The Season 3 premiere, “Antipasto” will imperil Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) in ways we've never witnessed. But even with the seemingly impossible challenges of identity theft under the suspicions of canny academic Florentines, and nursing—even provoking—the viper he spawned at his breast who is Bedelia du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), Hannibal's boredom may be growing dangerous.
Warning, this first one's going to get a little lengthy, but as the antipasto, and given previous seasons, I have some confidence we're setting the table with visual and story and character themes that are going to extend faaaar beyond one episode, at least through the first half of the season. Seriously, if I want to say anything about Hannibal and Bedelia, I'm just going to shorthand back here! So, let's dig in!
We begin the night's episode with a coolly-delivered “Bonsoir”. In a brief, neat echo of the blood-sculpture opening credits, shapes curl in smoke as Hannibal revs up a bike Sturgis-style to crash a reception in Paris. The honoree is an author and professor, Dr. Roman Fell (Jeremy Crutchley). As soon as Hannibal arrives, he's singled out by the professor's former assistant, Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom). Handsome, ingratiating, and gnawingly jealous of his former boss, the poet Dimmond approaches Hannibal to dish on the evening's honoree, and, one also senses, to breathe in the scent of all that motorcycle leather.
At the end of the reception, Hannibal will give a metaphorical bonsoir to the man's liver after sauteeing it to his delectation (still leaky rare) and dining upon it in a confectionary apartment of white moldings, pale blue walls, and gold ornament that was so visually Parisian, I expected to see Audrey Hepburn's ghost in one corner. Hannibal will round out his evening with a bonsoir to the professor's wife (Catherine Tait), aussitôt gagné, aussitôt dépensé, which is what the internet tells me is French for easy come, easy go.
The dispatching and eating of these people, we're soon to understand, isn't because of Hannibal's intrinsic desire for this particular game. They're fine, but forgettable. The point is not to waste a chance at even a comparatively small pleasure if you must do the butchery anyway. See Dr. Abel Gideon's (Eddie Izzard) plight in this episode for an example of the lengthy, thoughtful preparation Hannibal gives to someone who actually interests him.
Apparently, Hannibal had already gotten rid of an aging Dante expert, and now Dr. Fell, the persona which Hannibal will adopt with Bedelia as his missus, becomes the next candidate for a desirable academic spot in Florence. The accompaniment to all this jockeying is a tenor singing “Sogno Soave e Casto” from an Italian comic opera of identity switching. In Don Pasquale, an ambitious young man seeks to fool a blustering old man so he can take his wealth and position, but just one woman plays wife to both of them, leaving her true love and her husband of convenience each feeling betrayed by turns. Is this soundtrack choice a simple foreshadowing of the way Hannibal will use the Fells to take their places, or does it also say something about Bedelia, his false wife, who will waver more in this episode than we've seen to date?
We join Hannibal and Bedelia as they charmingly waltz and dip in a ballroom full of the tuxedoed and gowned standard-bearers of Italian high culture. Hannibal is challenged—no, he doesn't seem precisely like a native—and we see Bedelia try to diffuse the confrontation, but her concern is unnecessary. Dr. Lecter has already prepared an addition in his memory palace for medieval Italian, and silkily takes up the challenge of an impromptu lecture and quizzing by the faculty. He's happy to sing for his supper, he says. (Oh, I've so missed the puns.)
We'll see Hannibal preparing by immersing himself in manuscripts and slides, the art and literature and politics of Dante's time. The incredible demands of instant, authentic, deep expertise is one of the reasons, I think, Hannibal remarks to Bedelia that he's hardly killed a soul since they've taken up residence. She points out the lapses, but is that because she's sincerely bothered (I have doubts, sports fans) or because daring him by serving these kind of checks is how she earns her supper? Unpredictability, I believe, is part of staying interesting to Hannibal, which is perhaps the most important factor in ongoing survival. Don't be too awed and definitely poke the monster back. Again, a tip of the hat to Dr. Abel Gideon for proof-of-concept on this one.
Bedelia tells Hannibal she's still in conscious control of her actions, but this seems like so much blah-blah, mere tough-talking when she sinks into her tub of nightmares, of the subsconscious and her memories. She flashes back to finding Hannibal in her old Baltimore-area house, showering off the blood of the many grievously-wounded feds from the finale of Season 2. She doesn't run, instead choosing to hold a gun on him. As he dresses from nakedness, he answers yes, he's dropped the “person suit” he'd been wearing in front of the feds. The pair seems obliquely to be debating whether her analytically-shaped hyper-conscious relationship with him or Will Graham's thrumming un- or sub-conscious connection is of most value to Hannibal. However, Bedelia's being sharp and self-protective enough to hold a gun on him even temporarily seemed to be a pleasant surprise. That's what I mean by staying interesting and unpredictable, even if you're faking.
