This fifth episode was our best reminder yet that Hannibal the TV series is taking place amidst terrain the franchise has already covered in books and films. The previous two seasons had the luxury of detailing events before Red Dragon (the first novel in which Lecter appears), and in some ways that always felt like its primary reason to exist. It was telling the untold story of Dr Lecter's (Mads Mikkelsen) working life before incarceration; rich and largely untouched ground, if we ignore the lame and misjudged Hannibal Rising prequel. But season 3's now tackling the storyline of the Hannibal novel, ahead of moving onto the plot of Red Dragon in episode 8—a chronological reverse that's quite amusing, too. We've known this from the start, but it was only in "Contorno" that the show finally had to grapple with something it's avoided until now: re-staging a famous scene, that's probably familiar to most people watching.
I'm talking, of course, about the moment Lecter chloroformed Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino) after realising the Florentine cop recognised him from his youth as 'Il Monstro', then tied him to a sack trolley and pushed him out a window with a noose tied around his neck and his belly slit open, to disembowel him in the fall. This was a memorable sequence in the hit-and-miss Ridley Scott film, so it was interesting to see how the TV show staged the exact same moment—and I thought they did a marvellous job. The direction from Guillermo Navarro did a superior job of making you wince when Pazzi's gruesome end came with a literal jolt, and it just helps that we've spent longer in the company of these particular actors. While Pazzi's demise was a near-certainty (if not inevitable, given how playful the show can be with canon), there was satisfaction to be found in having the moment feel so beautifully executed. It perhaps also helped that, beyond a few blade kills, this was the first attention-grabbing murder Lecter's committed in a good long time.
But the genius of this show's writing is how it manages to keep itself feeling fresh, even during an hour containing a moment everyone's been poised for. Unlike the movie or book, Lecter's dispatching of Pazzi was immediately followed by an unexpected sequence where the tables were turned—as Jack (Laurence Fishburne) arrived at the scene of the crime, concerned for his new Italian friend's safety, and proceeded to beat the living shit out of Lecter!
Mikkelsen and Fishburne's brilliantly-staged fist-fight that felt like payback for everything Jack went through in Lecter's kitchen last season, where the shoe was very much on the other foot. This time, it wasn't Jack laying bloodied and beaten, near death, but Lecter—and if it hadn't been for Lecter managing to break his fall out a window by catching hold of Pazzi's swinging corpse, Jack would have been triumphant. Indeed, I really thought "Contorno" was going to be the hour where Lecter was captured, even thought it felt a little premature for that to happen. Bravo for managing to make that feel like a real possibility, until the last moment.
The wonderful climax of "Contorno" somewhat overshadowed everything that came before, but there were plenty of other moments I enjoyed. Although Will's (Hugh Dance) nighttime train journey to Florence with Chiyoh (Tao Okamoto) wasn't high amongst them. Having her push Will off the train will delay his return to Florence, giving her time to get to Lecter first, and that's all their scenes really seemed designed to do. It doesn't help that Okamoto isn't very good in this underwritten role, although I liked their conversation about snails devoured by seagulls that sometimes survive digestion and find they've travelled the world—suggesting they're analogous to the snails Lecter's regurgitated. The rest of their chatter was drearily self-important.
A little better was seeing Dr Alana Bloom (Catherine Dhavernas) essentially take up the Margot Verger role on the show, as the beautiful woman at Mason's (Joe Anderson) side. She can't be easily manipulated or unnerved by Mason, try as he might, as she's only there because it's Mason's bounty on Lecter's head that's the key to finding him. I was concerned last week about Alan's sudden turn to the dark side, but I've had time to consider things and guess it makes sense. Or is at least a more interesting use for her character, and a way to keep her active in the story. The moment she accidentally found herself on the phone to Lecter, after ringing Pazzi's phone to warn him against going after Hannibal, was also a brilliant way to briefly unite those two characters.
Overall, there was more forward momentum and surprises in this hour than I anticipated going in. That said, while I'm enjoying season 3 so far, it does feel like the writing keeps attacking the same targets, and the artistic leanings of the show slip into self-parody at times. A slow-motion shot of Will cartwheeling backwards through the air off a train carriage? Okay, sure. A slow-motion shot of Jack's wedding ring plopping into a river? Symbolic and perfect. Pazzi's coin rolling down the internal chute of a payphone? Oh, God, please! There's really no need. And let's not get into the close-ups the show sprinkles throughout its hours, which seem to get more and more random. Or maybe it's always been that way, but the novelty's wearing off and the show's visual quirks are beginning to feel too prescribed.
written by Tom de Ville, Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot • directed by Guillermo Navarro • 2 July 2015 • NBC