This Hannibal review contains spoilers.
While the Hannibal season 3 premiere took us into the mental state of Hannibal Lecter, the second episode of the season is all about exploring the grief of Will Graham. While Hannibal is suffering a broken heart from Will’s “betrayal,” Will is suffering a broken heart from losing Abigail for a second time.
Most people don’t have to bear their surrogate daughter’s murder even once. Will has had to endure it twice, and the result is heartbreaking for us viewers. Because Abigail’s demise isn’t depicted in the typical manner. We, as viewers, are led to believe that Abigail is alive and well, accompanying Will as he travels to Palermo in search of Hannibal. It is only in the second act of the episode that we realize that this Abigail has always been a figment of Will’s imagination. He lost her in Hannibal’s house in the season two finale, or perhaps even sooner.
In this way and through this narrative gimmick (that doesn’t feel too much like a gimmick, but an honest exploration of Will’s grief-stricken mind), we also lose Abigail twice and it hits much harder than I expected it to. The flashback montage that sees an injured Will being stitched back together for life while a deceased Abigail is being stitched back together for death is unbearably heartbreaking in a way this show doesn’t normally indulge.
The reveal that Abigail was always a figment of Will’s imagination makes their already interesting conversations down right fascinating. When Abigail tells Will that she still wants to be with Hannibal as a family, this is coming from Will’s own subconscious. Arguably, it could be Will’s interpretation of what he thinks Abigail would say in this circumstance, or it could be Will’s own subconscious. There may always be a part of him that considers giving up the moral life and going on the run with Hannibal Lecter. Like everything else on this show, it is gloriously ambiguous. What isn’t ambiguous is the fact that at least some part of Will is mourning the loss of Hannibal as much as he is mourning the loss of Abigail. There is a sense that a would-be family unit has been lost, and Will seems to blame himself for the destruction of that possible family as much as he blames Hannibal.
Sadly, we do not get to see Hannibal and Will reunited in this episode. Though Hannibal leaves an origami, stag-heart corpse for Will in Palermo, eight months following the events of the season two finale, they never cross paths. Instead, Hannibal skulks in the shadows of the church and underlying catacombs, just out of Will’s reach. It is unclear why Hannibal never reveals himself to Will or what Will would do if he did, but it highlights the estranged, yet still inextricably entwined lives of these two men. Will says aloud to the catacombs that he forgives Hannibal, seemingly the next step in bringing these two back together, but it’s unclear what those words mean in the face of everything that has gone down between Will and Hannibal.
While in Palermo, we learn a bit more about Hannibal’s serial killer past through the introduction of Rinaldo Pazzi, a character from the Hannibal novel. Like Dimmond last week, Pazzi is another reflection of Will. He, too, once tried and failed to catch Hannibal, when he was “The Monster of Florence,” arranging his victims like a beautiful painting. Perhaps because of this connection, the two men are able to speak plainly to one another. Will admits to him that he doesn’t know whose side he is on, deepening the ambiguity of Will’s character’s current perspective on Hannibal.
This is just another item on the long lost of Hannibal’s confident ambiguities. From the text of the show itself, we still don’t know that fates of Jack or Alana. Season three is taking its time in unfolding this latest story arc and, by switching up its storytelling style in some seriously disorienting ways, it is confusing its viewers more than ever. This isn’t a criticism. The degree to which Hannibal is willing to withhold answers and meaning while still managing to present a thoroughly engrossing show from week-to-week is refreshing. We don’t have to understand everything that is going on, not everything has to be explained or wrapped up by episode’s end. In some way, this confusion creates a connection with Will’s character that transcends the visual and more traditionally narrative methods of relatability. Besides, after two seasons of this show, we expect more from this show than narrative handholding. We expect to work for our meaning.