Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hannibal - Aperitivo


This was Hannibal's weakest hour in a long time. I could even make the case for Aperitivo being the show's weakest ever episode. I'm not entirely sure what it was specifically that made this episode feel lacking, but I know it has to do with this season's treatment of narrative. Or, more accurately, its treatment of narrative momentum. After that explosive season two finale (still Hannibal's greatest hour) it was both obvious and essential that the show's third season had to slow the pace down to begin with; it couldn't keep up that speed for an entire season, Hannibal just isn't that variety of show. Whilst the first three episodes made solid cases of catching us up with specific characters (Antipasto dealt with Hannibal and Bedelia, Primavera dealt with Will, and Secondo dealt with a combination of the two), this week's fourth episode threw everyone back into the mixing bowl bar Hannibal himself, but without any momentum.  Whilst the opening three episodes benefited from a tight focus on few characters, Aperitivo felt muddled and, dare I say it, almost dull.

That's not to say it was a bad episode, it acts as a testament to this show's relentless strength that what I've labelled its weakest episode is sitting on a solid 7.0 grade, but it just felt categorically weaker than anything this show has done since the opening half of its first season. What Aperitivo did have, though, was a strong theme uniting its sudden load of characters. The first three episodes discussed forgiveness a great deal, but only really in respect to Hannibal and Will, so it was empowering to see how the idea of forgiveness is treated across a wider spectrum. The darker, colder Alana Bloom made her first season three appearance here, and is clearly leaning towards the revenge tactics of Mason Verger, now complete with skin graft surgery after Hannibal convinced him to eat his own face in last season's excellent Tome-wan. This episode also gave us that stunning opening sequence of Dr. Chilton's shooting by Miriam Lass in last season's equally as excellent Yakimono; when most shows resort to slow motion it feels cheap and tacky, but once again Hannibal turns the mundane into magic.

The biggest problem I had with this week's episode was its refusal to move the narrative in the right direction. So far season three has gone backwards in time, as well as sideways (playing stories out simultaneously over different episodes) and even into places where time no longer exists (Will's mind palace, for example). But it seems to be refusing to move us forward. This was also present in the show's first three episodes, but they powered through the lack of forward momentum thanks to their tight character focus and small environments; all three episodes prior to this were riddled with a darkened sense of claustrophobia. By widening the character range, the thematic focus loosened a touch here, so when these slightly lessened themes are layered on top of an episode that refuses to go forwards, it winds up a challenging hour to sit through. There are some people so in love with this environment and this world that they don't need a story to adore each episode. I was one of those people back in season two, a run of episodes I would contently label one of the best television seasons I've ever seen, but I need season three to develop a story. If it doesn't any time soon, these next few episodes could start to slumber.

What this episode actually does best, in a slightly ironic sense, is heighten just how strong the rest of this show is. Episodes one to three of this season also refused to advance the narrative, but remained highly compelling pieces of television, bolstered by stunning visual designs and sturdy themes and character work. Had this episode tightened its thematic focus and maybe cut one character out, Aperitivo could've been at the same standard as the three episodes that preceded it. Again, this wasn't an actively bad episode, but I can safely say it's the first time this programme has been on the verge of boring me; the pieces of the teacup didn't cone together properly this time around. The show was always going to struggle to live up its second year, should it get picked up by another network I would be genuinely shocked if any future season even came close, but that doesn't matter. Hannibal is an excellent show, there's no doubting that, and it would be a miracle for any show to reach the second quarter of its third season without having a minor bump somewhere along the way. Hopefully Aperitivo will be Hannibal's bump.

Notes - 

  • I think I'm confidently labeling this the show's weakest episode. When I rate each episode out of ten on IMDb after first viewing this was the first one I've awarded anything below an 8. 
  • I didn't have room to talk about Jack much here, whose scenes actually became the most interesting in the episode. Bella's death was an obvious but upsetting direction for the show to take, and first time Hannibal director Marc Jobst framed that church scene beautifully. 
  • In a show filled with risks and surprises, I was somehow surprised by the risk of having yet another episode to not feature Hannibal besides one shot. I'm not sure it worked this time though. My favourite elements of this season have all taken place with the man himself. 
  • And Bedelia, of course. She's great.
  • "I've always enjoyed the word 'defenestration'. Now I get to use it in casual conversation". Oh, Alana. 
  • I'm not sure who was scarier; Chilton or Mason. 
Next - Contorno

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