05th Jun2015

‘Hannibal 3×01: Antipasto’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“This is posthumous.”

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The world in which Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal unfolds with dreadful inexorability is one of dreamlike, deathly unreality. Hannibal himself has been a psychopomp, a guide into the world of the dead, for many characters throughout the series’ run. His motives, to be sure, are never selfless, but on multiple occasions he has shepherded enemies, colleagues, and even his friend/protégé/nemesis Will Graham, into the shadowy vastness of a hidden realm where taps spew blood and men build armor from the bones of long-dead predators.

Still, how far could he go, really, while maintaining the face of his polite respectability? So long as Dr. Lecter took patients and held dinner parties, he was forced to comport himself with restraint or else risk exposure. Now, though, all that has changed. As he tells Bedelia, “I’ve taken off my person suit.” Now the satanic entity at Hannibal’s core can spill out into a world where there is precious little normalcy to keep it bounded in. ‘Antipasto,’ season 3′s oblique and uncomfortably erotic premiere, charts a disconcertingly beautiful course for a show which, frankly, I can’t believe is allowed to routinely see the light of day on a major broadcast network. Not that I’m complaining.

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‘Antipasto’ is an episode as wholly divorced from the show’s season 1 roots as it is possible to be short of Hannibal himself not putting in an appearance. There is no trace of Will, Jack, Alanna, Abigail, or the FBI pit crew. No one is trying to solve a crime or stop a killer, at least not in the usual way. Bedelia du Maurier certainly looks like she wishes Hannibal wouldn’t murder innocent men in front of her, but she’s hard-pressed to stop him from following his particular, peculiar bliss. What we get instead is an episode devoted entirely to what Hannibal has made of the afterlife he bought himself after the clean sweep of season 2′s devastating finale, ‘Mizumono.’

The answer, gorgeous sets and exquisite costuming aside, isn’t pretty. The episode relies heavily on its old-world setting, delving deep into the museums, butchers’ shops, and banquet halls of Paris and Florence where a sense of history leads not to knowledge but to a murky haze of agnostic floating, a sense of so much place that the result is placelessness. Director Vincenzo Natali makes every scene a tableaux, constructing the very fairy tale Hannibal admits to fostering. What’s being framed is Hannibal’s worming his way onto the Florentine academic scene by murdering himself an opening for a museum position.

“You no longer have ethical concerns, Hannibal,” Bedelia tells him with a mixture of fear and genuine disgust. “You have aesthetical ones.” It’s a statement which calls to mind the show’s dreamy disconnection from reality, its particularly Gothic style of horror. Hannibal is form without function, a destructive machine whose temporal goals form on the move and dissolve into smoke when his interest shifts. The relationship between Hannibal and Bedelia, played with tremendous complexity by a doubt-ridden, visibly uncomfortable Gillian Anderson, is the episode’s emotional axis. What the two are to one another is still unclear, but that their relationship is tangled and fascinating is a certainty.

Bedelia knows Hannibal, and she also knows that given the depth of his monstrosity, that knowledge is an insufficient shield. “I still believe I am in conscious control of my actions,” she tells him when he asks her how she’s doing. Nevertheless, when she slips into the bath it isn’t long before she finds herself drowning in the same cloying darkness Alanna Bloom so vividly described last season after her sexual encounters with Hannibal. She contemplates flight several times, seemingly at a loss as to how to escape the horrid magnetism Hannibal exerts through threats and psychological manipulation. Knowing she harbors doubts, he turns a lecture on Dante given to a museum board into a chance to wax prosaic about Judas’s horrific punishment for the crime of betraying Christ.

Later, Hannibal tightens the bonds connecting him to Bedelia when he shows her that she is complicit in his crimes through her knowledge of his nature. If she has predicted his actions and chosen inaction for herself, he reasons, then she may as well append her name to the murder of the bloody, gasping man squirming his way across the floor of the exquisite Florentine manor he stole for them. Hannibal is a maker of hells not just in that he does the unthinkable with revolting regularity but in that he drags other with him when he does.

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“My palace is vast,” an arrogant Hannibal told Will in another life.  At the time he referred to his memory palace, an architecture maintained through mental discipline to order the thoughts and recollections of a meticulous life, but now that architecture has burst the bonds of its creator’s mind. The decadent, Argento-esque rooms Hannibal and Bedelia move through in Florence might as well all be part of the same labyrinthine structure. Even the doorknob for which Bedelia reaches when attempting to flee her traveling companion is engraved with a maze in miniature, a representation of the impossibility of escape. Hannibal need explain himself to no one. He need conform to no one. As such, the world reflects his horror more completely than it ever has before.

The black and white flashbacks to the last days of Dr. Able Gideon inject needed humor into the narrative without breaking the episode’s trance state, finding bleak amusement in Gideon’s irritation at being fed one after another of his limbs. They also allow guest star Eddie Izzard to make the most of his turn as Gideon, a character who in past episodes could get bogged down under the morass of plots about psychic driving and copycat killings. Now, at the end of his life, he exudes irritated resignation and cracks wise as easily as he waxes philosophical. He’s a perfect foil to Hannibal, calling his captor out for living in a fairy story of his own invention, for maintaining a bubble of cultivated unrealness for his own comfort.

Hannibal shows Gideon the snails they’ll eat with dinner. The gastropods in question are being fattened on a diet of, well, Gideon, squirming over the captive doctor’s severed arm which Hannibal carefully bastes with red wine. Gideon refuses to be impressed, rolling his eyes and comparing his own knowledge that he’ll soon be eaten with what Hannibal must know: someday, it will be the good doctor Lecter’s turn to come under the knife. “I’m just fascinated as to how you’ll feel when this all happens to you,” Gideon muses at the dining table where, one-armed, he smashes snails with intentional clumsiness to aggravate his polished host.

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Hannibal, seated alone in a rattling train car at the episode’s close, seems not to have an easy answer. There’s no doubt Gideon’s question occupies his mind, but he swiftly turns his sights to less concrete lines of inquiry. A plan takes shape in Hannibal’s imagination, a perverse reimagining of Da Vinci’s ‘Vetruvian Man’ with flesh and blood substituting for pen and ink. “You really are the Devil,” Gideon tells him near the episode’s beginning, but it’s God upon whom Hannibal models himself.

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