[This is a review of Hannibal season 3, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
Hannibal fans were dealt a blow earlier in the week when NBC announced that it would not be renewing Bryan Fuller's serial killer drama for a fourth season. And while that predictably made watching another episode of season 3 a little strange and somewhat melancholic, there's still enough uncertainty swirling around the show's future that you can remain about as confident in the show's return as you are in Jon Snow's. With that in mind, this was the perfect week for the network to deliver the bad news, as the amount of should-have-been-dead characters returning in 'Aperitivo' sends a subtle message that Mason Verger isn't the only one taken with the notion of resurrection.
The episode is also a return to a more familiar structure of the series, while still venturing deep into the psyche of its characters. The last three weeks have been remarkably deep dives into the psychic distance of both Hannibal and Will Graham; last week's 'Secondo,' in particular, plunged into such depths it achieved a new level of illusory dreaminess. Here, though, the episode is playing with much different mechanics: the kind that are as concerned with issues of plot as they are with feeling and mood. This will no doubt be welcomed by those who have thought the last few episodes – beautiful as they were – lacked a sense of forward progression.
Director Marc Jobst – who takes the place of Vincenzo Natali, after he helmed the first three episodes – has some stylistic shoes to fill, with the added pressure of addressing some emotionally weighty moments throughout the hour. This has always been Hannibal's strong point: to handle its dark and gruesome subject matter in a way that demonstrably tackles the aftermath, the fallout of the events that are at the heart of the show's appeal. Jobst validates several scenes of astonishing violence by focusing on the people who must carry and live with the physical, emotional, and psychological scar tissue threatening to define them in the wake of Hannibal's actions.
The opening sequence in which Mason Verger (now played by Joe Anderson after Michael Pitt left the role) and the surprisingly not dead Dr. Frederick Chilton compare scars is a terrific example of that. While Verger's non-death is more canonical, given the role he plays in trying to capture and kill Lecter, Chilton's is a bit more suspect. There was a great deal of emotional weight brought down when Chilton apparently died at the hands of Miriam Lass, and as such, his return negates much of the significance of a moment when Fuller went way off book, in terms of handling a particular character. But rather than just sacrifice the moment in the name of progression, Fuller delivers a physical demonstration of what that return cost Chilton, as he removes a contact lens, make-up, and dental apparatus designed to hold his face up.
As Chilton says to Verger, "The dead still have the luxury of being done." On Hannibal, those scars are the price of re-entry into the world of the living. Thankfully, Chilton registered the copyright to "Hannibal the Cannibal," so now I owe him a quarter to help foot the bill.
The episode also marks the return of Dr. Alana Bloom, whose body was shattered on the night of the bloody but still non-massacre at Hannibal's house. Again, there is a trade that has to be done, as Alana's wounds first suggest she was paralyzed in the fall, but soon enough we see her walking around (albeit slowly and with the aid of a cane), taking meetings with Mason Verger before being told by Margot (Katharine Isabelle) to "politely refuse" any chocolate he might offer her. Verger is quick to point out that of all Hannibal's victims, Alana's experience with the killer was…unique, let's say. And soon enough, we see what exactly the trade was, when Alana's typically buoyant personality gives way to something more interested in exploring vengeance.
The Alana we see here is a lot like Will at the end of the episode: navigating some choppy seas all alone, only this Alan's sailing onboard Verger's hatred. Will's rejection of her at Hannibal's house is heartbreaking enough, and it's only made worse by his hallucination of a bloody Abigail and the realization of his continued struggle regarding what to do about Hannibal. It makes sense, then, that, like Chilton and Will, Alana had to pay with something in order to remain amongst the living. It would seem she paid with the optimism and belief in others that was once a part of her make-up.
So much of 'Aperitivo' is a careful balancing act between deep dives into character psyches and setting up the plot for the next part of the season that Jack Crawford's gut-wrenching thread winds up shouldering the majority of the episode's emotional weight. Jobst and especially cinematographer James Hawkinson deliver a fantastic shot of Jack bleeding out in Hannibal's pantry. The sense of disorientation and the world turning upside down is made literal, as Jack's lifeblood literally pours out of his body and rains upward. He wakes in a bed beside his dying wife and tells her "If I could hear your voice, we both wouldn't have to die alone."
It's a beautiful sentiment that reinforces Bella's death later in the episode and demonstrates how a show that is in its heart of hearts about death – often violent, brutal death – can find a way to depict such a transition as a slow and ultimately merciful one. It also makes what Jack says to Will in the church where Bella's body lies in wake much more significant.
"I know what's coming for you, Will. You don't have to die on me, too," Jack says. This puts Jack in the running for those who care about Will as much as Hannibal does. But it also sets up the characters' motivations for what they are about to do. With all the discovery of and examination of the running through these characters' bodies and their minds, 'Aperitivo' still manages to be a nimble offering that makes great use of the show's past and present to ramp up excitement for its future, and all the scars that are yet to come.
Hannibal continues next Thursday with 'Contorno' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: