pazzi and Hannibal, then Hannibal and Alana, and finally Jack and Hannibal together in memorable and electrifying exchanges. One can almost see showrunner Bryan Fuller reach his limit with angsty, mini-Hannibal Will and decide to chuck him off the train rather than write one more doom-laden conversation between him and Chiyoh. It’s a hilariously unexpected move that gives the episode a much-needed shot in the arm, surprising the audience and keeping them on their toes.
While the Will and Chiyoh scenes weigh down the episode, they do a lot to flesh out Chiyoh. Most of her scenes in “Secondo” are geared towards Will and his point of view; “Contorno” switches this, focusing on Will but showing, through Chiyoh’s responses to his questions, that she is much more than he suspects. Will projects his experience onto Chiyoh, talking at her rather than listening to what she’s saying. When he asks about her reaction to killing her prisoner, he ascribes his moral code to her, assuming her to be as disturbed by having to kill as he was with Garret Jacob Hobbs. When she says Hannibal left her frozen in time, Will hears “hollowed out”, the notion of one maintaining their identity when so controlled by Hannibal utterly foreign to him. He is so caught up in Hannibal that for once, Will isn’t able to understand or empathize with someone. He is losing himself, becoming more and more like Hannibal (for the second week in a row, imagining an acquaintance dead) and when Chiyoh’s gentle coaxing doesn’t change this, she abandons conversation in favor of violence. Over at TV Ate My Wardrobe, Emma Fraser has been tracking the return of Will’s glasses to his wardrobe. It is notable that here, Will is without his glasses, visually paralleled to Hannibal with their matching bare chests (as Chiyoh is paralleled to Bedelia with their lovely dressing gowns), rather than the glasses-wearing Will of season one, the Will who kept Abigail with him even after her death, removing his glasses in “Primavera” only when he was ready to let Abigail go and forgive Hannibal.
While Will is busy not listening to Chiyoh, Jack says a final goodbye to Bella, scattering her ashes in Florence and releasing (some of) the pain of her loss. He also leaves his wedding ring behind, wanting it to be with her, rather than with him. The shot of Jack’s ring entering the river feels ominous, which is odd considering how beautiful the rest of the scene is. Rather than a dull grey, Bella’s ashes reflect the golden light of Florence (as shot and color-timed in this aqua-infused scene), calling to mind the fireflies so prevalent in the past few episodes. It’s a nice moment, featuring another moving performance from Laurence Fishburne, which puts a button on Bella’s funeral and prepares the episode’s fantastic final sequence. Thanks to the closure given both Jack and the audience, when Hannibal later tries to throw off Jack by invoking Bella, it comes across as pathetic rather than a power play. Jack tried to avoid Hannibal, but when Pazzi is murdered in front of him, Bella’s voice rings in his ears and he makes the move he must to cut the cancer that is Hannibal out of his life so he can, as he tells Hannibal, feel alive once more.
The dinner with Jack and Pazzi is warm, a delicious-looking home cooked meal with a hand-ripped loaf of bread sitting on the table, rather than the elaborate spreads Hannibal prepares. Jack and Pazzi’s rapport is strong and Mia Maestro is a pleasant presence in her two scenes as Pazzi’s wife, but Pazzi’s turn from seeking to redeem his name to going for the money comes too quickly, a departure from the character as presented in “Primavera” that immediately spells his doom. Fans of Thomas Harris’ source material will not be surprised by Pazzi’s fate, but for those unfamiliar with his literary predecessor, Pazzi’s new bride and willingness to sell out Hannibal to Mason feel overly convenient. Maestro’s character is a functionary, nothing more than Pazzi’s nice, pretty wife, there to give him an easy motivation to contact Mason and to push Jack to pursue Pazzi when he doesn’t come home. She doesn’t exist as a character outside of her connection to Pazzi, and that’s disappointing. Hannibal has in general avoided such tangential figures, only introducing characters if they intend to flesh them out and make them feel fully formed. It’s possible she’ll come back and be more developed then, but with only a couple episodes remaining in the Europe arc, that seems unlikely. This dramatic shift in Pazzi contributes to how jarring the episode feels, its first half of a piece and its second a blindside.
