[This is a review of Hannibal season 3, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
There is something going on with Hannibal season 3 that is pleasantly surprising. When you stop to consider where the series left off in season 2 – with a suggestively transformative bloodbath between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter – you might think the story would want to get the viewer apprised of the new status quo as quickly as possible. Well, if you thought that would be the case here, you’d be wrong. Dead wrong.
Instead of checking in with every character whose fate has not yet been revealed, Bryan Fuller has decided it’s best to let the uncertainty of ‘Mizumono‘ linger like a phantom pain for just a little while longer. More than a year has passed for viewers since that fateful night at Casa del Lecter, plenty of time for some emotional scar tissue to form over the open wound that was the traumatic finale, but as these first two episodes of season 3 make clear, the damage that was doled out went deeper than Hannibal’s blade in Will’s gut. The wounds may have healed over and the skin around them thickened, but the sensation of trauma still lingers in the air.
The show, like Will Graham (and, possibly, Jack Crawford and Alana Bloom) is in recovery. That’s not very typical of a television series, especially one that doles out bloodshed like this one does. And yet, because Hannibal (thankfully) isn’t like anything else on television, this move is surprising and welcome, but not unexpected. The slowed pace is the equivalent of a long convalescence; these two beautifully languorous episodes have been given to the audience as a recuperative device of sorts, something to make the horror of ‘Mizumono’ a thing of the past, while at the same time dealing with the events head-on.
While Hannibal has been gallivanting about Florence, under an assumed name with his not-necessarily-unwilling fake bride Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Will Graham has been drifting in and out of consciousness, likely in a coma for several months (eight, according to the time jump here in ‘Primavera’). And while his body has been mending, Will’s mind has kept busy, sending the empathetic profiler into a fever dream of sorts, one where Hannibal’s office is a place of refuge, raining documents and journal entries that spontaneously combust like his encephalitic brain did back in season 1.
More than that, though, Will’s special brain returned to him a rare gift, one that had seemingly been taken away in a brutal, shocking manner. That gift is Abigail Hobbs. When the young woman walked into Will’s hospital room, explaining the surgical precision with which Dr. Lecter spared her life, it was unexpected, but not out of the realm of possibility for a show that routinely deals in the improbable made plausible.
It was a ruse of course; Abigail succumbed to her injuries just as Will was saved from his. All of this unfolds in the exquisitely composed fashion to which the fans of the series have grown accustomed. Director Vincenzo Natali (he handled directorial duties on the first three episodes this season) crafts a sequence of stiches, surgery, and exsanguination that radiates cost and emphasizes suffering without the heat of it overcooking things. It’s like Will says, elegance is more important than suffering.
We’re aware Abigail is a figment of Will’s imagination long before her neck opens up in the church in Palermo, but her presence isn’t merely a fake out; it’s a glimpse into the damaged psyche of the man who wills her back into existence. Abigail’s desire to return to Hannibal is Will’s desire. Her understanding that time spent with Hannibal, both under his watchful eye and his knife is like a caterpillar’s time spent inside a chrysalis is Will’s understanding. She isn’t merely a symbol of loss at the hands of the devil; she is a manifestation of Will’s conflicted feelings toward “Il Mostro” – the Monster of Florence, as the tragically determined Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino) has dubbed Hannibal – that has him struggling with the temptation to apprehend the killer and to simply be with him. “He made a place for us,” Will says to himself through Abigail, before telling the vision, “a place wasn’t made for you.”
That’s what makes where much of ‘Primavera’ unfolds so important. The episode takes place inside the House of God, as well as inside Will’s extraordinary mindscape. Here the series tackles its favorite topics, like morality, the struggle of good versus evil, and the concept of temptation in a place where God is supposed to be watching. But it also does so through the incredibly close psychic distance between the audience and Will Graham (the return of the Black Stag through the meticulously trimmed, broken, and shaped body of Antony Dimmond is about as close as anyone should ever want to get to Will’s mind).
Hannibal doesn’t pray, but he believes in God, Will tells Pazzi before they journey through the surprisingly well-lit, labyrinthine catacombs beneath the church, where the man they seek is waiting. It’s important for Hannibal to believe in God, because, as Will says, it’s no fun being the Almighty, but defying God is Hannibal’s idea of fun. And yet, Will continues to play spoiler, calling to the man whom he is hunting (and being hunted by), not as a way to get his quarry to reveal himself, but to tell Hannibal he is forgiven.
That is Will’s surgical strike to Hannibal’s heart; it is reciprocation for the trauma he’s had to endure: a denial of the devil’s pleasure. After all, what’s the fun in defying God if your sins are just going to wind up being absolved?
Hannibal continues next Thursday with ‘Secondo’ @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: