The structure of Hannibal‘s third season has been most interesting. In its first three episodes, the show has reluctantly given the audience hints as to the fates of those Hannibal potentially murdered in season 2. But instead of focusing on those characters, it dehumanizes them; it gives the viewer little time to react to their death or life, moving forward instead to Hannibal’s newfound life in Italy and Will’s journey to find him. “Aperitivo” reverses time, brings everything back to the starting point before Will and Jack Crawford start their search. It gives the audience a chance to see who survived, and that sequencing leaves this episode with an odd circuitous path, looping back and around itself again. It also uncovers the ultimate goals for the characters who hope to find Hannibal and then do with him what they wish.
As a flashback episode, “Aperitivo” acts as exposition. We already know Hannibal has fled to Italy, we already know that Will and Jack are there looking for him. What we don’t know is the motive, and to some extent, the episode tries to bring us there. It cuts Hannibal out of the picture nearly entirely save for one handwritten letter; by doing so, it strengthens the relationships between those that Hannibal has hurt, bringing them together in a way they never would have had they not been affected in some way by Hannibal. All of them have been maimed; some have the scars on the outside, but all harbor them in their psyches.
Each focus on secondary characters brings about a flashback, in letterbox form, to that fateful dinner party in season 2. It is Dr. Chilton who prompts this, doing his best to round up everyone involved in Hannibal’s experiments. He did survive the gunshot to his face, leaving him with a large hole near his cheekbone, a droopy eye, and a lot of missing teeth; his ultimate goal is revenge, and he begins working on each of his enemies at one time.
This brings in a whole slew of people from last season, most importantly the Vergers. Mason Verger is still missing part of his face, but he’s had enough transplants to leave him at least partially less monstrous. His goofy persona is still present despite the departure of Michael Pitt, and “Aperitivo” makes his aspirations clear: he wants Hannibal prepared for consumption.
His therapist is none other than Alana Bloom, also rising from the dead albeit with a limp and an immaculate cane. She’s also haunted by Hannibal’s presence (and lack thereof), and it brings her directly into Will’s revolutions as well as Mason Verger’s plan. She’s also targeted by Chilton – these characters, forming as a group because of the disappearance of Hannibal, are becoming a supergroup of sorts, opposition to Hannibal’s expert cunning and craft.
“Aperitivo” pulls Jack Crawford in as well; the death of Bella in this episode is emotionally charged, sure, but its real power is its sway over Jack’s decisions. One thing that kept him from pursuing Hannibal was her vitality and her urges for him to give it up. But her death changes that, gives him the opportunity to seek out Hannibal, and it’s only heightened by Hannibal’s letter to Jack at Bella’s funeral. “Aperitivo” chooses not to discuss what it says; it simply gives Jack a reason to find Hannibal in Italy.
The way Hannibal handles this call to action gives the season added depth. There are a lot of factors motivating each of these characters, and ultimately many of them are probably not as clear-cut as they may seem. That’s especially true for both Alana and Will; Alana because she shares intimate relations with Hannibal – as remarked, Hannibal has been inside (sexually, but psychologically) her more than the others – and Will because the audience is never sure if he’s motivated to find Hannibal because he despises him or, in some way, misses his presence. “Aperitivo” even finds him admitting his admiration of the man, and Hannibal continues to explore that theme of Hannibal’s alluring, rapturous character.
As exposition goes, it can’t be done much better than “Aperitivo.” The complexities of each of these secondary characters comes to fruition in the episode, and it doesn’t even require Hannibal’s physical presence. By now, the show is able to work with just his spiritual embodiment, the way he has affected the entire cast of characters. “Aperitivo” shows how they assemble to stop him, and it also depicts Hannibal’s encouragement; neither party can be rid of the other, nor, it seems, do they want to be.