With Hannibal‘s Season 3 premiere, Bryan Fuller has proven again that he is by no means interested in playing out the story of Thomas Harris’s legendary serial killer in a conventional manner. Season 1 changed the game by setting the story long before the events of Red Dragon, Season 2 by inverting the formula by placing Will Graham behind bars with Hannibal Lecter consulting with the FBI, and now he opens the story with Lecter free and on the run in Europe, in an episode devoted almost entirely to Hannibal and his mysterious therapist Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson, now promoted to series regular), with no Will Graham or Jack Crawford to be seen. Instead, the story jumps through time, alternating between four different stories illustrating the power dynamic between Hannibal and Bedelia, each identified by a different color palette or aspect ratio. The extraordinary thing about this is that even though the whole episode is built around exploring their relationship (along with a separate story expanding on Hannibal’s feast with – and on – Eddie Izzard’s Abel Gideon from in Season 2) Fuller and co-writer Steve Lightfoot are careful to avoid saying too much too fast. Like an appetizer for a 13-course feast, they only tell us enough to keep us hungry for more.
Vincenzo Natali, who previously helmed the horror films Cube and Splice as well as the Season 2 episodes “Su-Zakana” and “Naka-Choko”) directs this episode with an eye for sensual, gothic beauty, capturing gorgeous images in everything from the use of a saber to open a bottle of champagne to the sight of Hannibal washing blood off of himself in Bedelia’s shower while she waits nearby with a gun. Another striking images shows Lecter, using another man’s identity, lecturing on Dante as a series of Satanic images flicker over his face. Mikkelsen’s performance has long been compared to Lucifer, but never before has the parallel been so strikingly illustrated. This present-day storyline, which has Lecter and Bedelia posing as a married couple in Florence, doesn’t have a good deal of forward momentum, but shows that while Lecter may be trying his hardest to keep a low profile (“I’ve killed hardly anybody since we’ve been here”), he still cannot resist playing mind games with those around him, especially his reluctant companion.
Gillian Anderson is, as always, beautifully ambiguous (not to mention just plain beautiful). It’s not quite possible for us to get a bead on her relationship with Hannibal… she’s clearly not a brainwashed lover (a la Clarice Starling in the Hannibal novel), nor is she obviously plotting Lecter’s downfall. She knows now what Lecter is capable of, and seems just on the edge of falling into the abyss of darkness embodied by him. Lecter controls her not through sexual violence but by cruel mind games, as when he feeds her a meal containing ingredients that, as a dinner guest points out, were used by the ancient Romans to improve the flavor of their livestock, and later demands to know if she is “observing or participating” as a bleeding man crawls across the floor of their apartment. But throughout all of this there is no doubt that Bedelia has her own agenda at play, one that I am incredibly interested to see unfold as the season progresses.
Future episodes promise the return of Will Graham and the revelation of who survived the brutal massacre that ended Season 2 (already dubbed “The Red Dinner” by fans), as well as eventually the Red Dragon story (with Richard Armitage of The Hobbit fame cast as Francis Dolarhyde) in the latter half of the season. But even though it is built on such well-known source material, this is not a show you watch waiting for it to hit predictable story beats… Bryan Fuller has reinvented the wheel time and time again over the first two seasons, and there’s no reason to imagine he will not continue to do the same in Season 3. Already he has given us an entirely new story, and that’s why Hannibal is one of the most dark, stylish, and engaging shows on television.