June 11, 10:00 p.m. (EST), NBC
More than anything, perhaps, in the history of television, Hannibal is a poem. The show is often uninterested in linear narrative. It’s more purely expressive than anything else on television, less afraid of unadulterated contemplation and blatant philosophizing than pretty much anything else around. It’s visuals are constantly striving to engage on a visceral level, pushing past reality, operating subconsciously. They play out a narrative unencumbered by the strictures of a tough adherence to realism. It’s possible, always, to discern what’s real and what isn’t on Hannibal, but that’s rarely the point. This is a show that wants to engage with how its characters experience the world, not with how they live in it. This is a show that isn’t satisfied being purely observational, but strives to be experiential.
Similarly, the writing is superb beyond measure. At times throughout “Primavera,” I felt as if I was transcribing the entire episode into my notes. Every exchange oozes meaning, every line advances not just plot, not just characterization, but a complex world view and various individuals trying to find their way in it. Characters talk to and past each other, they engage in part to observe, in part to understand, and in part to make sense of the maelstrom of their own minds. When Hannibal isn’t pulling us visually down the rabbit hole into recesses of its characters’ psyches, they are pulling themselves down into introspection, digging deeper into what they feel, why they feel it, and what it means for what they’ll do next.
“Primavera” feels, simultaneously, like the second hour of a movie unfolding before our eyes, and like a completely distinct beast, a structurally and functionally distinct hour of television. “Antipasto” was about a free man and an imprisoned woman; “Primavera” is about a man shackled to his sense of duty and his endless curiosity, and a woman finally freed from an endless parade of horribles that constituted her life. I have thought, often since “Mizumono” aired, that it would be cheap of Hannibal to bring Abigail Hobbs back from the dead only to immediately kill her again. And while “Primavera” reveals that to be the ace up the sleeve of last year’s finale, its two reversals on the fate of Abigail are so elegantly constructed, I felt her death all over again in a way. The episode tempts us to be willfully ignorant of the likelihood of Abigail’s survival. It steeps us in fantasy, and frequently racks focus between Abigail and Will, as if to pull him out of his mind. Little do we know, she’s actually pulling him back in. Abigail initially appears to still be suffering from the effects of Hannibal’s brainwashing, but really, its more complicated than that. She represents the part of Will that regrets his deception of Hannibal, that regrets trying to trap his friend. She represents the part of will that hopes for a reconciliation that cannot really happen, that hopes beyond hope that Hannibal has made a place for him.
In strict plot terms, “Primavera” is pretty straightforward. Will, tracking Hannibal, is given a major hint when a body dismembered to resemble a human heart shows up in a chapel he frequents. While Inspector Pazzi has reason to suspect Will, he doesn’t, really, and the two pursue Hannibal into the crypts, only to leave empty handed. That is, literally, all that happens in the episode, and yet, “Primavera” feels like it plumbs depths untold across its runtime, pulling us into Will’s mind, back to the moment he re-shattered the teacup, and deep into his mind palace where Abigail Hobbs survives and reminds him of all he gave up when he chose to betray Hannibal in order to do the right thing.
Will Graham was always destined to be haunted by the night he almost caught Hannibal Lecter and was almost gutted by his friend, partner, and greatest quarry. He was fated to do this, because he lives in the world where this happens. His conversations with Abigail are deterministic, a view of the multiverse where everything being a possibility isn’t freeing, but a cage. Abigail offers Will a version of reality where nothing can really be wrong, because everything has to happen in some world. But it’s a bill of goods Will can’t buy. “The wrong thing being the right thing to do was too ugly a thought,” he tells her, and that moment is as pure an expression as we may ever see of why Will Graham is a hero. He’s been seduced by the darkness; in a way, we all are at some points in our lives. And he is still attracted to the freedom from moral conviction Hannibal offers. But Will made a choice. When faced with ultimate evil, he chose to be good. When faced with darkness, he chose light. Will Graham looked into the abyss and was able to come back. He’s attracted to what he saw, but he’s also willing to defend a world not hung up on the inevitability of corruption and death. He’s the beacon of light in a nihilistic world we can all hope to be. He’s a hunter with no desire to kill his prey, a man seeking endlessly to find peace in a world that offers him nothing but war. Will Graham is a classical hero thrown into a tale that makes the operatic mythic at every turn. Will is the version of ourselves we all try to be, the version we hope we are when we wake up every morning. He’s haunted by what’s happened, to be sure. But more than that, he’s able to transcend his darkest impulses. He’s able to look at midnight and see the coming of the dawn.
- “We were supposed to leave together, all of us. He made a place for us. Why did you lie to him?” “The wrong thing being the right thing to do was too ugly a thought.”
- “Everything that can happen happens. It has to end well, and it has to end badly. It has to end every way it can. And this is the way it ended for us.” “We don’t have an ending. He didn’t give us one yet. He wants us to find him.”
- “If everything that can happen happens, then you can never really do the wrong thing.”
- “Even in an enlightened world, we come here to feel closer to God.” “Do you feel closer to God?” “God’s not who I came here to find.”
- “God can’t save any of us because it’s…inelegant. Elegance is more important than suffering. That’s his design.” “Are you talking about God or Hannibal?” “Hannibal is not God. He wouldn’t have any fun being God. Defying God, that’s his idea of a good time.”
- “There is some comfort in prayer. It leaves you with the distinct feeling you are not alone.”
- “I’ve got the scars of a man who grabbed his gift by the blade.”
- “This is my design. A valentine written on a broken man.”
- “What if no one died? What if we all left together, like we were supposed to. After he served the lamb. Where would we have gone?”
- “Hannibal…I forgive you.”
“Primavera” feels, simultaneously, like the second hour of a movie unfolding before our eyes, and like a completely distinct beast, a structurally and functionally distinct hour of television.