Hannibal season 3 episode 2 review: Primavera

Bryan Fuller is a master of sleight of hand, as this thrilling episode of Hannibal season 3 shows...

This review contains spoilers.

3.2 Primavera

Boy, do I love good sleight-of-hand. And this week’s Primavera did it extremely well. But back to that in a moment.

We had been promised in PR materials that we’d learn the fate of those Hannibal butchered back in Baltimore: Jack, Alana, Will, and Abigail. But of course, it would have been unlike the patient Fuller to actually let spill all the secrets at once, so for now, narratively speaking, the status of Jack and Alana remains a mystery. Although, since we know both Lawrence Fishburne and Caroline Dhavernas are regulars this third season, it’s doubtful that either is dead—though Primavera does suggest an interesting alternate possibility for the return of Alana’s character. But what we do know is that Will and Abigail survived the attack.

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The episode begins by showing the most heartbreaking part of that attack—the moment when Will, who had given Hannibal the option to run, is allowed to confront him, and Lecter exacts his revenge on the profiler by stabbing him and then, in an act of unbelievable cruelty, slits the throat of their pseudo-daughter just to, as Will later puts it, yank the football away again, a la Lucy and Charlie Brown.

There’s a very subtle difference between the scene we saw last year and the one replayed this year. And in the hands of a less careful storyteller, I might think it was simply a matter of editing for time. After Will lies on the floor, he–empathic man that he is–figures out what Hannibal is about to do and begins to beg for Abigail’s life. In the earlier version, Lecter turns to Abigail and says “Come to me, Abigail,” holding out his hand, which she takes. In Primavera, this line is missing: he simply holds out his hand and she steps into his murderous arms. With Hannibal being a show that is all about the subtleties, I think it’s a mistake to overlook this difference.

What follows is Will slowly coming to consciousness, rising through blood-drenched visions of his and Abigail’s near-death scene to find Abigail greeting him almost as soon as he wakes.  She explains that Hannibal knew precisely how to cut her without killing her, and thus again, we see that Lecter has placed the football in front of Charlie Brown/Will. In his delirium, Graham’s mind has already been working out where the cannibal would go next, and it quickly becomes clear that Hannibal long ago set up clues that would allow Will to follow him—to the Norman Chapel in Palermo.

That he chooses to take Abigail—even that he could get her on an international flight—should have been our first clue. As the two haunt the Chapel, waiting for Hannibal to reveal himself, they are given the opportunity to hash out what has happened to them (the discussion of all possibilities having happened somewhere is particularly interesting because of the conclusion Abigail reaches based on the theory—there is no wrong thing to do) and their differing reactions: Neither can let go of Hannibal but for very different reasons. Will seems more resolute about stopping the serial killer than we have seen him to date. There is far less of the ambiguity about his motivations in this season’s profiler. Abigail, on the other hand, seeks Hannibal out because, despite everything that’s happened, she still identifies with him and believes he has made a place for her and Will. She wants the family that was promised her.  

But, as we soon see, none of this is a matter of what Abigail wants, simply because Abigail is not there. She never survived that attack, and instead, like her father before her, lives on only in the mind of Will Graham. It’s cleverly done, of course. We don’t see the flight, or any of the moment-to-moment activities that those of us with corporeal existence endure. The only indication that those of us educated by The Sixth Sense are given that Abigail is real is when a priest in the Chapel seems to glance at her. And that is enough to dispel our doubts simply because that was what gave Bruce Willis away—no one else interacted directly with him.

But what makes it a great sleight-of-hand is precisely that Fuller knew our expectations and used them against us. The thing that reassures us itself rests on shaky ground. Will, nor anyone other than Abigail, sees the priest look at her. The camera angles are done so the only time there’s a clear indication of precisely who he is looking at, it’s done from just over Abigail’s shoulder—that is, largely from her point of view. But Abigail doesn’t have a point of view. She’s dead, and her shade is a product of Will’s imagination. Thus, despite the fact that Will seems to be oblivious to the glance, the only place we can be sure that glance exists is in Graham’s mind. He is seeing the priest seeing her. But why?

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The easy answer is that he wants to believe that she is real so he makes up his own evidence. But this is belied by their final exchange: He poses the question to her: “What if no one died?” Since we know that Jack Crawford and Alana Bloom are almost certainly alive, the only other person who could have died would have been Abigail. He knows. “I made a place for you in this world. The only place I could make for you.” This seems to be an oblique reference to a resting place. He has buried her in the earth, as well as his subconscious.

So why does he need to have the priest see her?

I think there’s an internal reason and an external reason for this. Internally, he’s not being haunted by her in a conventional sense. She isn’t there to punish him (or allow him to punish himself) for her death. Instead, she is largely a sounding board. An alternate voice in his head. A part of Will willing to say the things that he cannot say aloud to himself. That part of him that still wonders if he should have gone with Hannibal. The part that still wants to. That part of him that he does not want to be. In imagining the priest seeing Abigail as distinct from himself, he buys himself a bit of psychic space. She is with him but not actually him.  Perhaps this explains the difference in the two death scenes as well—in the one we see, Abigail must be called on to go to her murderer; in the one Will later seems to be reimagining, she simply takes his hand, more willing to embrace her own demise. If he conflates himself and Abigail, he must acknowledge that he wants to go to Hannibal (and likely his own death) and does not need to be cajoled. If they are not the same, then she is the one with the death wish, not him. 

From a more external perspective, the glance of the priest, we realize in retrospect, is not at Abigail. Instead, the holy man is just one example of what many others off-camera must be doing: looking in Will’s direction oddly because the man is talking aloud to himself. Will is having philosophical discussions with himself as he wanders around Palermo, and we see the priest reacting as many of us have to the vocally mentally ill who seem to have a particular fondness for places of worship: the nervous furtive look and wide berth. In doing this, Fuller and writer Jeff Vlaming make it clear that Will’s thoughts are being spoken aloud.

Which means Hannibal, hiding in the Chapel, actively hears Will expressing his doubts, asking himself (it turns out), “what if I/we had gone with Hannibal?” Lecter now realizes how much of a hold he still has on Graham. And that places the profiler at greater risk and makes this season’s face-off that much more delicious.

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The remainder of the episode is interesting mostly in its potential. This is not Hannibal’s first time in Italy, we learn from a detective who pursued him 20 years ago. Nor are Lecter’s aesthetic considerations in killing something he originated in the New World. Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi provides Will with a (temporary) ally, something that he will need as he tries to navigate the darkness of Hannibal’s new psychological labyrinth, one that the final scenes in the catacombs under the Chapel metaphorically foreshadow.

If this is the last time we see Kacey Rohl in her role as Abigail, that will be a very sad thing indeed. Her performance as Will’s pseudo-daughter has been excellent throughout, going from confused and traumatized child to calculating serial killer to a spectre that operates on many levels. I hate to see her go. But make no mistake, as much as Hannibal has been used her as the football in his macabre Peanuts-based game, Bryan Fuller has done the same–with us as Charlie Brown to his Lucy. And may again.

Just one more reason to tune in.  

Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Antipasto, here.