With its first four installments spent establishing the status quo of each major player, “Contorno” marks the first Hannibal episode that feels like a regular episode of TV, in that it bounces back-and-forth between its primary storylines, as opposed to honing in on one or two specified relationships. Even last week’s entry found itself tied together by a clever structural conceit. Here, we have Will and Chiyo traveling back from Lithuania, Jack and Pazzi bonding/strategizing and Alana and Mason Verger attempting to orchestrate Hannibal’s capture while stationed in America. As expected, this loss of a tight, insular focus means that the episode ends up feeling a bit shaggier and rough around the edges than normal, though this is to be expected, given the story’s inevitable progression.
First, we are served up a big ole’ injection of heightened, ponderous exchanges courtesy of Will and Chiyo, who are riding a train to Italy after the events of “Secondo.” The two appear to be caught in the midst of a moral debate—Chiyoh does not agree with Will’s violent means of dealing with Hannibal, though she does manage to neatly sum up what’s driving him. “If you don’t kill him, you are afraid you will become him,” she psychoanalyzes. Chiyoh further claims not to have any insight into Hannibal’s larger plans, but that she is aware of his current location.
Later, Will experiences a nightmare wherein he sees an impaled Chiyoh dangling from the ceiling—yet another causality in his war with Hannibal. He awakens and finds her at the back of the train admiring the moon. The two share an inexplicable kiss before Chiyoh, demonstrating that she’s more than a semi-catatonic object to be manipulated, pushes Will over the edge and onto the tracks. Our hero is left bruised and stranded, with only a vision of the Dark Stage to keep him company. This turn offers a sly little insight into why Will, despite his deep-seated fears, will never really become like Hannibal. Whereas the good doctor excels at keeping a comfortable distance from his peers in order to best toy with them, Will cannot help but act as the overly empathetic guardian.
Of course, that doesn’t make Will’s scenes with Chiyoh feel any less like a drag. Not helping matters is the fact that Chiyoh, in spite of all her chitchat, remains somewhat of an unknowable, un-relatable character. Normally, I would be fine with accepting the enigma, but that becomes a bit frustrating when Will keeps acting as though there’s some semblance of an emotional connection between the two and the storyline even pushes them into sharing a kiss—an action that, given their spark-free interactions, makes about as much sense as the pair engaging in a tickle fight. Again, perhaps this will all make sense in the long run, but this doesn’t stop me from getting a restless feeling whenever these scenes come up.
Will and Chiyoh’s story is not the only example of acrimonious harmony, as demonstrated by the tenuous Alana/Verger pairing. Their plotline commences with Alana revealing that she’s been using Hannibal’s taste in truffles and wine as a means of tracking him down (Hannibal is nothing if not a creature of habit). This has led her to tracing Bedelia’s purchases in Florence. Verger is impressed by her resourcefulness though, naturally, he cannot resist the opportunity to take yet another crack at her romantic past in one of the most beautifully crafted oral sex jokes ever put to paper. “How did you taste?” he asks. “Sweet, I bet. I’m sure you got a taste of him, too. Spitters are quitters, and you don’t strike me as a quitter.” Touché Fuller.
Alana’s findings results in Verger enlisting the services of Inspector Pazzi, who has come face-to-face with “Dr. Fell” and is positive he is the “Monster of Florence” from years back. Verger offers Pazzi a three million dollar bounty for bringing in Hannibal alive and a $100,000 advance if he can produce an item with Hannibal’s prints on it. Knowing Hannibal, Alana recognizes that Pazzi’s proximity to the truth means he is not long for this world. Showing that there’s still compassion left in her, Alana attempts to warn the inspector, only to find she is too late.
In a scene that plays out much the way it does in the other Hannibal, Pazzi’s attempts to secure a fingerprint result in the doctor immobilizing him before tying a makeshift noose around his neck, disemboweling and sending his body careening off the side of the building where the intestines splatter to the floor. Goodbye, Pazzi, we barely knew ya.
What Hannibal did not foresee, however, was having his murder witnessed by a determined-looking Jack Crawford, who conveniently appears right at the time of Pazzi’s hanging. Thus, after several episodes of build-up, we finally get the no-holds-barred sequel to Jack and Hannibal’s Season Two rumble. And it’s about as incredible as one would hope for.
Hannibal tries to make idle chitchat as a silent Jack gives him the beating of his life, tossing him through displays, pounding his face, slicing his leg with a hook and even breaking his arm with an antique wheel (talk about the creative team employing the location for maximum efficiency). The fight subsequently crescendos with one minimal exchange—“How will you feel when I’m gone?” Hannibal asks, to which Jack responds, “Alive”— before the FBI agent kicks his opponent out of the window and onto the ground below. Somehow still alive (maybe he’s part Terminator), Hannibal rises to his feet and stumbles off into the night.
While the fact that Jack’s beatdown did not leave him a crippled mess is a bit hard to swallow, it is a nice reversal to see Hannibal, typically the one always obsessively in control, brought literally and figuratively to his knees. With his enemies closing the gap around him, Hannibal’s days as a free man looks to be numbered.
“Contorno” marks a bit of a step down from last week’s entry, with its multi-storied plot servicing as both an advantage and hindrance. On one hand, though the final third finds the various plotlines coming together, the structure makes the episode feel more scattershot. Because we’re moving between several different stories and location, the episode never really gets the opportunity to settle into a comfortable atmosphere. On the other hand, I much prefer this to the momentum-killing Will/Chiyoh dynamic that dominated the hour in “Secondo” (the snail imagery was definitely giving me bad flashbacks for a second there).
All that said, the episode more than picked up the slack in its latter half, setting the stage for Hannibal’s comeuppance over the final two episodes of this Italy arc. And while I’m certainly thrilled to see how Fuller and Co. cap off this offbeat experiment in television structure, I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that the slower parts made me antsy for the upcoming Red Dragon arc. Then again, that could very well be tied to my intense love for the book and a desire to see Fuller’s interpretation rather than any overwhelming issues with the current season. Once again, even when Hannibal is problematic, it’s still one of the most exhilarating parts of any week.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.