First of all, welcome to the new time slot! It appears as though NBC, in an attempt to prevent Hannibal and its miniscule ratings from dragging down the network’s Thursday night, has decided to now air the show’s last remaining installments on a Saturday night. To be fair, it’s probably a sound business decision, but it does indeed suck for the show’s fans who (unlike myself) actually have an active weekend life.
But, enough of that, onto the review—
Looking back over this half-season of Hannibal, it’s tempting to approach these past seven episodes as some elaborate dare that Bryan Fuller and his team set for themselves while sketching out stories. Could they, in all seriousness, re-appropriate the schlocky absurdity that is Thomas Harris’ much maligned Hannibal novel into something, if no less grotesque and campy, then at least more aesthetically and narratively viable than Ridley Scott’s 2000 adaptation? By the time “Digestivo” reaches its final frames, the answer appears to be an unequivocal “yes.”
That’s not to say there weren’t some notable bumps along the way. At times, the show appeared to push the limits of viewers’ good will by leaning far too heavily into its more naval-gazing tendencies. Much of theses rough spots involved Chiyoh, a character who never really materialized into anything more substantial or intriguing behind the fact that she’d been keeping a man in a cage for a lengthy period. That the series saw fit to throw her into infuriatingly opaque exchanges with Will only illuminated how much of an acting tightrope those similarly written Will/Hannibal scenes can be and, moreover, how much their dynamic was missed.
Likewise, the tension couldn’t’ help but feel somewhat undermined by the recently released trailer for the latter part of Season Three, which will form the long-awaited “Red Dragon” arc. Although unmistakably awesome and atmospheric, the five-minute sizzle reel ultimately spoiled the fate of all of the main characters—most notably that Jack and Alana make it through “Digestivo” unharmed and that Hannibal falls in police custody. It’s a relatively minor complaint in the broad scheme of things (we knew this was leading to “Red Dragon”), but it does kill a bit of the suspense.
The episode opens with a flashback depicting how Hannibal and Will came to be under Mason Verger’s thumb. As it turns out, Bedelia did indeed leak info that allowed the corrupt Italian police to bust through the door and save Will from becoming Massive Head Wound Harry. The police promptly ship the duo off to Verger, leaving Jack Crawford helplessly locked to his chair. Just as the officers are about to eliminate the scene’s lone witness, however, Jack experiences providence in the form of Chiyoh, who takes out the remaining policemen via sniper. In return for cutting him loose, Jack informs her of Hannibal’s whereabouts—Muskrat Farms.
And so, much of the episode’s remaining runtime resides at the Verger estate, which plays host to some of the most eye-popping set pieces ever to grace the TV screen. It’s like what would happen if an experimental European filmmaker decided to put his own spin on a Rob Zombie-penned script. The move to the farm coincides with a significant decrease in the show’s typical use of elliptical dream logic. This is understandable, given that the amount of straight-up insanity on display here would render any freaky dream sequences redundant—like adding hot sauce to a scoop of wasabi.
Will and Hannibal quickly realize they won’t be instantly slaughtered due to Verger’s desire to savor his revenge. He promptly tasks his nurse/cook Cordell with prepping Hannibal for consumption, leading to a brilliant bit of black comedy where Cordell and the doctor converse about the ways in which to best prepare his flesh and organs (“you will always be cooked to perfection,” Cordell assures him). For her part, Alana warns her patient against playing with his food as he might “give it the opportunity to bite back.”
Naturally, being the unrepentant sicko that he is, Verger’s definition of “playing with food” goes about 100 steps beyond his already depraved plans. Indeed, not only does he plan on consuming Hannibal little-by-little, but he plans to do so after Cordell transplants Will’s face onto his own so that the doctor can watch as his frenemy eats his body parts. The upcoming surgery finally incentivizes Alana to put aside her (well-founded) murderous rage towards Hannibal and help him escape. The way director Adam Kane stages this moment, with Hannibal cutting his bindings and rising to his feet in triumphant slow-motion, feels somewhat reminiscent of a Godzilla-like kaiju emerging from the sea to save the day—appropriate, considering this is also a monster-vs.-monster scenario. The man does not disappoint. Verger awakens from the operation to discover Will and Hannibal gone and Cordell’s face plastered against his own.
With the boys gone, Alana and Margot are left to take care of the defenseless villain. And he’s done a lot to piss them off. As it turns out, Verger preserved some of his sister’s eggs upon having her uterus removed and used them to incubate a baby, which he promptly placed inside a pig’s carcass. Yeah, needless to say, that poor baby is long dead by the time the women pull him out. A confrontation ensues and the two reveal that, while Mason was out during the face surgery, they shoved a cattle prod into his prostate, thus causing him to ejaculate the sperm Margot needs to make a baby. Furthermore, they finally dispatch the scoundrel by shoving him into his previously established eel aquarium. Here, he meets a quite Freudian end when the phallic creature worms its way down his throat. Girl…power? Seriously, just writing this stuff down makes me feel as though I’m recapping the fever dreams of a psych ward patient as opposed to a show on the Peacock Channel.
In all seriousness, it is worth noting how thoroughly active the show’s female cast remain throughout the hour. Not only do Alana and Margot put a dramatic end to Verger, but Alana indirectly rescues Will by releasing Hannibal. Even Chiyoh, for all her blandness, acts as a guardian angel for first Jack and then Hannibal. Putting aside my intense love for the show, one of the major complaints I had with the first two seasons was how much of a sausage fest it could be at times. Sure, there was Alana and Freddy Lounds, but they mostly seemed to just fill well-worn female archetypes—the grounded skeptic and the opportunistic sex bomb, respectively. Beverly and Abigail certainly had their moments, but they eventually bit the dust. This omission is especially strange given that Fuller is a writer whose resume boasts some of TV’s most memorable female characters (see shows like Dead Like Me, Jaye from Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies to name a few). As such, between the aforementioned set pieces and the inclusion of Bedelia (who is sorely missed here), the showrunner clearly seems to be doing his best to make up for lost time.
With the Big Bad vanquished, Hannibal takes Will back to his rural house. It’s at this time that the two finally have their long-delayed heart-to-heart. Hannibal acknowledges that their relationship is a “zero sum game.” Will goes one-step further and attempts to give their toxic dynamic its death knell. “I’m not going to miss you,” he says. “I’m not going to find you, I’m not going to look for you. I don’t want to know where you are or what you do. I don’t want to think about you anymore.” If ever there was a moment where Hannibal seemed closest to tears, it would be his reaction to Will’s diatribe. The two are officially breaking up. Of course, like the crazed boyfriend/girlfriend who ends up moving right near their ex following the split, Hannibal decides to turn himself in to the FBI so that Will can always know where he is located, should he ever change his mind. EVIL.
After the utter insanity of last week, “Digestivo” manages an appropriately kooky finish to this peculiar mini-arc. What remains most impressive, however, is the ways in which the show manages to effectively checklist all the strange plot points in Harris’ Hannibal, while assuring that this final confrontation between Will and Hannibal does not come across as an underwhelming afterthought. In the end, the first half of Season Three will probably not go down as my favorite stretch of the show, as its frequent overindulgences and campy interludes—while admirable in execution—often ended up leaving me more confused than anything. That being said, I also feel honored at having born witness to what has to be the most brazenly eccentric series of episodes since David Lynch and Mark Frost first introduced us to Twin Peaks.
In any case, time to look forward. Next week—at long last—Enter the Dragon…
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.