Written by Matthew Taylor
Hello, Fannibals, and welcome to the recap of “Antipasto,” the highly anticipated season premiere of NBC’s Hannibal.
It’s been over a year since the last new episode, which found the titular doctor/murderous cannibal, played ever so wonderfully by Mads Mikkelsen, escaping to Italy with his psychiatrist, Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson). Viewers, however, were left on the edge of their seat, wondering if Will (Hugh Dancy), Jack (Laurence Fishburne) and Alana (Caroline Dhavernas) would live to see another episode.
And it looks like fans will have to keep waiting. A new season of Hannibal may have finally arrived, but any true fan knows that this is a series that constantly warps its own formula to keep viewers on their toes. So, it shouldn’t be a total surprise that Will, Jack and Alana’s fates are still up in the air, and that the characters don’t even appear outside of an opening flashback. Instead, the episode focuses solely on Hannibal and Bedelia, who have started new lives in Florence.
In the time since we last left these character, Hannibal has assumed the life of a Parisian professor, with Bedelia posing as his wife. Much of the episode, however, consists of Hannibal preparing to eat his latest victim, who happens to be the former assistant of the man he’s impersonating. Meanwhile, Bedelia starts to have second thoughts about whether or not hopping continents with her former patient was a safe decision. The hour, which is peppered with flashbacks to defining moments for both characters, is surprisingly slow for the series, with the writers choosing to simply set the stage for what the next twelve weeks will bring, before reaching an explosive climax.
Even with only two members of the main cast members showing up in the premiere, we’re reminded of how egregious the show’s Emmy snubs are. Mikkelsen’s work is particularly impressive, as the actor walks the tightrope between being a frightening villain and a fascinating lead. Not since Walter White has an antagonist been so compelling. Only Mikkelsen can make lines like “My wife and I would love to have you for dinner” feel like a terrifying warning and a deadpan joke. His calm demeanor, even as he snaps a man’s neck, makes his character all the more threatening, yet Mikkelsen has such natural charisma that it’s easy to believe so many people would fall under his character’s spell. And, despite being an iconic villain, Mikkelsen still makes his characterization of Hannibal feel completely different from Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance. The two interpretations stand entirely on their own.
But in the premiere episode, it’s Anderson who’s given the chance to shine like she never has before. The relationship between Hannibal and his psychiatrist is a complicated one (what relationship on this show isn’t complicated?), with Bedelia seeming both terrified and strangely attracted to him. The character was always shrouded in mystery but, in the season premiere, she finally steps into the spotlight and, in addition to finding out how Bedelia ended up on that plane to Italy at the end of season two, viewers finally gain insight into how she really feels about Hannibal. The truth? Unsurprisingly, she’s completely terrified of him.
In season three, all the cards are on the table and, within a few minutes of being reintroduced, Bedelia bluntly asks if her former patient plans on eating a man they just met. Bedelia is far from an accomplice in her fake-husband’s cannibalism, however, and in fact seems deeply disturbed with the answers she’s finally received about Hannibal’s hobbies. In a beautifully filmed sequence, Bedelia waits with nervous anticipation for Hannibal to turn their dinner guest into the main course, barely concealing her fright behind Anderson’s emotive eyes. Their relationship is also a coded one: Hannibal seems to know that Bedelia will, eventually, betray him, and taunts her with cleverly worded innuendos. Hannibal has even made a habit of preparing oysters for her, which, as another character points out, would make her taste delicious. If the foreshadowing in this episode means anything, it’s that fans should value any time Anderson is onscreen this year. Bedelia has always been one of the best characters in this universe, but all signs point to her not making it out of season three alive. But, then again, Hannibal has never been an easy show to predict. Need I mention Abigail Hobbs?
Some things never change with Hannibal, however, and it doesn’t even take five minutes for Dr. Lecter to stalk, murder, and fry the heart of a man. And, by the end of the episode, the stage is set for Hannibal to, once again, go on the run from whichever FBI members are still alive (a question that would have gone unanswered had it not been spoiled by NBC’s pesky promos). We’re also given a glimpse at who Zachary Quinto will be playing when he formally joins the cast in the coming weeks. The actor, best known for playing Spock in the Star Trek reboot, has a nonverbal cameo in the premiere, but will play a character referenced in past seasons who has a connection with Bedelia. Without spoiling too much, it looks like Quinto’s character will have more in common with his villainous turn in American Horror Story than Spock.
“Antipasto” proves, yet again, how Hannibal is above and beyond anything else on network television. Hell, it might just be the best show on TV. At the very least, the series assumes Mad Men’s thrown as the best looking show on TV. The cinematography is stunning, and the fabulously edited cooking sequences are made all the more disturbing by how delicious the food looks. Plot wise, not much happens in this week’s episode. The story just barely inches forward and a majority of the principle characters going unseen. Yet, by the end of the 60 minutes, you feel completely satisfied and ready to devour the next episode. The writers know how to create a universe that’s as disturbing as it is compelling, and it’s been far too long since these characters have appeared on our TV screens. Dripping with suspense and showcasing some of the best visuals television has to offer, all signs point to season three of Hannibal being a wild ride.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Catch Hannibal at 10pm every Thursday night on NBC