not in our stars, but in ourselves
While Hannibal is, ultimately, about Dr. Lecter and Will Graham, the fourth episode of this season focuses on the not-so-good doctor’s other victims: Mason Verger (Joe Anderson), Dr. Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza), Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), and Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne). “Aperitivo” explores their wounds, in great detail, physically and emotionally. As Todd VanDer Weff notes in his Vox recap, the show presents these victims in a series of duets: Chilton speaks with Verger, Alana runs into Will, Jack consults with Chilton, Verger talks to Alana. Hannibal has never skimped on the emotional truth of any of these characters – but “Aperitivo” is a beautiful, heartbreaking, alarming look at what it’s like to survive an attack by Hannibal Lecter if you’ve ceased to amuse him. (In “Primavera,” the imagined Abigail tells Will that Hannibal sliced him surgically so that he would live; in this episode, Chilton – the real person who was visiting Will at the time – confirms that this is the case. Hanni takes such good care of his little Graham Cracker.)
First, a look back at what those injuries were. Mason Verger was, briefly, one of Hannibal’s patients. He was an abusive monster and a sadist – but worst of all, he was a rude bore. Hannibal drugged him and made him slice off his own face. Chilton, while he was briefly imprisoned for being the Chesapeake Ripper, was shot in the face by a brainwashed victim of Hannibal’s. The bullet missed his brain, but it tore apart his face. Think Javier Bardem in Skyfall. Alana was Hannibal’s lover for a while, and when she showed up at his house during Hannibal’s showdown with Jack, he pushed her out a second- or third-story window. She recovers slowly, painfully; her spine and pelvis shattered, and bone marrow got into her bloodstream. Jack received a slice to his jugular vein while fighting Hannibal, and was briefly dead. He awakens in the hospital bed next to his wife, Bella’s (Gina Torres), who’s holding his hand.
In other words: none of these people have much reason to want to see Hannibal alive or free. Three of the four set about planning their revenge; only Jack decides that saving Will is far more important than capturing Hannibal.
Hannibal doesn’t take any shortcuts, so this isn’t simply an hour-long version of Kill Bill. We explore not only the horrifying physical wounds inflicted, but the emotional aftermath, and how each victim deals with the trauma. “Aperitivo” isn’t trying to present any of Mason’s, Alana’s, or Chilton’s decisions as “right” – but it’s clear why they arrived at them. Mason has always been a sadist, and now he’s a religious nut as well (note the William Blake painting in his bedroom; Blake will come up again later this season, too). There’s no more dangerous combination than fanaticism and vengeance. Chilton is canny enough to trademark the phrase “Hannibal the Cannibal” (as Alana notes with no small amount of scorn) because he clearly intends to profit from a lifetime of humiliating him. If the show resolves itself in a way similar to the books and movies, he will succeed, for a while. Alana, for her part, blames herself for letting down her guard – but she blames Hannibal more. As is her right. She appears to have embraced life as a femme fatale, doing her best Ava Gardner (or at least, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner) impersonation while hobbling around Mason’s mansion on a cane.
Jack, for his part, is too focused on his beloved Bella to worry all that much about eating Hannibal alive, institutionalizing him, or delivering him to a religious sadist. Bella dies peacefully, with Jack listening to her slowing heart, and holding her until her brain stops as well. Her funeral reminds him of their wedding. One imagines that, if it weren’t for Brian Reitzell’s stellar work as the show’s composer, the “Liebstod” from Tristan and Isolde would serve as an appropriate musical accompaniment. Love and death, each performing a similar ritual in a church; Bella in white at her wedding, and in her casket; holding a bouquet of flowers as a bride and surrounded by sympathy arrangements when she’s dead. (Film students will, of course, remember Douglas Sirk’s extensive use of flower arrangements in his movies, because he found the idea of collecting dead things to add beauty and charm to a home was, at the very least, an interesting irony. French students know that the term for a still life is “une nature morte.”) Among all these wreaths, an especially elaborate bouquet boasts a note in a familiar hand: a note of condolence from Dr. Lecter. He is the soul of politeness, after all.
Hannibal himself is barely in this episode – but Will makes a few choice appearances. Indeed, it might be Will’s path that causes each of these other four to decide on their particular courses. Will is the chosen one. He warned Hannibal that the FBI was coming to get him, and Hannibal let him live (albeit with a permanent reminder of his treachery). As all these survivors try to reassemble their lives and their bodies, Will shuns them. He only wants Hannibal, the only person who’s ever understood him. He tells Jack why he tipped Hannibal off: “Because he was my friend, and because I wanted to run away with him.” Alana tells Will that Hannibal’s feelings for will are “blackmail elevated to the level of love.” Hannibal chooses Will. Hannibal understands Will. Will can’t choose anyone else.
Season three has been all about the reality of life with Hannibal. So far, we’ve seen the effect on Will, and the effect on Bedelia. Hannibal finds each of them useful, although he may soon tire of Bedelia (she got pretty sassy in the last episode). He ceased to find any of the rest of this episode’s gang of four, long ago. “Aperitivo” is about what it feels like not simply to be attacked by a man of Hannibal Lecter’s intellect and brute force – but what it feels like to find out you’re not interesting enough for him to want to bother with. Jack has someone else, even after she dies. The rest of them are alone, despised, and rejected. No wonder they’re upset.
P.S. SAVE HANNIBAL.