Three episodes were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
NBC’s Hannibal, likes its titular character, is a master of sprezzatura. It’s a handsomely envisioned, endlessly fascinating and wickedly clever beast that makes impossible tasks seem but a trifle. Show creator Bryan Fuller somehow turned table scraps into one of TV’s richest viewing experiences. The character of Hannibal Lecter was made iconic through several novels and a Best Picture-winning film, and then, like a rude party guest, overstayed his welcome through a few more novels and increasingly bad films. Tasked with a cultural rehabilitation of this magnitude, Fuller looked his subject up and down, and thought only to ask, “Can I do it on NBC just to make it a challenge?”
It’s by the network’s good graces (and some handy international co-production money) that Hannibal’s third season arrives this Thursday, the same feast for the senses that far too few people have chosen to partake in. Throw a big cable name behind it and have a McConaughey-class movie star in one of the lead roles, and this would be one of the biggest shows on television. It’s not, sadly, but dire ratings have done nothing to hurt Hannibal’s confident sense of self. Most shows we talk about in terms of what they want to be; Hannibal is the rare program that knows itself down to the last droplet of blood –and it has so, so much blood to share.
Season 3 picks up several months after last year’s emotionally and literally eviscerating finale, which left fans to speculate as to who in the main cast would need a parenthetical “R.I.P.” added in the opening credits. It spoils nothing to say that, of the presumed dead, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) wasn’t long for the afterlife just yet –as much fun as it has been to see Fuller play with and remix Thomas Harris’ source material, Graham’s importance to the show’s past, present and future are absolute. It’s hardly a cheat, considering how Hannibal’s interest in the ripple effects of violence often thematically supersedes the show’s operatically freakish representation of it on screen.
The premiere, “Antipasto,” limits its focus to the pan-European exploits of Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), and his therapist-turned-accomplice, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson). The newlyweds have both changed their names while hiding from the F.B.I., but the predatory predilections of Hannibal the Cannibal weren’t confiscated at customs. Maybe it’s the yearlong palate cleanser between seasons that’s helped to enhance the experience, but an initial viewing of “Antipasto” suggests its among the finest hours of Hannibal yet, a coup considering the dizzying heights “Mizumono” took us to, before plunging into the murky unknown.
Though Will isn’t absent for long, the show’s structure is one element that has yet to translate to the new season. The “case of the week” formula was complimentary potatoes to the series’ meatier pas de deux between Will and Hannibal, but it did lay the tracks needed for Fuller and company to carry their horror show from episode to episode at a steady pace. Now that Hannibal is on the road, the weekly investigations have been removed like the tasty filler they often were, and the result is a show that’s been stripped and flayed down to its most vital organs.