not in our stars, but in ourselves
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why – I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.
Spoilers ahead, obviously.
When we last saw our Lucifer-like Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), he’d just murdered or seriously injured an FBI agent, a surrogate daughter, a lover, and a man he wanted for his lover. He was on a plane with his former therapist, Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier (Gillian Anderson), to who-knows-where. Well, now we know. Hannibal and Bedelia are living in Florence, under assumed names (Dr. and Mrs. Fell). Really, that’s about all there is to “Antipasto” in terms of plot – but, as is always the case with Hannibal, the plot is just one ingredient in the dish served each week.
Unlike the brutal second-season finale, “Mizumono” – which, as Greg Cwik put in his Vulture recap, “makes Twin Peaks’s ‘Beyond Life and Death‘ look jovial” – “Antipasto” feels more like a dream than ever. Not a nightmare. A dream: languid, lugubrious, surreal and sensuous. It feels like we’re drunk, or we’ve been drugged, and we’re somewhat aware of what’s happening – but also prone to dip in and out of consciousness. This episode has a point of view, and it’s Bedelia’s. (Mostly. More in a moment.)
Bedelia used to be a psychiatrist like Dr. Lecter. They were colleagues. One day, however, she attacked and killed one of her patients. Hannibal sees the immediate aftermath of the murder: the dead patient lying on the ground, blood spilling out of his mouth; Bedelia in a hysterical daze, sitting next to the body, her arm covered in blood up to her elbow. (She shoved her fist down his throat.) From then on, it seems, Hannibal has had something to use against her. It would be common and cruel (and rude!) for him to use it merely as blackmail, except in an emotional sense. He uses it to manipulate her when and how it suits him; and, by the time we join our not-quite hero in Florence, it suits him for her to play the part of his glamorous wife. She tells him, in their lavish apartment after they’ve attended a gala event, that she’s having a good day: she’s operating under the illusion that she’s conscious and making her own decisions. She’s not. She knows it. He knows it. There’s an unmistakable look of mortal dread in her eyes, a rabbit in the presence of a fox.
This is where “Antipasto” subtly undermines the absurd, fan-fiction-style ending of the book version of Hannibal, in which Dr. Lecter and Special Agent Starling run away to Argentina to live happily ever after. “Antipasto”, dreamy as it is, shows us what it would really be like to live with Hannibal Lecter. When will he pounce? When will he have exhausted himself toying with you, and decided to make you into a nice roast instead? It’s not a question of “if” – it’s “when.”
As a counterpoint to the Fells in Florence, “Antipasto” also includes flashbacks to one of Dr. Lecter’s more ambitious murders: that of Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard). Dr. Gideon made the mistake of trying to take credit for the Chesapeake Ripper’s work – and the Chesapeake Ripper was, of course, our own Hannibal the Cannibal. Such rudeness is unforgivable, so Hannibal abducts Abel, and serves him to himself one limb at a time. He uses one of Abel’s arms as snail food, and serves those to his “guest” as well. He’s working hard to make sure Abel tastes as delicious as possible, you see.
Ditto Bedelia. Hannibal invites a soon-to-be-dead Oxbridge poet to dine with him and his wife, and the guest (who is frank, but not rude, per se) notes that while he and Dr. Fell are eating meat, Mrs. Fell seems to be abstaining. Indeed, she’s eating oysters, acorns, and masala: foods that ancient Romans gave to their animals to make them taste better. Bedelia replies that her husband is very particular about how she tastes – a nice little zinger that would have been hilariously funny if she didn’t look so petrified.
Hannibal is out-shrinking his former shrink. She tells him that she was incapable of providing him with the therapy he needed, that she was lacking. Anyone would be. Even Starling – brilliant as she is – never managed to outmaneuver Lecter. She was just interesting and honest and clever enough for him to respect her. Here, we see Bedelia flee Hannibal’s lecture about Dante (and betrayal and Judas and hanged men in art – some guns in the first act that are sure to go off in the third) back to their apartment, where she packs her bag. Before she can flee, Hannibal returns home with that pesky poet (who now reveals that he knows neither of them is Dr. or Mrs. Fell) in order to murder him. Hannibal asks if she’s observing or participating. Tremulously, she insists that she’s observing. Hannibal tells her she’s too invested merely to observe: she is participating. Now come help me, my murder wife, he intones. There’s no escape. It’s emotional abuse, manipulation, and control of a fiendishly subtle sort.
Such is life with Hannibal. Interestingly, refreshingly, wonderfully, there’s never even a hint of sexual violence as a controlling mechanism. That, too, would be rude in Hannibal’s world. Lesser TV shows (it’s hard to believe that this is “just” a TV show, and on NBC to boot) would surely have tried to collect that particular low-hanging fruit. Hannibal isn’t that kind of party.
In short, season three is off to one hell of a start. It’s a work of art, as it’s been throughout its two previous season, but it’s changing the stakes this time. Considering that we still need to learn the fates of Will Graham, Jack Crawford, and Alana Bloom – and, during the second half of the season, introduce the Red Dragon himself – there will be plenty of ground to cover. In its premiere, however, Hannibal proves that it can do more (psychologically, aesthetically, intellectually, emotionally, viscerally) in an hour than most other shows could do in half a season.
NOTE: I think I’ll review each episode on a weekly basis, if that’s all right with you ‘orrible lot. And even if it isn’t, I don’t care! It’s my blog! You don’t like it? Go to Florence. Dr. Lecter would love to have you for dinner, I’m sure.