“I see my end in my beginning.”
Hannibal Lecter has never been comfortable with finality. The apex predator of humankind, who finds amusement in the poetic mutilation of his victims, is not disturbed by much, but even he has a monster under his bed. If Hannibal has trouble sleeping (if he even actually sleeps) it’s because he fears an ending, and that’s why he finds it so difficult to say goodbye to Will Graham over and over again.
“Dolce” is the sixth hour of Hannibal’s third and quite possibly final season. In that sense it is an ending before an even larger terminal downbeat, bringing to a close the Florentine vacation arc that precedes the ultimate goal of executive producer Bryan Fuller’s vision: a full reimagination of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon. It’s therefore appropriate that “Dolce” is essentially a series of contemplations on how to give a proper farewell.
Mason Verger sees the act of saying goodbye as something to be savoured, through which he will find himself transformed into a wholly new being. His plan to capture and eat Hannibal Lecter nearly comes to fruition by the end of the episode, and throughout the hour he and his evil nurse Cordell go about a ritualistic preparation that involves a perverted kind of transubstantiation. Cordell prepares pigtails and serves them as he intends to serve Hannibal’s fingers to his employer, but when the course doesn’t prove pleasurable enough for Mason, Cordell suggests they change the recipe to something more tortuous: Peking Doctor Lecter.
The fantasy of having the living Hannibal inflated with air and then drowned in honey and roasted is nearly a transcendent experience for Mason. He dreams about it, and speaks to his imagined victim about communion, walking upright and powerful. Seeing Joe Anderson actually standing tall around a dead and delicious Hannibal Lecter is a powerful image, and one that effectively communicates what’s at stake with this goodbye. Mason Verger is a broken man who equates his disability with that man who gave it to him. By bidding farewell to Hannibal in a last supper, the pig farmer hopes to feel whole again.
His sister, Margot Verger, hopes to gain the same thing out of her big goodbye, but it’s Mason she’s doing away with, not Hannibal. This week, after a kaleidoscopic sex scene together, we find out that Alana Bloom and Margot are not only lovers, but plotting to throw Mason in prison after Hannibal has been apprehended.
The double reveal is shocking and comes as a relief. Margot had her uterus horrifically removed in Season 2 by her brother, so seeing her take her steps toward revenge is satisfying. Learning that Alana hasn’t gone completely to the dark side is also vindicating. I can’t think of any characters better suited to take down the paralyzed child abuser turned wannabe cannibal.
Of course, in House Verger revenge is never so simple. If Margot throws her brother away or he dies before a male Verger heir is born, Muskrat Farms goes to the Baptists and she is left with nothing. Margot, therefore, is on track to what is promising to be one of the more memorable of all television goodbyes. Before the curtain falls on the Mason Verger plotline, assuming Margot will receive her own happy ending, she needs to harvest her paralyzed brother’s sperm.
In Florence, Bedelia Du Maurier makes good on her own goodbye plans but Hannibal, much more of a “see you later” kind of guy, leaves things tantalizingly open for more in their relationship. He offers to corroborate her innocence when the time comes and the two kiss before Hannibal goes to behold favourite Botticelli one last time and wait for Will Graham.
Bedelia’s plan, as Hannibal’s other victims converge on her home, is to shoot up with Dr. Lecter’s signature hypnotic drug cocktail and feign being brainwashed. Gillian Anderson, once again, acts the hell out of some soap opera-level high concept material and sells every moment of Bedelia’s desperation. Her layered performance of a drug addled performance is made even better by the fact that not one person she encounters while stumbling through her final day as Mrs. Fell believes a single word she says.
Jack Crawford and Will Graham, reunited after what looks like a best case scenario in terms of the latter’s being thrown from a train, interrogate Du Maurier without once entertaining the idea that she’s telling the truth. Will ditches Jack to go find Hannibal at the museum, and when Mason’s new Questura patsy (the patsy to replace Pazzi) shows up even he’s not buying the ruse.
Jack’s thrown out of the Fell home, since he’s not officially with the FBI, and Bedelia gives up Hannibal’s location with one of her classic breathy riddles.
Bedelia’s failure to convincingly portray a victim instigates the episode’s final goodbye to Italy. After sharing a touching reunion in front of the Botticelli, Will and Hannibal take to the streets, where Graham attempts to stab Lecter in public. Chiyo plays guardian angel and, using a sniper rifle, shoots Will in the shoulder. Cards on the table, Hannibal steals Will away to a secret location where he initiates one of the most gruesome scenes in all of the Thomas Harris canon: the infamous brain eating scene.
Strapping Will to a chair and feeding him a soup of herbs to season his grey matter, the men are soon joined by Jack who has his achilles tendon sliced by a hidden Hannibal (“He’s under the table.”) and is bound to the place Lecter had set for him at the table. Powering up the bone saw, Dr. Lecter begins to remove Will’s cranium and we are made to believe — against all evidence to the contrary — that we are about to see the death of Will Graham.
After some psychedelic transitions though, we find our hopes spared by a mysterious time jump. Will and Hannibal, hanging upside down alongside a bunch of dead pigs, are greeted by Mason Verger. They’re back in America, out of the frying pan and into whatever the hell Cordell is going to use to turn them into Peking ducks.
The final scene in Italy is so effective because, in addition to evoking well-known Hannibal Lecter imagery, it is uncompromisingly brutal. Hannibal isn’t comfortable with endings, and the horror movie quality of the botched brain dinner gains an angry quality when juxtaposed with the scene between Will and Lecter in the museum. Hannibal doesn’t want this to end. Jack doesn’t want this to end. Will, despite his better judgement, doesn’t want this to end.
I don’t want this to end. But this week Netflix and Amazon both passed on saving Hannibal from its premature cancellation. By crossing the border back into America the show’s story has come to its final chapter, the one where it’s supposed to all begin. In two weeks the Red Dragon story arc will kick off, and six weeks later we will have nothing left but the shattered glass of one of Hannibal’s proverbial tea cups.
My feelings regarding the show’s cancellation can be summed up by Will and Hannibal’s reunion in front of the painting. Scored again by the Goldberg Variations, slowed down by a factor of six as a reminder that time can be savoured but can’t be stopped, the scene is a eulogy for what could have been. We see glimpses of emotion in Hannibal, and deep pain in Will, fully aware that what is happening can’t be sustained.
Beholding his favourite artwork as Will comes to sit next to him, Hannibal Lecter offers a greeting that perfectly summarizes my feelings toward this near perfect television show as I prepare to say my own goodbye:
“If I saw you everyday forever… I would remember this time.”
Brain Food- The dinner scene in “Dolce” is adapted from Thomas Harris’s Hannibal novel, in which Hannibal Lecter feeds Paul Krendler’s still living brain to Clarice Starling. It’s an iconic scene from the books and made it into Ridley Scott’s movie adaptation (Ray Liotta is the brain donor), but Bryan Fuller was presented with a major limitation.
Since the Hannibal creative team doesn’t have the rights to Silence of the Lambs, any characters introduced in that book are off limits to this show. It just so happens that Krendler made his debut in that second novel. The character was gender swapped and given an anagram for a name last season (Cynthia Nixon’s Kade Purnell), so I was assuming this would be her long term fate. I am happy to be wrong. I am also happy that cannibal brain surgery can’t be copyrighted.
Baby Verger- Margot’s plot to have a Mason baby mirrors her scheme in the book, but she doesn’t send Mason to prison. We’ll have to wait to see how next week unfolds but, thanks to the prominent framing of Mason’s pet brutal moray this season, I have a strong feeling that Margot’s brother-baby daddy won’t be making it to episode eight alive.
Tea Cup Collection- The line “If I saw you everyday forever, I would remember this time,” is borrowed directly from the Hannibal book, but Lecter says this to Clarice when they are living in hypnotized domestic bliss. Don’t feel so special Will, he says that to all his lovers.