In its third and final season, Hannibal took the leap from entertaining and compelling into true greatness. While I enjoyed the first two seasons, particularly the striking art design (which is like nothing else on T.V) and the performances of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, they were flawed. The show felt bogged down in its predictable case of the week format and its very nature as a prequel. The fact that the Hannibal novels, written by Thomas Harris, were so successful and have been adapted into five different films did not work in the show’s favour. I doubt any viewer wasn’t slightly frustrated by how the first season consisted of Will Graham, with the help of psychiatrist HANNIBAL LECTER, hunting down a serial killer who was so obviously Hannibal. Also its sophomore season spent a large majority depicting Will being framed for Hannibal’s crimes. However these detracting elements were dropped as the show moved into the already existing mythology. In season three, instead of a crime procedural, we were treated to two of Harris’ novels beautifully condensed. What was left was a story expertly depicted by series creator Bryan Fuller, with the help of a stellar cast and roster of directors.
Before season three opener Antipasto aired, Bryan Fuller was quoted as stating ‘Every director who comes to the show gets the same lecture….We are not making television. We are making a pretentious art film from the 80s.” This was an accurate statement as evident by the divisive opening episode. The production design, which employs a lot of slow-motion, close-ups of dripping water or food, an emphasis on heavy symbolism and a heavy, hypnotic score, has always been the most alienating aspect of the show. However, Antipasto (directed by Vincenzo Natali of Cube and Splice fame) made me appreciate the visuals Fuller was so proud to convey. Although a slow episode in terms of the pace in which plot is revealed, Antipasto was one of the most gorgeous episodes of television I’ve ever seen. It begins with an exceptional black and white flashback and then never lets up in style especially in its depiction of Hannibal, and his accomplice Bedelia de Maurier’s (Gillian Anderson), new Florentine surroundings. In fact, this season never let up in style all the way to its concluding episode. The latter half of the season focused on the hunt for a new serial killer Francis Dollarhyde or ‘The Great Red Dragon’ (played excellently by Richard Armitage). Directors Jon Dahl (Red Rock West) and Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) portray brilliantly through cinematic visuals both Dollarhyde’s symbolic, through dreams and nightmares, and physical, through tattoos, transformation into the mythical beast he idealizes.
However, there is more to Hannibal than just style. Although Antipasto and the following three episodes felt slow in order to establish character and plot lines for the season, they should be read as being the opening act of a long film. The fifth episode, Contorno, ends with an explosion of violence. The slow build up that preceded it only heightened the thrills of one of the most kinetic action scenes of the year. Tony Scott was cited by Fuller as being a huge influence on this season. Although that sounds surprising at first, it actually makes sense once one realises how much fight sequences were present throughout the season, particular the latter half with Dollarhyde being portrayed as muscular, agile and an intensely physical presence. Also Hannibal and Will’s relationship was taken to new levels of homoeroticism. Although never fully explored (despite rumours that scenes were filmed in which Dancy and Mikkelsen locked lips), it is always lurking within the dialogue they share. It’s clear Graham detests Hannibal’s actions, however Hannibal is his raison d’etre. He is the only person who can truly understand Will’s damaged psyche and Hannibal is the physical incarnation of what Will represses.
Hannibal also benefitted strongly from a shift in focus to its female characters – a triple threat in the form of Caroline Dhavernas, Katherine Isabelle and Gillian Anderson. In previous seasons Alana Bloom was a weak character as she served only as a pawn in Hannibal and Will’s games. However, she emerged from her coma with a new sense of purpose – to destroy the man who flung her from a balcony. Alana was finally given her own plotline, being tasked to run a sting operation organised by her and the lunatic (and also scarred by Hannibal) Mason Verger, a terrific scenery-chewing performance by Joe Anderson. Verger’s sister and Bloom’s lover, Margot is also given a lot more time to develop as a character, no longer being a victim of her brother’s sadism. Katherine Isabelle and Caroline Dhavernas have wonderful chemistry and the scene in which they are shown becoming ‘intimate’ is one of the best examples of Hannibal’s art design. The scene is sexy, kaleidoscopic and hypnotic yet never feels exploitative of the actresses. Gillian Anderson was also added to the main cast this season and is again further example of a character who was previously depicted as trembling in Hannibal’s company and is now given more room to breathe. She is sharp, intelligent, witty and steals every scene. This season of Hannibal was actually laugh out loud funny at times. Characters such as Frederick Chilton (the idiot who thinks he’s smarter than he actually is) and above all, crime scene investigators Jimmy Price and Brian Zeller (Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams) capture the sense of black comedy and grim hilarity in a very deadpan way.
Unlike most shows cancelled prematurely, Hannibal wraps up its third season in a way which feels right. Although, there are hints to perhaps where the story would have progressed, Fuller provides the viewer with an ending which I can’t imagine being any more perfect.