The third season premiere of Hannibal followed the titular character in a way the series has never really done before; giving Hannibal (and Mads Mikkelsen) the spotlight allowed the show to shed new light on the incredible complexity of Hannibal’s mind. It also left the results of much of last season’s bloodshed in the dark, with the fates of Will, Abigail, and Jack Crawford hanging in the balance. While “Primavera” steps away from Hannibal’s life in Italy to focus on Will Graham in the aftermath, much of what happened is still left as a mystery for the show’s third season to expose later on. It works in large part thanks to Hugh Dancy, who carries Will Graham with a paranoid grace.
It’s difficult to come back from such an excellent episode like “Antipasto,” and in truth “Primavera” is a much less exciting episode in that respect. It’s sort of an expository episode, or at least Hannibal‘s take on delivering exposition; it masks a lot of what’s happened after Hannibal’s bloody battle, picking up with Will traveling to Italy in order to resume his attempts to bring down the master of cannibalism and artistic murder. Whereas “Antipasto” was enlightening in terms of Hannibal’s character and his work trying to mold Bedelia Du Maurier, “Primavera” is somewhat frustrating because it refuses to reveal; it is, throughout its hour length, a surrealistic return to Hannibal‘s more serialistic side, often dreamy and unclear in tone.
It all begins with the end of last season’s conclusion, returning to that scene where Hannibal refers to the teacup breaking as Will and Abigail bleed out on the floor. Hannibal pulls a fast one on the audience; for about half of “Primavera,” it’s unclear whether Abigail really survived Hannibal’s attack, because Will accompanies her to Italy. But eventually, the episode incorporates a dual sequence that alternates between Will, prepped for surgery on a gurney, and Abigail, in the morgue. It’s a moment that highlights the dreamy fluid nature of “Primavera” while also focusing on how Will’s psyche has fared since Hannibal’s departure, and it’s one of the most impressive aspects of the episode.
As Will traverses Italy, following Hannibal’s movements and investigating the body he placed in the chapel, he enters into his serial killer fugue state. This time, though, he hallucinates again, seeing the body (which Hannibal molded from the skin into a heart encompassing the rest of the body) morph into a grotesque stag. The ideas presented in “Primavera” are interesting and not exactly clear, often philosophizing on the presence of God while remaining within Will’s clearly damaged mindset. His interactions with Inspector Pazzi lead him even further down the rabbit trail, to the catacomb-esque basement of the church where Hannibal still lurks.
Pazzi is an intriguing character in his own right, an Italian inspector who claims to have the same sort of abilities as Will: he can get into the mind of a killer, and in fact has experienced something very similar to Will’s obsession with Hannibal. Il Mostro, a serial killer from 20 years ago, has plagued Pazzi ever since, and it certainly seems like Hannibal was the perpetrator. By introducing Pazzi, Hannibal is both giving Will another ally and also potentially setting up a victim for Hannibal. And with Will’s strange associations to his mentor/villain, Pazzi could also be an enemy for him.
“Primavera” is a particularly difficult episode to grasp. It’s slow and ethereal, and Fuller and company play up the fugue states in a way that makes it hard to believe what’s real and what isn’t. In a way, it feels like the audience is missing a vital component, and that can be both a boon and a frustration. Still, Hannibal‘s third season (potentially its last) is pushing things even further, psychologically and visually, and it’s good to see the show expanding into Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon arc.