It finally happened. After weeks of teasing, many of Hannibal's leading characters finally shared the screen this week, and not just in dream sequences or flashbacks. It feels like the beginning of the end for Dr Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) after his vicious beating at the hands of Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne); forced to limp home, battered and bruised, to be bathed and nursed by Dr Bedelia (Gillian Anderson). Will (Hugh Dancy) arrived in Florence soon than expected after his train accident, to be reacquainted with his erstwhile FBI boss, as the two men discussed what Lecter's next move will be. And both men found quickly found Bedelia, who's busily severing ties with Lecter as he prepares to flee Italy; sticking to an alibi that boils down to taking a cocktail of drugs and pleading (not entirely ridiculously) that she's been brainwashed by Lecter into believing he's Dr Fell and she's his dutiful wife. Her play acting doesn't fool Will and Jack, who know a thing or two about genuine brainwashing, but will it fool the polizia now they're keen to catch Inspector Pazzi's killer?
There was a lot of focus this hour about partnerships; how best friends and close lovers merge and blend into each other. The root of this was undoubtedly the scene where Will found Hannibal Lecter, sat admiring the Botticelli painting 'Primavera' in a museum—a low-key, gentle scene of astonishing writing. Their relationship is so bizarre and compelling. Seeing them together again, for real, was worth the agonising wait. "You and I have begun to blur" stated Will, and it's true these two men are psychologically bonded in a very unorthodox way. One of the show's artistic motifs proceeded to illustrate Will as a Rorschach inkblot, blending and melding into the shape of Lecter and the humanoid stag that signifies their link.
Later, another partnership—this one physically sexual, between Alana Bloom (Catherine Dhavernas) and Margot (Katharine Isabelle)—echoed the Will/Lecter inkblot symbolism, as it showed both women having sex as if filmed through a monochrome kaleidoscope. Their relationship is an odd development in some ways, mainly because it feels very hastily done, but I must admit seeing naïve Alana walk down such a dangerous and unusual path this season's been a treat—even if her relationship with Margot does rather overtly setup Mason Verger's (Joe Anderson) inevitable comeuppance.
Last week's ferocious and cathartic fight sequence was hard to top, but for sheer craziness "Dolce" ended with a moment that left me dumbstruck until halfway through the ensuing credits. Will had managed to catch Lecter without the need for a fight, but was shot by rifle-toting Chiyoh (Tao Okomoto) while leading his quarry outside—signifying she'll always be her master's sworn protector?—and was taken back to Lecter's abode to be treated. Or, rather, mistreated: as Will was dosed with drugs that rendered him helpless, then became a dinner guest alongside Jack (who'd come to investigate, but got a sliced Achilles tendon for his trouble). It was here that writers Don Mancini, Bryan Fuller and Steve Lightfoot had some fun with franchise canon, yet again—as Lecter proceeded to saw the top of Will's skull off, while Jack watched in horror, with the intention of feeding Jack his colleague's exposed brains! A sequence half-familiar to book-readers and filmgoers, although the trio of participants author Thomas Harris selected for the dinner table was much less exciting.
Only, this didn't happen. Or perhaps not entirely. It's still slightly unclear is Lecter's bone saw actually touched human flesh, but my assumption is that Will's torture was stopped thanks to the intervention of the polizia—who perhaps managed to flip Bedelia for straight answers, but accepted the bounty on Il Mostro's head from millionaire Mason Verger? The scene shifted from droplets of blood spewing from Will's head to himself and Lecter strung upside down inside a van containing slaughtered pigs. They're back in America, welcomed home by Mason himself: "Gentlemen, welcome to Muskrat farm." A welcome reprieve for Will, although it's out of the frying pan and into the fire. Having both men in sicko Mason's custody is something unexpected as we head into next week's turning-point (the confirmed end of the fugitive-Lecter storyline, before it tackles the long-awaited Red Dragon story). Is Mason planning on torturing and killing Will, too? It seems unlikely Alana will allow that to happen to a good friend, and her allegiance with Margot already seems the probably means both men will avoid being fed to pigs, but we'll see if there are other twists to come. Where's Jack now? Is Chiyoh still around? Has Bedelia wriggled out of her crimes by association? Will Lecter and Will have to work together to escape?
The past few episodes have been marvellous, frankly, which makes it all the sadder that Hannibal's future appears to be darkening. Losing NBC as a broadcaster and financial partner in the U.S was a blow, but now that Amazon and Netflix have passed on bankrolling a fourth season... things are looking bad. Especially now the main actors have been released from contract; although that's just how showbusiness works when you're part of a show that doesn't have a confirmed future.
I still have hope that a show this aggressively dazzling and brave won't be allowed to die, relatively early in its life, and that Bryan Fuller can somehow make a deal to continue it somewhere. I'd happily accept a Sherlock-style format, where the main actors agree to reconvene every so often to make a feature-length instalment, or two... but I know this practice is much harder to accomplish in the U.S, where everyone in front and behind the camera will be looking for full-time work elsewhere, and probably find themselves in binding contracts that prohibit future Hannibal work.
But if this is truly the end, at least the producers managed to adapt both the Red Dragon and Hannibal storylines, which they had the rights to from the beginning—as making a fourth season without the rights to Silence of the Lambs would be tricky. And in many was, the show's reimagined Will Graham has far surpassed the more famous Clarice Starling that Jodie Foster made so memorable, so I won't be that upset if we never get to meet her. I just don't like the thought of something as unique, artistic, and engrossing as Hannibal being stopped in its tracks just because it didn't appeal to the masses.
written by Don Mancini, Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot • directed by Vincent Natali • 9 July 2015 • NBC