“I hope my prayers escaped, flown from here to the open sky and god.”
– Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi, a Pazzi of the Pazzi
Framing is an essential aspect to art. By defining the borders of an image, an artist provides a context, telling the audience what is important and guiding our experience. It is an elegant practice, and a violent one, but essential for communication. With framing, Hannibal Lecter turned murder into a human origami valentine, Will Graham turned a tragedy into denial, and showrunner Bryan Fuller turned the sublime final moments of last season’s finale into abject torture.
The opening of “Primavera” – an episode about the brutality of framing – is the final scene from “Mizumono” replayed exactly as first shown with one key difference. Rather than the beautiful and eerie droning of Bach’s Goldberg Variations slowed down by a factor of sixty that gave the finale a romantic undertone, Will Graham’s gutting and Abigail Hobbs’s evisceration is scored with abstract, atonal terror. Lines of dialogue that once evoked tears become bone chilling, the rhythm of the music making the cutting and the blood seem much sharper and more jagged.
The scene again leaves us observing Will Graham watch his ravenstag take its last breaths, but instead of fading to black, we linger a bit longer. A river of blood consumes Will and Abigail, and we see our hero fall through darkness. Thanks to the application of Brian Reitzel’s expert sound design and the show’s signature restraint, Hannibal showed us a single teacup shattering once, but in two completely separate ways.
It’s a metaphor made visual, as Will’s fall turns to the familiar shot of Hannibal’s teacup shattering and then reassembling in the image of the victim’s own face. He survived, and in some way, so did Abigail.
Curating the gallery of his own eight month recovery, Will Graham has framed his life with denial. Invoking a multiverse theory-ish motto of anything that can happen will happen, he has kept Abigail alive in his mind as a survivor in the possible world where Hannibal expertly cut her so that she wouldn’t die. Will believes it and, for the first half of the episode, so does the camera and script.
Thanks to Hannibal’s trademark use of unreliable narrator, we are made to accept Abigail’s survival just long enough for it to hurt even more when she’s taken away from us for a final time. The realization, that Abigail died eight months prior to Will’s Eurotrip, feels like Hannibal Lecter himself sticking his linoleum knife into our bowels and dragging the blade over and up.
Abigail’s second death is punctuated with one of the show’s most heartbreaking scenes. Act four opens with a montage, juxtaposing Will’s treatment at the hospital with Abigail’s autopsy and funeral dressing. Again, the music here is perfect, Gabriel Faure’s Requiem – a piece that’s been used a few times in Hannibal and always to great emotional effect.
Characters in this show are incredibly difficult to kill, and unless a big dramatic set piece is made of their corpse, you can never tell who’s still left on the roster of the living. Traditionally, Hannibal is the one to say goodbye in this manner, but I get the impression that his artworking, like his appetite, only applies to what he perceives as lesser beings. Abbigail was Lecter’s daughter with Will in their own memory palace, and her death, like his own, will not involve some kind of bold artistic statement.
And at the same time, the shots of Abbigail’s postmortem preparations – the stitching together of her orifices – are framed to look like art themselves. While Hannibal did not put her on display, or do much more than reopen the critical wound he once held closed with his own steady hand, he did make the master stroke of killing his daughter in a moment of heartbreak, using her as a tool to make a sweeping statement about love and forgiveness. It’s like ripping a painting in anger only to realize that even the remains are beautiful – This is how Hannibal says goodbye to its primary characters.
An early tell that Abigail is only alive in Will’s brain is during the introduction of Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino) – chief inspector of the Questura in Florence and my favourite character for the Thomas Harris source material. After an initial conversation with Pazzi on the bench in the police office, Will descends the foyer steps to approach Abigail only to encounter the inspector one more time. As soon as Graham and Pazzi begin to speak again, after a knowing glance with Will, Abigail slips out the door.
It is important, too, that Pazzi can affect the frame, because the commendatore shares Will’s gift. He too, has a way of knowing killers like Hannibal, and he’s on Will’s case for always being near Lecter’s murders. Which is lucky for Will, because a lesser mind would have put Graham at the top of the suspect list. Pazzi though, thanks to his gift and having encountered Dr. Lecter 20 years ago, understands how Hannibal is able to frame his art so that the authorship is obscured.
Fortunato Cerlino stands out in this episode as the anchor, keeping the turbulent emotion and misdirection grounded in reality and noir intrigue. As Pazzi he provides context to the episode’s double meaning of a title, telling Will how he first observed Hannibal while looking for a break in the Il Mostro case. 20 years ago, a theatrical serial killer was positioning the bodies of his victims like the subjects in paintings, and a tableau reenactment of Botticelli’s Primivera was the one that brought Pazzi to his conclusion.