Fortunately, it’s a supremely entertaining blindside. Chiyoh’s kiss, then kiss off to Will (sorry Will, only Hannibal and Bedelia get that kind of party this week) propels the episode forward. After a brief scene with Mason and Alana (during which Alana is looking as fierce as ever in her red jacket), Pazzi returns to a waiting Hannibal and the episode kicks into a new gear. In an homage to A Clockwork Orange, Hannibal scores his murder of Pazzi to Rossini’s La gazza ladra overture. Poor Pazzi never stood a chance, once he decided to follow in his ancestor’s footsteps and go for the silver, and in the end completely underestimates Hannibal.
Not so with Jack, who is focused and ready for action. Taking a page from Hannibal’s book, he scores the fight (the second half of the Rossini overture) and slips off his shoes, sneaking up behind Hannibal just as Hannibal did Pazzi and earlier, Miriam Lass. Hannibal is distracted and off his guard and once he loses the upper hand, he is unable to regain it. The combination of the Rossini, the direction and editing, the staging of the fight, and the performances make Jack’s thorough beating of Hannibal utterly satisfying. Hannibal barely seems to be fighting back—perhaps part of him would rather be captured than go through with killing Will—and this gives the encounter a completely different tone than either of the pair’s confrontations in season two, plus the petulance of Hannibal’s dialogue only fuels the scene, making the audience cheer even more for Hannibal’s overdue comeuppance. In the end, Hannibal escapes and Jack for the most part lets him leave. The audience may know Hannibal is eventually headed for a cell in Chilton’s asylum, but we don’t know when or how, and this scene plays with that to tremendous effect. It’s a thrilling anticlimax, a one-sided beating that likely won’t be repeated or matched any time soon. The title of the episode, “Contorno”, references the vegetable side dish that comes in a traditional Italian meal—if this is the side dish, what do Bryan Fuller and company have in store for dessert (next week’s “Dolce”) and after-dinner drinks (the episode afterwards, “Digestivo”)? This episode may start slowly, but its playful and energetic conclusion more than makes up for any first act problems, upturning the status quo in Florence and spelling the beginning of the end of what has been a tremendous opening to season three.
—Hannibal and Bedelia’s post-sexytimes snack of snails is great, underlining Will’s tableau as a firefly and explaining the connection between the snails and fireflies while continuing the pair’s manipulation of each other. As soon as Hannibal starts to toy with Bedelia, recasting her as the sheep to his sheepdog, she redirects his attention toward Will. She’s playing a dangerous game, but with each episode my esteem for Bedelia grows, as does my hope that she’ll perhaps escape with her life.
—Speaking of snails, the shots of the snails bridging the first two scenes are effectively creepy. Only Hannibal could make snails a running theme for the season and somehow make them menacing. In the parlance of Fuller on Twitter, #SnailedIt.
—The lighting throughout this episode is gorgeous, particularly the glows that come off various light sources, such as the candles on the Pazzis’ table (another recurring visual for the season). This makes for a warm, painterly look that contrasts well with the cool feel of Hannibal’s dinner table in Baltimore.
—Yes, that is indeed a fellatio joke the show slipped past the censors as Mason talks with Alana. Anderson is good in the scene, making Mason utterly repugnant as he tries to get a reaction from Alana, who refuses to give him the satisfaction. Alana may still be embracing the Red Lip and Styled Hair of Vengeance, but a whisper of the old Alana slips through when she calls Pazzi to warn him. Alana and Hannibal’s brief exchange is fantastic, as charged and tense as one would expect. Hopefully we’ll get more between them soon!
—Just as thrilling is the first scene with Hannibal and Pazzi, wherein we learn Hannibal knows everything about everyone, including Pazzi’s family history and related art and architecture. Pazzi’s reaction, to go Mason, may feel out of character, but the framing of the scene, keeping Pazzi’s wedding ring at the center of the frame, outlined by a hole in the phone booth plastic, is a nice detail.
— We get a second shot from inside one’s innards in two weeks: in “Aperitivo”, we saw Will’s gut’s POV as Hannibal’s linoleum knife stabbed into them in “Mizumono” and here we see Hannibal through the gaping wound he inflicts on Pazzi.
—Director Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job with much of the episode and one interesting touch is the artificiality he embraces for the train scenes. When Chiyoh and Will stand on the back of the train, the shots of the passing landscape feel aggressively artificial, adding to the dream-like atmosphere Chiyoh references.
—The ravenstag is back! This may not be a good sign for Will, but at least we didn’t have to see the Broken Hart again.
Kate’s Classical Corner: This episode features some of the most entertaining and inventive scoring on Hannibal yet. Click on for my thoughts on the score and soundtrack in “Contorno”.
For more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti, This Is Our Design!