Hannibal has never been a show about death so much as it is about the affect death has on the people who have been touched by it. In the first season episode “Buffet Froid,” Hannibal spoke to Will about “the unreality of taking a life” (of course, this was before Will knew Hannibal was himself a serial killer), and the surrealist aesthetic of the show’s visuals and storytelling has underlined and dramatized this throughout, and no single character has been left unscarred.
That final element is the driving force behind “Apertivo” (which in a show more concerned with conventional storytelling might have been the first episode of the season rather than the fourth), in which we see how the protagonists have recovered from the massacre at the end of “Mizomuno.” The episode plays out almost like a series of interconnected short films, with each character trying to deal with their trauma (both physical and emotional) but unable to fully escape from the shadow of Hannibal.
The connecting thread through these short films is Raul Esparza’s Chilton, who slithers into each person’s life like a smarmy, douchebag Nick Fury, trying to recruit them into a coalition of Hannibal survivors. Whether or not Chilton simply wants additional material for this forthcoming book (it is mentioned that he has already trademarked the phrase “Hannibal the Cannibal”) or has a specific endgame in mind is unclear as of yet, but whatever Chilton has in mind his intentions are definitely less brutal than those of Mason Verger. Verger’s disfigurement and paralysis has forced him to channel his sadism from random acts into long-term plotting. Verger is now played by Joe Anderson (The River, Across the Universe), and while at first he seems to simply be doing a dead-on Gary Oldman imitation, he quickly makes the character his own and becomes a highlight of the episode.
Verger finds a surprising ally in his quest for revenge in Alana Bloom, who until now has always been something of a calming force in the show’s madness. Now, in the midst of recovering from spine and brain damage, she finds herself drawn into the intentions of Mason (not to mention the affections of Margot). This isn’t helped by Will’s lack of interest in her recovery; when she meets him when visiting Hannibal’s house, he flat-out rejects her. For a character who until now has been primarily a source of emotional support and a love interest, this change in dynamic is both surprising and welcome. It’s great to have you back, Alana.
Will, as we’ve seen in previous episodes, is trying to piece himself back together. Unfortunately, he finds there is a Hannibal-sized hole in his life that nothing else can fill. When Jack asks him why he warned Hannibal, Will replies simply “because he was my friend… and I wanted to run away with him.” Hugh Dancy’s understated work in this episode, as well as “Primavera,” has made for some of the most quietly powerful moments in the show’s run. Even for a character who has always been isolated, seeing him alone and pining for a relationship that can only end in pain is nothing short of tragic.
Jack Crawford has also found himself alone, having recovered from a near-death experience just before having to cope with the loss of his wife. Bella’s funeral sequence is beautifully heartbreaking, juxtaposing the scene of the funeral with Jack’s memory of their wedding. Even for a character who has only appeared a handful of episodes, Bella Crawford’s loss has the impact of that of a lead. Jack then finds himself without a family and without a job, and his only remaining purpose is to try and help Will Graham, whose fractured state he still feels partially responsible.
Director Marc Jobst keeps the pacing tight and steady, allowing the actors to take center stage while still creating some dazzling visuals as he depicts their physical and emotional recovery. Brian Reitzell’s use of music is also a standout in this episode, from the use of “The Death of Åse” by Edvard Grieg during one of Will’s dream sequences to a bombastic original piece composed for the reconstruction of Mason’s face. I’ve long said that Hannibal is one of the few TV shows where the writing, acting, directing, and music have equal importance, and “Apertivo” is an episode where everything is truly firing on all cylinders.
For those complaining that this season has been too slow and focused on character as opposed to plot, this episode bodes very well for the rest of the season.