Welp, it’s over. The torrid and unexpected love affair between the urbane cannibal Hannibal Lecter and the object of his obsession, empathetic FBI profiler Will Graham came to a glorious bloody epic conclusion in its NBC series finale (life after this death on NBC could still come in the form of a feature film or as a mini-series on any number of online networks).
What started in season 1 as a highly stylized procedural following the cat and mouse game between a serial killer and the profiler determined to catch his man, by season 3 had morphed into a trippy, artsy character drama where the initial agendas of both men had fallen away from the pursuit and escape of justice into a dark romance with Hannibal facilitating the alternately loving and brutal birthing of the spectacular dark potential of Will Graham and as a result creating his murder husband soulmate.
The drama and tension came from watching the struggle of Will Graham between the light and darkness; his obligations to be a champion of good and justice and using his skills to inhabit the mind of a killer in order to catch him and save lives vs. the increasing temptation to fully immerse himself in the motivations of a serial killer and give in to the darkness – his darkness- and embrace the thrill, ‘beauty’ and power of the process.
Initially, we, like Will were disgusted by the end result of this process that the insane perpetrator labels as beautiful in order to justify their actions even as Bryan Fuller presented the carnage in terrible and beautiful displays and amazing tapestries created by the contorted bodies of the poor victims and Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham delivered the internal tickerings of the murderer in a lulling, hypnotic cadence that was comforting even as you processed the horror of his words.
But slowly over the course of season one, our logic was being undermined by the seductive if self-deluded aggrandizing arguments of Hannibal Lecter, Mads Mikkelsen owning the role and playing him with amused, controlled, underlying deadly precision. Even as we knew Hannibal was gaslighting poor Will in an attempt to deflect attention from himself while also nudging his intriguing colleague (for they were both working for the FBI at the time) we couldn’t absolutely hate him because he played the game so brilliantly. When our hero is finally in the mental position to realize what Hannibal is, but is physically imprisoned by due to Hannibal successfully cornering him, we are primed for a season two where Will Graham is focused, angry, and firing on all cylinders to take down his prey and Hannibal is all too ready for the game to really begin.
Season two is where we began to see the split for Will from capturing his prey with noble intent to playing with his food as it plays with him and slowly becoming more aligned with his target’s sympathies than with his original purpose. Hannibal for his part cagily engages in the dance with Will, steadily in control until he finally –finally!- reveals himself to Will in such a way that the FBI now have him on the hook and are ready to reel him in. But Will at this point is truly torn in his loyalties and in a move that no one is sure is for Jack’s benefit or Hannibal’s attempts to warn Hannibal to flee from the approaching storm. Instead, a betrayed Hannibal razes the earth in season two’s blood denouement leaving him as the last man standing and everyone either physically or emotionally gutted and broken.
Which brings us to season three which was not known to be the final season when it premiered in June nor when production wrapped. Still, Fuller, who has been in these down to the wire pick-ups with this show before, knew enough to make season three be a solid conclusion to the story of Will and Hannibal if it should come to that and he did not disappoint. For the most part.
Season three was broken up into two main parts: part one set to cover the aftermath of season two’s carnage and covering much of the story in Thomas Harris’ Hannibal where Hannibal goes to Italy, meets and disembowels old friends, but tries for the most part to live an uncomplicated life as a professor with Dr. Bedelia du Maurier as his ‘wife’. Will, Jack, Alanna, and Mason Verger each try to piece their lives back together, each with varying motives to find Hannibal. Jack is about closing out the case; Alanna and Mason are about vengeance, leaving Will whose motives he nor we are wholly sure of.
Will is still very much aware of the monster Hannibal is and yet…he also identifies with the monster Hannibal is and this identification and understanding is what causes him to pause and question just what he will do when they come face to face. And they do come face to face after several episodes of some of the most beautiful cinematography you’ll see on a television show as we follow Hannibal and Will through Europe. In the end Will’s confrontation with Hannibal goes sideways with Will nearly ending up on Hannibal’s dinner menu and then going from the frying pan into the fire when Mason Verger kidnaps them both in order to effect his own revenge on them both.
In the end, Alanna inanely strikes a devil’s bargain with Hannibal (a man who has promised to kill her) and frees Hannibal in order dispatch the danger to them all and save Will. Hannibal literally carries his beloved like many a damsel in distress to deposit him to his home and wait at his bedside until he awakens. Which Will does and after nearly getting his head and face sawed off, finally tells Hannibal enough is enough and he is done playing his games, running after him, thinking about him. Their dance is o to the over. The work in this break-up scene is stellar: Will is as brutal as a dumper can get and Hannibal as the dumpee is as bereft and devastated as a dropped lover can be.
And then Hannibal regroups, realizing that the way to make sure Will never forgets about him is to always know where he can find him and come visit and so Hannibal surrenders to Jack and the FBI right in Will’s front yard, falling to his knees and looking to Will to make sure his point is made clear: When you want me, you know where to find me. And you will want me.
Fast forward to 3 years later and we come into the second half of the season which covers the events of The Red Dragon, aka The Tooth Fairy serial killer. Let’s have it stated now that Richard Armitage as Francis ‘The Red Dragon’ Dolarhyde and Rutina Wesley as his Reba were perfection. The only regret I had was that their story was in many ways a second bill to the resolution of Will and Hannibal’s tortured relationship, hinted to be a romance by Freddie Lounds in her Tattler tabloid story and then flat out classified as one by the spurned first wife of Hannibal, Dr. du Maurier with Will the clueless pined for and Hannibal the piner.
