[This post contains SPOILERS for the Hannibal season 3 premiere.]
In its season 3 premiere, ‘Antipasto,’ Hannibal dramatically switched gears, shifting the focus away from the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit and placing it squarely on the titular cannibalistic serial killer. Aside from a brief flashback featuring a silent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), the episode exhibited a dearth of the show’s usual players. While we can expect Jack, Will, Alana, and more to be back in ‘Primavera,’ the premiere effectively created a new and fascinating dynamic that offered tremendous insight into the way Dr. Lecter’s psychological manipulation works and on whom.
Hannibal has relocated to Europe to escape his crimes, and he has done so in the company of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), his former therapist, now posing as the wife of Dr. Fell, Hannibal’s assumed (or is it consumed?) identity. On the surface, this is your typical fugitive-on-the-run-from-the-law scenario, but at the same time, it is also Hannibal placing himself in a kind of self-imposed exile. As the good doctor states, quoting Dante: “I made my own home be my gallows.” This means a return to the United States will carry with it a heavy penalty, but the exile also means Hannibal is separated from the person he is most concerned with and fascinated by: Will Graham. His expulsion from the United States and subsequent distance from Will plays into the plot of the season, with Hannibal using his latest horrific, yet irrationally beautiful tableau made from aspiring poet Antony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom) – which we can call ‘Hannibal’s Broken Heart’ – to lure Will and the FBI into his web.
The plans Hannibal has for Will, Jack, and Alana are intriguing, but proportionately enthralling are his ambiguous intentions for his equally well-dressed and erudite traveling companion, the wonderful Dr. Du Maurier. Although she has been around since the first season (having first popped up in ‘Sorbet’), Bedelia is something of a mystery to the audience. She has served as a therapist to Hannibal on several occasions, helping him through his friendship/manipulation of Will, but her counseling has often felt coerced, or at the very least, unenthusiastic on her part. Bedelia could be characterized as distant and cold, reserved in the way that suggests she is either rigidly professional, frightened of the man who seeks her counsel, or she has something else entirely up her sleeve – perhaps it is a combination of the three.
Even before her expatriate status, it is clear Bedelia knows the truth about Hannibal; she has seen what lies beneath the person suit, and yet has still provided him with treatment. From the snippets of conversation the audience has been given, regarding an incident involving a deranged patient who attacked her, and whom it was assumed Hannibal dealt with in his inimitable fashion, we have also been led to assume their continued relationship was based partially on the idea that Bedelia owed Hannibal a debt of some sort for saving her life.
This puts her in an ethical quandary, helping a serial killer to better understand his fascination with a being he sees as somehow pure, and yet strangely like himself, as repayment for saving her life. She has been an accessory to many of the murders he has committed. But then again, she also came to Will to confirm his suspicions about Dr. Lecter, while he was awaiting trial for crimes he did not commit.
So, who, then, is Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier? Is she the willing traveling companion of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, or is she unconsciously under his control? And concerning that disconcerting flashback in which she got up close and personal with Zachary Quinto, is Bedelia more like Hannibal than we previously thought, or does her status as a confused and possibly psychologically manipulated killer make her more like Will Graham? Or is she simply another victim, waiting to be slaughtered and eaten when it suits her captor?
Let’s try to unpack a few key scenes from ‘Antipasto’ to find out.
Is Bedelia On the Menu?
Of all the indelible moments from the season 3 premiere, the dinner scene with Hannibal, Bedelia, and a very game, but misinformed Antony Dimmond was the clear standout. The scene is rife with dramatic tension with regard to Dimmond’s presence amongst the phony Fells (though he doesn’t know who they’re pretending to be at the time), but it is also filled with enough innuendo to choke a horse.
When the young rhymester notices Bedelia’s dining on oysters, acorns, and marsala, he notes how those items were fed to cattle by Romans to make the meat taste better, Bedelia responds by saying, “My husband has a very sophisticated palate. He’s very particular about how I taste.”
It’s an in-joke that is as perversely funny as any of the other humor on Hannibal, but thanks to Anderson’s performance, there’s more than enough evidence to conclude Bedelia’s aware the likelihood she’ll be served up next. Bedelia’s hand shakes demonstrably as she brings her fork to her mouth, while director Vincenzo Natali focuses the camera on her thoughtful chewing, followed by what appears to be her reluctance or inability to swallow the mollusk, knowing precisely what its purpose is.
