“Ethics Become Aesthetics” [Hannibal, episode 3.1]

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“Ethics Become Aesthetics”  [Hannibal, episode 3.1]

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After finishing both the first and the second seasons of NBC’s perplexingly perfect Hannibal, I wanted to continue devouring the show, as if it were a never-ending multi-course meal – served-up week after week, on a reliably warm plate. But then, when the following season was finally ready to make its way to my table, I’d inevitably find myself wary that I’d be merely served more of the same; and that, eventually, my palette would become dulled to Hannibal’s dream-like sensibility and grim charm, no matter how singular the taste was.

After the conclusion of season two’s premiere, I had once again found my appetite for Hannibal. By irrevocably altering the dynamic between Will and Hannibal – which had been the (supposedly sturdy) foundation for the entire first season – the show managed to give itself a renewed sense of longevity. But it also had the side-effect of setting a dangerous precedent: much like the show’s titular character, Hannibal could only survive long-term by constantly re-inventing itself. This show rejects the notion that the Status Quo Is God, even if it means burning bridges, which season two’s finale certainly did. In contrast, season three’s premiere only took thirty seconds of stupefyingly beauty montage to incite a bottomless hunger for more.

Mostly, I’d credit the impact of those thirty-seconds to Vincenzo Natali. If the name doesn’t ring a bell for you, he’s the writer/director who brought us 2009’s instant cult-classic Splice, as well as the 90’s horror staple Cube. The lengthy montage that opens this episode, which Mr. Natali directed, was a testament to Hannibal’s uncanny production-value. It was the most visually arresting cinematography I’ve seen on television – with the sole exception of the entirety of Breaking Bad‘s premature finale, “Ozymandias”.

It began with a series of extreme close-up’s, showing an engine firing up from within, starting with the key turning inside of the ignition. The incredibly soft-focus used during those shots made them a delicious visual riddle to digest. It’s only when the camera leaves the exhaust-pipe in a dizzily smooth motion that we are given the solution: it’s a motorcycle. [Side-note: the match-cut between the motorcycle’s rear-light and the moon is simply too marvellous to go unmentioned. It left me damn near speechless.] The next mystery the montage presents us with is who might be hiding beneath the motorcycle-helmet. This time, the solution is hinted to us by the score, which throbs menacingly over sinister and brooding shots of Paris night-scapes. Long after we’re certain who the figure under the helmet is, we get a gorgeously directed reveal: it’s Mads!

Like previous seasons of Hannibal, this one appears to have a naming-scheme that encourages viewers to frequently Google words they’ve pretended to know their whole life. “Antipasto”, if Wikipedia can be believed, means before the meal. This is a very appropriate title, because much of what we saw in this episode felt like an attempt to wet our palette, without providing so much substance as to spoil our appetites. Because of this, I’d like to refrain from talking about the majority of the broad plot-points in this episode, and instead focus on the beats that most stood out to me.

The sequence of Bedelia Du Maurier – played by the always-wonderful Gillian Anderson – shopping for Hannibal, coming to terms with the notion that she might be a redacted item on his decadent grocery-list, was another visual high-light of this episode. The blood dripping from the rabbit’s hung carcass was a simple and obvious symbol, but the execution made it sing. A lot of gravity was leant to the visual, because it came moments after a particularly tense dialogue sequence, in which Hannibal and Bedelia played dinner host to Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom), who’s a rather charming asshole. Anthony makes an observation about the meal Hannibal has served for Bedelia: “oysters, acorns and Marsala: that’s what the ancient Roman’s would feed animals to improve their flavour.” Bedelia covers for Hannibal quickly, with a line that probably amused me a lot more than it should have (“My husband has a very sophisticated palette. He is very particular about how I taste.”), but it is clear from her expression that the reality of the situation has sunk in: Anthony isn’t, as she’d believed, the one who’s on Hannibal’s menu. The following day, after purchasing Hannibal’s groceries, we see Bedelia sit down at a bench in a train-station, careful to make sure the security-camera can see her face clearly.

Another sequence from this episode of Hannibal I wanted to touch on was the folded Vitruvian Man from the very end, but I’m not really sure what can be said. Likely, we’ll get a much better view of the heart-shaped human-contortion next episode, when Will Graham discovers the love-letter Hannibal left for him in the chapel. Until then, bonsoir.

Various bits n’ pieces worthy of noting:

  • Looking on IMDb, it appears that a large chunk of this season will be directed by Guillermo Navarro, who was the cinematographer on one of my very favourite films: 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, not to mention two other films directed by Guillermo del Toro: 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone and 1993’s Cronos. Needless to say, I’m very excited to see Mr. Navarro return to directing Hannibal, after directing three episodes in the first season [1.5, 1.9 & 1.11].
  • How does this show even exist? Weird aspect-ratio choices, whole sequences shot in B&W, foreign languages without subtitles… I know Hannibal was a wickedly dedicated fan-base (the “Fannibals”), but it does’t seem to get the attention it warrants – not even a fraction of it. How is this show still on the air? I think we should all take a moment and appreciate how lucky we’ve been to receive three seasons worth of one of the most splendidly weird and fascinatingly macabre pieces of fan-fiction ever made.
  • It seems this season will ditch the meticulously crafted naming-scheme Hannibal has used thus far in favour of something more… Red Dragon centric? I don’t know, I haven’t read the Harris novels since I was prepubescent. But they sound like the chapter titles to me.
  • Dat synth. Groovy.
  • Oh, that was Zachary Quinto? I didn’t even notice. It’s hard to tell when Gillian Anderson has her arm down his throat.
  • I’ve never once held the opinion that eating sails was gross. It’s always seemed like a perfectly reasonable source of protein, to me. But I think the “Italian Chapter” of this season (as Bryan Fuller called it) might challenge that for me. I wouldn’t eat Gideon snails.
  • This episode, we got to see Florence and Paris. I wonder where Hannibal‘s European travels will take us next?

As always, thank you for taking the time to read my post. You’re comments and feed-back are always appreciated.

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