Cannibal season is back with season 3 of Hannibal serving up a much needed dose of elegance, extravagance and bloody violence. The season 2 finale saw Hannibal exposing his true identity as the Chesapeake Ripper to Will Graham and company. Of course, in true Hannibal fashion, he kept almost complete control of the situation and left everyone half dead, literally, whilst he and Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) escaped together in a twist that left us wanting answers immediately.
Season 3 picks up from here, giving us some of these answers and [un]settling us back into the meticulous and beautifully shot gore and violence that has come to be a defining feature of the show. Fans of creator Bryan Fuller know the level of aesthetics to expect from his shows, yet this season of Hannibal seems to make its mission to epitomise this, so much so that even Bedelia and Hannibal exchange thoughts on the matter. It’s a nice nod to the audience but also helps to highlight Hannibal’s God complex.
In Antipasto we see Hannibal and Bedelia settling into life in Italy, where under the name of Dr Fell he’s taken up a position as lecturer (a position he got by stealing the identity–and sauteeing the organs–of a scholar of ancient Italian whilst in Paris). Prior to murdering the real Dr Fell, Hannibal meets Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom), a young, seemingly affluent man who appears to be a scholar of sorts (or maybe just a “student of life”) and who has it in for Dr Fell. There’s a curious spark in their interaction. Later in Florence, the pair meet again only this time Anthony knows that Hannibal is not the real Dr Fell. Hannibal uses his charms to win over Anthony and invites him to dinner. There is some humour here where Anthony misunderstand the situation and believes this could be something sexual yet neither Hannibal nor Bedelia are interesting much to Anthony’s disappointment. While it seems Anthony is willing to go along with Hannibal’s lies we know his future is sealed.
What’s really interesting about this episode, however, is Bedelia. From the final images in season 2 we are lead to believe she was a manipulative accomplice. Our trust in her was shattered. Yet now we see the truth and realise that while she isn’t being held hostage in the physical sense, Hannibal has her trapped mentally. We are given a glimpse of Bedelie’s fatal incident with a violent client–alluded to in the previous season–and realise the extent of her so-called self-defense. Hannibal has exploited this to control Bedelia through her fear of being exposed and implied violence; she knows too well what happens to anyone who crosses or even disrespects him. Bedelia tries to escape but is too slow and she is forced to participate in Hannibal’s game. The scene where Hannibal finally kills Anthony is poignant not only because we see Bedelia helpless to stop it, but also because of Hannibal’s question: “Observe or participate?” She replies she’s observing but he points out she knew what would happen and so she was actually a participant, whether willing or not. It is also a question for the audience. Are we participating or observing? Are we also being manipulated by Hannibal’s charm and power?
Antipasto is a fantastic opening for this new season. We don’t see any signs of the fates of Will Graham and the others so we don’t yet know who is dead and who is alive. But we have been captivated yet again and will continue to watch to find out. The final image of this episode is of a torso–potentially Anthony’s–pierced by three swords and left before an altar. The Chesapeake Ripper is back and he’s just as terrifying and aesthetically mindful as ever.