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Hannibal season 3, episode 7: 9 ways the series reclaimed the title of TV's most messed-up show

Hannibal Lecter finally gets his hero shot.
Hannibal Lecter finally gets his hero shot.
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.

I honestly don't know if I can summarize my feelings on "Digestivo," the seventh episode of Hannibal's third season, any better than TV critic Libby Hill, with whom I share a television and marriage license (in rough order of importance) did on Twitter, after we finished watching the episode. So I'll let her start this off.

What Hill says holds a lot of merit. There can be a lot of value in delaying audience gratification; when done exquisitely well, it can be among the greatest elements in of all fiction. But it's so, so hard to do well, and I'd say the first five episodes of Hannibal's third season missed the mark more often than episodes of the show typically do, and because of that delay.

But in "Dolce" (the sixth episode, which I didn't write about) and "Digestivo," Hannibal isn't just back on track and giving the audience what it wants. It has brutally reclaimed the title of TV's most "holy shit, did you see that!" show from previous contender for the throne, Fortitude. And Fortitude involved people cutting other people open and throwing up in their abdominal cavities, so Hannibal must be upping its game.

Let's look at nine ways Hannibal kicked it into high gear and once again became TV's most beautiful celebration of all that is crazycakes bananapants in this world.

1) A pig was pregnant with a human fetus

Pregnant piggies on Hannibal.

Complete with a pig-themed mobile, no less.


I should probably start by discussing the tortured, beautiful, deeply emotional relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, but I just can't.

Did you see that pig? Did you see that it was pregnant with the incestuous spawn of Mason and Margot Verger? All cooked up in a test tube in one of Mason's whacked-out experiments?

Have you ever seen anything like that on TV before? I certainly haven't. Mercifully for the child, it was stillborn, and thus will not grow up with the specter of the knowledge of either its monstrous conception or gestation just looming in the ether, waiting to be discovered.

And now I'm going to repeat that a pig was pregnant with a human fetus and leave you to think about that.

The ultrasound for the pregnant pig on Hannibal.

At the outer limits of mad science. (Shudder.)


2) Hannibal got to be the hero — for a little while

Hannibal is the hero.

Hannibal gets to play the hero, but nobody throws him a ticker tape parade.


One of the reasons "Digestivo" is season three's best episode so far is that it eschews Hannibal's dream logic in favor of very straightforward plotting, mostly involving the question of how Will is going to escape the latest awful predicament he's ended up in — in this case, imprisonment at the hands of Mason Verger, who plans to take his face and wear it while he devours Hannibal piece by piece. (We'll get to how ridiculous and funny this is in a moment.)

The only way to save Will, at least from Alana's perspective, is to unleash Hannibal as a sort of cyclone of vengeance upon Will's captor. In this moment, Hannibal enjoys an incredibly badass hero shot, of all things:

Hannibal is the hero!

Where have all the good men gone, and where are all the gods?


Hannibal, arriving in the nick of time, alters Mason's plan by separating Cordell's face from his head and forcing Mason to wear that, instead; Hannibal then absconds with Will, carrying him across the snowy wastes like a knight rescuing the damsel in distress. I'll discuss this episode's incredibly fun gender inversions below, but this shot speaks for itself:

Hannibal carries Will through the snow.

The serial killer, reimagined as knight in shining armor.


3) Also, Hannibal was briefly imprisoned like a pig

Hannibal becomes an imprisoned pig. Really.

Just another pig, all locked up tight.


I mean ...

4) Mason was killed by an eel

The eel swims in Mason's room.

Only the rarest of TV shows will dissolve to a shot of an eel.


One of the remarkable things about "Digestivo" is how often it places women in positions of power. Hannibal has a ... spotty record with its female characters, so it's terrific fun to see them turning the tables early and often in this episode. At various points, every single one of the hour's three major female players — Alana, Margot, and Chiyoh — is put in the position of determining a man's fate, and they make very different decisions based on whom they're choosing to save or kill.

In the case of Mason Verger, it doesn't take Alana and Margot very long to decide that he should die via the eel that lives in the pool beneath his bedroom. The eel obliges by swimming directly into Mason's mouth.

An eel swims in Mason's mouth.

Has this ever happened on Nashville? Probably not!


Somehow, this is not the most fucked-up event that occurs in "Digestivo." (In case you've forgotten, allow me to remind you of the pig with the human fetus inside it.)

5) It was so, so, so, so funny

Hannibal and Will arrive at Muskrat farm.

Hannibal and Will have dropped in for some good times and a few laughs.


