Hannibal season 3 episode 5 review: Contorno

This week's Hannibal breaks season 3's mould by favouring action over dialogue...

This review contains spoilers.

3.5 Contorno

We often observe that it doesn’t matter what people says about themselves, it’s what they do that reveals who they really are. But while generally true, it is the work of profilers, and Will Graham specifically, to look at the actions of (usually) unspeaking killers and give them that voice: this is my design and my why.

This is how a show that is theoretically about serial killing became—as a commenter pointed out a couple weeks ago—less violent than Game Of Thrones, and more conversational. Because if you want to get to the why, there’s only so far that the what of the crime can get you (CSI: Fill-in-the-Blank to the contrary). And when you are delving into a why as labyrinthine as Hannibal’s, it’s going to take a lot of talk to get it all out. Especially when Lecter enjoys his verbal games as much as he does. The Gordian knot is only the beginning.

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So you would think that Brian Reitzell’s cacophonic music for Contorno would highlight a confused and chaotic outing of Hannibal, especially in a season which, thus far, has been enigmatic even for a series already built on just that quality. But, as it turns out, this week’s episode, with its penchant for action over dialogue has brought both clarity and revelation.

Hannibal has been spoiling for a fight, or at least a set of confrontations. He is “drawing them in,” as Bedelia says, and as they close in on him, those revelations naturally follow.

The first is that of Inspector Pazzi who discovers the true identity of the new curator of the Palazzo. He immediately recognizes who (and more importantly, what) Hannibal is. But in doing so, he reveals himself to Lecter who picks up on the scent of epiphany (oh, that Hannibal had described that odour for us) from the Inspector and knows that he has been detected. He is not particularly disturbed by this, since he’s set it all in motion really. But he does use Pazzi to determine who else is hunting for him.

The quick turn from Pazzi’s detection to his death is a bit disappointing, especially since some of the most enjoyable moments of the show have come from confrontations between Hannibal and characters we knew were going to succumb to Lecter one way or another (Gideon Abel being the prime example) but who at least presented a bit of a challenge along the way. The Inspector’s surrender to the temptation of the same thirty pieces of silver that cost his predecessor so much is understandable. Turning his back on Hannibal and then meekly accepting his fate is far less so.

What is also quite surprising and disappointing is the lack of spectacle associated with Pazzi’s death. His death isn’t just a spectacle—it’s the emulation of an historically famous one. That would have particular significance for Hannibal, and the episode builds it up like it does, but then it fails to really show it. Yes, I understand that the hanging and disembowelment of a human body might be difficult to make acceptable for broadcast television, but this show actually placed the entirety of Beverly Katz between glass slides and made the whole thing a work of art. This would should have been easy by comparison. Especially for a director (Guillermo Navarro) who did the cinematography for Pan’s Labyrinth and whose artistry is clearly present in the dreamlike landscapes through which Will and Chiyo’s train is moving. 

Pazzi’s death, in turn, forces other revelations. Hannibal cannot recreate the death of Francesco de Pazzi without drawing attention to himself, although he cannot have anticipated catching the eye of Jack Crawford below as he flings the Inspector’s body out the window. The adversaries now know how near they are and take those final steps to close in combat. The fight is rewarding after the one we saw at the end of last season. Then, we were surprised at precisely how powerful Hannibal turned out to be as a fighter. Here, Crawford was like an ebony bull—alternately charging and an immovable hulk. Even Lecter’s attempts to emotionally batter at the profiler’s defences seemed pathetic—his mercy-killing of his wife is probably the least of Jack’s moral dilemmas.

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Tangential in all of this, of course, is the exposure of both Mason Verger and Alana Bloom as conspirators against Hannibal. We, of course, already knew they were working against him, so this fact is only a surprise (partially) to him. What is new to us is the first indication, however, that Dr. Bloom may not be as far gone as we may have suspected. Her call to warn Pazzi is a bit of reassurance that perhaps there is still a bit of the old Alana there, although if Verger gets wind of it, it means she will again have the dangerous attentions of not one but two serial killers.

The more surprising revelations happen on the train. The more obvious one that despite Will’s rather high-flown visions of himself, Chiyo does not see him as her saviour. Hannibal has indeed taught her well.  She allowed him to think he is in control only to lure him away from his resources, present him with a nice little aphorism (“There are means of influence other than violence”), and then throw him from the train.

The less obvious one comes in the subdued conversation which she uses to create a false sense of solidarity with him. In Secondo, we learned Hannibal’s larger motivation toward Will: he wishes to forgive him, and to do so, he must eat him. Here in Contorno, Chiyo manages to sum up Will’s counter motivation: Will is afraid that if he does not kill Hannibal, he will become him. This, at least, suggests that Will does not wish to become Lecter, even if part of him also longs for his fellowship.

Interesting that, as with serial killers and profilers, neither Hannibal nor Will speak their own motivation. In both cases, it is others—the women who know them—who do that for them.

And again, we return to Bedelia, who, honestly, is the most fascinating character this season—the one we watch for every tiny nuance, much the way we did with Lecter in the first season. I am left wondering if we didn’t get our biggest hint at her own motivations this week when she pointed out to Hannibal that “Almost anything can be trained to resist its instincts.”

Is it possible that most of us have been substantially underestimating her, wondering if she was hostage, co-conspirator, or tomorrow’s meal? What if Dr. Maurier’s real reason for being with Lecter is not just to set him up for capture as a means of revenge for what he did to her in the past, but to actually do what he has done to so many others: to change what he is. To use her skills to remake him against his will, without him even noticing. He would not go to just any therapist for himself, nor would he be living with a woman he felt was beneath him. We must take this as an endorsement above and beyond even what we have seen of her which is already considerable.

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Forget the fame that Chilton seeks by getting “Hannibal the Cannibal” into his hospital. Imagine the kudos that would come to the mental health professional who could rehabilitate such a patient in the wild (and could later claim to be doing so while under duress). And the sense of triumph to be had at getting him to turn himself. What sweeter revenge could there be after he used their professional relationship to make her little more than an indentured servant to him?

Am I grasping at straws? Perhaps. But after this week’s announcement that Netflix and Amazon were both passing on a season 4 of Hannibal, I’m going to enjoy every possible look, line, and theory in these last few episodes.

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

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