WARNING: This review contains spoilers
Contorno is an Italian side dish, and so this episode appears to be aptly named as it shifts the focus away from the central Hannibal/Will dynamic. Having moved all the players out on to the chess board in Aperitivo, Contorno features the first moves and countermoves from the individual characters in the battle; a battle which will be played out across the following couple of episodes. Some allegiances are made more clear and some less so.
We find Hannibal and Bedelia in an intimate scene; he is partly dressed whilst she is wearing a satin nightdress and robe. He stands close behind her and moves her hair affectionately, gently away from her neck. He feeds her a snail. They seem comfortable with each other now. This interaction and their state of dress implies rather than directly states a sexual relationship. From this, we can suppose that Bedelia’s alliance with Hannibal is strong enough for her to remain loyal for as long as she can feel the benefit of it.
Alana and Mason are remotely plotting and manoeuvring for Hannibal’s take down from Mason’s US mansion. Mason has offered a substantial and attractive bounty for Dr Lecter, alive. This is described in the episode as ‘…shopping for Hannibal’; an interesting turn of phrase which ties neatly in with the information Alana gleans for Mason regarding Hannibal’s Florentine foxhole. Knowing Hannibal’s tastes and proclivities as she does, Alana proves herself a skilled bloodhound in locating their quarry.
In Florence, Jack says goodbye to Bella, scattering her ashes into the waters of the Arno. Crucially, he also removes his wedding band and flings this into the river after her; a signifier of his rejection of his past life and a symbolic action which informs the viewer that he has nothing more to lose. Whilst this might lead to assumptions of how vulnerable his reckless behaviour might make him, it conversely codes him as a bigger threat, which is paid off in the final act of the episode.
Jack continues to develop a kinship with Pazzi, whose status as disgraced cop is emphasised further in this episode. Jack dines with Pazzi and his wife, which helps build on the viewer’s understanding of the similarities between these two characters. However, this episode also illuminates the differences between them too; having seen Mason Verger’s bounty advertisement, Pazzi makes a call that it would be hard to imagine the principled former FBI agent making. Interestingly, it’s the introduction of Pazzi’s warm and homely wife which signals his fate. Her presence is used to humanise him and instil in us a sense of what he has to lose, which means that he will lose and so he does before the credits roll.
Our fear for this grizzled but ultimately likeable character is built throughout the episode, but particularly after his video call to Verger and Alana. Alana instinctively knows that the task that Verger has set him in order to gain his advance will end in his death. She knows that Mason appreciates this too. Alana’s morality, which seemed so darkened in the previous episode is lightened somewhat as she puts in a call to warn Pazzi. However, this call is too late.
Pazzi’s demise has a drawn out build up and a shocking execution. Before the event, Bedelia and Hannibal discuss Pazzi following their first meeting in the episode. Hannibal reveals his recognition of Pazzi and Bedelia tells Hannibal of the bounty on his head (raising an interesting question of how she knows this and what she will do with this information in the long term, particularly as elements of Antipasto so clearly indicate her as a possible betrayer). They discuss the way that “Thirty pieces of silver” can corrupt officials. This calls back to the fate of Judas Iscariot, referenced specifically in Antipasto during Hannibal’s lecture. Later, Pazzi and Hannibal discuss the grizzly fates of Pazzi’s infamous ancestors and one in particular foreshadows imminent events. They knowingly talk around each other before Hannibal incapacitates Pazzi. After a brief interrogation Hannibal hangs Pazzi, but not before unceremoniously gutting him, allowing his bowels to spill out on to the piazza below. This is a canonical death, coming from the Verger/Pazzi arc in the Hannibal novel, so it’s hardly unexpected given the placement of both Pazzi and Verger in this season.
The subsequent sequence is one of the most dramatic this season. Jack arrives just after Pazzi dies, in time to see Hannibal peering out of the window. Crawford surprises Hannibal in a manner which is clearly a call back to Hannibal’s take down of Miriam Lass, approaching his target in socks to ensure his approach is undetected. This reference makes Jack Hannibal-like and thus increases his representation as a credible threat to Lecter. Indeed this proves to be true; the fight scene is brutal and very one-sided. Hannibal is the victim of Jack’s aggression and through the injuries sustained is made more vulnerable than we have ever seen before. Hannibal escapes, just. The last act of the episode leaves us with two characters who are clearly less in control than we’ve seen before.
Will’s arc develops little this episode. We see him traveling in a sleeper car across Europe with Chiyo. Their alliance is an uneasy one; she talks a little about her experiences of Hannibal but not in sufficient detail to give the viewer a clearer sense of his past. She places emphasis on Will’s violent nature and his need to kill Hannibal lest he become like him. Later, Will dreams of Chiyo dead and impaled on antlers like the victims in Aperitif and Potage, reminding us of the origins of his relationship with Lecter. Chiyoh shares a somewhat incongruous tender moment with Will before revealing her true loyalty to Hannibal by pushing him off the back of the moving train. In recovering, Will perceives the Ravenstag for the first time since its death at Hannibal’s house in Mizumono and Antipasto. It leads him down the track towards Florence and a confrontation with his old friend.
This episode’s key themes are transformation and natural predation; not uncommon thematic territory for Hannibal. The idea of change is elicited in several scenes both in dialogue and in the visuals; Will, Hannibal and Jack all show themselves to be transforming into something other than what we know them to be. Other characters like Mason, Alana, Chiyo and Bedelia are concealing, revealing and adapting in relation to events around them. The additional key element of the thematics is the continued use of predatory discourse, as explored in seasons 1 and 2 here. In Contorno, these ideas are bought in early on by Bedelia: “Almost anything can be trained to resist its instinct. A sheepdog doesn’t savage the sheep.” Hannibal: “But it wants to.” Possibly the key reference of predation in this episode, or the season so far is the pairing of fireflies and snails; the former is known to eat the latter. Fireflies also undergo metamorphosis from their infant glow-worm state to the adult firefly. Bedelia comments “Fireflies live very brief lives”, which begs the question, in this metaphor who exactly are the snails and who are the fireflies? Either way, no one seems to have a realistic expectation of a long and happy life.
Check back with us next week for a review of episode five– Dolce – Thursday 9th July, NBC, 10/9c in the US or Wednesday15th July, Sky Living at 10pm in the UK.
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