[This is a review of Hannibal season 3, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
Throughout 'Digestivo,' the best episode of Hannibal season 3 so far, the notion of escape becomes a potent through line. Mostly it is characters like Will and Hannibal needing to escape from Mason Verger with their body parts and lives still intact, but also, more poignantly in the case of Will, there exists the desire to escape, to be done with the craziness of what his life has become ever since his beautiful brain was gazed upon by Dr. Lecter.
That through line works to the advantage of the episode in two ways. 1) It gives what has increasingly become a narrative laden with dream logic a distinct and straightforward plot. 2) It makes the surrender of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the episode's final moments both a victory for Jack Crawford and a tacit announcement that the torment and temptation Lecter has become for Will is going to continue in perpetuity. Rather than allow the object of his obsession, love, psychological lust, etc., to kick him to the curb and announce the end, Hannibal relinquishes his freedom, so that Will can always know exactly where the devil is.
The ending of the arc that ostensibly began when Hannibal premiered in 2013 – as well as the ending the audience is treated to with the face-peeling, pig-birthing, eel-swallowing climax to the Mason Verger storyline – is both a victory and a horrific defeat. The Chesapeake Ripper, Il Monstro, Hannibal the Cannibal – whatever dark moniker he is going by presently – has been apprehended and will, by all accounts that we know of – thanks to Thomas Harris' novels and the films made thereafter – be a guest of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. But what makes it so biting and so tragic is that Lecter's pending incarceration is ultimately his design. And his design is to always be there for poor Will Graham.
After several weeks of teasing the audience by making Hannibal the focus of the main narrative, Bryan Fuller and Steve Lightfoot deliver a tremendous turnaround, giving the good doctor one last hurrah as both protagonist and hero, so the narrative can switch its focus back to Will, as the Red Dragon storyline begins next week. In order for Fuller and Lightfoot to execute this turnaround successfully, they had to shuffle around viewers' expectations, delivering a slow-burn story that almost felt too digressive and dreamlike at times, in order to present such an effective end to this chapter of the Will/Hannibal story.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the way 'Digestivo' ends is how it upends the expectation that Hannibal would have to be physically or mentally beaten in order to be caught. Instead, the character's calm surrender horrifically underlines his continued villainy; while at the same time it highlights scenes from previous episodes, like Jack's violent encounter with him in 'Contorno.' In other words, Fuller and Lightfoot already gave viewers Hannibal's defeat by a hero's fists, effectively crossing off all possibilities to make this conclusion even more fulfilling.
Those upended expectations were a prevailing element throughout the episode, as it delivered one shocking and disgusting surprise after another, turning Muskrat Farm into the current title-holder of most disturbed locale on television – network or otherwise. Thanks largely to Joe Anderson's wicked, exaggerated performance, the relatively sedate one of television's resident creep-meister Glenn Fleshler, and the awareness of Hannibal, Will, Alana, and Margot that their situation had gone completely off the rails, 'Digestivo' managed to vacillate between moments that were brutal, sickening, and outlandish, all with a wry smile on its face.
That sort of self-awareness actually works as a restraint for shows like Hannibal, which could easily fall into the trap of taking its beauty, its subject matter, and worst of all, itself, too seriously. The season may have sauntered close to the edge of self-seriousness a few times, but thankfully it never plummeted into such a Pizzolatto-esque abyss. Instead, the episode unexpectedly makes the sheer craziness of replacing the tattered remains of Mason Verger's face with the handsome visage of Will Graham just one of the many delightfully bonkers moments peppered throughout the hour.
And yet, in an episode featuring a pig pregnant with a human child, a naked Hannibal seemingly pleased with the idea of how his tongue will be prepared for consumption, and an eel swimming down Mason Verger's throat, perhaps the best part of what could easily have been a fulfilling season (if not series) finale was the way in which it subverted gender roles again and again.
Alana Bloom has been marginalized for much of the season, and her turn from empathetic psychologist to revenge-driven lover of Margot Verger at times felt like the series was doing the character a disservice. Dr. Bloom's actions in 'Digestivo' don’t necessarily correct the course of her character, but they do give her (and Margot and Chiyoh, in gradually lesser degrees) a far more decisive role in how the action plays out. Perhaps the most effective example of this is not when Alana and Margot confront and ultimately kill Mason, or even when they discover the pregnant pig, but when she is face-to-face with a subdued Hannibal. In that moment she asks him to be Will's savior and quietly accepts Lecter's matter-of-fact assertion that she could never have understood him. It is a moment understanding her limitations, but it is also a moment when Alana becomes the audience's proxy, as Fuller and Lightfoot gently take viewers by the hand and tell them there is no understanding Hannibal – which is why, after seven weeks, the focus is about to shift back to Will Graham.
In the end, this was a thrilling, gross, and darkly comic episode that brought a long fever dream to a close. But it also succeeded in opening the door for the next chapter in one of the best shows currently airing on TV.
Hannibal continues next Saturday with 'The Great Red Dragon' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Brooke Palmer/NBC