It’s been a long while since Hannibal was gracing the small(er) screens of our television sets and computer monitors, but at long last it is back. The first two seasons were masterpieces of writing, filled with a cast of top-notch actors. The actors have returned, as have the writers and series executive producer, Bryan Fuller. And when last we left off, things were all sorts of bat-shit crazy. Hannibal had escaped from the clutches of the law (who had finally figured out what he really was) and pretty much all the good guys were about to bleed to death, leaving him home free. Obviously that can’t be the case, as there would have been no third season. So what does Hannibal have in store for us this time around? Read on to find out.
We begin with a man on a motorcycle riding through Paris. Okay, establishing shot done. We all know it’s Hannibal. But what is our favorite cannibal serial killer up to these days? Well, he’s attending a fancy dinner party. While sipping cocktails and browsing through the… ahem… menu, Mr. Lecter runs into a self-proclaimed poet by the name of Dimmond. Only Hannibal is there for someone else.
Then cut to a brief flashback, one of many that we can expect this episode. The scene is from back when Hannibal and Doctor Abel Gideon were becoming best pals. Well, aside from Lecter chopping off Gideon’s legs and feeding them to him, that is. The first of these returns-to-the-past ends on a very particular note – that everything is a fairy tale. And, as we see during the next 40 minutes, Hannibal is living out his own fairy tale in the wake of being exiled from his former life.
Back in the present, we find the true reason behind Hannibal’s dinner party visit. He was removing someone in particular so that a prominent position at a museum would open up. Yes, the good doctor insists on living large and having only the most prestigious of people surrounding him. Naturally, he impresses well enough that his position is assured.
After a brief look at the very stressful life of Hannibal’s “mate”, Doctor Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), we get a look into her past. As it turns out, Bedelia returned to her home after fleeing it when she was in fear that Hannibal would come calling on her. But Hannibal is there, waiting for her (though casually showering, as the good doctor is always as nonchalant as possible). He’s just left half the cast of the show bleeding to death and needs to take off. Bedelia, after some apprehension, decides that she will continue to be a part of her former patient’s life. Whether out of pity, obligation or morbid curiosity, however, not even she seems to know.
Once again to the present and we see Hannibal easily adjusting to his new academic life when his old poet friend shows up. Far be it for Doctor Lecter to be rude – he invites Dimmond to dinner.
And then another jump into the past. This one involving a fateful event, one that forever bound Bedelia to Hannibal. It’s the long-talked about but never before explored moment when Bedelia supposedly murdered one of her patients and Hannibal helped cover it up for her. As it turns out, things may not have happened exactly as she remembers…
But then, once again in the present, things begin to break down. Dimmond approaches Hannibal, apparently knowing things that he shouldn’t. The next thing we know, the poet is dead and Hannibal, still dealing with some of his own issues, is unable to resist the urge to place a trophy of his triumph right in the middle of his former workplace. This time it’s the poet’s torso, carved and sculpted to look like a giant, broken heart. Hannibal’s broken heart…
I was a little apprehensive about whether or not the series could keep up the steam that it carried during the first two seasons. After all, writers get stale. But with this first episode, Hannibal in no way disappointed. The episode gently walked viewers through the pieces of Hannibal and Bedelia’s new life, avoiding overdramatic climaxes or useless conflicts. It was a simple, cerebral and excellently executed introduction to what promises to be an absolutely amazing third season. Better yet, it looks to be one that shall explore the mind of Hannibal above-and-beyond all other things. Not just Hannibal the killer, but Hannibal the thinking, emotional being that just happens to be a psychopathic cannibal.
The high point of this episode was by far Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Bedelia. We see her struggling with her intense relationship with Hannibal. At one moment she’s filled with overwhelming fear. The next she’s hoping against hope that every decision she makes is her own and not the product of Hannibal’s manipulation. Then she’s curious about her companion. And then she pities him. The constant weariness in Anderson’s demeanor is testament to the fact that she really put everything into making her character work. I’m really hoping that Hannibal doesn’t decide to eat her in the next couple of episodes, because watching her struggle is tense as hell.
The other high point was the show’s introduction of what promises to be a longer, deeper look at the titular character himself. We get a very brief glimpse into his head near the end of the episode. We see a man who longs for simpler times, times when he had a life he was in control of and things were perhaps a bit more stable. And we see the ever-present evidence of his constant longing for Graham and the friendship that could never be. Hannibal has become a vulnerable person this season, though I’m guessing that the change of heart will not turn out to help him in the long run.
All-in-all, a stellar return to the show. Next week’s episode, Primavera, will let us take a look at what’s happening back in the world of Will Graham, Jack Crawford and the rest of the team as they become aware of Hannibal’s latest calling card. And Bedelia appears to be taking more of an interest in Hannibal’s mental health, encouraging him to let Graham go so that he can move on with his life. For a brief look at that, check out the video below: