After two seasons, the cat's finally out of the bag. Or, perhaps more aptly, the monster's out of the closet. Everyone knows Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is a sociopath who eats his victims, for the third season of NBC's majestically dark horror-thriller. The premiere opens with Lecter footloose in Florence, Italy—assuming the role of a Parisian art curator, Dr Fell, while living with his ex-therapist and travel companion Dr Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson). "Antipasto" doesn't feature a single glimpse of Will Graham, or Dr Bloom, while Jack Crawford only appears in a reprise of an old scene. All three are presumed dead after the ghastly events of last season's finale—a trio of grisly fates we're sadly under no illusion are to be undone, which I'm both happy and disappointed about. Those are great characters it'd be a shame to lose, sure, but at the same time it's very strange Lecter's home massacre didn't claim the life of any regular character.
Bryan Fuller's often said his approach to writing Hannibal is to become a "Thomas Harris remix D.J", as characters and storylines appear in unusual ways that aren't canonical to the existing books—and, indeed, they don't even have the rights to Silence of the Lambs (so don't hold your breath waiting for Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill to appear). Now, we're in a weird situation where Lecter's storyline is clearly influenced by the character's fugitive status during the post-Lambs novel Hannibal, with Bedelia assuming the 'brainwashed Clarice' role the book climaxed with (which Ridley Scott's version ignored), only without unequivocal love being the motivator. Indeed, much of "Antipasto" made it feels like Bedelia is trapped by circumstances and so entwined by Lecter's mind-games that she's even unable to pull the trigger when she has the perfect opportunity.
It was also interesting that, in contrast to the season 2 premier's flashforward to a climactic moment of revelation between Jack and Lecter in his kitchen, this premiere goes the other way with a more conventional flashback. I was just a bit confused by the decision to reveal more about the time when Lecter had captured his own copycat, Dr Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard), and forced him to devour himself piece-by-piece over the course of their nightly dinners. While it was great to see more from Izzard in this role, and scenes of Gideon refusing to appear revolted by the nightmarish ordeal of watching Lecter serve him escargot that have gorged on his own severed arm, there wasn't too much being communicated we didn't already know, or could assume. It felt like the episode simply needed something to cut to, and without the FBI characters around their options were limited.
The same complaint could be made of a later flashback to Dr Du Maurier, whom we saw seconds after killing her patient Neal Frank (Star Trek's Zachary Quinto, unnoticeable), then agreeing to let Lecter help hide her crime. While it was a nice moment to see, and one assumes Quinto will return during more flashbacks to Bedelia's past before his character dies, it was visualising something we'd already been told had happened. It added clarity, sure, but wasn't a big revelation.
I'm also slightly confused that Lecter's able to live in Europe without the authorities being aware of his identity, as he's presumably one of the most famous serial killers of the age—unless, perhaps, it'll be revealed the FBI have kept Lecter's crimes from the public because it would be too embarrassing to the Bureau? But is that really enough reason to go dark, and let a monster like Lecter enjoy the high life in Florence, where he can indulge his darkest urges and kill with impunity? It's a problem I remember having with the Hannibal novel, too, but somehow it feels even more implausible here. Lecter hasn't even tried to disguise his features, or go off-the-radar for a number of years before resuming his killing? Maybe that's what helped the jump from Silence of the Lambs to Hannibal at the movies, because you assumed a good decade had passed and Lecter wasn't as prolific a killer.
I must confess that aspects of this premiere confused me on first viewing, too—mainly the location switch from France to Italy very early on, which in turn confused a few issues concerning the presence of the murdered Dr Fell's teaching assistant, Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom). The production did a magnificent job photographing both beautiful cities at night, but to my untrained eye they looked indistinguishable at times, which was perhaps half the problem.
Overall, I'd rate "Antipasto" as my least favourite of the show's three premieres, but season 3 is admittedly full of promise by virtue of Lecter being 'off the leash' in foreign lands, and with Bedelia's role as a strange victim/accomplice... but not a lover. The only person Lecter appears to have ever loved is Will Graham; for his mind, if not his body. Once the other regulars begin to explore Lecter's history and the manhunt gets underway, I can imagine this season becoming extremely good. The procedural nature of the first two seasons were handled supremely well, as it avoided becoming a dull 'serial killer of the week' affair, but I'm also glad the show is developing into something different. Although, knowing how the books go, we'll be returning to that formula soon enough.
written by Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot • directed by Vincenzo Natali • 4 June 2015 • NBC