Carnal implication aside, Bedelia knows she’s sitting across the table from a man who not only eats other humans but also does so because he sees his victims as inferior to him – which Hannibal explains to Dr. Giddeon in one of the many flashbacks of the episode. But would Hannibal really seek counsel from someone he thought was beneath him? It seems unlikely, which means perhaps Bedelia isn’t on the menu, and the flavor enhancers she’s consuming are simply another form of psychological manipulation and control.
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Why Doesn’t She Run?
Possibly the most difficult thing to understand is why, if she feels her life is in danger, does Bedelia gallivant around Florence in the company of a cannibalistic serial killer? As the episode proves more than once, she’s free to come and go as she pleases, twice visiting the gourmet emporium Vera Dal. On one trip to the grocer, Bedelia, looking like Carmen Sandiego’s blue-tinged twin, even passes a policeman who tips his hat to the would-be captive; she continues walking without so much as a peep, let alone a “Help, I’m rooming with a cannibal!”
Later, Bedelia is seen through the lens of a security camera, sitting at a train station, mere feet from the open doors of a train that could carry her far from the devil feeding her oysters and plying her with sweet wine. She doesn’t board the train, but she does look directly into the security camera’s black eye, seemingly aware the distance her image can travel is far greater than any she can navigate physically.
So perhaps Dr. Du Maurier isn’t so reckless as to run from someone as capable as her apparent captor, and is instead signaling the authorities from afar. But even this is suspect, as she tells Jack in flashback, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking [Hannibal] is not in control of what’s happening.” Control becomes a powerful word when talking about Bedelia’s relationship with Hannibal. After all, she does say, “I still believe I’m in conscious control of my actions,” and yet the words “believe” and “conscious” stick out like a bloody, poet-sized heart on an easel in an Italian church. Through Will Graham we have witnessed firsthand the creative genius with which Hannibal manipulates and seeks to control and corrupt those around him.
Manipulation, control, and corruption would explain why Bedelia is so willing to appear in public with Hannibal and entertain guests, even though they will likely end up as one of his horrifically picturesque tableaux, or perhaps, as Dr. Gideon was: “smoked in thyme.”
The idea that Bedelia has been manipulated and corrupted brings us to the gruesome flashback in which the only explaination is: Dr. Du Maurier was trying to help Zachary Quinto get a piece of gum he’d swallowed.
What’s the Going On in That Bloody Flashback?
The scene with Quinto is telling not only because of the level of violence that is depicted via the slow unsheathing of Bedelia’s arm from her victim’s throat, but also because of the deliberately ambiguous interplay between her and Hannibal.
After claiming she was attacked and confirming that the blood soaking her white blouse is not hers, Bedelia says, “I was reckless.” Now, we might ask: What level of recklessness, psychiatric or otherwise, could result in a therapist checking her patient’s stomach contents while they’re still inside him? But Hannibal has his own agenda, saying, “This wasn’t reckless violence; it was a controlled use of force.”
Again, the idea of control becomes an important factor, but the question remains: Who exactly is in control? Is this “controlled use of force” something Bedelia was capable of on her own, or had Hannibal guided her? Is she like Will, a person with a dark side kept locked away in the recesses of her mind that Hannibal is determined to release – possibly through the now-dead patient that was Hannibal’s before he was hers – or was a propensity for acts of horrific violence drilled into her subconscious by the master manipulator?
With Hannibal being who he is, it stands to reason that the situation was like a psychological Rube Goldberg machine, with various complex mental gears and emotional levers being engaged by one simple, seemingly innocuous action. And it stands to reason that the whole scenario played out perfectly, ending with Bedelia getting in bed with the devil by asking, “Will you help me?”
Then again, as Bedelia stands by and choses to observe rather than participate in Antony Dimmond’s strangely sedate (for this show, anyway) death, we see a woman wrestling with her own morality. Being a part of Hannibal’s world is not necessarily something that comes easy to Dr. Du Maurier, but, as she admits to being curious about the poet’s final moments on this earth, it’s not one she’s willing to walk away from either. Unless, of course, she’s more in control than anyone – Hannibal Lecter included – had thought possible.
Is Bedelia Du Maurier more like Hannibal or Will Graham? Well, she certainly seems to have demonstrated aspects of both in her behavior both past and present. As long as she keeps the company of the devil, her motivations and reasons for doing what she does remains suspect. There’s a chance that, like the snails munching away on Dr. Gideon’s red-wine basted arm, Hannibal simply wants someone to share a meal with. But there’s enough depth in the character to suggest the culinary madman isn’t the only one getting something out of the relationship.
Hannibal airs Thursday nights @10pm on NBC.