After what seemed like an interminable wait following season 2’s blood-bathed finale, NBC’s cult favorite horror drama “Hannibal” returned with “Antipasto”, its strange and ethereal third season opener, on June 4th. Oh boy, Fannibals, looks like we are in for it this season (let’s face it…we are always in for it)!

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“Antipasto” opens with our favorite cannibal psychiatrist zipping around Paris on a motorcycle, looking for his next meal–and, incidentally, his next identity, but we will get to that later–at a fancy party filled with seemingly loathsome intellectuals. While I would certainly say that the sight of Dr. Lecter (played by the utterly incomparable Mads Mikkelsen) clad in leather astride a bike is rather easy on the eyes (thank you, Bryan Fuller), it is also a vastly different outfit than we are used to seeing from the good doctor’s wardrobe–his crisp, pristine, expensive suits are nowhere to be found. Before he enters the party, he removes his motorcycle helmet to reveal disheveled hair–another departure for the usually polished doctor, and the first glimpse of the season of the crack in his usually stoic facade. Fear not–the good doctor is up to his usual habits, as he stalks and consumes the pretentious Dr. Fell, a lecturer on Dante (and presumably his wife), before the opening credits.

The theme of the cracking facade runs throughout the episode as the show jumps through space and time in a Tarantino-esque, nonlinear progression of flashbacks and present-day scenes melted together with the show’s characteristically voluptuous visuals and cacophonous, ambient score. “Becoming” and “evolving” have always been themes on the show, and this season is no different as Hannibal adapts to his new European surroundings and becomes who he needs to be in the wake of his blood-stained departure from Baltimore (these themes will be sure to continue with the introduction of the Red Dragon himself, Francis Dolarhyde, played by the superb Richard Armitage, in the latter half of the season).

Last season we left off with Dr. Lecter on the airplane with Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier, his own psychiatrist (played by the exquisite Gillian Anderson), presumably fleeing after Hannibal’s heart-wrenching massacre at his home (I know, I know…we don’t have to talk about that quite yet!). Notably absent from “Antipasto” are, in fact, most of the main players of the show, all of whom were effected in the aforementioned scene: Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl), Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), and, of course, the yin to Hannibal’s yang, Will Graham (the fantastic Hugh Dancy). While these beloved characters are certainly missed, and I know that I am still on tenterhooks when it comes to finding out the immediate aftermath of that devastating scene, this is a singular, ever-evolving show, and this season opens with one of the most atypical episodes of the series.

The setting has changed from the familiar, gray, dark colors and crime procedural settings of the FBI and Hannibal’s office into the vibrant old-world opulence of Florence. In turn, Hannibal Lecter himself is changing from the stoic, inaccessible doctor that he was in the world of the past seasons into a fraying, slightly sloppier character who needs to rely on the assumed identity of the professor he ate in the opening scene. This is the first time that Hannibal has taken the identity of someone he has killed, which in turn forces him for the first time to regard his victim as human, rather than a lesser being; whether he registers this on a conscious level or not, it has happened. Hannibal just slides into Dr. Fell’s life, taking over his job and lecturing on Dante, feeding his ego the attention it so desperately craves whilst figuratively wearing another’s skin, unbeknownst to all but Bedelia, who has assumed the identity of Dr. Fell’s wife.

That is, until Hannibal encounters one Anthony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom), a poet he clearly found insufferable at the gathering where he met Dr. Fell, in Florence, who calls him on his ruse, but does not compromise his charade to anyone else. Instead, in an exchange rife with sexual overtones, Hannibal invites Dimmond over for dinner with Bedelia. The cannibal puns run rampant (oh, how I missed those!), but poor Dimmond just thinks that the couple wants to partake in a threesome with him. Naturally. Although he does not meet his fate during this particular dinner, things do not end well for our friend Dimmond, who gets his neck unceremoniously snapped by Hannibal as Bedelia wrestles with her conscious over staying in Europe with Hannibal.

HANNIBAL -- "Antipasto" Episode 301 -- Pictured: (l-r) Gillian Anderson as Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Tom Wisdom as Anthony Dimmond -- (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)

HANNIBAL — “Antipasto” Episode 301 — Pictured: (l-r) Gillian Anderson as Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Tom Wisdom as Anthony Dimmond — (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)

This brings me to the crux of this unique episode: the interesting exploration of the coldly intimate and strangely codependent relationship between Hannibal and Bedelia. Throughout the episode, Bedelia states that she is still in control of her thoughts and actions, and that she is “observing, not participating”. The relationship feels very captor/captive: it is clear that Bedelia is aware of Hannibal’s less savory preferences of serial killing, cannibalism, and major mind manipulation, and is not staying because she wants to, yet she has not been able to bring herself to leave.

A long-awaited, wildly artistic flashback to Bedelia’s nebulously referenced “patient attack” shows us that Hannibal’s involvement was more covering up after the fact, similar to his involvement in the cover up of Abigail Hobbs’ stabbing of Nicholas Boyle in the first season; in short, Bedelia owes him. We learn little else about the attack, other than it seems as though Bedelia shoved her whole arm down her patient’s throat (quick shout out to Zachary Quinto, who plays the patient, and who will be returning later in the season for more than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo to elaborate upon this particular storyline). We also get a peek behind the (shower) curtain (quite literally….!) at what transpired in the time between the slaughter chez Hannibal and the plane ride with Bedelia: Hannibal heads to her place to wash off the blood and she greets him with a loaded gun. He reveals to her that he has removed his “person suit”, a self-aware callback to Bedelia’s opinion of him in the second season. This could refer to Hannibal literally shedding his identity in Europe, but it could also refer to Hannibal letting the devil inside him free reign: though he changes his name, he is no longer constricted by the parameters of his identity in Baltimore, which affords him the ability to hide in plain sight….for now, at least.

Bedelia’s revelation hits her during Hannibal’s lecture on Dante, which is taking place (of course) in a museum room full of antiquated torture devices. The face of Lucifer is projected onto Hannibal’s face in a brilliantly, eerily shot scene, which catalyzes Bedelia’s fleeing of the lecture to return home and hurriedly pack her bags. Alas, in a heart-pounding sequence of events, Hannibal returns with Dimmond to the house and intercepts Bedelia, only to bludgeon Dimmond in front of her, all the while suggesting that by staying she is no longer merely observing, but complicit in his actions. The hair-raising fear conveyed in both this scene and the preceding lecture scene is palpable. At this point, I imagine that an acceptable excuse for Bedelia staying would be, “the devil made me do it.”

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Speaking of the devil, in a sequence of flashbacks to Hannibal and Dr. Abel Gideon, to whom Hannibal is slowly serving elaborate dishes prepared with his remaining limbs (ah, that’s where those went. Delightful!), Gideon tells Hannibal, straight up, that he truly is the devil. All of these devil comparisons contrast directly with Hannibal’s notions of good and evil, particularly when related to the god-complex that he had demonstrated throughout the first two seasons. Something tells me that as long as he can feel like a superhuman, all-powerful being by continuing to kill and manipulate other people, it doesn’t matter.

Phew! What an episode. I can’t wait to find out more about Bedelia’s strange attack incident and, more immediately, check in with Will Graham and the rest of the FBI squad. “Antipasto” is a deliciously rich, unique first course for what promises to be a delightfully bizarre season, and I am ready to dig my fork into the episodes to come.