“I believe that’s what they call a mic drop”. Apt words from Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter in an episode which may well be the show’s last. If ‘The Wrath of the Lamb’ proves to be the last we see of Bryan Fuller’s nightmarishly beautiful series, it ends in a fitting way: with style.
This third season has been split into two halves, essentially two six-hour movies, showing Hannibal first as a fugitive in Florence and then following his eventual arrest and incarceration. It’s a major change from previous seasons but Hannibal has never been fully successful when doing killer of the week stories. Seasons one and two featured so many deranged yet artistically inclined killers to defy belief and the procedural aspects always felt slightly at odds with the rest of the show, only there so as to make some attempt at accessibility. But with the European arc in season three, that skin has been shucked off, allowing it to become a series unlike anything else on television. Whilst many viewers may have found this alienating, if you made it through the ponderous first three episodes, your patience was justly rewarded.This is a series which has always revelled in its macabre aesthetic, but in Europe, it truly comes alive, revelling in the gilded interiors and gothic architecture at every opportunity – one can only imagine the glee Fuller and his team must have felt upon realising they could shoot a chase through a network of catacombs.
Whilst all along we know that Hannibal is destined to be caught, the writers manage to avoid predictability by adding their own twist on several iconic moments from Thomas Harris’ books. Here, it is Will’s head that Hannibal takes a buzzsaw to, after reaching the conclusion that the only way to get over him is to eat him. Their relationship later proves to be the key to his capture as it is only after Will rejects him, in one of the seasons’s most emotional moments, that Hannibal allows himself to be caught, ensuring that Will will ‘always know where to find him’. Whatever may have been subtext in previous seasons is front and centre now. This is a love story.
The latter half of the season sees a return to Baltimore for the Red Dragon arc. Harris’ Red Dragon is the most adapted in the Hannibal cannon but this version makes full use of its medium in order to distinguish itself from the other adaptations. Instead of a hundred minute movie, here we have six episodes devoted to the story of Francis Dolarhyde, played with a terrifying physical intensity by Richard Armitage (The Hobbit). The series spends very little time on exploring his tragic past, instead establishing his relationship with Reba McClane (Rutina Wesley). Their date where Francis takes the blind Reba to touch an anaesthetised tiger at the zoo is oddly romantic and incredibly powerful.Hannibal may have more than its share of striking visuals, but it is not all style over substance. Mikkelsen’s Hannibal makes restraint an art form and has long since put to bed the belief that Anthony Hopkins’ iteration is the ultimate. Season three also saw Gillian Anderson’s dubious psychiatrist, Bedelia Du Maurier, upped to series regular and she made a wonderful addition, icily purring every line.
Everything about Hannibal is so unique and out there that it has often been described as a dark fairytale. It’s a fitting description; though it may be set in a place called Baltimore, this is not our world. As such, its violence does not shock in the same way as other such graphic shows. Its commitment to avoiding sexual violence should also be commended, going out of its way several times to rewrite plotlines involving abuse. For a show that revolves around a cannibalistic serial killer, it handles violence in an extraordinarily considered manner.
Hannibal is certainly not a show for everybody. Its dark visuals and slow-moving pace will turn off a lot of people and it’s no surprise that it was cancelled only two episodes into it’s third year – the fact it even survived three years on US network television is a testament in itself.
If this proves to be the series finale, then it neatly brings to fruition what the series has always been about – Will’s transformation. Though it may have ended on a rather literal cliffhanger, the post credit tag hinted that this story isn’t over, and we can only hope that rumours of a film prove to be true. We’re certainly hungry for more.