June 4, 2015, 10:00 p.m. (EST), NBC
“I make my own home be my gallows.”
Throughout “Antipasto,” a beautiful and beautifully abstract nightmare of an episode, the camera returns again and again to images of liquid flowing. Champagne is poured into glasses, water into a bathtub, blood onto floors. Yet as much attention is paid to where the liquid is poured as to what, exactly, is being poured. We pour liquid into a glass to contain it, to control it, to direct and ensnare it. Left to its own devices, liquid roams free, with no concern to form, with no worries of being trapped. “Antipasto” is a study in duality, a two-hander focused on Hannibal Lecter and Bedelia Du Maurier, and obsessed with notions of freedom and entrapment. Hannibal has always been a show about agency, about the ways in which it can be taken from us or we can learn to retain it. And as this third season opens, the devil is freer than ever before, while his long-suffering victim grasps exactly what deal she’s made.
The episode flows freely through time and space, moving from Paris to Florence to Dr. Lecter’s Baltimore home, and from the past to the present, dissolving from color to black and white, beckoning us into the dark dream Dr. Lecter has woven for himself. To the victor go the spoils, and in “Antipasto,” Hannibal is reveling in his victory. He kills occasionally, but does his best to maintain the peace. He has a lavish apartment, and a stolen job to fit his stolen identity, and the ability to be himself, truly himself, before Bedelia. Contrast all of this with the prison Bedelia feels she is trapped in, and with Hannibal’s persistent insistence that she built this cage herself. We don’t know all the details at this point, but we know, and have long known, Bedelia killed a patient and Hannibal helped her make it appear to be in self-defense. He gave her a choice, of course. Standing there, soon after Bedelia has taken her first life, he tells her he will help her if she asks. She makes her choice. She knows she’s making a deal with the devil but she makes it, and for the same reason we have seen Hannibal make any number of choices in the past: “I was curious.”
At the same time, its wise to question how fully any character in Hannibal’s sway can really choose anything. The scariest thing about Dr. Lecter isn’t that he is an unapologetic cannibal serial killer. It’s the way he seeps into the minds of those who know him well enough, and directs their actions without them ever realizing, even when they know what is happening. Bedelia is a brilliant woman who knows enough to know that even her belief that she is in control in his presence makes for a good day. Will Graham has proven incredibly strong-willed, and yet could not outfox Hannibal no matter how far into darkness he was willing to tread. The allure of Hannibal as a companion and as a character is the way he creates the illusion of freedom and choice while truly offering neither. Hannibal speaks, often, of a world without rules or morality, a world where intelligent and genteel people can live without rules and eat the rude. But he isn’t preaching of mutual actualization, not really. He is asking his playthings to dance with him in the pale moon light, and hoping they won’t notice who is always in the lead.
For Bedelia, the central moments in this episode involve her sinking into an endless pool of water to escape from Hannibal, and glancing significantly at a security camera in a train station, hoping to be noticed, hoping to draw attention to herself and, in the process, her captor. For Hannibal, the defining moments come largely in the flashbacks, which reveal more passages from the final meal of Abel Gideon (I somewhat suspect this conceit exists simply to bring Eddie Izzard back, and do not mind at all if that’s the case). With Abel, he discusses consciousness as the precious thing that sets humanity apart from lesser creatures, even as he openly points out he thinks of Abel as a lesser creature. Abel willingly eats himself because he prefers knowing to ignorance, because he wants to experience and understand. It’s a disturbingly literal representation of what Hannibal is doing all the time to everyone in his life, offering them dark knowledge at impossibly high costs, asking them to pay the price in exchange for a chance to look into the void and see what is housed there. “They have no idea they’re going to be eaten,” Abel says of the snails Hannibal is going to serve, “We do.” He considers it an advantage, but just as cleanly, it’s the great tragedy of the human condition. We know what’s coming for us, and try as we might, we can never completely put it out of our mind’s.
“Antipasto” is ultimately about this death wish at the core of these characters, and perhaps at the core of all of us. Hannibal’s lecture touches on self-destruction, and he stares directly at Bedelia when he uses the quote that opens this review. It’s a threat, but then, not really. It places the onus entirely on Bedelia. It makes her responsible for what happens to her. Abel Gideon could fight his death, could try to flee, but he doesn’t. He embraces the darkness, and finds the satiation of his curiosity calming. Bedelia could escape Hannibal, could cast him out or run away, but she is too curious, too in love with the darkness to tear herself away from its most perfect encapsulation. Each of these people is being manipulated at levels they cannot hope to understand. Yet each of them is also getting what they want in their heart of hearts, even if it terrifies them. Run if you’d like. Hide if you think it will help you. Close your eyes and try to keep the world out for as long as possible. But sooner or later, dinner is served.
- “Smoked me in thyme.”
- “It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals.”
- “I’m happy to sing for my supper.”
- “You know longer have ethical concerns, Hannibal. You have aesthetical ones.”
- “Your peace is without morality.” “Morality doesn’t exist. Only morale.”
- “How do you feel?” “I still believe I am in conscious control of my actions. Given your history, that’s a good day.”
- “What have you done, Hannibal?” “I’ve taken off my person suit.”
- “Is this professional curiosity?” “Almost entirely.” “Do you trust me?” “Not entirely.”
- “You’re becoming brighter, Abel. Dying hasn’t dulled you one bit.”
- “Dante wrote that fear is almost as bitter as death.” “Dante wasn’t dead when he wrote it.”
- “You let him go.” “What would you have me do, Bedelia?”
- “Will you help me?”
- ”We can twist ourselves into all manner of positions, just to maintain appearances, without breaking.”
- “What have you gotten yourself into, Bedelia?”
“Antipasto” is a study in duality, a two-hander focused on Hannibal Lecter and Bedelia Du Maurier, and obsessed with notions of freedom and entrapment.