There is a purposeful absence in the Hannibal Season 3 premiere. It is the void left by Will Graham’s “betrayal” that Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) is trying to fill. Will was the person who Hannibal deemed worthy enough to see the true Dr. Lecter. Now, there is a Will-shaped hole in his life and he spends the premiere trying to fill it. His heart doesn’t really seem in it, which makes for a chilling, trance-like Season 3 launch.
In Will’s absence, Hannibal must make due with others. The premiere sees Dr. Lecter and his former therapist Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) ensconced in Florentine society under assumed identities (aka Hannibal killed a dude, Dr. Fell, and stole his credentials). Hannibal as Dr. Fell should be in his element. His diverse intellectual interests are being tickled by his alias as a Dante scholar. He is surrounded by art and history and refined society. Aesthetically, life is great.
But this broken-hearted Hannibal is a cold, dissatisfied one. Though Hannibal has always been a merciless killer, his hand has been sometimes stayed by the necessity of keeping his cover. Yes, he killed, but there was a certain logic to it. It’s not that this logic has changed, but Hannibal’s context has. He is no longer friends with Will Graham. He is no longer trying to impress or communicate with anyone. At least not until the final moments of this episode. And that makes for an even chillier Hannibal. As Bedelia puts it, Hannibal is more concerned with “making appearances” than maintaining them.
If Hannibal is putting in a half-hearted effort anywhere, it’s with Bedelia, who has assumed the identity of his wife, Mrs. Fell. She is Hannibal’s captor, but her degree of agency is unclear. She is obviously petrified. She is disturbed by Hannibal’s killing of the charming Dimmond. In many ways, Dimmond is the closest thing we get to Will Graham in this episode: clever, charming, and able to speak a similar language as Hannibal. But he will not offer Dimmond the same gift he did Will.
When Hannibal kills Dimmond, Bedelia is not surprised. She is a reluctant observer to Hannibal’s game, but Hannibal insists she is an active participant. As viewers, it’s hard to unravel her motivations and thought processes. We’ve seen two seasons’ worth of evidence that Hannibal is a master manipulator. He can persuade people to do nearly anything, including kill their patient in the most gruesome of ways. We get a flashback to the aftermath of Bedelia’s self-defense slaughter of her patient (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Zachary Quinto), but so much of her story and character are still obscured.
This entire episode eschews clarity in a slow, confident, avant-garde way that might frustrated viewers. We don’t check in with any of the other main characters. We aren’t given answers as to why Bedelia is sticking around or why she boarded that plane with Hannibal in the first place. But, like every other installment of Hannibal, this show is too intricately beautiful and philosophically clever to care.
It also helps that this episode gives us what is probably the most Hannibal-centric episode to date. Yes, Bedelia’s mundanely terrifying life as Hannibal’s captive is given a fair amount of screen time, but we spend a lot of down time with Hannibal as he flits from place to place, trying not to look too closely at that Will-shaped void, his broken rebuke from the Season 2 finale echoing across the (very) long hiatus: “I gave you a rare gift, but you didn’t want it.
Hannibal may have rebooted its story with this tale of Hannibal in Europe, but, stylistically, it is the same show. We are treated to the same slow-motion reveries that continually challenge the line between objectivity and subjectivity, between reality and fantasy. On another show, this forays into the avant garde might be jarring or confusing, but, here, they serve to ground Hannibal as it shakes up the more traditional elements of plot. Here, a mix-up in both setting and focus doesn’t feel shoehorned or convoluted to draw in new viewers. It feels organic. Of course Hannibal would head to Europe to mend a broken heart. And, more than any network show on TV, Hannibal isn’t afraid to linger in that chilling melancholy.