Hannibal, Season 3, Episode 6, “Dolce”
Written by Don Mancini and Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Airs Thursdays at 10pm (ET) on NBC
Welcome back, Vincenzo. We missed you! A tonal successor to “Secondo”, this week’s episode picks up with Hannibal staggering through the streets of Florence, in bad shape after the spectacular beat-down Jack delivered in “Contorno”. From the first shot, a drop of blood falling into a red liquid, later suspended and dispersed into water, director Vincenzo Natali’s hand is clear. The dream imagery of the season’s first three episodes, also directed by Natali, is back, combining with composer Brian Reitzell’s shimmering score to give the episode a wonderfully impressionistic quality. “Dolce” marks the culmination of Hannibal and Will’s relationship, giving them closure before they move on to something new. The episode attempts to capture the fleeting beauty of their deep understanding and acceptance of each other with soft, fluid imagery and subtle scoring. If “Antipasto” is the bright, sparkling fantasy of Hannibal’s life in denial over Will’s betrayal and “Secondo” is the dark fairy tale of Will embracing and coming to understand Hannibal as never before, “Dolce” is the glistening sunset of their courtship, and it’s only fitting that Natali is back to finish the journey with them.
At the center of the episode is the much-anticipated meeting of Hannibal and Will for the first time since “Mizumono”. Will had said he didn’t know what he’d do when he saw Hannibal again and many fans wondered the same thing. Their interaction feels so appropriate and natural that it’s hard to imagine how we could have expected anything else. What could Will have done but sit and talk openly with this man who has destroyed him while also knowing him at his deepest level, tearing down his walls and finding the scared boy hiding inside. The exchange between the two, as they sit in front of Boticelli’s Primavera and as Reitzell’s “Bloodfest”—which scored the Red Dinner—plays underneath, is beautiful and romantic, almost equal in power to their confrontation in “Mizumono”. It’s the negative of that scene, calm and inviting, the pair comfortable laying their truths bare rather than hiding behind anger and resentment. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen keep their performances relaxed, creating a safe space between the characters, and that stillness is matched in the camera work and scoring. It feels like a goodbye, two characters acknowledging that despite their connection, they just don’t work together. As soon as they leave and Will readies his knife to attack Hannibal, they have begun something new. Similarly, Hannibal’s embrace of Will, as he strips off his jacket, feels like a final heartfelt farewell and what happens next, Hannibal’s drugging and attempted murder of Will, carries none of the baggage of what’s come before. It’s not dissimilar to Hannibal and Jack’s exchange before their fight in “Mizumono”—they recognize what they have meant to each other and place that aside before doing what they must.
While the rest of “Dolce” is entertaining, it feels like window dressing compared to the emotional heft of Hannibal and Will’s meeting. Bedelia parts from Hannibal, having played her cards expertly and managed to maintain Hannibal’s respect and admiration while exerting her will and leaving him. Gillian Anderson is an absolute blast throughout this episode, first as the empowered Bedelia—what a difference a few episodes make—and later as the loopy but confident Bedelia-as-Lydia. This is the least guarded we’ve seen Bedelia in the series; she feels safe behind her well-constructed alibi and she and Hannibal are on good terms, so she can finally relax (the drugs don’t hurt with that either). It’s a new side to the character and a welcome contrast to the rest of the intense and scheming cast. Mason has fun play-acting as Hannibal, dreaming up preparations for his foe, but even in his subconscious, he fails to be anywhere near as suave. Margot and Alana’s relationship is made explicit in a tour-de-force scene for Natali, who manages to top his direction of the memorable five-way from “Naka-choko” with his kaleidoscopic approach to the pair’s first sex scene. It’s sensual and tactile while somehow fitting within the Standards and Practices guidelines for an American network drama, no small feat. Jack’s role is comparatively minor here, questioning Will’s intentions non-judgmentally and Bedelia’s absolutely judgmentally, but Laurence Fishburne provides some of the episode’s best comedic moments in Jack’s reactions to Bedelia and the dynamic between Jack and Chiyoh in the elevator.
While the scene at the gallery is the episode’s most weighty and the Alana/Margot sex scene is its flashiest, my favorite scene is what we’re shown of Will’s thoughts as he’s drugged. Will’s in a fog literalized on-screen as smoke that billows and winds between the faces of Hannibal and Will, creating images in his mind and showing the two as opposite forces facing each other upon the antlers of the wendigo. It’s absolutely gorgeous, the thought-provoking imagery expertly realized by Natali and the visual effects team, who also deserve some of the credit for the aforementioned sex scene. The episode’s most visually striking moments are those mirroring the character’s altered states: Hannibal’s exhaustion after Jack’s beating, Margot and Alana’s arousal, the drugs coursing through Bedelia, Will, and Jack’s systems. Natali takes different approaches, playing these scenes for comedy (Bedelia), beauty (Hannibal, Margot/Alana), or dreaminess (Will). Only with the final such scene do we get horror, Jack’s perception of Hannibal’s attack on Will, which parallels his vision of his own blood rising back up to the ceiling as he neared death after the Red Dinner.
This kind of visceral, visual storytelling is incredibly rare on television and with Hannibal’s cancellation looking more certain each week, an episode like “Dolce” that so fully embraces the show’s artistic aesthetic feels precious. I have plenty of issues with the first half of this season (Why have Margot and Alana been so marginalized? Why present Pazzi as one kind of person in “Primavera” only to handwave a huge change in his priorities in “Contorno”? Why darken Will so completely with the Firefly Man only to brush his complicity aside with one line in “Dolce”? Why rush the Italy arc to completion if it means bungling these character beats?), but while these concerns may keep season three below season two in my estimation, they do little to detract from my love for the series. Great television is rarely, if ever, perfect and I will take imperfect Hannibal any day over the best of just about any other show. Next week’s “Digestivo” marks the end of the first half of the season, which will theoretically be distinct from the second half (which will be an adaptation of Red Dragon), but while “Dolce” ends on a cliffhanger, the closure given to Hannibal and Will’s relationship makes it feel like much more of a finale than a penultimate episode. Now that the aftereffects of “Mizumono” have finally all been felt, we can move on fully to Mason’s revenge and the presumably entertaining series of circumstances that will introduce viewers to the Dragon.
Kate’s Classical Corner: Click on for my reaction to the score and soundtrack in “Dolce”, which uses rolled percussion, clarinet, and electric guitar to memorable, atmospheric effect.
For more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti, This Is Our Design!