Hannibal is back for its third season, its carnage-drenched season two finale still lingering in viewers’ minds. The premiere’s title, “Antipasto,” suggests we’re about to see a pre-meal taste of what’s to come, and indeed many familiar characters (the ones who are still alive, anyway) don’t yet appear.
We open at night as our favorite cannibal zips through Paris on a motorcycle. He enters a swanky cocktail party, where he meets Tony, a young poet who’s quite disdainful of the guest he sees Hannibal eyeing from across the room. The man, Dr. Roman Fell, is also a poet, but has spent more time in the academic world of late, having taken a new job in Florence. “One can appreciate another’s words withough dissecting them,” Hannibal opines, before slyly adding, “Though, on occasion, dissection is the only thing that will do.”
An example of such an occasion is when one’s dream job is already filled, so Hannibal flexes his cooking muscles in an opera-scored scene. Looks like this Dr. Fell ain’t gonna be making it to his new job; nor will his lovely wife. As Hannibal eats, we’re treated to the first of three flashbacks to another grim dinner party, with Dr. Abel “Not the Chesapeake Ripper” Gideon as meal and guest of honor. After a loaded conversation about cannibalism (“Everyone has their flavor”), Gideon says, “I don’t want to spoil the fairy tale, you and your little gingerbread house,” which prompts Bad Witch Lecter to turn to the camera and announce “Once upon a time...”
And we’re back in Europe, at a dazzling party in Florence. Bedelia and Hannibal are dressed to the nines and killing it on the dance floor when a snooty Italian approaches, suggesting that “Dr. Fell” isn’t qualified for his new job. Hannibal bites back by reciting Dante in flawless Italian, and saying he’ll deliver a lecture on same to prove his worth. Later, he tells Bedelia “Once the path was cleared, I won the job fairly.” Bedelia and Hannibal, alone in their lush Florence digs, are deeply at unease with each other, though the dynamic between them is intriguingly charged.
“I still believe I’m in conscious control of my actions,” she murmurs, moments before drifting off to sleep in the bathtub and nearly drowning. We get a little more insight into Bedelia when she gets her own flashback later in the episode, to the death of her patient (Zachary Quinto in a cameo as a corpse) that wasn’t exactly a killing done in self-defense ... and Hannibal’s offer to help her make sure the event is interpreted by outside eyes exactly the way she wants it to be. (She accepted, of course.)
As the slowly-paced episode progresses (making time for some insanely gorgeous shots of Florence, many of which also include the sight of Bedelia in to-die-for outfits), there’s a sudden uptick in anxiety when Hannibal, now fully faking it as Dr. Fell, happens to run into Tony, aka the only person in town who knows what the real Dr. Fell looks like. “My wife and I would love to have you for dinner,” Hannibal says. Not knowing what he’s up against, Tony agrees. “Is it that kind of party?” Tony asks, hopefully, when he misinterprets a remark by Bedelia as being an invitation to have a threesome with the couple. No, dude. It’s not that kind of party.
But somehow, he gets out alive. “You let him go,” Bedelia observes. (“Let him,” indeed, because after the events of last season, there’s never a doubt who’s pulling the strings in this universe.) In fact, Hannibal specifically invites Tony to “Dr. Fell”’s lecture, but as soon as Tony appears in the hall, Bedelia can’t stand it. She flees, missing the chance to see Tony lie on “Dr. Fell”’s behalf. “I was his TA at Cambridge,” he informs the snooty Italian we met earlier at the party, without missing a single beat.
Is this a new alliance for Hannibal? “I’m curious to see what fate befell Dr. Fell to see you here in his stead,” Tony asks, implying that he would’ve liked to do the deed himself. But don’t get too attached to Tony; the second visit he makes to the “Fell” household doesn’t end so well for him. “Observe or participate,” Hannibal says to a shocked Bedelia. She claims to be observing, but Hannibal knows better, and he eloquently, yet forcefully, tells her as much, asking “What have you gotten yourself into, Bedelia?”
The name “Will Graham” is uttered just once, in the final Gideon flashback, in which Hannibal’s captive guest suggests the doctor would rather be dining with Graham instead. Clearly, an inevitable reunion looms ... and exactly the kind of party we’re dying to see.