Review: ‘Hannibal’ – ‘Aperitive’: Cripples, bastards and broken things

Senior Television Writer
06.25.15 50 Comments

NBC

Hey, there was a new “Hannibal” on tonight! Last night, I spoke with Bryan Fuller about the show's potential future, or lack thereof, somewhere other than NBC, and now I have a review of tonight's episode coming up just as soon as I politely refuse your offer of chocolate…

“I know what's coming for you, Will. You don't have to die on me, too.” -Jack

Last week's episode pushed the show's abstract style to its limit, where the “pretentious art film” approach Bryan Fuller understandably favors for this show left things feeling more inert and confusing than enticing.

“Aperitive” isn't exactly the show doing a stylistic 180 and resembling an episode of “NCIS.” It bounces back and forth in time, it plays with characters' appearances and how we are allowed to see them(*), and it lets other characters' imagination overtake the narrative in a way that usually only Will's does. But in catching up with Hannibal's many victims from season 2 – and keeping Dr. Lecter himself largely absent from the proceedings – it has a clarity and sense of purpose that the series occasionally ignores in favor of putting its audience into a dream state right along with Will.

(*) On top of that, it introduces Joe Anderson as the new incarnation of Mason Verger, who got the part after Michael Pitt elected not to return. That Mason was so mutilated in Pitt's final appearance makes the transition a bit less jarring than it otherwise would, and if Pitt didn't want to be here anymore, what can you do?

And the episode doesn't sacrifice emotional power for the sake of that clarity. If anything, it features some of the season's most affecting moments so far, particularly the Jack/Will scene quoted above. These characters have all been broken in multiple ways by their association with Dr. Lecter, and while some can hide their scars more easily than others, they are all – both characters we admire like Jack, monsters like Mason, and more ambiguous figures like Dr. Chilton – forever changed for the experience, and none for the better.

Chilton's return could perhaps feel like a cheat – a way for Fuller to insert a shocking plot twist midway through season 2 without costing himself a significant character from later Thomas Harris stories – but the striptease of scars he and Mason perform is not only a marvelously twisted way to open the show, but quickly demonstrates how unequivocally scathed Chilton came out of this. He's still smug as ever, but at night when he has to remove his dentures, contact lens and makeup, he's just another one of Hannibal Lecter's garish displays – more ambulatory than most, but unmistakably displaying the signature of the man Chilton has (along with the registered copyright) dubbed “Hannibal the Cannibal.”

For that matter, having Alana be largely ambulatory within eight months of that fall out Hannibal's window – with her suffering many broken bones, but no paralysis – does significantly diminish the notion of a massacre at that house, given that Abigail was the only real casualty. But at the same time, this is a very different Alana from the optimistic-bordering-on-naive version we knew in the first two seasons. She can get around with a cane, but all the physical and emotional damage has left her greatly diminished emotionally from the person she used to be. She thought she could trust Hannibal, and look where that got her? And while she was right to mistrust Will(**), given his own professed ambivalent feelings towards the man who gutted them all, where does this leave her? Therapist to a sociopath like Mason? Yet another bitter hunter (or hunter-by-proxy) of Hannibal Lecter? That's not who she was or wanted to be, but that's who she is now.

(**) A great piece of emotional whiplash: When Will coldly tells Alana that he came to Hannibal's house to be alone, I unleashed a stream of profanity at him that I will not repeat here. And then a moment later, we saw that he was “alone” with a bloody vision of Abigail, and suddenly all I felt for him was pity.

The Jack scenes were unsurprisingly the episode's most powerful, not just because Mr. Laurence Fishburne is a hell of an actor, but because he and Gina Torres have always had such great chemistry on screen in a way that doesn't always translate when real couples play fictional couples. It had been so long since season 2 that I'd forgotten what, if anything, happened to Bella after Hannibal brought her back to life, but her final scenes together had such an impact here because they were in such sharp contrast to the death and destruction we see everywhere else on the show, and throughout this hour. “Hannibal” has conditioned us to expect a world where death comes through violent, and results in bodies being displayed and/or cooked in disgusting/beautiful ways. Even in this world, though, people can just die, in pain but also in relative peace, and they can simply be put in a casket according to tradition. Bella's existence helped ground Jack in a job that was so difficult. Now she's gone, the job is too, and he fears Will Graham will be next. Is it any wonder that he's traveled to Italy to find his friend?

It's interesting that Fuller and company chose to slot this episode – whose events take place before most of what we've seen in Europe – this relatively late into the season. In particular, I came out of it wishing that this was our first glimpse of Jack, even if that meant bumping this one up ahead of “Secondo.” But the primary fous of the season is the violent, bitter aftermath of this macabre break-up Hannibal and Will have had, so I understand the desire to focus so much on those two in the early going. In a way, that's the worst part of all of this, as Chilton notes in a bit of self-reflection: Hannibal has wrecked every single one of them, yet if you were to add their lives all together, the sum wouldn't equal a tiny fraction of how much Hannibal cares about Will. They were all just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and will have to live with the scars of that forever.

Some other thoughts:

* Fienberg did an excellent interview with “Hannibal” director of photography James Hawkinson about how they achieve the distinctive look of the show. Among other things, it touches on a question many of you have asked, about why the show is sometimes so visually dark.

* Though the makeup department did a fine job of depicting how Mason's face would look after his drug-induced self-mutilation, I might have preferred him to keep the mask on after the scene with Chilton. It's just a much more alien look, and also something that would help disguise, ever so slightly more, the shift in actor.

* Appreciated (and shuddered at) the return of the Cronenberg-style red surgical gowns for the grisly flashbacks of Mason's face being repaired as best as the surgeons could.

* Hey, it's George Remus! AKA Errol the Spaghetti Monster, aka character actor Glenn Fleshler, here playing the role of Mason's personal doctor and all-around fixer Cordell. I would set low odds on Cordell speaking of himself in the third person.

* I like the way each act was structured to resemble one another, down to Chilton always appearing around the same time. These people have been maimed in different ways, but the larger experience is the same.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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