I’ll start this article with a confession – I am a very recent Hannibal convert, having originally watched the first episode and considered it to be inferior to my first serial killer profiling love Millennium, which brought us the troubled profiler with a dark gift, Frank Black. It was only an impulse purchase of series one and two on DVD at around Christmas time that forced me to look more closely at Hannibal and really fall in love with it. I’m of the opinion that Hannibal is catered to box-set viewing, given the complicated dynamics between characters that unfold over time, however with season three to start tomorrow in the UK (Wednesday June 10th Sky Living 10pm), I’ll be writing weekly, non-spoiler recaps. These will be at UK pace, with this entry as a noticeable exception, given I was able to catch episode one on a ‘see it first’ platform through Sky. As the recaps may need to refer back to events within seasons one and two there will be spoilers for those. Now, on with the episode!
Antipasto is a departure from the usual flow of Hannibal, but with the events of the ‘Red Dinner’ at the conclusion of season two it is a much-needed change that offers little in terms of the fates of the characters involved. Rather, the episode focuses on the new, ‘borrowed’ lives of Hannibal and Bedelia as they position themselves within Italian society as husband and wife. This separation from the reality at the end of season two contributes to an uneasy, dream-like feel to the episode which incorporates lengthy flashback scenes in addition to some particularly effective tricks of the light. Throughout, the present sequences could easily have been a particularly paranoid nightmare of Bedelia’s.
The core of the episode centres on the uneasy power relations between Hannibal and Bedelia. During the first two seasons and particularly at the close of season two, viewers can safely assume that Hannibal is in complete control of Bedelia, controlling her in the same way he has exerted force over everyone else. However, Antipasto throws in further depth to Bedelia’s character, hinting that she is perhaps more dangerous than first assumed and this goes some way to suggesting that Hannibal is not in full control, although he will do anything to reassert that control. This is really the core element of Hannibal’s character within the series, in that he is able to read people so keenly and turn their flaws either on others (Tobias) or themselves (Mason Verger). This depth and character development is also accompanied by a fiercely funny moment based around a misunderstanding at the dinner table. Comedy, however unexpected in a series as gory and frequently unpleasant as Hannibal is always welcome, impeccably pitched and delivered by the actors. Gillian Anderson is a particular highlight in her delivery of some lines that others could not do justice to. If Antipasto is to set the scene for the rest of season three it may be the most manipulative we’ve ever seen Hannibal. As Bedelia references within the episode, Hannibal has allowed the others to ‘see him’ and this seems to have triggered an altogether more reckless direction of the character.
Despite the absence of the character within the episode, mentions of Will Graham still appear to hurt Hannibal and he seems to be yearning for a replacement. Hannibal and Will’s special, doomed relationship has been a compelling part of the series so far, with Will’s betrayal having ripple effects across all characters. While Bedelia has seen Hannibal and is alternating between fear and acceptance, it is highly likely that Will is motivated by revenge, particularly for the attack on Abigail and so we may get to see a quite different aspect to the Will character. Having such an isolated episode as a season opener is a rather risky strategy and some may find the lack of follow-up on the events of the season two finale frustrating, but the episode itself is perfect, immediately changing the pace and preparing for a slow build, and if the previous seasons are any indicator, a powerful payoff.