Hannibal Series Finale Review: Tumbling Over the Edge

[This is a review of Hannibal season 3, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]


As far as parting shots go (provided you allow the coda to simply exist on its own), the last image of Hannibal, wherein Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter tumble over a rocky cliff in one another's arms, is as poignant a conclusion for the series as one might expect. And considering the series was perpetually on the brink of cancellation from its first season on, the idea that it would end (in its current state, as an ongoing series on NBC, at any rate) with both the titular serial killer and the story's ostensible protagonist willingly going over that edge, plunging into the rocky waters of the unknown, is, in the show singularly dark, poetic way, beautiful and appropriate.

Aside from the addition of the sweeping Siouxsie Sioux track 'Love Crime' – written for the episode – the cliffhanger (with extra cliff) isn't too far removed tonally from the endings of the previous two seasons. Under the constant threat of cancellation, Bryan Fuller, Steve Lightfoot, and the rest of the series' creators were forced to work with a narrative safety net, crafting a season finale that could also work as a somewhat satisfying conclusion to the series. As it turns out, season 3 wound up putting the net to use.

And while it wasn't the definitive ending the series deserved, 'The Wrath of the Lamb' offered up a more fitting and, in a way, gratifying end than, say, the idea of Will taking the rap for Hannibal's crimes, or the BAU bleeding out in Hannibal's house, while the killer hopped a transatlantic flight with Bedelia Du Maurier in tow. The conclusions to seasons 1 and 2 were made more gratifying by knowing there would be a continuation of the story, whereas the ending of season 3 is pleasing because it feels like the culmination of the 38 episodes that had come before. Everything Will and Hannibal had experienced as a result of their initial meeting was just footsteps up to the edge of that cliff, and their seemingly conscious decision to discover what, if anything, awaits them at the bottom of their fall somehow managed to be both decisive and ambiguous at the same time.

Most audiences do not necessarily favor endings that come with a big question mark attached. Most want conclusiveness, hence why, nearly a decade later, David Chase's abrupt cut to black on The Sopranos is still the topic of heated debate and desperate attempts to pick apart the minutia of a final scene to force it to be seen as anything but ambiguous. Then again, Hannibal never had the same sort of audience, so this obscure denouement may have please those who have stuck with the series from the get-go.

Then there is the aforementioned coda, wherein Bedelia is seated at the end of an ornate table, her leg having been meticulously prepared in much the same way Dr. Gideon's appendage was at the beginning of the season. Though she sits with a narcotized look on her face, Dr. Du Maurier clearly has the wherewithal to make a play for a fork – perhaps in a last-ditch effort to fend off the person (or persons) with designs on making a meal of her. If you were to read any of the numerous postmortems on the series that creator Bryan Fuller participated in, it would seem the authorial intent of that moment is quite clear.

And yet, despite the knowledge of authorial intent, the moment is still ambiguous. Viewers may conclude Hannibal has survived the fall (and the gunshot wound, which is far less serious a malady in this particular world) and is waiting just off screen to dine with and on Bedelia, but without concrete, visual evidence, the moment can remain obscure enough that the door is left open as much for Hannibal's presence as it is his absence. In other words, if this is the last time this iteration of Hannibal is seen onscreen, there will be plenty to chew on for years to come.

What is far more definitive, however, is the way in which Fuller & Co. wrapped up the story of Francis Dolarhyde, and the show's adaptation of Red Dragon. There have been times when the series lifted directly from Thomas Harris' novel to such a degree that the conclusion of Francis' transformation felt as though it would wind up being treated with the same reverence.

Instead, the ending that 'The Wrath of the Lamb' delivered was fittingly much more about the transformation of Will Graham than it was about Francis' ascension into the role of the Red Dragon. Will's plot to deal with both Hannibal and Francis was born as much of his need to save himself from the addictiveness of Hannibal's affection as it was the pursuit to put an end to yet another killer. Appropriately, the whole thing goes askew, as Dolarhyde's metamorphosis and Will's escape are stopped short, so that the Red Dragon's death can become the ceremonial consummation of Will and Hannibal's relationship.

Ultimately, that was what made the conclusion to this part of the story so satisfying: the idea that Will and Hannibal would end up in one another's arms after so much time. It is both appropriate and appropriately grim that Will is seemingly unable to overcome his emotional dependence on the man who has more or less ruined his life. But then, maybe a knife to the face has a way of changing a person's priorities in the moement.

It wasn't the ending the series deserved. Yes, Alana found her way to a mostly fitting conclusion, and Chilton remained a fabulously dark punch line, but Jack Crawford's story certainly suffered, given the circumstances. With talk of a feature film or miniseries on some other network still a possibility, all the questions and shortcomings of the finale may one day be resolved – or at least replaced with new ones. But until then, fans will be left with this wonderfully somber, foggy ending to a series that often times felt too beautiful and too terrifyingly horrid to have existed in the first place – much less on network television.


Screen Rant will keep you updated with any news on the future of Hannibal as it is made available.

Photos: Brooke Palmer/NBC

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