It's easy to forget that a show this dark and hypnotic can also be incredibly funny, but both "Dolce" and "Digestivo" have upped the season's humor quotient substantially. Every situation Hannibal's characters find themselves in is inherently ridiculous, and the show is all the better when those characters realize how crazy things have gotten.

Season three's first five episodes sometimes lost sight of this idea, but episodes six and seven returned Hannibal to its darkly funny roots. Some of that is due to the fact that the show's most potent pairings — Hannibal and Will, Will and Jack, Will and Alana — were front and center. But some of it is the result of the characters being deeply aware of just how goofy it would be if they perished in the manners Mason had prepared for them.

And that humor really works as a pressure release valve for some of season three's stranger conceits. Hannibal's dream logic is most successful when it feels grounded in somethingas I argued a couple of weeks ago — and humor is one of the best ways to maintain that grounded feeling. After all, what do humans do when they find themselves in horrible situations? They either collapse or they crack jokes — or sometimes both. The jokes in these last two episodes sizzle because they remind us of the characters' essential humanity.

6) Chiyoh is apparently able to go anywhere she wants with a sniper rifle

Chiyoh and her trusty sniper rifle on Hannibal.

What situation can't be improved with a sniper rifle at the ready?


So much of "Digestivo" involves Chiyoh appearing as if from out of nowhere to solve a particularly nasty plot problem by shooting someone. This should seem completely implausible, but writers Bryan Fuller and Steve Lightfoot, as well as director Adam Kane, so effectively remove her from the board in each instance that we're allowed to spend some time worrying for the safety of the characters before Chiyoh shows up as a sniper ex machina.

7) Hannibal seemed really pleased by Mason's plans for him

Hannibal smirks.

Hannibal Lecter: weirdly psyched to be somebody's dinner, seemingly.


If Hannibal Lecter is going to die, well, dammit, he'd like to die as deliciously as possible. Mads Mikkelsen's little smiles throughout this episode are delightful, as if he's contemplating the thought of how Hannibal might taste to those with a discerning palate.

8) The ultimate capture of Hannibal Lecter was monstrous

Hannibal is captured.

Hannibal just wants u 2 know where he is, Will.


Those who pay attention to episode titles have known for a while that episode eight — which airs next week — marks a shift away from Hannibal's usual "one course of a meal" title format to quotes from William Blake's poetry. Fans of the Thomas Harris novels the characters originated in will likely note, then, the show's clear nod to Red Dragon, the very first novel Hannibal Lecter appeared in, and where our story is headed next.

Thus, it's no great surprise that Hannibal has been taken into custody by Jack Crawford. It's been coming for a long, long time. But Fuller and Lightfoot found a way to make the method of Hannibal's capture both unexpected and devastating. See, Will possibly could have taken down his tormentor and friend, but he ultimately didn't. Over the course of his ordeal, Will has come to realize that he's finally, totally over Hannibal. He doesn't want Hannibal as a friend or lover or confidante or even psychotherapist. He just wants Hannibal gone.

So instead of leaving, Hannibal surrenders to Jack, that he might always be where Will can find him, in times of need and times of struggle. It's a moment both triumphant — here is the devil himself going to jail! — and utterly, utterly defeating, because Hannibal wants to remain a tempter and tormentor for his favorite tortured soul.

Hannibal has teetered horribly on the edge of making its title character its protagonist in season three. (The show is at its best when Will is at its center and when it doesn't seem too enamored of Hannibal's philosophy.) But in this moment, the show hit on a way to stay true to the methods in its madness, while still giving Jack a hard-earned victory.

Bring on the Red Dragon.

9) Despite all of that, Hannibal might be over and done with

Mason Verger loses his face on Hannibal.

That's how we feel about it, too, Mason!


NBC has moved Hannibal to Saturdays. The show's ratings remain awful. The actors' contracts have expired. Netflix and Amazon have passed on saving it (though Fuller said at Comic-Con that Amazon would have picked it up if season four could've gone into production sooner than anyone was prepared to go into production). Officially, there's still a chance someone else will step in, but the writing is very much on the wall — for now, at least. (There's no reason to believe that Hannibal can't be revived a few years from now as a movie or even a TV miniseries, but that's still "a few years from now.")

And yet both "Dolce" and "Digestivo" are as good a one-two punch as the show has ever thrown. They are, in and of themselves, perfect arguments for why Hannibal should have the opportunity to continue while its creative personnel are still living inside its headspace.

Once season three concludes, any possible extension of Hannibal probably wouldn't land in front of our eyeballs before 2017, but somebody, somewhere, needs to watch these two episodes and figure out how to make something happen. That's the only inescapable conclusion "Digestivo" offers — Hannibal now; Hannibal forever.

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