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Hannibal season 3, episode 4: 23 moments that show why this series must be saved

Will (Hugh Dancy) and Jack (Laurence Fishburne) come together for a very sad occasion on Hannibal.
Will (Hugh Dancy) and Jack (Laurence Fishburne) come together for a very sad occasion on Hannibal.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

It's a tough time to be a Hannibal fan. On Monday, NBC canceled the show with 10 episodes remaining in its third season (though all of these episodes will air), and it's not difficult to understand why. The show's ratings, already low, have ticked down toward the positively anemic. And season three's early episodes have been met with frustration by some fans, who wonder why the series' already slow pacing has become positively languorous.

There's hope on the horizon, however. Series creator and showrunner Bryan Fuller has been making the press rounds to discuss the prospect of Hannibal living on at another outlet. (Amazon Prime seems the most likely option, though there are a few others in the running.) And season three's fourth episode, "Aperitivo" — while not likely to squelch rumblings that the plot is moving too slowly — is a vintage hour of Hannibal, beautiful and stately and filled with poignant meaning (and dark, dark jokes).

In that spirit, let's take a look at 23 moments from "Aperitivo" that perfectly display why somebody — anybody! — needs to save this show.

1) The episode unfolds as a series of duets

The most striking element of "Aperitivo" is its structure. Each segment of the episode follows one person who has survived Hannibal Lecter's psychopathic tendencies, beginning with Mason Verger, then moving on to Will, Alana, and Jack. The final segment starts bringing the characters together, finally sending Will on his way to Italy, where he was hot on Hannibal's trail in the season's second episode.

Thus, "Aperitivo" is an episode that mostly deals with information we already know (except for the matter of Alana's survival) and could've easily struggled to take flight. Instead, the writers structured it as a collection of two-person scenes that are often deeply emotional and that fill in the psychological states of everybody on the show. It's a brilliant technique, and it allows for the season's richest episode so far.

Fuller has said he wants to earn the moment when Will and Hannibal finally see each other again. "Aperitivo" has gone a long way toward achieving that goal.

2) Chilton and Mason reveal their true faces to one another

Mason takes off his face on Hannibal.

Mason Verger presents Face/Off.


Chilton took a bullet to the face and somehow survived. Mason Verger fed his face to some dogs at Hannibal's behest. Both men have good reason to want Dr. Lecter dead, and the sequence where they finally unveil their true selves is an electrifying way to open the episode.

3) "Going to and fro in the Earth and walking up and down in it"

Mason, who's recently rededicated himself to Christianity (or so he says; after all, he's still trying to find and kill Hannibal), uses this turn of phrase to describe Hannibal's current whereabouts. It's all too appropriate. This is what Satan tells God he's been up to in the biblical book of Job.

4) The episode deals with the trauma of the second season finale

Season three keeps circling back to the bloody violence of the season two finale, one of the most shocking and brutal episodes of television ever. This is especially fitting, as the characters would not yet have moved on from such distressing events.

One reason Hannibal is different from so many other crime shows is that it truly digs into the psychological after-effects of witnessing all of that brutal, violent death. By returning to that terrible night over and over again, the third season is also exploring the weight of trauma, and the way it comes to be one of the few things the mind can think about in its wake.

5) Chilton visits Will's bedside

One of the questions left over from that second episode was just who visited Will's hospital bed, if Abigail Hobbs was dead. The answer? Dr. Frederick Chilton, director of a mental hospital for the criminally insane, survivor of a gunshot, and the man once accused of Hannibal's crimes. (Lots of people have been accused of Hannibal's crimes.) The scene plays out as a haunting recreation of the Abigail scene in episode two. Will's mind hasn't been put back together quite right. So can we even trust him?

6) The episode is filled with half-faces

A half-shadowed, half-lit face is a classic way to suggest that someone is stuck in a moral quandary, caught between good and evil. And this episode is full of such faces, as well as some more literal half-faces.

Mason's half face on Hannibal

Whether Mason ...


Chilton has a half face on Hannibal.

or Chilton ...


Will has a half face on Hannibal

or Will ...


Alana has a half-face on Hannibal.

or Alana, everybody has a half-face.


7) "The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears this is true."

So says Chilton, quoting James Branch Cabell. It's a nice example of the series' dry humor.

8) Check out these lovely stage-like fades

Everything fades out on Hannibal.

The fade nicely captures Will's state of mind.


The world drops out from behind Will, and he is left all alone. Few shows on TV would create moments like this one, which does nothing more than convey a psychological mood via visuals.

