Review: ‘Hannibal’ comes to a dark and… romantic end?

And so “Hannibal” has come to an end – at least on NBC, and probably in any kind of ongoing TV series form – with a corker of a finale that I had to discuss at length with Bryan Fuller. And I have my own thoughts on the finale coming up just as soon as I drop the mic…

“See? This is all I ever wanted for you, Will – for both of us.” -Hannibal

Given that “Hannibal” has existed on the cancellation bubble for its entire run, Fuller says he likes to end every season with an episode that could function as a series finale if need be. But they've also been cliffhangers. Yes, ending the series with Will imprisoned for Hannibal's crimes would have been a sick joke, but there's so much more to see there; ditto ending it on Hannibal escaping the country after butchering Will and all his friends.

“The Wrath of the Lamb,” though, wasn't so much a cliffhanger as a literal cliff jumper. There are certainly ways to continue the story from here, with one or both me surviving that terrifying plunge – Fuller, in fact, meant for the coda to suggest that Hannibal still lived and had come to give Bedelia the Abel Gideon treatment(*) – but watching it, knowing that NBC had canceled the show, that Amazon had passed on picking it up, and that the odds were getting longer by the day on this take on the characters continuing in any form, all I could think was, “Yeah, that seems about right.”

(*) I initially read it a different way – that Hannibal's madness had infected Bedelia far more deeply than she let on to Hannibal, Will, or anyone else, and had decided to serve up herself to Hannibal once she knew he was on the loose – but a rewatch made Fuller's intentions clear. (In fairness, as with the Dragon's invasion of Molly's home a few weeks ago, the darkness of the screener made it tough to make out some details.)

I came into the series with virtually no interest in another Hannibal Lecter story, curious only to see what Fuller might do with the character. But Fuller, David Slade, Steve Lightfoot, and everyone else working on the show made a new believer out of me. This was yet another Hannibal Lecter story, at times – particularly during this final Red Dragon arc – quoting chapter and verse from both the books and the various film adaptations, but it was ultimately its own thing: imaginative and haunting and literary and utterly exquisite in its take on this monster, his cuisine, his many imitators, and the poor bastard cursed to spend a lifetime hunting him.

This season, though, showed the limits of even this (to borrow one of Fuller's own pet phrases) artsy-fartsy approach to Hannibal the Cannibal. Hannibal's fugitive European adventure contained some of the series' most stunning imagery, but was also the first time the show seemed to be calling attention to the implausibility of its own plotting. There was only so long Hannibal could stay out in the wild once his identity was known, yet it could also be frustrating at times to watch him behind the glass of his cell during the Red Dragon story, still influencing events, but mainly out of boredom and a sense of impotence. When Will put his plan in motion to free Hannibal in order to effect the deaths of both Hannibal and Francis Dolarhyde, I knew no good would come of it, and – even though I knew the show had been canceled and there was a slim chance of even a follow-up movie or miniseries – found myself cringing at the thought of Hannibal on the loose again after such a brief (for us, if not for him) incarceration.

So having Will recognize that this cycle will only keep repeating itself – and that he's spent far too much time around Hannibal to have a shot at any semblance of a normal life – and come up with a simple, elegant and (if the series never continues in some form) definitive end to the madness felt right. Fuller told me that he had a great plan in mind for the fourth season, and in some ways feels like Will's story really would only be beginning there – Maybe as a full-fledged apprentice of Hannibal's? – and if he ever gets the chance to keep going, I'll certainly watch. But right now, three seasons feels like enough, and getting an on-screen death for Hannibal (we can pretend that someone else is having Bedelia for dinner) helps separate the series in another way from the famous and well-explored Lecter canon.

And before we came to that moment, “The Wrath of the Lamb” was a terrific wrap-up to this telling of the Red Dragon's story, mixing in elements from the source material (Dolarhyde using Reba to fake his death) with new ones particular to this warped love story between cop and killer. The final fight on the cliff, with the three men cutting each other to pieces while Siouxsie Sioux's very James Bond-ian new song “Love Crime” played gave me goosebumps, even before Dolarhyde was dead and Will wrapped Hannibal in an embrace that made both men look as happy and content as they have at any point in the series.

You can, as always, question various plot points (could even an accomplished killer like Dolarhyde take out an entire armed convoy by himself?) and usage of other characters (if this is the last we'll see of Laurence Fishburne's Jack, it didn't feel like quite enough), but the beauty and the power and the madness were all there in abundance.

As Fuller noted to me, it is ridiculous and wonderful that NBC indulged him and his merry band for three seasons of stuff that – both for the gore and for the artistic aspirations – had absolutely no business being on a broadcast network. Maybe “Hannibal” could have survived another year or two if it started out on cable. But this feels like a satisfying amount, and there were ways in which being on NBC forced a structure on the show (the procedural investigations of the first two seasons) that Fuller didn't love, but that were better for its overall coherence.

But if they can get a movie of this wackadoodle take on things into theaters? Well, I'll be there on opening night to see how much weirder and more disgusting it gets once NBC's no longer involved.

So go read the Fuller interview, and for the last time – for now, anyway – what did everybody else think of this “Hannibal” episode?