[This is a review of Hannibal season 3, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
There are several references to the devil in 'Antipasto,' the Hannibal season 3 premiere, many of which are directed at the titular character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). At one point, during a dreamy flashback that's not so much desaturated as it is awash in a hazy blue-gray tint and altered aspect ratio – as another hint of just how much the show likes to skew its own sense of perspective – Dr. Abel Giddeon (Eddie Izzard) comes right out and says it: "You really are…the devil." Later, while under the guise of his new identity, Dr. Fell, Hannibal delivers a lecture on Dante amongst display cases filled with ancient torture equipment. As if the combination of the two weren't enough to send the message home, director Vincenzo Natali superimposes a rendering of Lucifer directly over Hannibal's face. It's as if to say, "If you didn't believe the guy eating his own leg, perhaps this will do the trick."
To be honest, this is nothing new; Hannibal has always been presented as devil-like (or, if you wish to interpret it more literally: the devil walking among humankind). But here at the start of season 3, the many references to Dr. Lecter as the devil take on a new quality, given the fact that, for the first time since the series began, we are treated to a Hannibal Lecter who seems far more human than ever before.
'Antipasto' is a surprisingly sedate and somewhat languid affair, after last season's blood-drenched 'Mizumono' left Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) gutted, Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) broken, and Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) drained. And perhaps that's for the best. None of the FBI's most devastated players makes an appearance in the episode. Instead, Hannibal is vacuum-sealed with Dr. Bedelia Du Mauirer (Gillian Anderson) in a tense psychosexual packing set around the morally ambiguous notion of observation and participation. It is one where the former therapist expertly plays the devil's bride – or, in this case Dr. Fell's wife – and gets to say things like, "I still believe I am in conscious control of my actions," while drawing a bath.
There's romanticism to the premiere that is no doubt due to the increased presence of Anderson – the way she sits on the edge of the bathtub suggests a water heater is unnecessary – but it is also a byproduct of the startlingly ornate setting in which the series now finds itself. The sensuous and sumptuous bathroom alone, where Du Muarier experiences a conscious re-birth of sorts, is a dramatic departure from the cold, hard lines of Hannibal's home-turned-horrific-crime-scene and the pallid gray walls of the FBI's office. And the aesthetic of the setting breathes new and unanticipated life into the title character.
But here, change is not only different and unexpected; it's interesting. The first time we see Hannibal is after he's sliced his way through the streets of Paris on his motorcycle. He stops and removes his helmet, revealing not the immaculate presence of Dr. Lecter from seasons 1 and 2, but a looser, slightly disheveled version whose hair now cascades over one eye rather than being shellacked into position. In a sense it's Hannibal Lecter becoming sloppier (since this is the Red Dragon season, Lecter's physical appearance is perhaps a subtle nod to where the narrative will eventually take him), but it's also Hannibal Lecter, the fictional character, becoming roomier, rolling the window down and letting some air in, allowing more personality to fill the otherwise pristine, stuffy façade he was forced to wear while inserting himself into the world of Will Graham and Jack Crawford. Hannibal has, in effect, stepped out of his people suit, a fact he tells Bedelia in the immediate aftermath of 'Mizumono,' while she calmly double fists a glass of brandy and a hand cannon.
Stepping out of his people suit and stepping into the identity of another man – in this case, Dr. Fell – puts Hannibal in a different position than before. He's not quite the pure version of himself, the one that is hinted at whenever Bedelia hints at the true essence behind Mikkelsen's radiantly dark eyes. And there is a different kind of ceremony to his usual cannibalism. Here, frying up the late Dr. Fell's liver in a pan with a large pat of butter isn't just doing what the good doctor usually does; it's the consumption of another being to assume his identity. By taking on the character of another person, Hannibal begins to more closely resemble an actual human being, rather than a being whose mere presence cuts like surgical steel.
'Antipasto' is an episode interested in exploring new avenues, evidenced again by the opening sequence of Hannibal traveling by motorbike. And in doing so it is ready to leave certain things behind, to move on to the next chapter. To accomplish this, it has to establish some ground rules, which are laid out during a semi-lurid dinner party where Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom), a young poet and former TA of the late Dr. Fell, notices Bedelia noshing on what the Romans typically fed cattle to improve their flavor. "My husband is very particular about the way I taste," Bedilia says, prompting Tom to ask, "Is it that kind of party?"
"No, it's not," Hannibal replies, hinting to the audience what Hannibal season 3 may eventually become: a season of change, unexpected detours, and double meanings. One where Bedelia can sit near a train, decked-out in a blue wide-brimmed hat and trench coat, knowing she's likely to suffer the same fate as a rabbit dripping blood over her grocer's counter, and yet not bring herself to escape her predicament. It may also be a season where things that have literally been left behind not only threaten to return, but are openly invited back. And considering Hannibal turns the young, assuming Mr. Dimmond into a heart-shaped tableau, it's safe to assume some form of familiarity will soon come calling.
Hannibal continues next Thursday with 'Primavera' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: