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“Are you observing or participating?” This is a question posed to Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) by Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) towards the end of HANNIBAL’S season 3 premiere entitled ‘Antipasto’ and it’s a question that is pertinent to the entire episode, an episode where instead of meeting expectations of screaming sirens and a manhunt for Hannibal after last season’s bloody events, Bryan Fuller subverts all we were expecting and delivers one of the strangest, most artistic episodes in the shows history.

While watching the episode or rather absorbing the episode, I had a smile from ear to ear, not only because the greatest show that most of the world isn’t watching was back, but because my favourite aspect of the series – the artistic visuals – returned with gusto. It was majestic to witness, symbolic image after symbolic image as we followed Hannibal and Bedelia on their European escapades. Bryan Fuller (creator) and Vincenzo Natali (director) really went all out for this episode, indulging in all their darkest and most creative desires.

We pick up a good time after season two’s finale and find Hannibal and Bedelia – a rather unwitting companion it turns out – living in France and then Italy, with Dr. Lecter finding himself occupying a new job. These details however are relatively unimportant– at least it would seem – what draws us in is the trauma he is inflicting upon Gillian Anderson’s character. She isn’t working with Hannibal, she is basically a prisoner, an interested prisoner, but a prisoner none the less, as Hannibal — declaring that he “has killed hardly anybody” since they arrived in Europe — begins to do what he does best and dines oh so finely on some of his new acquaintances and colleagues.

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‘Antipasto’ presented itself more like a film; the pacing was far from your normal NBC television episode. What we were treated to was something more akin to a David Lynch movie, MULHOLLAND DRIVE came to mind countless times throughout the forty odd minutes we were treated to. The beautiful, vague, sometimes perplexing imagery offered to us was simply stunning, taking the art direction of seasons 1 and 2 and just blowing it out of the water. This was an odd episode, filled with odd scenes, sometimes very brief, with not much subtext to cling on to. The experience was that of a nightmare, a nightmare for both Bedelia and for us. She was shown finding herself in the middle of scenes, dropped into some awful situation time after time, with us not knowing at all how she got there. It was quite disorientating but provided the episode with that Lynchian dream like quality where what was real and what was imagined was one and the same – and frankly irrelevant.

MULHOLLAND DRIVE wasn’t the only film that in my opinion clearly inspired the episode, but also last years UNDER THE SKIN and ENEMY were a huge presence throughout. From the very first scene of Hannibal riding throughout Paris, clad in black, on the back of a motorcycle, giving off the energy of a master hunter searching for his prey, to the scene with Bedelia in the bathtub as she submerged herself into black water, sinking into the abyss was almost a direct adaptation of the scene where we saw the doom that awaited Scarlett Johansson’s victims once she had lured them to her lair. It was wonderful to see – especially for a fan of this type of cinema – for a TV show (an NBC property I do remind you) to provoke such vivid and stunning visuals. HANNIBAL really does laugh in the face of the notion that TV can’t compete with the ‘art’ of film.

I really hope this wasn’t your first episode of HANNIBAL, it was a lot to process, even for seasoned viewers. What we saw this week was a delight in non linear storytelling, an experience set across three different countries and three different moments in time. One of those moments offering us a look at the last days of Eddie Izzard’s Gideon and how the horror didn’t stop after Hannibal fed him his own leg. We were grimly shown how limb after limb was taken from him, providing some truly unsettling images, a nice peak finally at Hannibal’s basement and some master dialogue between the two. “You really are the devil” Gideon declares, with no more fucks to give, warning Hannibal that one day he too will be faced with a similar fate.

Photo from the episode "Antipasto"

This was very much Bedelia’s episode however, as we find her lost in a maze and trapped with no way out. “I still believe I am in conscious control of my actions” she states, I’m not so sure. The symbolism didn’t stop at bottomless bathtubs though. A short and rather peculiar scene where we spot Bedelia sitting on a bench being surveyed by security cameras and then cutting away almost instantly to something else was a great metaphor for how Hannibal truly has her exactly where he wants. She has lost all control and can’t escape his gaze. There is nothing the devil doesn’t perceive. Or perhaps this is just foreshadowing that Will and the FBI are still searching and might just have found the two. Both work well.

With season 2 ending on such a game changing moment, Hannibal essentially ripping apart the shows main cast of characters, you would expect to see some detailed reference to those events. Instead all we got were passing comments, “Is Will Graham still alive?” Bedelia asks. The most constant links to those horrific and gory events were the slow motion images of water droplets and blood splatter, evoking memories of those glorious shots from the season ender, reminding us of why these two characters are where they are today and what is truly at stake.

One of my favourite parts of the episode was the brief look we got at that very important moment from Bedelia’s history, the moment where her patient died, the death so clouded in mystery. This was one of those scenes where we dropped right in the middle, Bedelia left shaking and covered in blood as Hannibal arrives to mentally chip away at her, making her believe that her actions were not ones of self defence. We weren’t allowed to witness the full story and I am sure this is a moment we will go back to as the season progresses, but it was fascinating to see how far back Hannibal’s manipulation truly goes.

You can’t be a fan of the art, of film and television, if you don’t appreciate the immensity that is this series. I loved this season opener, it might not be what you were expecting but it was a great re-introduction back into this macabre world. With Bryan Fuller and team going all out in dazzling us with vivid imagery, refusing to spoon feed us in any way, this was all we could hope for and more. Hannibal is back. This episode wont convince the many that don’t watch to start but for those of us initiated it was a feast of everything so special about the show. The atmosphere and sense of dread that prevailed over every scene was intoxicating and I for one can’t wait to go back for more. Europe really suits Hannibal, the ancient history of the lands he finds himself in provide a back drop befitting of such a glorious creation.We didn’t get to see Will this week — his time will come — it didn’t detract at all from the episode and any delay in their paths crossing will only make the inevitable encounter that much more riveting.

Hannibal really is the devil, but that’s why we love him and why we love the show. “Let it be a fairy tale then. Once upon a time…” Bring on the madness.

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Film and TV Journalist Follow: @SamuelBrace Follow: @filmandtvnow

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