On any other TV show besides Hannibal, “Aperitivo” would have been the season opener. It answers many of our most pressing questions from the season two finale: What happened to Jack? What happened to Alana? What has happened to anyone, really, whose life has been touched by Hannibal’s in the most destructive, disturbing ways?
The thematic answer? A stripping away of the inessential — or, more accurately, the masks these characters used to wear and see on one another. In the opening sequence, Dr. Chilton and Mason Verger remove their makeup or masks so they can talk “face to face.” Though this show still embraces ambiguity, this is the first season in which so much has been out in the open, in which characters stop having to pretend (to some extent) that they aren’t trying to manipulate one another. Sure, they are still actively trying to manipulate one another, but everyone is honest about basic intent, even if their methods and end games stay moderately concealed.
This degree of honesty is a breath of fresh air, both for the characters and viewers, but it is no less difficult to swallow. If anything, the truth is uglier: Will called Hannibal because he wanted to run away with him. Alana was naive to the sociopathic serial killer in her bed. Abigail is dead. There is nothing to veil these characters from the raw horror of the truth.
Perhaps the most difficult truth to swallow is Bella’s death. Unlike so many of the ends on this show, we knew this was coming. Bella has died a relatively natural death compared to the creatively gruesome murders that normally populate this show, but that doesn’t make it any less sad. It is confusing in other ways. As Bella puts it, she is not curious about the “absolutes” of death, but rather the “what ifs.” In one of the most powerful sequences of the episode and season, we see Bella being made ready and Jack readying himself for her funeral. It is seamlessly cut, a callback to a similar sequence in episode two that saw Will being stitched back together for life while Abigail was stitched back together for death. Like that sequence, it is intensely emotionally affecting.
So many “prestige” dramas prioritize theme, visual style, and highly-constructed dialogue over sentimentality. Hannibal is special because it recognizes that emotion elevates the recipe. Like all of Bryan Fuller’s shows, sentimentality is not something to scoff at, but rather the weight that makes everything else matter. This sense of sentimentality was somewhat missing in last week’s episode. In a new place and with so many new characters in play, it was unclear why anything mattered, why we should care what happened to Chiyo or The Caged Man beyond any basic human empathy. This week, we spent time with characters we have known from the beginning, struggling to get past everything we have endured with them. It is this emotional weight that grounded all else, elevating “Aperitivo” to the best episode of the season thus far.
Bella’s death manages to do what the injuries inflicted by Hannibal had previously prevented: bring these characters back together. Will comes to pay Jack his respects, and — for the first time since Hannibal’s bloodiest dinner party — Jack makes another play for Will’s soul. It is a turning point for his character, who had previously narrowed his focus to being a husband to Bella in her final days. And it is something that Will no doubt needed to hear before going off on his journey: Someone besides Hannibal cares if you live or if you die. I can’t lose you, too.
Additionally, Bella’s death brings Jack back into Hannibal’s orbit. He sends condolence flowers and it is another mark of the depth and nuance of this show that we understand that Hannibal is both taunting Jack and expressing sincere sorrow at his friend’s suffering. For Hannibal, perhaps these two things are one in the same: Play this game once again so you don’t have to look at the unchanged view from your wife’s window.
The exception to this semi-stripping away of artifice is Alana. The woman who limped away from the fall out of Hannibal’s window (and the revelation that she had been so blind) is not the same woman who walked into Dr. Lecter’s house in the season two finale. She is playing the game in a way she never has before, her way of thinking changed either by the trauma of these events or the bone marrow that entered her bloodstream in the fall — probably both. This new Alana has a cool sense of humor and isn’t easily ruffled. Her facade has changed, too. With a bright red lipstick and finely-tailored suits, Alana seems to be borrowing a page from Hannibal’s playbook: aesthetics over ethics. As tragic as it is to see Alana’s character so changed, I can’t wait to hang out with this new Alana. Hannibal has had a notable absence of female players in “the game.” With both Alana and Bedelia now playing such integral agents, season three is shaping up to be the strongest yet for female characters.
Hannibal was notably (mostly) missing from this episode. His presence was felt in the damage he has left behind, but this Hannibal-shaped hole obviously lacks the same charisma of the real thing. However, it was nice to get a break from the Hannibal-and-Will story for one episode. Even if we are treated to some of the most intimately gruesome images of the series thus far, without Hannibal around, the dread factor (and my heart rate) stays considerably lower.
With the news that NBC won’t be picking Hannibal up for a fourth season, this next string of episodes could be the last we see of this world told in this way. Though I’m still hoping for a last-minute save from Amazon, whatever happens, I am glad that this precious, one-of-a-kind show was ever able to snag three seasons. I’m glad that, in this last season, Hannibal has seemingly eschewed trying to be anything that it is not. Just like all of its characters.