NBC's Hannibal has always been the story of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, of an emotional, bruised friendship between the devil and a good man. The two are soul mates — not in the romantic sense, but in the sense that they will always, somehow, find solace in each other. Thus, it's fitting that they continue to be drawn together, even after Hannibal left Will bleeding out on his kitchen floor and ran off to Italy.
In "Primavera," the second episode of the third season, their connection is tested in haunting ways. Each man is nursing a grudge — Hannibal for Will trying to capture him; Will for Hannibal, well, trying to kill him — but they can't stay apart for long. They'll always return to each other, until one of them is dead (and, honestly, maybe even after that).
It's that codependency that can make Hannibal a tough watch for some. At a recent panel discussion centered on the show, showrunner Bryan Fuller said that season three focuses on the aftermath of what is essentially a bad breakup, and "Primavera" displays that perfectly.
After all, in the hour's waning moments, Will whispers to an unseen Hannibal that he forgives the man who would have murdered him. What else is he going to do? The pairing of the two men is inevitable, on some level.
A game of cat and mouse
Season three's major conceit is that Hannibal is on the lam in Italy, not really knowing how many of the four people he left to die in his Baltimore home survived the carnage of the season two finale. (The show's opening credits would suggest "most of them.") He's joined on this European adventure by his therapist, Bedelia; like so many others, she became ensnared by Hannibal simply by once encountering him long ago.
In "Primavera's" terrific final act, Will — having flown to Italy to investigate a murder — realizes that Hannibal (whom he suspects of being the culprit) is still lurking in the church where the body was found. Indeed, he's descended into the building's catacombs.
Hannibal has always suggested that its title character is the devil, but it's now starting to do so with greater and greater frequency. After all, the season-three premiere featured a lengthy discussion of Dante's Inferno that also contained this shot:
This second episode strengthens the link by suggesting that Will can only find Hannibal by going underground — the usual domain of Satan.
What's more, Hannibal's ability to stay just a few steps ahead of Will and the Italian detective Pazzi (a character from the novel Hannibal who's been transplanted to an earlier point in the story's timeline for the TV show) seems all but supernaturally inspired. But the series has always played the character both ways simultaneously: he's really good at what he does, or he's a man who literally possesses demonic powers. Or both.
The game of cat and mouse continues for a full act, and as it transpires, it nurtures a dull, building sense of nausea. For one thing, Hannibal's sets for the catacombs are really claustrophobic. For another, director Vincenzo Natali structures the chase so that Hannibal could leap out at Will at any moment.
But there's one more element driving that queasy, foreboding feeling: you want Will to find Hannibal. You want the two of them to be reunited, to follow whatever's happening between them to its finish. It's a desire Fuller doesn't fulfill — yet.
The catacombs were just one set
Fuller revealed during the aforementioned panel discussion that all of Hannibal's catacomb scenes were filmed on exactly one set that production used over and over, to suggest Will stalking Hannibal, Hannibal stalking Will, and Pazzi seeming in over his head. Fuller was worried this would be obvious to viewers, but it isn't, really. Instead, the repeated use of the same set only contributes to the scenes' shared claustrophobia.
Natali keeps his camera close, so that we can't see as well as we'd like. That's practical — seeing around those corners might reveal how small the set really is — but it adds to the nightmare all the same.
Will's pursuit of his old friend becomes almost manic, as if he wants Hannibal to lunge out and finally end his life. Throughout the episode, Will has been accompanied by Abigail Hobbs, a young woman he saved from her murderous father in the series' first episode, only to find her caught between the influence of himself and of Hannibal. It seems obvious that she's long dead, but the episode holds on this beat for long enough that we start to entertain the notion she might not be.
She tags along with him to Italy, but only so he can finally make peace with the fact that she died on that long, gruesome night so many months ago. Whereas Will was saved, she bled out on the floor.
Fuller suggests that the moment when the priest in the church acknowledges Abigail's presence is meant to indicate both that she's a hallucination of Will's and a ghost. She can simultaneously offer him comfort — and remind him of those he failed to save.
The series experiments with this kind of duality a lot. Everything has more than one meaning, even within the series' weird, symbolic milieu. Hannibal is both a great friend and a minion of Satan. Will is both the best criminal profiler in the field and someone who's teetering on the brink of giving in to his own sociopathic tendencies. Good and evil exist concurrently even within Satan himself.
In the famous Hero's Journey, there's usually at least one descent into the underworld where the hero confronts his worst possible fate. For Will, his whole life must seem like one long trek through Satan's playground, but this visit to the catacombs is perhaps his most literal visit yet. He's also, slowly but surely, being cut adrift from everything that's not his relationship with Hannibal, from his imaginary Abigail to his entire support network back in the US.
That's okay, though. If he's going to catch a killer, he's going to have to cling as hard as he can to that connection, tug at it until he can navigate back to the surface. Hannibal has trapped Will in a literal, walking nightmare, and only Will can find his way out. Doing so will inevitably pull the two of them back together, but Will is ready for that. He knows it's coming. He might even welcome it.
Will, of all people, knows one big thing: you don't need to go looking for Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal Lecter is always there.
Hannibal airs Thursdays at 10 pm Eastern on NBC. Previous seasons are available to stream on Amazon Prime.