“You no longer have ethical concerns, Hannibal, you have aesthetic ones.” Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) says this to Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), the man/killer/master chef, but she might as well be talking about the show that they’re a part of. Hannibal made itself known as a show that, now entering its third season, leaped over every ethical boundary imaginable for being broadcast on NBC rather than HBO or Showtime. No murder was too grotesque and no conversation was too philosophical or dread-filled for the show that dropped a mushroom-infested corpse into its second episode. Hannibal drips with style that’s unlike anything else on television right now, and it’s in that disturbing beauty that the show finds its visceral and intellectual power as it picks apart the relationships between characters and dives headfirst into their twisted psyches. “Ethics become aesthetics,” Hannibal replies to Bedelia.
In the wake of its shocking season two finale, the new premiere, “Antipasto,” deliberately holds back on the aftermaths of Will Graham, Alana Bloom, and Jack Crawford to tightly focus on the fugitive travels of Hannibal and Du Maurier in Paris and Florence. We see Hannibal under the alias of an art curator (whom he ate, naturally) as they make their way through Europe and attend fancy parties, though the episode arguably belongs to Bedelia and Gillian Anderson, who has been upgraded to a series regular. Already a fascinating character concept (“what if Hannibal had a psychiatrist too?”), “Antipasto” takes its time to really examine the tricky dynamic she shares with Hannibal, whom she obviously knows is a bad man and master manipulator, and yet she still feels an inexorable connection to him.
The episode traces this back to the self-defense killing of her patient that Hannibal helped with, shown in flashback, to provide vital context for their link; then the episode brings everything forward to Bedelia’s trust in him waning on their Europe reclusion. Bedelia and Hannibal’s interactions also seem to be mirrored in the black and white flashbacks to Hannibal’s house imprisonment of Abel Gideon last season. These flashbacks, clunky as they are in the structure of the episode, reflect back on the present day story to illuminate Hannibal’s bond with his prey. Though unlike Gideon, who knew that he was doomed as he was fed his own limbs, Bedelia wrestles with the anxiety and uncertainty of where she stands in Hannibal’s grand scheme of life.
The dream sequence of her falling naked into a black watery abyss is much more succinct at conveying this than the flashbacks and it provides a link to the recurring image of blood drops falling, a constant reminder of the dangerous union she has forged with a violent sociopath. This is brought to a head when Hannibal attacks a man who is on to his ruse, and the scene opens mid-murder on blood drops hitting Bedelia’s face to bring forth her disorientation and shock. In perhaps the most Hannibal-like image possible, the bloodied weapon is revealed to be an Aristotle bust, a perfect metaphor to fuse the series’ penchant for both violence and philosophy.
In an episode such as this that mines material from previous versions of Hannibal Lecter (the Dr. Fell alias and general events in Italy have been refurbished from Thomas Harris’ novel also named Hannibal, the end of the original books and movies), the best callback to Hannibal’s prior history in entertainment is also the subtlest. Director Jonathon Demme broke filmmaking rules with Silence of the Lambs by having his actors carry dialogues by looking directly into the camera, a technique that forced the audience to directly face Clarice Starling’s unease and Hannibal Lecter’s seductive malice. Vincenzo Natali resurrects the technique for the concluding scene of “Antipasto” as Gideon and Lector share another meal together. In relation to Bedelia’s arc within this episode and likely the season, the effect of it forces us to confront the monster sitting right in front of us, to look into his eyes and see the killer beneath his composed shell. As Gideon foretells, “I’m just fascinated to know how you will feel when all this…happens to you.”
EPISODE RATING: 9/10