Bon soir, and welcome back. The decadent visual pleasures and hairpin narrative turns of “Antipasto,” the sumptuous, sensational opening salvo of the third season of Bryan Fuller‘s extraordinary Hannibal, are so thoroughly satisfying that analysis almost seems pointless. But, as our stately gentleman-cannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) points out early to a soon-to-be victim, “dissection” is occasionally required, and the first question that comes to mind is obvious: Where’s Will Graham (Hugh Dancy)? “Antipasto” smartly avoids trying to jump right into what’s happened since Mikkelsen’s psychiatrist-killer flew the coop of Baltimore, leaving four bodies bleeding out on his property as he headed off to Florence with Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson). Instead, we focus on the world that Hannibal and Bedelia have created for themselves in Italy, the aesthetic that they’ve been keeping up.
To match the liberation of Hannibal’s aesthetic for life, no longer needing to keep up appearances to the FBI, friends, victims, and colleagues, Fuller and his production team have allowed the grand gothic architecture of Florence and some sublime interior design dominate the imagery. Even without these environs, however, the show’s expert use of slow-motion, close-ups, and precise, roiling editing gives a vibrant, expressive sense of the lashing, unbound emotions and psyche’s at play. During a flashback that explains what happened between the slaughter at Hannibal’s home and his flight away with Bedelia, a shot of alcohol being poured into a glass, slowed down for effect, mirrors similar shots of water splashing down on Hannibal as he cleans blood off himself in the shower; they’re two of Bedelia’s major indulgences, one just a bit more dangerous than the other.
And of course, there’s a requisite cooking scene, with our anti-hero slicing and sautéing the plump liver of Dr. Fell, an academic that he’s only too happy to devour and subsequently take the guise of in the hopes of angling a position at the Palazzo Capponi as a Dante expert. The script, by Fuller and Steven Lightfoot, gives similarly ample time to mapping Bedelia’s jittery, overwhelming existence, and Vincenzo Natali‘s direction and imagery emanates her panic, fear, and sense of helplessness. Early on, she sinks into an endless ocean that isn’t all that far off from the black oblivion Scarlett Johansson sent suitors to in Under The Skin, and there’s that rather blatant close-up of the dead rabbit in her favored grocer’s shop. She repeats actions to make sure she’s seen, to ensure that she will be remembered by others, if her “husband’s” appetite extends to the flesh on her bones, whereas Hannibal has cut down on being seen and repeating behavior since he, as he puts it, took off his “human suit.”
That’s not to say that Hannibal isn’t feeling the personal stresses of his aesthetic decisions. “Ethics become aesthetics” says the good doctor, and for the most part, for him, that’s true, but his monstrous side compromises that aesthetic, even when he doesn’t want to admit it. Toward the end of the episode, he’s given a choice to either keep up his new aesthetic by ceding some control to an unexpected ally, or to revert to his old ways, demanding total control and loyalty to his stylish veneer. He chooses the latter, for he is, ultimately, a creature of habit, and through a flashback to the murder that bonded them, it’s clear that the self-control that stopped him from being totally overtaken by Hannibal is not a part of Bedelia’s make-up. The devastating revelation at the end is that she has succumbed fully to him, to the point that she even built up some anticipation for her husband’s latest kill.
We get to know quite a lot about Bedelia through flashbacks, but other, chrome-tinted flashbacks offer a window into Hannibal, through his final interactions with Gideon. Their discussions center on how one can taste the history of a being when it’s being consumed, a poetic concept that Hannibal is clearly enraptured by, and it’s also crucial to his design, the image of himself as an evolutionary step above others with humane heart and a taste for the finer things. With his final hours on Earth, Gideon goes about intensely questioning and scrutinizing Hannibal’s ideologies, and like the end of season 2, there’s a flash of true fear in Hannibal as Gideon teases his inevitable capture. Among the final images of “Antipasto,” one of the great season premieres of 2015, is a makeshift heart made out of a broken, contorted body, left in a chapel for Will Graham to find. Hannibal’s detailed new design for the high life in Florence is now vulnerable and at serious risk, because he can’t control who and what he is or, for that matter, who he wants to give his heart to.
★★★★★ Excellent — Awards material