That was a near-perfect ending to a near-perfect show. Hannibal finished out its series about the dysfunctional relationship between a cannibalistic serial killer and his FBI profiler in what felt like the only way it could have: with the two main characters murdering another serial killer together. The dysfunctional killer that slays together, stays together — or, in this case, falls off of a cliff to their probable deaths in one another’s bloody arms.
The elements that were so great about this episode — namely, the interaction between Hannibal and Will and, to a lesser extent, the interaction between all of the characters who have been here since the beginning — highlighted just how relatively little Francis Dolarhyde’s motivations and moves mattered to the emotional core of this story. When it comes down to it, he was a plot device to bring Will and Hannibal back together in the most intimate of ways: his murder.
If Dolarhyde and Reba hadn’t been characters from the much-loved and much-adapted source material, it’s hard to imagine them having such a prominent role in this half-season. Hannibal has always made a point of fully characterizing its killers, and has mostly been the better for it, but we spent a lot of time with Dolarhyde in these last six episodes, and I’m not sure if it was worth it. As this ending proves, Dolarhyde is never as interesting as when he is bringing Will and Hannibal back together again.
That being said, the opening sequence that ended with Reba pulling a key from around the neck of a faceless corpse, then crawling her way out of Dolarhyde’s burning home was nerve-wrackingly terrifying. Later, Dolarhyde’s kidnapping of Will and later prison-break of Hannibal was exciting, too, but was an impatient appetizer to the main course. “Going my way?” Hannibal coolly asks after pulling up to Will in a police car and pushing a corpse out of the passenger seat to make room for Will. And isn’t this what Hannibal has always done? Facilitate a murder, push the corpse out of the way, and ask Will to come along for the next murder escapade? This is the Hannibal the intensely loyal Hannibal show base has shown up for over the past three seasons, and what has been somewhat lacking in a still compelling and beautiful season 3.
But what this series finale will no doubt be long-remembered for is its final act, which saw Hannibal and Will running away together to Hannibal’s remote cabin in order to lure Dolarhyde out. “My compassion for you is inconvenient,” Hannibal tells Will. No doubt Will, even if he doesn’t have the right word for the exact love-like emotion he feels for Hannibal amidst all of the anger and betrayal and hate, feels similarly. “I don’t know if I can save myself. Maybe that’s just fine,” Will admits both to Hannibal and himself. Hannibal doesn’t seem to have a problem with what he seems to know is coming: “No greater love hath man than to lay down his life for a friend.”
Hannibal always has a sense of foreboding about it, its characters a begrudging awareness of what’s to come. But it simultaneously understands that what’s going to happen has never been the point. Unlike so many prestige dramas, Hannibal has never confused the perk of a stylish plot with the awesome narrative power of sentiment. Hannibal may make a show of its style, but it has never forgotten about the necessary substance: the relationship between Will and Hannibal. That substance is steeped in messy sentiment.
The final act of this episode was mesmerizing because it served the Will/Hannibal relationship so well. Dolarhyde showed up for Hannibal’s becoming. Will showed up for Hannibal’s. But, as always, it was Hannibal who got what he wanted. He has always showed up for Will’s becoming, and he finally got it in their co-murdering of Dolarhyde, which plays here like a James Bond intro sequence, complete with original song and kaleidoscopic transitions. It ends with Will becoming the thing Hannibal always wanted him to be — in Freddie Lyon’s provocatively eloquent tabloid phrasing: his murder husband.
As much as Will is flinging himself off of that cliff in Hannibal’s arms to rid the world of Hannibal and because he doesn’t see another choice, he is also flinging himself off of that cliff in Hannibal’s arms because he wants to be there. He wants to be with Hannibal. “Can’t live with him, can’t live without him,” Bedelia characterized their relationship earlier in the episode, and it’s true. If this season was about the messy aftermath of the Will/Hannibal breakup, as showrunner Bryan Fuller has characterized it, then said breakup was largely unsuccessful — or at least realistically fitting in the sense that these two people are unable to let go of one another.
The best series finales are the ones that have a firm comprehension of what the show has been about. This may seem like a low bar to jump, but too many television show writers rooms worry about one-upping themselves or making some grand, precedent-less proclamation with their swansong. Hannibal has always known what it is about: the dysfunctional love story between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham. And that is what we got. That is what Hannibal and Will got: “This is all I ever wanted for you, Will. For both of us.” “It’s beautiful.”
And, though it might have been a perfect ending, that doesn’t mean it felt like enough. In an era of ubiquitous adaptations, Hannibal stands apart as the rare example of a story that dared to dream beyond the original. Forget Anthony Hopkins. Mads Mikkelsen is Hannibal Lecter now. And, despite the nightmare-inducing horrors of this fictional world Bryan Fuller has created, I am sad to leave it behind.