In which you are already dead, aren’t you?
The seismic impact of the events of “Mizumono” (Hannibal’s Season 2 finale) has cleaved the already fragile psychological landscape of the show, a shattering that through two episodes of this third season has produced a surreal new state of being for the main players. “Antipasto” saw Hannibal Lecter firmly ensconced in a fairy tale existence of his own creation in Florence, Italy, the tonal nature of the episode assuming his decadent mindset. So it only makes sense that “Primavera” would offer a mirror image depiction of Will Graham’s post-“Mizumono” existence, a nightmarescape to reflect Hannibal’s dream life.
The opening itself is as much an indicator of this as anything, and serves as a bold stylistic gamble for Bryan Fuller. For here is almost the entirety of Will’s time in the Lecter House Massacre replayed, with only a few minor omissions (Hannibal’s entreaty, “Come to me Abigail”, curiously among them.) Viewers of last season’s cliffhanger might wonder why they’d need to see this scene in such detail. In some ways, it can be seen as a gambit to refresh new viewers (although there are easier ways to do so.) But upon some reflection, this wholesale repetition makes more sense than I thought. Hannibal has always traded in a profound sense of cyclical torpor, of the guilt that so many of these characters feel for the violence that they failed to prevent, and that threatens to re-emerge at any time. And the end of Season 2 brought with it the ultimate example of this cycle, as Will was forced to witness Abigail’s murder immediately after realizing not only her surprising survival, but also her fealty to Hannibal. Replaying these events in full places the viewer, once again, in Will’s mindset, forcing them to experience once again the trauma that haunts him. To have their own Graham-esque empathic vision.
The difference, in this case, is that we get to see the full force of Will’s trauma. Season 2 concluded with his POV of the nightmare stag lying across from him in its death throes. In this version of events, it gushes forth a river of blood that envelops Will and Abigail, sending him slowly descending into its depths. Once again, Fuller uses the liquid motif (as he notably did with Alana and Bedelia) to symbolize Hannibal’s overwhelming and amorphous power, although those previous instances utilized an inky black substance. And in this seeming greatest hits of Hannibal imagery, Will’s descent cuts to Lecter’s teacup crashing to the ground once again. But this time, the cup takes the form of Will’s face, and then reassembles itself as he emerges from unconsciousness in the hospital. Only to be visited by Abigail Hobbs.
As I mentioned in last week’s essay, Fuller has been explicit about abandoning the procedural trappings that served as the backbone for the show’s first two seasons in favor of a more surreal, operatic approach. Thus, this episode’s beats and pacing give the proceedings the feel of an extended aria of pain, the plot mechanics of the hunt for Hannibal only popping up as mild flourishes. Until the climax, it’s never quite clear what is real and what is a representation of Will’s shattered psyche, especially in terms of Abigail’s presence. As always, Will’s greatest fear is the intrusion of the ghosts of his nightmare visions into the real world, and it’s here that Abigail finally springs forth from the safety of his fly fishing dream into the role of inquisitor and constant reminder of his failures. Her final acts of life were to affirm her loyalty to Hannibal and to follow his orders into death; the version of her that haunts Will continues to believe in Hannibal’s promise of “a place for us”, an escape for the twisted family that they’ve formed. It’s only when Will tells her that “A place was made for you, Abigail, in this world. It was the only place I could make for you” that her neck wound reopens and she disappears. But as we see in the subsequent montage of his post-massacre examination and her embalming, which culminates in an overhead shot of her corpse overlaid with his present day figure reclining on the church altar stairs, Will seems destined to forever be haunted by her, the one that got away (to use his own fishing terminology.)
Even in that moment of apparent finality, there’s still an ocean of ambiguity enveloping the action. Will seems to be describing the place he made for Abigail in his visions and dreams, although there’s the possibility that he’s describing the safety that he thought he was providing her in the aftermath of her father’s death. And the tone of their conversation is still that of the lost lovers of a great Casanova figure, which might disappoint viewers expecting Will to clearly turn on Hannibal once and for all. I’ve praised the show before for embracing this ambiguity, but it bears repeating that fully committing to such a complex dynamic between protagonist and antagonist is such an audacious move in the modern network environment…or the modern media environment.
The prime setting for this episode (and for a good chunk of “Antipasto”) is the legendary Cappella Palatina in Palermo. In my essay for “Mizumono”, I argued that Lecter’s house ended up assuming the psychogeographic dimensions of Will and Hannibal’s shared mental landscape, and thus trapping anyone who entered in a whirlpool of death. The Palatine Chapel takes on these same dimensions for Season 3, serving as a sort of psychological nexus point for not only the characters, but the show itself. The famed mosaics, a combination of high elegance and more base aspirations, reflect the show’s deft mixture of a refined aesthetic with grittier and gorier matters. Indeed, the combination of such varied architectural styles and designs in its structure further cement the very sui generis nature of Hannibal.
And beneath the artistic glory of the chapel lies the old chapel upon which its built, which also doubles as a crypt, a further nod to the darkness lurking underneath the glossy surface of both Hannibal and Hannibal. It’s put to great use in this episode, as Will deduces that Hannibal is still at the scene of his grisly “valentine written on a broken man” tableau, and descends into the crypt to find him. This climactic scene toys with our perceptions once again, turning the crypt into a fugue zone in which temporal boundaries are stretched to their limits. It also recalls the many permutations of the labyrinth, with Hannibal possibly serving as the minotaur at its center. It seems somewhat strange that he would still be right there, and it’s never 100% clear if the Hannibal we see is meant to be his corporeal figure of a manifestation of Will’s desire. But in keeping with the Chapel’s symbolic status, Hannibal hiding in plain sight would be appropriate, while also emphasizing his status as King of the Underworld (befitting the fallen angel status that Fuller has bestowed upon him in several interviews.)
Will’s final words to Hannibal are “I forgive you”, the answer to his request from eight months hence. What this means, and whether it even matters now, is unclear. But the final image, of Will fading into the darkness, speaks volumes about his current state. As Rindaldo Pazzi notes in the quote which opens this essay, he’s for all intents and purposes a ghost haunting this world. Whether his hunt for his nemesis/friend/partner in existential romance can restore his humanity once again remains to be seen. But for now, Will Graham remains a man lost between two worlds.
To the leftovers we go:
*The introduction of Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortuanto Cerlino) is, of course, a nod to that character’s role in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal. As in that version, his hunt for Hannibal as Il Mostro, the Monster of Florence (his own one that got away) is his main motivation. But in introducing Will and Rinaldo to each other, Bryan Fuller gives his FBI profiler another twin figure to complement his more cannibalistic one, a man haunted by crimes left not properly punished.
*“Hannibal doesn’t pray. But he believes in God. Intimately.” (Will)
*This episode contains some of the show’s most surreal imagery, but Will’s vision of Dimmond’s decapitated corpse sprouting stag horns and feet surely ranks as one of the most strange and disturbing in the series’ run. Here again, we see a most ecstatic combination of the sacred and the profane, the desecration of death cohabiting with the religious beauty of the Chapel.
*It’s notable too that aside from the opening flashback, Hannibal has no lines in his brief cameos. Whether this means that he’s merely a part of Will’s vision or not is delightfully unclear.
* “We didn’t have an ending. He didn’t give us one yet…..If everything that can happen, happens, then you can never really do the wrong thing. You’re just doing what you’re supposed to.” (Abigail, to Will)