DEADtime TV: Hannibal ‘Antipasto’

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Hannibal has always been a stylish show thanks to showrunner Bryan Fuller; that’s part of its charm, because it’s part of Hannibal as an animal posing as a person and it’s part of the foodie porn aspect of the show. But I honestly don’t think there’s been an episode of Hannibal so beautiful as “Antipasto,” a wonderfully-shot jaunt through France, Italy, and time. There’s a reason for that – the show (seemingly ending so much of its forward momentum last season when most of the main characters appeared mortally wounded) now has little to do besides setting up a new movement for Hannibal with his psychiatrist/friend/accomplice Bedelia Du Maurier. Given the room to show Hannibal’s more animalistic and criminal side – something Hannibal has often skirted around in favor of Will Graham’s descent into madness at Hannibal’s hands – “Antipasto” excels at crafting a somewhat circular narrative of events that also allows for the weaving of a beautiful and gory tapestry.

The episode picks up after the events of last season, in France, with Hannibal pursuing a prominent writer and Dante aficionado Dr. Fell. It’s a quick montage of moments, effectively setting the off-kilter development of this episode’s spiraling timeline of events; director Vincenzo Natali moves from the inner workings of a motorbike to Hannibal meeting Dr. Fell with “Bonsoir,” both outside of a party and then again at his home. From there, “Antipasto” moves from France to the beautiful city of Florence, Italy, where Hannibal has taken residence assuming the identity of Dr. Fell and working as a Dante historian. Living alongside Bedelia, they enjoy the finer things in life: good wine, academia, and the occasional dead body or two.

It’s interesting how Fuller and co-writer Steven Lightfoot have opted to structure “Antipasto,” because for a little while I wasn’t even aware that Hannibal was posing as Dr. Fell until after a character mentioned the name. The episode slips around in time so often that the boundary between what is happening currently and what has already past is somewhat viscous – some events are highlighted by black-and-white, others by widescreen with dual black bars on the edges. It’s up to the viewer to put these pieces into perspective, but when it all clicks, the reasoning behind it is significant.

It is mostly due to Bedelia’s presence. She has always had a fascination with Hannibal, both as a patient and as a creature removed from ethical thought. “Antipasto” continues to bring up Hannibal’s movement away from ethics and morals; in fact, he mentions that it is a human construct himself, as though he is somehow an evolutionary marvel that has come to find morals an unnecessary distraction for humanity. Bedelia, like a zoologist, is drawn to Hannibal in a way that puts her in a position of either observation or participation, forcing her to question whether her attraction stems from her own interests in murder.

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“Antipasto” steps back in time to observe Bedelia’s relationship with death, specifically the time that she killed her own patient. It was Hannibal’s patient before her, but her actions were intentional and Hannibal recognizes the murderous calculation behind the event. The episode, for all its focus on Hannibal establishing himself in Italy, is really about Bedelia and her own involvement in Hannibal’s life, much the same way season 1 and most of season 2 tended to center around Hannibal warping Will.

At the same time, “Antipasto” skillfully complements Bedelia’s fascination by highlighting Hannibal’s endgame. Fuller and Lightfoot bring up the time Bedelia warned Jack about Hannibal’s forethought – succinctly, if you think you’re ahead of Hannibal, you’re already two steps behind. The same seems to be true of Bedelia, if the flashbacks to Hannibal feeding Dr. Abel Gideon his own leg are any indication. These moments, sporadically spaced throughout “Antipasto,” are gruesome dinner conversations between Gideon and Hannibal with massive subtext. One in particular stands out: Hannibal has been feeding snails Gideon’s arm, because they’ll taste so much better feasting on wonderful foods. At the same time, Hannibal is feeding Gideon the snails that in turn feasted on Gideon, almonds, and other good foods; it’s Hannibal fattening up Gideon to taste even better, infusing him with flavor, so that he can have a wonderful meal. Gideon asks how Hannibal must taste, then, having eaten many wondrous people in his life.

This moment isn’t out of the range of a normal Hannibal sequence, but it does indicate something larger happening within the story. Hannibal is also feeding Bedelia the same things, almost like he’s fattening her up too. “Antipasto” doesn’t make it clear whether Hannibal wants to eat Bedelia or if he wants her involved in his killings, but Fuller and Lightfoot set up either scenario. Whether Bedelia participates in Hannibal’s murders will most likely decide whether she lives or dies, and that’s a very intriguing perspective for the show.

The episode doesn’t get to Will Graham at all, but the previews hint that his investigation into Hannibal in Italy is coming shortly. After all, Hannibal likes the thrill of the hunt, and Hannibal wouldn’t be a show without Hugh D’ancy’s turn as a confused Will unsure of the line between serial killer investigator and serial killer. Despite its lack of Graham, “Antipasto” is an incredibly successful episode that takes a moment to focus on Hannibal and Bedelia in ways the show rarely does. What it sets up is questionable and somewhat undefined, but the style and approach to characterization, and the way Fuller and Lightfoot return to the Hannibal world after such a cathartic and bloody finale last season, is fascinating, in much the same way as it is for Bedelia to observe Hannibal in his natural habitat.

pros

  • Incredibly stylish, with beautiful Italian settings and colors
  • Explores relationship between Bedelia and Hannibal in new ways
  • Flashbacks add quite a bit of subtext
  • Food porn returns!

cons

  • Multiple timeline jumps can be confusing if you’re not paying attention to presentation

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