[This is a review of Hannibal season 3, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
The fact that one third of 'Contorno' takes place on a slow train to Florence feels like a sly tip of the hat to the manner in which much of Hannibal season 3 has played out so far. Like the locomotive Will Graham and Chiyoh are travelling on together, the season has felt like it has a specific destination in mind, and yet it has compartmentalized certain narrative threads to the degree that they feel disconnected from one another at times. Thankfully, despite the beautiful but illusory (and perhaps narratively unnecessary) digressions like 'Secondo,' the train doesn't yet feel like it's in danger of going off the rails; in fact, largely because of the events of this fifth episode, it now feels like someone is stoking the fires of its engine and things are about to become much hotter as the plot picks up speed.
Despite picking up the pace, of the three distinct threads going on in 'Contorno' (four, if you count Pazzi's attempt to claim Mason Verger's reward as separate from his and Jack Crawford's shared storyline), two of them apply such steady but firm pressure on the breaks that you have to applaud how calculated it all feels. That really doesn't do much to excuse the more obvious table setting and deliberate delays that take place throughout the hour, but as the season rounds the corner toward the halfway mark, the payoff of all that preparation could well be worth the wait.
Of course, we're talking about Will being thrown from the train by Chiyoh and Jack allowing Hannibal to escape after delivering an epic beating in an exciting sequence that felt destined to be cut short the second it began.
Though slower, Will and Chiyoh's sequence is deserving of some attention, as the interaction between the characters feels like a substitute for the philosophical and psychological discussions the series is so accomplished at – that is, the deliriously loopy interplay Fuller and his fellow writers craft to sound weightier than perhaps it really is. Normally, Mikkelsen and Dancy handle these exchanges with great aplomb, and they have been a significant part of the show's appeal, underlining the gauzy and slightly drugged essence of its atmosphere. Now, however, such conversations have been given over to the terrific performance of Gillian Anderson and the still opaque performance Tao Okamoto.
Maybe because Chiyoh has been so difficult to read, her actions against Will come as a bit of a surprise from a character standpoint, even though they felt so overtly designed in terms of how the episode was written. She is certainly not as interesting a character as Bedelia, but her previously obfuscated motives and desires have helped make her more compelling than a mere plot device – which is what she feels like at this point. It seems unlikely that this will be the last we see of the character, but questions of her value as the storyline kicks into high gear have now risen to the surface.
Meanwhile, the portion of the episode that deals directly with Hannibal and his continuing misadventures in Florence, under the guise of Dr. Fell, feels like fan service served two ways. And that's not a knock on how the episode plays out at all, as even though 'Contorno' feels a little lumpy at times, Laurence Fishburne continues to be the season 3 MVP in terms of the power of the performance he's delivering. In fact, Jack's rush up the stairs to confront Hannibal is a well-timed counterpoint to mournful passing of Bella, and the too familiar death of Inspector Pazzi – which, other than being decompressed enough to demonstrate how Mikkelsen can turn an extension cord into a convincing noose, plays out almost exactly as it does in Ridley Scott's Hannibal.
Even though the scene has to end the way it does, thanks to the structure of the storyline (i.e., Will Graham has to be the one to capture Il Monstro), it's still exciting to see Jack deliver a little long overdue reciprocity for the events that unfolded in 'Mizumono.' Hannibal displays a surprising amount of vulnerability throughout the sequence that almost begs to be read as his desire to place himself in harm's way, in order to once again become closer to Will. Hannibal's earlier conversation with Bedelia suggests as much. But that shouldn't take anything away from Jack, who deserved a rematch with the killer, after their last encounter ended with a piece of glass protruding from his neck.
The fight sequence is a little bit of everyone getting what they want. Jack gets to pummel Hannibal, while Hannibal gets to live to see another day and lie in wait for Will. More importantly, the season gets to set up a much larger confrontation featuring all three characters that will lead into the next storyline, which will unfold during the second half of the season. In a way, it's like how season 2 played out, with Will behind bars, awaiting trial for Hannibal's crimes, before turning somewhat abruptly to focus on the trap he and Jack eventually set for the killer among them.
If anything, then, the Mason Verger thread feels like the primary outlier at the moment. It unfolds on the other side of an ocean, and utilizes Alana in such a specific way that it almost requires too much of a suspension of disbelief. One could argue that Jack's rage is an extension of the emotions felt by Alana, and therefore her thirst for vengeance and subsequent teaming with someone as deplorable as Mason is more easily understood, but it still feels like maybe the story is trying too hard to put her in a place the narrative needs her, rather than finding a situation that would better suit the character as we know her. The call she makes to Pazzi's phone helps assuage some of the issues there are with her helping trap Hannibal in the manner she is, so perhaps that hints at a reversal on the way.
It seems like a reversal is on the way for season 3 as well, as the storyline has yet to introduce the Tooth Fairy and begin the Red Dragon storyline. If the acceleration of the plot we see in 'Contorno' is any indication, things are likely going to move pretty fast from here on out.
Hannibal continues next Thursday with 'Dolce' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: