[This article contains potential SPOILERS for Hannibal season 3.]
Despite being fantastically dark during its three-season run, Bryan Fuller's Hannibal burned too brightly, and ended well before its story had reached a natural conclusion. While the image of Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter locked in an embrace, the waves of the Atlantic crashing hundreds of feet below them, nearly drowning out the good doctor's final words of "This is all I ever wanted for you" were delicious and satisfying in their own right – and continue to be more so, as time after the finale marches on – there will always be a contingent wondering where the story would have gone if the series hadn't been canceled by NBC or another network had immediately picked it up.
That story was, by Fuller's own estimation, a seven-season saga, running the full gamut of Thomas Harris' novels and more. It was a story that would, as the series had proven from its inception, take Hannibal into territory both familiar and uncharted, and if the proper licensing could be worked out, into a decadent reimagining of the celebrated novel and film The Silence of the Lambs. Considering the tasty treats Fuller and co-producer Steve Lightfoot were able to cook up with lesser fare, such as the Hannibal novel and even bits of Hannibal Rising, it's not too difficult to imagine the exquisite feast Hannibal the series might serve if given the opportunity to work with some truly savory ingredients.
In a perfect world, Hannibal season 4 would be something to look forward to, not just dream about and speak of in wistful tones of remembrance. So let's pretend things like ratings, complicated licensing deals, and protracted network negotiations can no longer hamper an endeavor such as this. Here is what Hannibal should bring to the table in a hypothetical season 4:
A Radically Different Silence of the Lambs
One of the interesting things about Hannibal season 3 is that its first half is largely an adaptation of the novel and film that share its name. What's more, in both cases, those elements definitely come after the events of Silence of the Lambs. Now, considering the Hannibal in Florence and Mason Verger storyline have come to pass, and neither Hannibal nor Jack Crawford have ever met FBI trainee Clarice Starling before the killer surrendered in Will's driveway, this can play out one of two ways.
The first would have season 4 take place during the span of time just after the Massacre at Muskrat Farm and before the Red Dragon storyline. This could be engaging as it would allow Raul Esparza the chance to step back into the role of Dr. Fredrick Chilton, during at time when he could still pay lip service to his own "genius" and didn't spend his days in a hyperbaric chamber, stewing in a bitter broth of hatred for Hannibal Lecter, Will Graham, and Alana Bloom.
Three years is a long time; more than enough for the Buffalo Bill case to have emerged and been solved. And while bridging the gap between Will and Hannibal's reunion with the story of Clarice Starling would afford an opportunity for some clever juggling of events that were yet to pass, it might require too much narrative spackle to cover up the holes punched it would punch into the Red Dragon storyline. For instance, why Jack didn't go to Will in the first place, or why was their no mention of Buffalo Bill or Clarice Starling during the Red Dragon case? The latter is especially important, given Crawford's dismal track record with protégés.
That's not to say these holes couldn't be filled, they could. But why put the effort into patching holes when you can more easily move the story forward from a pre-existing endpoint?
What might be interesting, then, is to explore the genesis of the Hannibal-Clarice relationship (yes, Hannibal survived the fall) without the barrier of Hannibal's incarceration between them. This would see Hannibal participate in Clarice's investigation out of his own interest – in both the killer and the intriguing woman hunting him. An approach such as this would invariably upset the familiar Hannibal-Clarice dynamic, and it would also mean several famous set pieces would likely have to be reimagined completely (that's where the whole radically different idea comes from). But, after the events of 'The Wrath of the Lamb', would the series really be better served by yet another Hannibal Lecter escape sequence?
Instead, by positioning Clarice as an object of Hannibal's interest equal to that of Buffalo Bill, the story would bring the focus back to the title character's insatiable appetite for tinkering with exceptional individuals (at least in Hannibal's eyes). It would also have the added benefit of telling The Silence of the Lambs storyline from multiple viewpoints.
Clarice Starling as a Woman of Color
Fuller has mentioned in interviews that he would like to explore the character of Clarice Starling from the perspective of a different racial background, and that idea sounds fascinating.
In the film, one of the first things Hannibal picks up on after meeting Clarice is her discomfort with discussing her past. Not only is Clarice uncomfortable with being asked to recall the loss of her father at a very young age, and being sent to live with relatives from which the titular lambs become a source of nightmarish trauma, but also the fact that she hails from a poor small town in West Virginia. From this stems issues with class, ambition, and self-perception that Lecter picks up on almost immediately.
In Lambs, so much of Clarice's arc (and arcs of others) concerns the idea of escaping one's humble upbringing to be reinvented and to finally hold some semblance of authority in the world. But it's also about escape from certain social restraints – especially for a woman – in order to fit the definition of something more desirable – e.g., Clarice distancing herself from her working-class background by trying to lose her accent and becoming an FBI agent.
Aside from the obvious plus of having a woman of color in a lead role on a drama like Hannibal, Fuller mentioned in an interview in Crave, there are compelling storytelling opportunities that changing Clarice's race would afford the story.
"There’s something about being poor and white in the South, but there’s something else about being poor and black in the South, and I think it could be the necessary gateway into the character, to make Clarice as much our own signature character as we tried to make Will Graham.”
Buffalo Bill as High-End Fashion Designer
One of the most unique things about Hannibal was the way the series managed to focus on the idea of haute cuisine (even when most of it was made of people). The show itself was often gorgeous to look at – which is saying something, considering its subject matter and willingness to engage in extreme violence and gore. And yet, it was perhaps never more sumptuous and refined than when detailing the sophisticated dishes prepared by Lecter. It was a darkly comic element taken to an almost absurd level (much like the rest of the series) that balanced refinement and elegance with abject horror.
So, considering Buffalo Bill spends most of his time skinning his female victims to make a person suit, it makes sense, in the context of the Hannibal universe, to see the character and his sewing/design skills taken to a preposterous place. And what better way to do that than to position Jame Gumb as a designer of high-end clothing?
With Hannibal's penchant for fashion already a topic of conversation amongst fans of the series, introducing Gumb and his murderous alter ego as a fashion designer would make for a killer addition to the story at hand.
Will Graham as Hannibal's Murder Protégé/Jilted Lover
One question requiring an immediate answer would be: What happened to Will Graham after his fated Reichenbach-like fall into the ocean? Well, much like Hannibal, Will would have survived the plunge. And since he and his murder mentor ritualistically consummated their relationship by bringing the Red Dragon to his bloody end, perhaps the two have taken up with one another as Hannibal once did with Bedelia.
Fuller mentioned there were aspects of the Hannibal novel that hadn't been adapted yet that might fit in with the next step of Will's arc. If it is assumed Fuller is referring to Lecter's attempts to drug and manipulate Clarice into thinking she's his dead sister, Mischa, then that could make for an interesting example of the addictive hold Hannibal has over Will. Now, that doesn't mean season 4 should feature Will Graham thinking he's a Lithuanian woman, but maybe it means the character giving into his dependence on Hannibal, and in the process, further distancing himself from the man he was at, say, the beginning of the series.
And then, just to add a little spice to the character arc, the season could introduce some conflict into the Will-Hannibal dynamic by bringing in Clarice as the new object of Hannibal's affection. Again, Fuller has commented on how, in other adaptations, Hannibal's feelings for Clarice were romantic in nature. So, to see another potentially amorous relationship spring up and challenge the identity Will has cultivated as Hannibal's ostensible significant other would offer an intriguing layer to not only the key relationship at the heart of the series, but also the introduction of a character as well known as Clarice.
Bedelia Du Maurier: A One-Legged Woman in an Ass-Kicking Contest
Despite what Fuller has said, viewers can read Hannibal's Bedelia-centric post-credits sequence in any number of ways. Her intoxicated demeanor and surreptitious stealing of a fork don't necessarily point to a dinner from hell with Hannibal – then again, they don't not point to one, either.
So, let's say, in the interest of keeping one of the most fascinating characters around for another season, Bedelia survives her ordeal mostly intact. Whether the removal of her leg was by Hannibal's doing, someone else's, or her own – as a preemptive measure and misguided acceptance of a fate that never came to pass – Hannibal's intellectual equal now has a compelling motivation for portioning the killer a dish best served cold.
Making Bedelia the aggressor would flip the script so to speak on the complicated, Will Graham-like relationship she has with Hannibal. And while season 3 spent a fair amount of time on Mason Verger's bid for vengeance, there's plenty of reason to think this could be refreshingly different. Let's face it (pun!), any way you cut it (double pun!), Mason Verger is simply not playing in Bedelia's league. Come to think of it, he's not even playing the same sport.
If nothing else, this would give Hannibal a reason to keep the amazing Gillian Anderson around, and to explore just what might happen when the injured bird she can no longer resist the urge to crush happens to be Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Hannibal may be off the air (and essentially dead for all intents and purposes), but the fact that Fuller has discussed his plans for what would have been is testament to the enduring nature of the series. Will it come back? Probably not (or at least not right away), but maybe that's exactly what a show like this needs: a chance to marinate in the hearts and minds of more than just its loyal followers, so should legitimate talk of a revival one day take place (as it seemingly does with all shows nowadays), there will hopefully be a more substantial audience salivating over its return.
Screen Rant will keep you posted on all news concerning Hannibal when they are made available.