Hannibal up until the emergence of the Red Dragon has played possum while being incarcerated but it isn’t long before he’s manipulated events to his advantage to use Francis to target Will and his family and taint that life for Will by nearly killing Molly. Having dipped a toe back in the life he’s been running from, Will begins playing the game and wittingly/unwittingly/recklessly serves up Chilton to the Red Dragon in an effort to bait him only succeeding in getting Chilton’s lips ripped off and his already brutalized body set aflame. Realizing that it’s not only The Red Dragon he needs to put down once and for all but also Hannibal, Will devises a plan to use Hannibal as bait to lure out Francis where the FBI can capture him. As these dangerous plans are wont to do, things don’t work out the way Will intended and Hannibal escapes from custody, urging Will to tag along on his escape since they know Dolarhyde will still come to see him for a final confrontation.
Which he most assuredly does later that night at Hannibals’ secluded cabin when Francis interrupts Hannibal and Will’s bonding time over wine and shoots Hannibal with the intent to ‘transform’ him. Will appears to be more interested in his glass of wine but is surreptitiously plotting his move when Francis strikes first with a stab wound to the face. Will and Francis struggle through the plate glass window to the terrace outside, blood and knives flying. As the open cliff beckons for someone to fall over it, Hannibal joins the fight by launching himself at The Red Dragon’s back only to get thrown off like a rag doll (which props to YOU Red Dragon as Hannibal is a beast of a man). Francis really begins to flex his dragon wings but the double team of Will and Hannibal prove too much and as they slice, rip, and gut in common purpose, Dolarhyde goes down, collapsing into a bloody final mess.
Will covered in blood, panting from both his injuries and the thrill of the kill examines his hands and remarks on the beautiful moment of giving in he’s just shared with Hannibal. Hannibal takes Will’s extended hand and lifts him up, beaming with pride and joy that he was there to bear witness to Will’s transformation and coming into his own. As the two men clutch each other close and look deep into each other’s eyes, they enjoy the moment, Will ducking his head to bury his face in Hannibal’s chest and hold him close-
And then pushing both him and Hannibal over the cliff’s edge to die in each other’s arms on the rocks below.
If you didn’t know it was a doomed love story before that moment, you sure as heck did then.
But Bryan Fuller wasn’t done with us yet. At the conclusion of the episode credits we cut to a dining room where Dr. du Maurier sits at a table setting in a stunning gown looking a bit frightened or high or both as she stares down the length of the table at the feast of food before her, one dish seeming to be a rather long shank of meat.
Cut to a close up of Dr. du Maurier as the camera slowly tilts down to reveal that rather than two shapely legs under the table, there is only one, a stump where the other should be. We see Dr. du Maurier grab for the fork at her place setting, brandishing it less as a eating utensil and more as a weapon.
And as we pull back to see Dr. du Maurier wait with anxious anticipation for her host (and a guest as there are two additional place settings in addition to her own) it’s then we are released to a final cut to black with the answer to the question of who was about to walk through that door to be forever unanswered. (Unless we get that wrap up feature film- fingers crossed).
Talk about dropping the mic. Bryan Fuller didn’t shy back from going where his interpretation of the Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham lore took him and going all the way. I love him for that. Rather than being afraid to be TOO much, Hannibal not only shined a light on the darkness but walk up to it, dance with it, and give it a big old smooch.
I also loved that it was a show that took it’s time. It took it’s time setting up a story, exploring the beats, setting the mood, characters talking. The pace may not have been everyone’s cup of tea but it worked for what the show was: adult and thoughtful and yes, sometimes pretentious and showy, but never, ever boring.
And finally, I love this show for being unlike anything on television in both execution, style, and thought and did what few shows could do: kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat for all three of its finales and eagerly anticipating just how Fuller would dig himself and the show out of the hole he’d dug in the previous season. While the season three finale leaves us with a whopper of a hole (the dynamic duo’s apparent death by cliff) and you just know that Fuller has an outrageous but acceptable plan on how to continue the story (which he apparently does since he’s gone on record with having a S4 planned and pitched to further explore ‘the most interesting part’ of Will Graham’s journey), leaving things as they are also feels right.
While in other versions of the Graham-Lecter lore, Hannibal has a whole other kind of journey with one Clarice Starling, and poor Will a less glorious fate, in Fuller’s vision the journey begins and ends with Will and Hannibal. Will ultimately coming into his darkness and experiencing the beauty of the kill was something he and the audience both feared and secretly longed for, but Will (and the audience) also knew that if or when that happened he wouldn’t be Will anymore but something else, something that would have to be put down or else forever seeking out that beauty with his dark mate, Hannibal. So Will did the only thing he could do and took action to end the madness before it could go any further, saving himself and his and Hannibal’s future victims by embracing the thing he fought against for so long in the form of Hannibal and accepted all parts of himself to be freed in death.
Seriously, that final scene had all kinds of layers and realizations going on. The entire series had all kinds of dense fantastic layers IN layers going on. Kudos to Bryan Fuller and the cast and crew of Hannibal for creating such a uniquely whimsical macabre, mysterious, suspenseful, dense in a fun way show. It will be sorely missed and I doubt anything of its kind will ever be seen on TV again. Thank the TV gods for DVDs and Amazon Prime.