WARNING: This review contains spoilers
So much of the first triad of episodes in season 3 updates the audience on the effects of the confrontation in Hannibal’s house for the two primary characters. All secondary characters, save Jack, have been frustratingly absent until Aperitivo. Whilst I’m sure that the intention was to keep the viewer in a state of prolonged suspense regarding the fate of these characters, their presence was easily confirmed by looking at any number of trailers or promo images. Our reunion with these characters – specifically Alana, Bella, Margot and even Chilton – feels like a precious but tragic reunion with old friends. Our encounter with Mason is less so; his presence doesn’t evoke any sort of sympathy – when did he ever? Meeting him again more like a witnessing brewing storm of the carnivalesque.
The episode uses a number of conceits to reintroduce us to these characters. Firstly, it revisits the events of season 2, revealing with forensic artistry the bodily damage sustained by Will, Alana, Chilton and Jack. These CSI-like visual effects are elevated to the now expected aesthetic and aural set pieces. Alana’s fall which sees her transform into a skeleton before the impact and the anti-gravity blood splatter from Jack’s neck wound are two such astonishing and hypnotic moments. The episodes use these sequences to remind us of what they suffered before reintroducing them back into the current timeline. The timeline in question precedes that of the previous two episodes, and is in part the precedent of the events of Antipasto. This framing confirms for some the suspicion elicited by the episode title that this would be in terms of the show’s chronology, the first episode of the season 3 timeline.
The episode also uses the character of Dr. Fredrick Chilton to bring the constituent characters together, portraying him as it does as arch-manipulator. Chilton doesn’t seem overly driven by the need for revenge – more the desire for compensation for his ordeal. We learn that he has copyrighted the phrase ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’ and appears to want to have Hannibal apprehended and subsequently remanded to the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane so that he can profit from the situation. Given where we know this season is going, it seems highly likely that Chilton will have his way. For now he is using his understanding of the psychological motivators of others to help him achieve this goal. As a result, Chilton helps establish new allies and cements for the viewer who can be counted as a threat to our beloved doctor.
The previous episodes have been dominated by the themes of love, betrayal and forgiveness. Aperitivo very much foregrounds the idea of revenge, presenting each character with understandable reasons for wanting revenge on Hannibal, and then juxtaposing each character’s desire for such an outcome. Broadly speaking Will and Jack are not motivated revenge especially with Will seemingly grieving for the loss of his friend and Jack inclined to move on entirely. By contrast, Mason and Alana are more clearly driven to seek out Hannibal and deliver poetic justice. Mason is formulating plans to have Hannibal “eaten alive” whilst Alana cites a need for “Old Testament revenge”. Chilton brings these two characters together and they form an alliance which would have seemed unthinkable last season. Their new status as allies in this drama is confirmed by Alana: “You’re preparing the theatre for Hannibal’s death. I’m just doing my part to get him to the stage.” What part Alana will play exactly is still unclear; what is clearer is that she is a changed woman; she is harder and with a more fluid sense of morality than the Alana of old.
Clearly these are two characters that are being set up as the biggest threat to Hannibal and there is something more theatrical about their presentation in this episode. They are given the trappings of super-villains. Mason has a mask to cover his disfigurement and a brutish henchman/personal physician – Dr. Cordell Doemling. His medical team wear scarlet scrubs and the overt low angle shots of Mason on the terrace of his mansion display the type of wealth and status which are conventional of formidable nemeses. The later scenes featuring Mason, and indeed the closing credits, feature a psychedelic theme, suggesting his unpredictable and wild nature – a nature which clashes with the refined and classical themes associated with Lecter. Alana too, resplendent in a scarlet jacket, matching lipstick and 1940’s inspired waves appears akin to a femme fatale, which perhaps foreshadows how she will lure Hannibal to “the stage”. Her ostentatious black and silver cane whilst being explained by the long term effects of her injuries is also a potent symbol of her new villain status. In fact, both she and Mason display obvious outward physical signifiers of their internal psychological damage.
As a counterpoint to this pairing, the heart of the episode undoubtedly lies with Jack and Bella. Their tender scenes convey more emotional realism than elsewhere in this episode. Their initial scene together, holding hands whilst they lie in their respective sick beds allows Bella to reinforce Jack’s ability to recover and to move on from the events of the past. Bella also hints at a reason for some of Jack’s reckless behaviour towards the end of last season – a desire to accompany her in death. This leads to a genuinely emotionally touching scene, Jack overseeing Bella’s care whilst she sleeps and administering a dose of medication which finally allows her to drift peacefully into the next realm. Whilst this is undoubtedly an act of love and compassion, it is slightly muddied by the idea that Bella’s death frees him to seek his own resolution to his unfinished business with Hannibal Lecter. Regardless of what happens next, Jack now truly has nothing to lose.
With only one glimpse of Lecter in a post Mizumono context and with the final shot being Will heading out on his boat to mend his broken heart (or possibly head), Aperitivo is an episode which fills in the ellipsis created by the previous episodes and draws the viewer’s attention very deliberately and carefully to the key players on the chess board for the following episodes. The quiet conversations between those left behind, the visual and thematic chiaroscuro and the body horror set pieces help elevate the tone of this season even further into an Expressionist psycho-opera.
Check back with us next week for a review of episode five– Contorno – Thursday 2nd July, NBC, 10/9c in the US or Wednesday 8th July, Sky Living at 10pm in the UK.
All images © 2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC