WARNING: This review contains spoilers
From the opening moments of Antipasto, the first episode of Hannibal’s third season, the reincarnation of the show was evident. Much like Hannibal himself, this reinvention is necessitated following the explosive and bloody finale of season two. Presented initially as an enigmatic leather-clad motorcyclist, Lecter speeds through the streets of Paris, under the light of a full moon; the iconic Eiffel Tower’s accentuated and illuminated structure ensures the viewer is aware of the European locale. This sequence Paris more than a little debt to Jonathan Glazer’s art house sci-fi ordeal Under the Skin both visually and aurally.
Hannibal has always distinguished itself as more concerned with cinematic style than your average network television show. In Antipasto, this emphasis on style and form are heightened even further, moving the show into increasingly abstract and oneiric territory. The stylistic changes are a formal reflection of the changes evident in the narrative, the change in setting and the more dominant influences of characters such as Bedelia.
The editing often favours match cuts and dissolves adding to the hypnotic, dreamlike montage effect. The aspect ratio shifts subtly between timelines; a highly unconventional technique in both television and film. Gone are the generic location captions, signalling the temporary shift away from the familiar coding of police procedurals. Location information is now revealed through visuals and dialogue. The quickened time-lapse establishing shots which were such a dominant and unsettling stylistic feature of the previous seasons are still present, but the absence of the metallic tones to accompany them transforms these shots into awesome moments of the genuine locations used.
Once in Florence, the colour palette, particularly in any scene featuring Hannibal himself is noticeably warmer and richer, as if he is imagining himself as part of the aesthetic tradition of his surroundings. This contrasts sharply with both the first sequence which features Bedelia alone in the city – signifying that her experience of differs hugely from his – and the de-saturated flashback sequences with Dr. Abel Gideon. Filling in existing ellipsis, these flashbacks pepper the episode, revealing the horrifying and drawn out ordeal that Lecter inflicted on Gideon during the latter part of season two. During these sequences, director Vincenzo Natali shoots on the line, placing us disconcertingly in the position of both of killers. This technique heightens the sense of conflict between the two; despite his seeming lack of power, Gideon uses what he has left – his wit – to attempt to unbalance his murderer.
The soundtrack too has evolved from the dominant and oppressive accompaniment from the preceding seasons. The idiosyncratic use of the metallic resonant and often dissonant sounds are still present, but Antipasto is also spiced with more melodic elements – electronica, bossa nova and proggish tracks all fuse in the soundscape. These stylistic changes are a formal reflection of the changes evident in the narrative, the change in setting and the more dominant influences of characters such as Bedelia.
As Bryan Fuller already warned us, Antipasto is an episode which centres primarily on the relationship between Hannibal and Bedelia. In her fleeting appearances in the first two seasons, Gillian Anderson’s Du Maurier has been cool, restrained and enigmatic. She had the most well developed perception of Hannibal’s true nature, although her motivations regarding why she had not shared these perceptions with law enforcement remained unclear but seemed to be connected to an incident with a previous patient. Antipasto reveals this backstory partly; teasingly giving us Zachary Quinto purely as a corpse, apparently Bedelia’s victim.
As with Abigail, Hannibal offers the panicked Bedelia help, but only if she asks for it and only after making it clear that her actions would not be deemed self-defence by authorities. This illuminates some of Bedelia’s actions and an exchange which happens between the two after the events at Hannibal’s house at the end of Mizumono start to elucidate why Bedelia became Hannibal’s travelling companion; part risk-taking, part self-preservation. The development of her character is one of the most interesting narrative elements in this opening episode. She is clearly ill-at-ease in his company and in her situation more broadly. She is visibly and breathtakingly uncomfortable in situations she believes that will lead to violence, such as the dinner Hannibal and Bedelia share with Anthony Dimmond. Hannibal, as ever, clearly enjoys playing with her mental state. By the end of the episode, the fragility of Bedelia’s mental state is made clear, aligning her somewhat with the presentation of Will in the previous seasons, particularly in the dreamlike drowning sequence, which is strongly reminiscent of Will’s nightmare visions. Instead here the focus shifts to show the hallucinating character as the one at risk in the vision. Bedelia is more overtly aware of Hannibal’s manipulation, which will perhaps better arm her to fight back. Whether she will become a victim or a survivor is tantalisingly and intriguingly unclear. However, we’re encouraged to worry about her physically and psychologically going forward and this is a big hook for the audience in an episode where our usual focuses of concern are not present. The fact that she is pointedly shown not eating ‘anything with a nervous system’ allows the audience to align with her more closely. She knows what he is and is closing not to eat human flesh; she might be complicit but she’s not a willing cannibal.
Hannibal’s cover is that of Dr. Roman Fell, the scholar he kills in Paris in the teaser. Fell is an expert on Dante, author of The Divine Comedy and a seminal Medieval Florentine poet. Hannibal arrives in Florence to take up Fell’s post at a renowned and respected library. This conceit allows a more explicit exploration of the representation of Hannibal as Lucifer. Although this idea has an important one in the creation of this incarnation of Lecter, as has been referenced in interviews by both Fuller and Mikkelsen, it has not been explored in detail in the show. Antipasto begins to make more explicit allusions; Gideon’s first line in the episode to Hannibal is “You really are The Devil.” Later, Lecter lectures on Catholic theology and The Devil and one shot allows Hannibal’s head to be apparently replaced with Lucifer’s head in a Medieval etching, creating a clear visual metaphor which helps cement this idea as Lecter as the very embodiment of evil.
The use of Dante feeds into this; in The Inferno, Dante explores the Seven Circles of Hell where he finds Satan at its centre consuming sinners. The text states that Judas Iscariot is an eternal meat on which Satan feasts:
“In each mouth he was chewing with his teeth
A sinner, as if pounding him with spokes,
So that he kept the three of them in torment.
For the one who was in front, the biting was nothing
Compared with the clawing, so that at times his spine
Was left stripped of every scrap of skin.
‘That soul there, which has the worst punishment,
Is Judas Iscariot,’ my master said,
“With his head in side and kicking his legs”
Inferno XXXIV 55 – 61
In Hannibal’s lecture, the fate of Judas Iscariot by hanging and having his entrails ripped out is also foregrounded; punishment for his betrayal of Christ. Although Will is mentioned only on a couple of occasions in this episode, and not in the dominant timeline, these allusions start to point at a direction for Hannibal to take regarding Will’s betrayal. Bedelia is present during the lecture and special attention is paid to her during this discussion of the fate of Judas the betrayer, reinforcing the fear she feels for what a betrayal of Hannibal might lead to.
Conversely, the flashbacks to Gideon’s time as a guest of Lecter prior to his death allow an alternative idea to start to germinate. In attempt to regain some control, he goads Lecter by reminding him that he too could end up as someone else’s meat. This neatly feeds into notions about Lecter’s defeat. Whilst Gideon’s comments could be read literally, as with most of the dialogue in this show meditating on the plurality of meanings of phrases often reveals more insights. How would Hannibal define his own consumption? What or whom could consume him? Mason Verger’s pigs? Wrath and vengeance for Will’s betrayal perhaps? The loss of his liberty and power to continue to kill and devour as he sees fit, maybe? Gideon helps raise some interesting questions going forward.
For those of us who’ve been paying attention to the marketing and the various interviews in the lead up to this season premiere, Antipasto hasn’t really given us too much that we weren’t expecting. Hannibal is on the run with Bedelia as a slightly and understandably reluctant companion. We have three murders, but only one which is displayed in anything like Hannibal’s usual baroque flair. These crimes are not which are punishment for rudeness or the need for meat, but rather the need to remain undiscovered – a significant shift for our doctor. The exact nature of the fates of Will, Jack, Alana and Abigail are unexplored for the time being. We can expect some of these to be resolved next episode, which will hopefully give us more that we haven’t been forewarned about. Personally, I’m looking forward to uncovering more of the events which happened between Hannibal, Bedelia and Quinto’s Neal Frank – what exactly did Bedelia have to retrieve from his gullet and how did it get there in the first place?
Check back with us next week for a review of episode two – Primavera. Thursday 11th June, NBC, 10/9c in the US or Wednesday 17th June, Sky Living at 10pm in the UK.
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