Here we see the practical use of framing, or at least the critical knowledge of how to understand it. Il Mostro’s crime scene is not a recreation of the full painting (which would have required dozens of bodies), but is a tribute to a mere fragment of the Botticelli. The Pazzi of the past, staring at the actual work of art as a young Hannibal sketches it, is able to reframe the painting and turn it into the key to knowing Lecter.
Sadly for everyone involved except the viewing audience, Hannibal doesn’t leave evidence (he eats it), and so after some policing gone desperately awry, Pazzi was left unfulfilled. When he sees the human origami that Hannibal left for Will (and Will alone), he sees Il Mostro. He knows, just like Will used to know. Of course, there is no doubt in Will’s mind that Hannibal is responsible for the heart on top of the skull he chose for his mind palace, but his empathy trick isn’t working the way it used to.
Pazzi hands Will photos of Hannibal’s installation, but instead of the usual metronomic effect he used before getting that creepy scar on his belly, Graham just fades into his mind’s recreation. He knows Hannibal so well that he doesn’t need to guess the motive, but when he gets too close, the abomination unfolds and turns into some sort of Cronenberg-ian antlered monstrosity.
Will crumples in anxiety at this encounter, but is aware of at least one thing: Hannibal is still in the building.
Pazzi and Will search the catacombs, each framing his own narrative. Pazzi, gun drawn, is looking for glory and justice. Will, unarmed and twitchy, is looking for the only person he’s ever truly understood. Neither man finds what he is looking for underground, and even though Will shows his companion nothing but animosity, he takes a page out of Pazzi’s book.
Alone in the dark, underneath the ancient structure that serves as the model for Hannibal’s mind, Will gives in. He offers up the prayer of a teacup, once shattered, that has learned to put itself back together:
“I forgive you.”
This section of the recap serves to discus how Hannibal is relating to its source material.
Pazzi of the Pazzi: Rinaldo Pazzi is one of the primary characters in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal. The novel’s chapters set in Florence are accessed through his experience. Unlike the show’s version of Pazzi, the commendatore in the book is a one time hero, now disgraced. He recognizes Hannibal from a picture he saw at Quantico on a visit to FBI headquarters and decided to collect the three million dollar bounty placed on the doctor by Mason Verger. While a big deal is made of his near supernatural visual memory and its ability to aid him in solving crimes, it’s never quite likened to Will Graham’s hyper-empathy.
A detail that will likely come up later is in regard to Pazzi’s lineage. He is a Pazzi of the famous Pazzi’s, going back to Francesco di Pazzi who was publicly executed for his family’s attempt to displace the Medicis during the Renaissance.
The Monster of Florence: Pazzi, in the books, is disgraced because of his high profile botching of the Il Mostro case. The book differs from the show again, by making every book reader’s dream come true and putting Hannibal in the role of the Monster of Florence. The novel, in its description of the Il Mostro case, leads the reader to conclude that Hannibal was responsible for the painting inspired killings. That turns out to not be the case, however, with the book overtly stating that Il Mostro’s appetite for replication is not to Hannibal’s taste.
Interestingly, Il Mostro is a famous real life serial killer active in Florence between 1968 and 1985, responsible for the murder of 16 people, nearly all of them couples. The real Mostro, just like the one in the novels, was not Hannibal Lecter. While four men have been arrested and convicted as the real life Il Mostro, the consensus is that the real monster was never caught. Of course, given the timeline of events (the Botticelli murder in the show occurred in 1995), there is less of a true crime aspect to Il Mostro, giving Fuller more freedom to frame the events as he sees fit.
A Reminder of Mortality: Will makes the jump to knowing where Hannibal is by invading the memory palace – a mnemonic device that Lecter uses in order to achieve perfect recall. The high ceilinged vaults of Lecter’s mind are first mentioned in Silence of the Lambs, but Hannibal peruses its halls in Hannibal while looking up Clarice Starling’s home address and perusing a text by Ovid on flavoured facial oils he wants to reference in a letter he’s writing to Mason Verger. The show uses the actual setting described in the book as the primary location in “Primavera.”
“The foyer is the Norman Chapel in Palermo, severe and beautiful and timeless, with a single reminder of mortality in the skull graven in the floor. Unless he is in a great hurry to retrieve information from the palace, Dr. Lecter often pauses here as he does now, to admire the chapel. Beyond it, far and complex, light and dark, is the vast structure of Dr. Lecter’s making.”
–Hannibal, p 286