Robert Tiemstra ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Writing Staff
“Ethics become aesthetics.”
The police procedural has taken some odd turns in the few decades of its existence, but it appears that in Hannibal, it has finally come full circle. The standard model for gritty films and TV series about police-work was established by the critically acclaimed 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, which put to rest any notion that all cop dramas had to be light and free of nuanced characters and twisted psychology. The exciting new take on the formula was then played out to death by a million Criminal Minds-, CSI-, and Law & Order-type shows until the character of Hannibal Lecter returned in his own show to reclaim the genre and once again do something new with it.
There is not a single policeman in this “Antipasto,” and the question of Will Graham’s (Hugh Dancy) survival remains up in the air. The episode’s main strength—besides drawing us in to the most gorgeously-shot version of Florence ever brought to the silver screen—is distracting viewers from those lingering questions from the previous season, making them focus on questions they’d forgotten about in the midst of wondering whether Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), Abigail Hobbs (Kacy Rohl), or Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) survive their encounter with the knife-wielding Lecter.
These questions include how Lecter met up with Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) before that tantalizing post-credits scene, and how long and torturing the offscreen death of Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) was. Both are explored extensively through flashbacks, which go as far back as a horrific incident that defined Du Maurier’s relationship with Dr. Lecter, but somehow they do not feel like they take away from the main plot of the episode—instead, they are very much a part of the same nightmare. The unifying theme between the flashbacks and current plot is imprisonment, the quality many people ascribe to nightmares in which the subject wishes to flee, but has no physical or emotional power to do so. Gideon’s philosophical discussions with Lecter verge on the bafflingly frank, as they eat the disgraced serial killer one piece at a time—“Imagine what you must taste like…” muses Gideon at one point.
While in another show this may seem out of place, the dinner scenes between Gideon and Lecter give the audience hints about how Dr. Lecter’s mind works, giving some disturbing undertones to the dinner scenes between Lecter and his faux “wife.” The relationship between Du Maurier and Lecter is an insidious one because of the vice-like grip with which Lecter holds Du Maurier. At the end of the second season, there was significant speculation about how complicit Du Maurier was in Lecter’s plotting, and this episode answers that question with a resounding “no.” Although there is a complicity to her presence, pointed out by Lecter in a key scene, she resists his snare with her cold stare. He is very much in control here, but the season will be quite interesting indeed if they focus on a shift in that balance of power.
As always, the series excels at realizing the world it lives in with vivid horror and breathtaking beauty. Many of the frames in this series could be taken and mounted on a wall as artwork, as the composition and colors work so well. When attempting to explore European locations (or any exotic locales really), many television shows end up looking cheap because of the shortcuts they take to keep shooting within their own studio backlot against a green screen or set, but this is not the case with Hannibal. Whether they actually filmed in Florence and Paris is irrelevant; the production design, visual effects, and cinematography conjure up versions of those two cities that fit right in with the nightmarish depiction of Baltimore from previous seasons. This is a perfect synthesis of production value, making the viewer forget this show has budgetary limitations.
This is a series that, like a well-balanced dish, is made up of elements that should not work together. It is gory, ghoulish, and dark, but still has a devilish sense of humor. It is about cannibalism, yet it shoots and decorates its food so well viewers can’t help but want to dig into it. It also manages to reconcile the over-the-top gothic imagery with the grounded psychology and character work—the two clashing elements that proved to be the downfall for the Hannibal Lecter film series) by creating a style so unique to itself that only a show like Hannibal could exist within it. For approximately the first season and a half, Hannibal wore the police procedural format like a person suit (you could call season one Law & H’orderves and not be too far off the mark), but now it has shed that disguise and is able to embrace its twisted heart free of judgment or scrutiny. And the audience, like Du Maurier, doesn’t know if it’s merely observing or participating in Bryan Fuller’s mad fantasy, but we’re enraptured all the same.
“Morality doesn’t exist. Only morale.”
Episode Grade: A