Let’s go ahead and discuss the elephant in the room, shall we?
This week Hannibal was, for all intents and purposes, canceled by NBC. Granted, the network did little more than pay a licensing fee while the real funding came in via various foreign distribution deals. It was an experiment that allowed a show as brutally violent and heady as this one to play on a broadcast channel, which never ceased to be a source of great amusement for fans and critics alike. In any case, the natural tendency at this time is almost always to blast the network for not supporting the show but given the program’s unorthodox content coupled with its abysmal ratings, I can only salute NBC for giving it as many seasons as they did.
As I write this, the show is actively looking for a new home and, like all Hannibal fans, I hope to God it finds one. The fact that the first episode aired after the news broke is so spectacular only adds fuel to this fire.
After a trio of mainly insular episodes that focused on specific characters and experiences, “Aperitivo“ takes a wider-scale, more macro approach. In the course of an hour, we essentially experience a “where are they now?” rollout of Hannibal’s various victims from the latter half of Season Two, including all the surviving participants of the Red Dinner season finale. Connecting these stories and acting as a kind of Nick Fury for the Hannibal universe is Raul Esparza ‘s Frederick Chilton. As it turns out, Chilton survived his attempted assassination, but the bullet left him with a deformed face that he covers up with carefully applied cosmetics. The episode even opens with him sharing battle scars with Mason Verger (now played by Joe Anderson) whose own face has become a mass of skin grafts and scar tissue. Apparently, Mason has put out a million dollar bounty for Hannibal and Chilton wants the two to join forces in order to get revenge on “Hannibal the Cannibal” (a name Chilton has hilariously copyrighted). It’s an offer that Mason quickly refuses.
Somewhat predictably, that does not stop Chilton’s crusade. Indeed, a subsequent retelling of the opening of “Primavera” reveals that it was actually him and not Abigail Hobbs who Will saw entering his hospital room upon waking. Chilton offers Will the opportunity to join forces and catch Hannibal but, much like Verger, our hero pushes him away. Later, we get our first Will/Jack scene of the season when the now “retired” FBI agent comes to visit his old friend. The two discuss why Will ended up warning Hannibal before Jack made his surprise attack. Will admits it was a last-second decision and, furthermore, he wanted Hannibal to run because “he was my friend and because I wanted to run away with him.”
Will’s guilt surrounding this decision certainly has colored what we’ve seen of him this season; nevertheless, seeing him so bluntly admit this aloud remains shocking in its own way. Despite being a series that so thoroughly renders characters’ interior lives in a surreal, visual fashion, the show also tends to beat around the bush when it comes to its characters directly addressing their motivations and thoughts in ways that don’t include elaborate metaphors. That’s one of the reasons last week’s episode was such a frustrating experience for me and why a straight-shooting character like Jack is a welcome presence in this kind of world.
The next segment focuses on Alana Bloom, who we finally learn survived her fall from the window. And though Alana looks to be making a decent physical recovery, the damage to her psyche seems beyond repair. According to her own diagnosis, a significant amount of marrow leaked into her blood, meaning that she will be “thinking differently.” Indeed, the Alana of this episode is a much colder, more ruthless being than the well-meaning, compassionate individual from the past two years. In fact, she’s even able to do what Chilton was not able to do—officially bring Mason into a revenge ploy. Even after Mason says he’s now found religion and forgiven Dr. Lecter, Alana responds, “forgiveness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…I don’t need religion to appreciate the idea of Old Testament revenge.”
Next comes Jack Crawford. I will preface this by saying that Hannibal is often a bleak, disturbing show, but rarely does it rise to the tear-inducing levels of sadness demonstrated in these 10 or so minutes. Jack awakens from his attack by Hannibal to find his wife Bella lying next to him. It turns out that keeping the glass shard lodged in his neck was the proper course of action, as it prevented him from bleeding out. Moreover, having had such a close encounter with death has also given him a newfound understanding of his cancer-stricken wife’s existence.
In one of the most beautifully tragic moments we’re likely to see on TV this year, Jack watches as his wife moans in pain during sleep and decides to fulfill a wish she’s had for a very long time. Grabbing a syringe, he gifts her with a quiet mercy killing. As her moans gradually transition into almost musical humming, Bella passes away with a tearful Jack right by her side.
Rarely are such emotionally devastating moments of this ilk approached with such a level of subtlety and nuance. Much of this segment relies on Laurence Fishburne and Gina Torres emoting their inner thoughts and communicating years of experience via actions and not words. The fact that the two are married in real-life definitely appears to add to the effect. Given that Fishburne started the series as perhaps the story’s most straightforward character, it’s been fascinating to witness how both the actor and writers have continued to add layer upon layer to his portrayal. At this point, it’s safe to say this is probably the richest role Fishburne has had in some time.
Upon arriving at Bella’s funeral, Jack finds a condolence letter from none other than Hannibal himself. As Jack reads, his despair turns to determined rage. With the loss of his wife, it becomes abundantly clear why Jack later decides to follow Will to Italy—he doesn’t want to lose anyone else close to him.
The final segment centers on Mason Verger, whose almost Bond-villain flamboyance provokes major whiplash after the proverbial gut punch of Jack’s story. That’s not to say this isn’t an enjoyable last stretch—quite the contrary, Joe Anderson really manages to capture the character’s maniacal, macabre humor even under layers of make-up. What’s more, in spite of his salvation claims, Mason remains the same twisted cad he always was. In his meeting with Alana, he crassly references her romantic history with Hannibal by joking that he “got deeper inside you than he did anyone else.”
Always one to surround himself with equally screwy individuals, Mason enlists his creepy caretaker to help him find and cook Hannibal. When the man’s only response is to ask him how he would like it done, an enthused Mason replies, “if I had lips, I’d be smiling.” Though such crazy comedy does occasionally feel like a major left turn in the context of the episode, it does provide a nice palate cleanser after all the more serious-minded material that has come before it.
Despite how much I enjoyed the experimental entries earlier this season, “Aperitivo“ provides a welcome relief from that structure, again proving that Hannibal knows exactly when to pivot its approach to avoid becoming stale. What’s all the more amazing is how much information is presented in the course of the episode’s 42 minutes and yet it never really ends up feeling overstuffed or that it’s short-shrifting one story for the sake of another. It’s masterful, brilliantly constructed television that finds Bryan Fuller and Co. firing on all cylinders.
Please don’t die Hannibal. I need you in my life.