The following will contain spoilers for all of NBC’s Hannibal. Like, ALL of it.
With Saturday’s episode of Hannibal, “The Wrath of the Lamb,” we were provided with a lot of closure. It was the culmination of the Red Dragon story arc, the third season, and—it would seem—the show as a whole given its cancellation by NBC. Creator Bryan Fuller has already explained how he would have done a Season 4, or will do if the opportunity presents itself. But even if Season 3 proved to be the end of this version of the Hannibal Lecter mythos, audiences—myself very much included—were always going to be craving more.
Season 3 was always, by its very design, going to feel a little disjointed. I already wrote about how I thought the first half, featuring Lecter on the lam in Florence, felt like wheel-spinning, lacking a definite goal and the structure of having murders to solve, even if they’re done by Hannibal Lecter himself. We certainly got some interesting backstory and character flourishes, and it nicely finished up the Mason Verger storyline, but it didn’t feel the same as previous installments. Despite the always-gorgeous cinematography, evocative music, and stellar performances, the first half was lacking drive and the magnetic, central relationship between Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter and Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham.
With the second half being devoted to Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon novel, done through the lens of the TV Hannibal world, it regained some of that procedural charm, as well as a focus: to catch the Tooth Fairy/Red Dragon/Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) by any means necessary, including setting traps that get people hurt or grievously injured. Still, the very nature of this novel, which spends a great deal of time with Dolarhyde and Graham but not much with Lecter, meant that the writers kept having to find ways to bring the titular character back into the story, effectively making “Hannibal the Cannibal” the puppet master directing Dolarhyde’s psychosis.
The finale episode finally brought us back to the Hannibal and Will relationship long at the heart of the series itself. Ever since Will’s conversation with Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) in the penultimate episode—in which she reveals that Hannibal is probably in love with Will, whatever that might mean for someone like Hannibal—and posing the question that Will might reciprocate in some awful way, we’ve wondered how exactly that is going to manifest. Remember, in the Red Dragon novel, Hannibal is never let out of the mental hospital; the showdown between Dolarhyde and Graham is completely one on one, with Will’s family around for good measure.
Will’s wife Molly (Nina Arianda) and adopted son don’t even make an appearance in “The Wrath of the Lamb,” nor does Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), who in many ways felt like the co-lead of this season, do much more than set the wheels of the final act in motion. We’re focused so entirely on this inevitable re-teaming of Hannibal and Will—which is great—but we don’t have much time to revel in it.
The plan—staging a fake escape by Hannibal only to lure Dolarhyde to them and hopefully kill both—seemed so ludicrous that it’s really no wonder it failed so profoundly. Dolarhyde truly just becomes the monster of the final act; he is just “The Dragon” after he fakes his death in front of Reba (Rutina Wesley). But this allows for the strange, messed-up collaboration between Will and Hannibal that both men seemingly wanted in Season 2, but Will was not yet ready to accept. They get hurt beyond measure by the Dragon (Will even takes a knife to the face and keeps ticking), but they’re able to kill him together, through stabs, ax-hits, a disemboweling, and a final throat bite from Dr. Lecter. It’s the brutal, bloody, yet (in this case) righteous act of retribution both of our leads were hoping to do together for awhile, even if subconsciously.
This is the closest the show gets to a sex scene for Will and Hannibal. Their “love” is not sexual, but deeply primal and horrifyingly violent. Together they can kill and feel great about it, but while Hannibal revels in it, momentarily, Will is disturbed at how much he enjoyed it, leading to that final shot of him embracing Hannibal and tossing the pair of them over the cliff. Hannibal can’t live, but now neither can Will, either because he’s actualized the darkness inside of him, or he just can’t bear to be in a world without this man who’s been such a huge part of his life.
It’s exactly this that gave me televisual blue balls. This season needed more of THAT, more of Will either embracing his darkness or running from it, and less being cold and distant but still wanting to catch the Great Red Dragon. And in some ways, even with the season being split up the way it did, it seems like nothing was as powerful or as interesting as those last few scenes. Part of me hopes the show doesn’t come back, because there’s no way that relationship could be maintained, I just would have loved to see more of it throughout the rest of the season. I’m hungry: not for the future of Hannibal, but for the past that might have been.
Image Credit: NBC