9) Will imagines another universe

Will imagines another universe on Hannibal.

There's two Wills! Not again!


Will's vivid fantasy of a night where he sided with Hannibal rather than Jack, and then left his former boss bleeding out in order to run away with a serial killer, feels all too real.

Season three is obsessed with the nature of choice — of who gets to have it, and who lacks it. Will, who made the ultimate choice last season, is still haunted by his alternate self, who seems not so very far away at all.

10) "Because he was my friend, and because I wanted to run away with him"

This, ultimately, is the reason Will can't forgive himself. He'll never understand why he became so tangled up in Hannibal.

11) "I've always enjoyed the word defenestration. Now I get to use it in casual conversation."

Did I mention this was a funny episode? Alana gets this line, referring to being pushed out of a window and now requiring a cane to walk, and it's terrifically, slyly hilarious.

12) Alana's wheelchair entrance is everything that is gorgeous about Hannibal

Alana enters in a wheelchair on Hannibal.

Beautiful lighting; beautiful color scheme.


Alana doesn't stay in her wheelchair for very long, and she soon graduates to a cane. But there's something so perfect about her arrival in it that I had to highlight the scene.

13) Hannibal's feelings for Will are "blackmail elevated to the level of love"

So says Alana, and it's hard to argue that she's wrong. The series' consciously heightened dialogue is so poetic when it comes to describing the overall effect of emotions, and this line is a perfect example.

14) Alana joins forces with the Vergers

Alana goes to visit the Vergers on Hannibal.

Alana is making things happen.


After last season, it seemed as if Mason and Margot Verger might exit the series for a while, but "Aperitivo" brings them back, with Mason plotting his ultimate revenge on Dr. Lecter. Alana's visit to their abode is one of the episode's few scenes replete with color, her red coat (and red lipstick!) and the dull blue sky contrasting with the dark deeds being discussed. In its own way, it's a visual wonder.

15) Alana is apparently Beatrix Kiddo now?


Cue awesome music cue.


At least, that's what the Kill Billstyle music cue over this shot would have you believe.

16) The blood shower results in a flow of percussion

As Jack's blood drip, drip, drips from his body in a flashback, Hannibal composer Brian Reitzell (one of the show's not-so-secret weapons) turns those drips into a series of resonant percussion tones as the score, just like it always does, transitions into the dull chaos inside one of the characters' heads.

17) Jack's phone is replaced by his dying wife's hand

While Jack lay dying in Hannibal's pantry last season, he called upon his wife, Bella, who's long been one of the show's most poignant characters. The flashback to that night transitions neatly to a moment where he's lying in bed, recuperating, his wife's hand occupying the space where only his phone once sat. But there's a difference. This time, Jack swims toward life, while Bella plunges toward death.

18) The episode reminds us that Jack and Bella were one of TV's most functional married couples

Fuller is careful to ensure that Hannibal's grimness never becomes total and all-encompassing; in particular, Jack and Bella's relationship before her death was one of the series' finest assets. Her terminal cancer always granted their story a dark sense of fate, but seeing the two together one last time gave "Aperitivo" a great deal of its emotional heft.

19) "The catchphrase is a trademark and protected as a form of property"

And even in the midst of all of this tragedy and loss, there are good jokes: Chilton made sure to register the term "Hannibal the Cannibal," in case there's a quick buck to be made.

20) In the wake of tragedy, everybody becomes a ghost — even the living

Jack is very briefly "visited" by a vision of Bella after her death, and he remembers how much he loved seeing her in white. But when she's revealed to be Alana, asking him what gown to bury Bella in, the episode's true theme hits home.

On Hannibal, ghosts don't exist to haunt the living; they exist as a reminder that the living themselves are already ghosts, walking through a world filled with unfinished business that will never be resolved.

21) Hannibal sends Jack flowers in sympathy

Hannibal sends flowers.

Hannibal is all about proper etiquette.


Look, he's always had impeccable manners. (The poem Hannibal sends is by John Donne.)

22) "I'm all ears. They've just been redistributed."

Even with half his face missing, Mason is quite the comedian.

23) Will sails to Europe. Sure.

Will sails the Atlantic on Hannibal.

With the ghost of Abigail Hobbs to sing Christopher Cross covers.


And, okay, "Aperitivo" isn't completely taken up with poignant examinations of loss. We find out that Will is en route to Italy via sailboat — a lovely, romantic image, even if it doesn't really make any sense. See you next time, Will!

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