How do you feel today?
I still believe I’m in conscious control of my actions. Given your history, that’s a good day.
The Season 3 premiere of Bryan Fuller's Hannibal is unlike any episode we've seen before. We are kept entirely separate from Will Graham, Jack Crawford and the rest of the FBI team, left in the cold familiarity of Washington, D.C. Instead we follow Hannibal and Bedelia to Florence, maneuvering within a dark fairy tale that keeps us unmoored, disquieted, by the new strangeness of these surroundings, the episode unusually formatted and strikingly edited to match its foreign setting. Nothing in this premiere is comfortable, recognizable. Any expectations lingering after the startling finale of last season are left unsettled. This is a new Hannibal, and a new Hannibal. Here he is Dr. Fell, an Italian professor and scholar. He is also Il Mostro, the monster stalking the Florence streets.
And who is Bedelia in Florence? That's a question she, herself, likely couldn't answer. She believes she is operating in conscious control of her actions, but a brief flashback to Hannibal finding Bedelia's patient (played by Zachary Quinto, who will presumably have more to do in future episodes) lying dead on the floor as she extracts her fist from his throat begins to, at last, reveal the true nature of Bedelia's obligation to Hannibal. She maintains she was defending herself; Hannibal knows better. Now, as he eats his way through Europe, he asks Bedelia - who's avoiding eating anything with a central nervous system, for now - a very simple question, and it doesn't feel like the first time he's asked it. "Observe or participate?" Does she even know the difference anymore?
Bedelia is now unalterably tethered to Hannibal, sinking into the deep, dark water of this alliance as she gasps for independence. We flash back to Bedelia's warning to Jack, "If you think you’re about to catch Hannibal, it’s because it’s what he wants you to think. Don’t fool yourself into thinking he’s not in control of what’s happening." Does she remember this advice now? She may believe she is in command of her own actions, but she's never truly in control - not when she's pointing a gun at Hannibal's naked, vulnerable form, not when she's escaping toward a door that will soon open to reveal Hannibal and his latest victim.
Is anyone ever in control with Hannibal Lecter? As Abel Gideon is fed his remaining limbs, also in flashback, he keeps his calm and his charm, his unflagging decorum keeping him alive. But when he mentions cannibalism, Hannibal hastens to assure him, "This isn’t cannibalism, Abel. It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals." To Hannibal, Abel is no more than the snails they share - snails that feed off the fat from Abel's body, as Abel is fed by the snails in turn. They make each other more delicious, with no other end than Hannibal's own satisfaction. They are the meal. He is the god who devours them.
But one man was Hannibal's equal - one person was as much predator as prey to the beast. Hugh Dancy never appears in "Antipasto," but Will Graham's shadow looms over every moment of the premiere. Hannibal eats, and eats, but isn't sated. He was tricked by the one person he felt understood him, and his exile to Europe is as much to flee that fact as to protect his freedom. Bedelia knows she is no substitute for Will - "What was he?" "Is this professional curiosity?" "Almost entirely." - and so does Abel: "Snails aren’t the only animals who prefer eating with company. If only that company could be Will Graham." As Hannibal's Dr. Fell gives a lecture on Judas Iscariot, we're reminded that this is a man who now knows, for the first time in his life, the taste of betrayal. So Il Mostro will continue his hungry reign, killing and eating with increasing audacity until he has drawn Judas' attention, and can bring the prey home to the predator.
Follow all of my Hannibal reviews here.