“You’re fostering codependency,” Will Graham uttered back in Season 2 episode ‘Tome-Wan’, having realized what Hannibal’s modus operandi is when he isn’t actually torturing, killing and eating people. Will referred to Dr. Lecter’s plans with him and Margot Verger, to what Hannibal did to poor Abigail Hobbs, but Will might as well have been talking about the cannibal’s relationship with psychiatrist Dr. Bedelia du Maurier. While much of these two psychiatrists’ past together has always been shrouded in mystery, the show has always been adamant about letting us know one thing: that a former patient of Hannibal’s died under the care of Bedelia, swallowing his tongue. “It wasn’t attached at the time,” Dr. Du Maurier revealed to Will Graham in ‘Tome-Wan’, saying she killed him, believing it was self-defense. Now, in Season 3’s first episode ‘Antipasto’, we are finally shown brief glimpses of what transpired.
‘Antipasto’, named after the traditional first course in Italian cuisine, opens with a marvel of hallucinatory imaginary. Never has the act of revving up and riding a motorcycle looked this thrilling or significant: director Vincenzo Natali captures the start of the engine from inside the machine, then cuts to close-ups of the taillight, to the full moon, to the headlight and the shadows its beam casts in the streets of nighttime Paris. It’s associative filmmaking, matching both form and meaning, and it immediately creates a sense of foreboding and dread, amplified by Brian Reitzell’s tremendous score that, this time around, seems influenced by both vintage sci-fi film soundtracks and baroque music. It’s a startling sequence which richness demonstrates the artistry of the show’s creative team and everything you’re in for throughout the premiere: beautiful slow-motion shots, extreme close-ups, varying aspect ratios, gorgeous black-and-white shots, extraordinary angles, and more. It’s as if Hannibal himself, connoisseur of all things, oversaw the proceedings and threatened to eat someone’s liver if the highest possible level of craftsmanship wasn’t achieved.
What’s maybe more impressive is how the visual and auditory prowess is matched by the writing and acting. ‘Antipasto’ has its focus firmly on Hannibal and Bedelia, who are now residing in Florence as Mr. and Mrs. Fell after both have fled the US and Hannibal has killed a man and his wife in Paris to create an interesting career opportunity. Hannibal is having the time of his life giving lectures about Dante and attending soirees as a well-respected member of the Florentine upper class, while Bedelia is sinking deeper into despair. Through flashbacks we learn that she came to Italy with Hannibal because she thought he wouldn’t kill her and that she was firmly in control of her own actions, but right now she knows she has miscalculated. She thought that Hannibal’s influence and persuasion no longer had any effect on her because she was aware of the fact he was trying to manipulate her, but once again Lecter has been steps ahead and has capitalized on that hubris. The result is that she’s in Florence now with a man who’s going to eat her and enjoys the fact she knows, whilst feeding her oysters, acorns and marsala to make her taste better. It’s another devilish addition to Lecter’s many cruel and vile acts, made even worse because ‘Antipasto’ expands on Abel Gideon’s twisted fate and finally shows us a glimpse of what Lecter has influenced Bedelia to do to her patient: the shot of Dr. Du Maurier pulling her entire forearm out of the man’s throat is another one of the series’ deliciously gruesome sights. When Lecter shows up immediately after to gloat and prey on her weakness, saying he’ll help her avoid prosecution, it makes your skin crawl.
Both Mads Mikkelsen and Gillian Anderson are terrific as Hannibal and Bedelia, and they carry the first Season 3 episode with ease. Mikkelsen slips into and out of Lecter’s person suit with vigor, giving us a much more predatory version of the character this time around. It seems that Florence is an opportunity for Lecter, a chance to evolve, and he grabs it with both hands, visible in Mikkelsen’s sinister performance. The strength of the show though is that you do feel the character’s loneliness and longing to belong at the same time, which is testament to the layers present and the incredible nuance in both the performance and the writing. The same can be said for Gillian Anderson’s Bedelia: the complexity of the character is realized so well through Anderson’s nuanced and otherworldly performance, that she keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s no wonder then that a conversation between the two about observation and participation is one of the episode’s best moments, even though that might also have to do something with the bludgeoned man in the room.
‘Antipasto’ does everything you want a season premiere to do: it sets the mood, makes you anticipate what’s to come and even elevates the show’s familiar elements to new heights. 9/10