“Primavera” continues to plumb the expressionist fugue state into which the events of last season’s finale have sent the characters of Hannibal sometimes literally tumbling. Various permutations of falling are obsessively visualized in “Antipasto” and “Primavera.” In both episodes, drops of blood plummet in agonizingly beautiful slow motion from their sources across seeming galaxies of darkness to splat on ornately tiled floors. These images exist for their own inherent aesthetic pleasure, and as symbols of the characters’ crises of identity and basic mortality. In “Primavera,” this symbolism is brought to an amazing head.
The episode opens on a flashback of Will (Hugh Dancy) as he relives the rampage that Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) wrought last season before fleeing with Bedelia to Florence. After Hannibal assaults Will and Abigail (Kacey Rohl), leaving them for dead, we see the former lying on the floor of Hannibal’s home, imagining a dying stag, an animal which has come to embody Will’s wrestling with the dark side, or more specifically with his potential transformation, under Hannibal’s tutelage, into a supervillain who represents the full cathartic embodiment of his tamped-down spiritual ugliness. Then, the stag’s body is gradually engulfed by rising torrents of blood that flow like Will’s beloved fishing river, sucking his body down into a great oceanic undertow. Underwater, Will’s side profile is framed in a medium shot that deliberately echoes Bedelia’s panicked visions of her drowning in “Antipasto,” in one of many visual callbacks to the preceding episode.
Falling, drowning, and, most spectacularly, shattering. The teacup analogy Hannibal used last season to describe his need to destroy people out of coldly curious appraisal is startlingly re-approximated in a vision that shows a tea cup plummeting through darkness, exploding into shards, and reassembling as the shards are revealed to reflect features of Will’s face. We’re seeing Will’s reemergence after the events of last season, learning of his fate after his conspicuous absence in “Antipasto.” At this point, it’s almost unfair to name-check the various reference points of this opening—the films of Jean Cocteau, Dario Argento, and David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining—because it’s also reflective of a sensibility that’s unmistakably full-blown Hannibal, particularly as the series continues to discard police-procedural tropes, diving further into the subjective murk of dreams, visions, and pop-culturally nurtured fantasies. The series contains borrowed parts, but it’s something cumulatively new, and it grows fiercer and freer form with every episode: Call it a horror-opera procedural.
Well, freeform isn’t quite right. Hannibal has little regard for traditional plot logistics (one could ride a bloody stag through some of its gaps in logic), particularly by the standards of contemporary television, but in other fashions it’s formally, associatively fussier than even before. To revisit “Antipasto” is to notice the phenomenal level of detail that’s been paid to the service of adapting Thomas Harris’s novel of the same name, without appearing to: Every other encounter in that episode plays as a shadow version of something from the book, right down to a character’s taste in wine, and the arch, poetic dialogue routinely means two or three or four things simultaneously. Similarly, a flashback in “Primavera” reveals that last season quietly paved the way for the present narrative. When Hannibal referenced his mental palace last season, he said that its foyer was composed of the Norman Chapel in Palermo, which is where he displays Anthony Dimmond’s mutilated, now heart-shaped corpse. On another level of methodically layered game-playing, there’s this episode’s title, which is taken from a Botticelli painting that references spring, or rebirth. This concept is a frequent obsession of Will and Hannibal’s, as well as a relevant idea to characters who’ve changed the rules of their game, escalating the stakes to include a European round of cat and mouse in which Hannibal skulks all about Italy in a manner that’s similar to Dracula’s strategic planting of coffins.
Will revisits Hannibal’s sentiment about his mental palace, within his own dreams within dreams. Has Will fashioned his own palace, built on the nightmares of Hannibal’s near ruination of him? That sentiment reasonably describes most of “Primavera.” We aren’t seeing the sort of flashbacks that might litter a routine clip show. These are remembrances colored by Will’s fragile, grieving mental state. When last season’s climax is revisited, for instance, it’s set to a less sentimental score than before and composed of alternate closer shots that emphasize Hannibal’s violence with a greater degree of cruelty. When Will revisits his and Hannibal’s discussion of the latter’s mental palace, we see Will watching both himself and Hannibal in an effect that creates a prism of new and old footage. In this overlap, a key image from last season is reprised, re-contextualized, and heightened: of the journals Hannibal kept of his patients, which he burned before escaping to Italy. These pages float down from the ceiling of Hannibal’s office like giant snowflakes, in what is almost certainly a visual quotation of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, which also involved a troubled investigator who grew to live more and more in his own fraught mindscape. Shutter Island also partially pivoted around Nazi atrocities. If Hannibal eventually intends to divulge its antihero’s backstory as related by Harris’s Hannibal Rising, there could be room for another convergence with the Scorsese film.
This homage also foreshadows a twist that similarly defined Shutter Island, which is that Abigail didn’t survive Hannibal’s attack last year, despite her character’s presence in “Primavera.” Sure, it’s impossible that Abigail could’ve been allowed to leave with Will to Palermo to investigate Hannibal’s new murder spree anyway, which continues the latter’s work as “The Monster of Florence” or il mostro, as Inspector Renaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino) memorably refers to him. And Abigail’s initial explanation to Will of her survival of Hannibal slitting her throat is absurd, but those sorts of narrative contrivances abound in the series, which is a fantasy literally framed by “Antipasto” as a fairy tale. In this case, the contrivance, paired with the aforementioned imagery, establishes Abigail as a ghost, a phantom sadly locked up in Will’s head. (This episode is a major showcase for Dancy and Rohl, who both deliver the finest performances of their Hannibal-centric careers.) In a quasi-reprisal of Shutter Island’s most wrenching scene, Abigail and Will speak of the other world they might have gone to had no one died last year, Will telling her that this is the only way he can now imagine her. It’s telling, given Abigail’s existence now as an extension of Will, that she’s more like him in “Primavera”: more focused, more obsessive, seemingly older, more confident and hounded. Abigail lives only as Will’s regret now, a victim of his and Hannibal’s mating game, and her expressed longings to find Hannibal and return to him are revealed, then, to be Will’s own.
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