10th Jul2015

‘Hannibal 3×06: Dolce’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“You expect us to believe that you lost yourself in the hot darkness of Hannibal Lecter’s mind?”

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That visceral snap as the rubber cord Bedelia is using to tie off her arm pops out of her mouth is like a short, sharp shove off a pier and into a storm-tossed sea. ‘Dolce’ is in some ways a direct, momentum-building episode of television and in others an Inferno-like plunge into delirium. There’s a kaleidoscopic sex scene between Margot and Alana, a gruesome dinner in a dead man’s apartment, and a conversation between faces sprouting from the tines of the Hannibal-wendigo’s antlers. You have to wonder if the moment Hannibal took that power cutter to Will’s skull was the moment the standards and practices agent finally screamed loudly enough to get the show cancelled.

Understated and affecting performances from Dancy and Mikkelsen anchor the hallucinatory hour. The love, the deep and ugly involvement between the two men is immediately and intricately visible as soon as Will sits down beside his erstwhile friend and other half in front of Botticelli’s ‘Primavera.’ That each man intends the other harm doesn’t detract at all from the pleasure of watching them emote with so much clarity how glad they are to finally be back together. “Where does the difference between the past and the future come from?” Hannibal asks will. “From the mind,” Will replies, trying to make sense of his own thoughts as he contemplates what he wants, what he’s forsaken, and what he might do to get it back.

More telling still is his declaration, “You and I have begun to blur.” The whole episode reflects it even as it reveals motivations and propels storylines forward, spending most of its running time in tangled memories, dark spaces, and visuals conflating faces, bodies, and voices. There’s precious little clarity to be had in parsing actions or events, but that doesn’t really matter.  You don’t ride Space Mountain to understand anything; you ride Space Mountain to be terrified in pitch-blackness.

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Bedelia tries to play off her collaboration with Hannibal as brainwashing, Margot and Alana scheme to hand Mason to the FBI and thwart his hoped-for revenge, and Cordell prepares a sampler of dishes to showcase how he’ll cook Hannibal for Mason. Hannibal sounds so silly when you just list plot points. It lives in its suspended sense of enhanced reality, in the opening shots of a wounded Hannibal bathing intercut and overlaid with his limping progress through Florence at dawn, in the psychedelic moment shared by Margot and Alana which suggests both union and masturbation with its doubling and fracturing of bodies, in the spray of blood particles into a short-lived galaxy against the golden sky. There’s nothing else in Hannibal‘s weight class when it comes to look and feel. The show’s baroque approach to sets like the professor’s apartment, to props like Mason’s vision of Hannibal’s corpse prepared like Peking Duck, layer every scene with symbolic dread and tremendous depth.

Hannibal’s dinner for Will and Jack is a testament to just how well the show has built the good doctor up as a classic movie monster. When a drugged, unfocused Will mutters “He’s under the table, Jack,” it’s a moment of spine-tingling terror only enhanced by the quick shot of Hannibal ham-stringing Jack and then the close-up on Mikkelsen’s gaunt face and haunting gaze. What follows is shockingly violent, even for Hannibal, and it would be easy to miss Jack’s principled stand on the meaninglessness of Hannibal’s capacity for creativity and art in the face of the murders he uses those skills to commit. It’s a sharp moment typical of the show’s smart approach to its own profoundly ugly conceits.

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Chiyo’s actions still read as confusing. After three episodes onscreen it’s still hard to get a handle on what exactly she wants or why she does anything she does, and the enormous leap forward to Mason’s slaughterhouse at the episode’s close doesn’t seem to leave much room for fleshing her out. That cut forward is jarringly, expertly dispiriting even as it skips over the question of whether or not Will survives Hannibal’s banquet(Jack’s fate remains unknown). We know at once that Margot’s and Alana’s plan, the episode’s single spot of hope for some kind of defensible action being taken, ends in failure. We know all the beauty and suffering of Florence, all the complexity of Hannibal’s and Will’s connection, is going to be subjected to the crude one-track brutality of Mason’s predilections.

‘Dolce’ is an arthouse horror show, an episode of television no other series could have come close to producing. It has some of Hannibal‘s trademark weaknesses, including a difficult time establishing character motivations, but its unique visual composition and utter disregard for conventional storytelling mark it out as something special. Like Will and Hannibal, the show’s concepts of past and future, of violence and love, are beginning to blur.

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