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“Antipasto” was a particularly interesting episode within the Hannibal cannon. Most notably, we didn’t receive any real resolution in terms of last season’s cliffhanger of an ending (although I can’t imagine for a second there are any fans who believe Will, Jack, and Alana didn’t make it out alive- particularly in light of the post-episode previews). Rather, for the first time in the series, we were treated to an hour alone with Hannibal himself.
For a series titled Hannibal, we have spent a significantly short amount of time with him sans Will Graham over the past two seasons. Most of what we know about his personality and drive comes from second hand observations or form viewing his interactions with those around him. We have never been privy to his own inner thoughts and memories in the way we were in “Antipasto.”
Keeping the show’s title character so hidden in the shadows was an excellent choice of Bryan Fuller and his team. It has allowed us to begin seeing Hannibal as those around him do- mostly through the eyes of Will, as he has been, up until this episode, the show’s clear protagonist. We know Hannibal has done horrific things, but the extent of his personal magnetism has been tempered by our lack of true knowledge of the character. That is not the case any longer, as “Antipasto” presents us Hannibal in his truest form- the monster without his “person suit.”
Hannibal isn’t a man who trusts easily. And, really, who can blame him? After all, it must be exceedingly difficult for a sociopath to have friends (or at least friends he won’t become bored of). But “Antipasto” provides us with three “friends” for Hannibal, each showing us a deeper side of the man and the monster.
With Abel Gideon and his gorgeous black and white flashbacks, we are shown more of the Hannibal we know. Gideon understands the monster within Hannibal. He knows how it makes Hannibal react and the power and precision it demands, but cannot manage to crack the polite facade. The stark color palette also gives us insight into Hannibal. Unlike Bedelia’s own color-filled flashbacks, Hannibal recalls his time with Gideon without flourish. While he appreciated Gideon and the role he played in Hannibal’s life, there is no emotion in the remembrance. No joy, no fear, no guilt. Just a clinical reminder of a man who understood the darkness within him.
While those flashbacks provide us with important peeks into Hannibal, the bulk of the episode is spent watching Hannibal and Bedelia interact. Unlike the relationship between Will and Hannibal, where both sought to understand the other on the level of equals, Hannibal’s relationship with Bedelia exists on much more twisted ground. Through her flashbacks, we learn how the pair became traveling companions and how truly reckless Bedelia was to make that choice. Gillian Anderson is absolutely superb throughout the episode, adding layer after layer to Bedelia’s character through her shifting eyes and trembling body.
We have known for some time that the relationship between Hannibal and Bedelia is complicated. She is the only living person who knows, without a doubt, the true depths of Hannibal’s monstrosity. We also know that Bedelia has begun struggling with this knowledge, as witnessed by her discussion with the FBI at the end of last season. But, if she remains conflicted, why did she decide to return to Hannibal and take a trip with him (now that it has become clear it was a conscious choice on her part and not a coercion on Hannibal’s)? That is the lingering question. There are hints in their interaction in “Antipasto” that perhaps Bedelia believes she can survive long enough to leave a trail leading from her eventually dead (but tastefully displayed) corpse back to Hannibal. She sits in a train station making sure to appear on camera, she continually visits the same grocery shop (eying the dead rabbit, perhaps looking her own fate in the eye). But it is her reactions to Hannibal himself that offer us a deep dive into who Hannibal really is once the “person suit” is removed.
Before they embarked on their European escape, Bedelia told Hannibal she had optimism that he would keep her safe. That optimism has meant months at his side, watching Hannibal up close and personal. While he has curbed his killing (it appears, as a result of her own request- which, in and of itself, speaks to the degree of respect Hannibal has for her), there is still a base layer of fear. Add that to her knowledge of how incredibly well Hannibal can manipulate anyone at anytime, and we witness Bedelia’s slow descent into uncertainty. She is drowning mentally in the traps that Hannibal has expertly laid, but unlike so many, she recognizes every moment.
Through her eyes, we witness Hannibal’s escalation, seeing him move from calm friend to leashed monster to co-conspirator and killer. Over the course of last season, we saw how Hannibal’s manipulations can remain undetected and cause terrible destruction. This episode allowed us to see the man behind the curtain and how each action he takes builds in such a way that it can destroy even those who know what to look for. It’s harrowing to see Bedelia’s optimism crumble and to see Hannibal finally win. It turns out one cannot live beside a monster, knowing his actions, and merely observe. Participation or observation, Bedelia.
Finally, we are given our most personal glimpse into Hannibal through his responses to his third friend, Will. While he is physical absent throughout “Antipasto,” the shattered relationship between Will and Hannibal is very much present. Each time he is mentioned, we see true emotion break across Hannibal’s face. Betrayal. Pain. In Will, Hannibal thought he had finally found a true equal. While Bedelia represents a confidant of a sort, Will was someone he loved. In Will, there was someone who actually understood him and, he believed, accepted him. With Gideon, there was only understanding, while with Bedelia there is only the illusion of both. The loss and betrayal of Will, who was unable to accept and understand him, is still eating at Hannibal. It has broken his heart. And it is there, I believe, where the true conflict of the first half of this season will lie.
— While I really loved this episode, particularly it’s focus on the relationship between Bedelia and Hannibal, I do have a quibble. Judging from what we know of Dr. Fell, he appears to be a rather well-known academic, at least well-known enough to have written books. So, wouldn’t there be images of him online, indicating he is an author? Wouldn’t there be some trail showing that Hannibal cannot be the same man? I’m fine with suspending belief for the sake of the storyline, but it’s something that could really derail Hannibal’s plan.
— There’s a hideous painting hanging in Gillian Anderson’s attic, right? There has to be. She looks spectacular.
— And, as is always the case, the episode was absolutely visually stunning.