In its third season, Hannibal has taken on the task of adapting Thomas Harris's four Hannibal Lecter novels much more freely.
Season three's general setup resembles that of the novel (and subsequent film) Hannibal, in which Lecter eventually disappears to Europe with Clarice Starling, the hero of The Silence of the Lambs. (Early in the novel, Clarice also leads the pursuit of Hannibal, a role that is being fulfilled in this season by Will.)
However, showrunner Bryan Fuller and his writers have reimagined this setup by turning Hannibal's former therapist Bedelia into his co-conspirator and underlining the true horror of her life in his captivity. Where Harris saw a kind of romanticism in Clarice and Hannibal's escape, Fuller and company can only see the grueling terror Bedelia is forced to endure, day after day.
That said, this season is also adapting elements of Hannibal Rising, Harris's fourth Hannibal novel, which serves as a prequel and origin story for the character. Since that's the least popular novel in the series and by far the least seen movie about the character, some fans may wonder, politely, just what the fuck is going on in "Secondo," the third episode of season three. Even for Hannibal, it's particularly stuffed with allusions, half-murmured thoughts, and brief nods toward books many viewers won't have read.
But, really, there are only five major things you need to know.
1) Chiyoh, the Japanese woman Will encounters at Hannibal's ancestral home, is a stand-in for a character from the books
Technically, Chiyoh (played here by Tao Okamoto) appears in Hannibal Rising, but she's much less important than a character named Lady Murasaki, Hannibal's aunt who schools the young, budding serial killer in the art of samurai combat. (Seriously, this is a thing that happens.)
As several episodes of Hannibal have shown us, our title character knows his way around a fight. Murasaki provides a ready-made way for the show to tackle the question of how this debonair sophisticate could possibly be so skilled in hand-to-hand combat. There's just one problem: she's older than Hannibal and trains him in his youth, so adding her to the show as an active force at this point would make her an elderly woman. And while that would be interesting, it would make her much less credible as a potential force to fight back against her former protégé.
In the book, Chiyoh works for Murasaki. And while Okamoto is younger than is wholly believable to play someone from Hannibal's past (given that she's just barely 30 and he hasn't been an active presence in Europe in decades), she's much more credible as someone who could potentially ally with Will than Murasaki might have been. You can read Fuller talk more about adapting the character for TV here.
Also, she makes a really cool entrance when she wanders out into the woods at night with a gun, seemingly stalking Will.
2) In the books, Hannibal's sister was eaten by Nazis
A major early section of Hannibal Rising involves the character's sister, Mischa, being eaten by Nazis. Younger than Hannibal, Mischa is intended to represent the goodness and light that disappeared from Hannibal's life after her death, and the bulk of the novel is focused on the young killer stalking the men who ate his sister all across the continent, murdering and eating them himself.
The show has only very slightly referred to Mischa here and there, with the reference to her in "Secondo" (when Bedelia theorizes that Hannibal may have eaten his sister) being the most prominent so far. But the show seems unlikely to directly adapt Mischa being eaten for a couple of reasons.
The first is that Fuller doesn't much like the "cannibal Nazis created Hannibal Lecter" psychology that Hannibal Rising suggests. As he said during his recent interview with me:
I didn't want to over-explain why he became a cannibal and suggest that his nature is as a result of Nazis eating his sister, which feels like a demystification of the character. For us, it was about suggesting certain things in his past that may have complicated who he is but did not inform who he is. He is and always has been Hannibal, but he is not invulnerable to pain and loss.
So that explains how the show is using this part of Hannibal's life. Mischa existed. He lost her (though not to Nazi cannibals). He felt tremendous grief over the loss. But it did not make him the man he is today.
The other practical reason the show may be obscuring what happened is that Mischa's death in the book is specifically positioned as taking place in the crumbling Lithuania that existed at the end of and immediately after World War II. The deserters who eat her are desperate for food, and a young child is the best they can do.
Needless to say, it would be impossible to sell Mads Mikkelsen as someone old enough to remember World War II, so if the show directly adapts this plot line, it will likely shift it to another historical period.
3) Jack Crawford's survival isn't all that shocking
The show is slowly filling in the gaps of what happened in the brutal season two finale. Last week, "Primavera" revealed that Will lived and Abigail died; this week, "Secondo" revealed that Jack Crawford survived.
This might seem impressive, as Hannibal stabbed Jack in the neck, and the wound looked very serious. But the character arrives in Florence in "Secondo," then has a few chats with Pazzi. (If Laurence Fishburne's presence seems at all reduced this season, it may be because he's also a semi-regular on the enjoyable ABC sitcom Black-ish.)
What Jack is protected by is something much, much stronger than medical science: he's protected by continuity. Though Fuller is creating what he's frequently called a "DJ mashup" of Harris's novels, he does still adhere to certain details from them. And Jack Crawford is very much alive as of Red Dragon, the first Hannibal novel Harris ever wrote (and the second in the story's timeline, after Hannibal Rising). So his survival seems a bit unsurprising.
4) We don't know the identity of the man Hannibal locked up
Chiyoh only has Hannibal's word to take on the man being a horrible, horrible murderer who ate Mischa, and when the prisoner is set free, he doesn't seem all that interested in leaving the grand Lithuanian estate, choosing instead to return and wreak havoc.
But really, the man represents nothing more than Will Graham, as so many of the series' murderers have. Having been locked up by Hannibal and having become the ward of Chiyoh for reasons even she doesn't fully understand, the man perfectly represents the way that Will is unable to break free of the hold Hannibal has on him, even though Will hasn't seen Hannibal in months and months. This is what Hannibal Lecter does; he imprisons people with his words, and eventually, once he's done toying with them, he kills them.
However, I don't know why Will ultimately kills the prisoner and transforms him into an elaborate tableau. That seems like something that will resurface in a future episode.
5) We also don't know why Hannibal can't go back to Lithuania
It's possible he's wanted for crimes there, but he's also wanted for crimes in Florence, and that doesn't appear to be stopping him from traveling freely through Italy.
The more likely answer, given the series' psychological bent, is that Hannibal won't return to Lithuania because he doesn't want to face the horrible things that happened to him there. Therefore, if I were to bet on where season three's climactic showdown will take place, I would put very good money on Lithuania.