I must salute the interstitials with plucky-to-the-end Dr. Abel Gideon, who tries his best to stay sassy, even after witnessing the exacting preparation of his own limbs into comestibles. He was made to eat oysters and acorns, and to drink sweet wine, so that his later-detached arm would be more appealing to the snails who would dine upon it, and then be dined upon as escargot by him and Hannibal. And what can be said about the epic feast of his smoked and candy-glazed leg! But Dr. Abel Gideon stays piquant, pointing out how much Hannibal likes an audience and wants company, even if his poor company isn't Will Graham's.
When the real Dr. Fell's rent-seeking former-assistant turns up in Florence, Hannibal has a quandary. How does he solve it? How does he solve anything? Invite the man to dinner! While he and Dimmond and Bedelia dine, the clever and at least sadism-curious poet asks about her diet of oysters and Marsala. Is Hannibal pre-seasoning her, we wonder? We've seen her picking up specialty foods and wine as part of her daily routine, a circuit that takes her from one lovely abattoir to another. Perhaps even the greatest hats and coats, and they're magical, can't make up for never escaping the blood.
Still, she boldly answers about her refined husband's concern for how she tastes, but to the leering Dimmond's attempt to invite himself into a sexy group banquet, she doesn't respond. Instead, she looks to Hannibal to make the decision whether they'll accept or refuse. When Bedelia's apparently shocked that Hannibal fails to do away with Dimmond after dinner, it's as if he's asking for her permission, well, more her acknowledgment that she likes him doing the wet work, that having a frightening monster at beck-and-call is a thrill.
We flash back again with her to Baltimore—she's laying on her back, panting with a man on the floor next to her. It could be the aftermath of intimacy, but no, it's the aftermath of a killing. She has been bloodied to the elbow accessing her patient's inner life through his gullet, the choreography of which I don't yet understand. When Hannibal arrives, in what passes for tenderness, he asks if the blood staining her blouse and arm is her own. She claims she was attacked, but the dead man's hands look clean and soft, despite the broken glass scattered around. In the bathroom—the same one where she'll later discover him cleaning up—Hannibal sponges her off, washing the blood down the drain. He will help if she but asks.
These two situations bring up a theme of agency through foreknowledge that I expect to be long-running. If you know something terrible might happen, and don't do anything to stop it from being terrible, are you responsible because you knew better? Where this show's highly-intellectualized people know better than the dumb or damaged rubes they use for chess pieces, how much responsiblity do they bear for the casualties? Hannibal would say all of it, because he doesn't really care, and because loading that kind of referred guilt onto people is interesting, you know, just to see if they fracture under it. (And we can suspect why he sent the now-dead patient Bedelia's way.) Bedelia doesn't want to accept the concept of observer's guilt, the rap that passively observing when you know what will happen is as bad as doing the terrible thing. However, this therapist may not have entered the profession to help people impassively. Playing ooh aint-it-awful may be her dirty, secret joy.
The pressure of discovery piles on when the traveling poet comes to “Dr. Fell's lecture,” only to see the imposter Hannibal discussing medieval torture and especially the sin of betrayal, a la Judas Iscariot. Hannibal's risking by inviting all this to unfold in a public venue, and he's giving Bedelia the rope to hang him. She's in the audience, draped in scarificial white, and Hannibal touches her shoulder as he discourses, “…be my gallows…” See what I mean about him being bored as he claims he's finding Italy “restful?” He's upping the danger, and continuing the notion from previous seasons that every intimacy bears the seeds of an imminent betrayal.
After the lecture, the cheeky poet prefers discussing leverage to disclosure, and Hannibal was escorting him around the handy torture exhibits when they mention breaking on the wheel. That's when all the circles began making sense to me. Below the spigot handles of Bedelia's nightmare bathtub is an overflow drain, drawn with metal spokes as perfect as an orange's slices…or a Catherine wheel. We've seen lots of round drains running with blood this episode, and even close-ups on circles, too, like the turning doorknob as Hannibal brings Dimmond back to the apartment for a second, final visit. These are the wheels we're meant to see breaking Bedelia. After slipping out of the lecture, Bedelia has her coat on and purse on her arm when Hannibal and Dimmond return to the apartment, but again, had she been fleeing for her life instead of ambivalently waffling, she'd have been long gone while the men were still discussing flail designs.
The creators have enjoyed hitting people over the head with philosophy before, so Dimmond gets amusingly clocked with Aristotle's bust, and Bedelia's weak claim of mere observer-status sounds like a fail, a submission rather than any kind of assertion. Seeing Hannibal returning by train from having artistically dsplayed Dimmond's torso, we realize he's missed this. Even spinning Bedelia's moral compass and fencing with Florentines isn't precisely the same. He misses the death-as-art projects, he misses Will, and as next week's previews promise, Hannibal is going to correct that lack.
Clare Toohey is a literary omnivore, admirer of slow custards and woodcuts. Aside from editing The M.O. and site wrangling here, she freelances as an editor, writes short, surreal crime fiction, blogs at Women of Mystery, and tweets @clare2e.