After the intense aesthetic focus of last week’s “Antipasto,” Hannibal’s shift in character focal point for this week’s “Primavera” brings with it a different thematic center: religion. Although the Dante references in “Antipasto” hint at religious themes, and the show has been establishing aesthetics as a religion of their own for Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) from the beginning, “Primavera” brings religion, and particularly Christian themes of forgiveness, to the forefront in a new way for the series.
It begins in the teaser, which contains an extended flashback to the bloody conclusion of last season’s finale. Hannibal tells Will (Hugh Dancy) he forgives him and pleads for his forgiveness to be returned. Will refuses, but Hannibal leaves both him and Abigail (Kacey Rohl) with the opportunity to acknowledge his atonement, as she explains to Will (and the viewer) that Hannibal used his surgical know-how to cut them so that they wouldn’t die.
His decision to let Will and Abigail live allows them to follow him to Italy, where they find themselves at the church where he placed Dimmond’s body (keep the religion thing in mind). There, they discuss their shared refusal to believe in a traditional Western god. Their disbelief makes sense in the universe in which they live — the gruesome murders which permeate their existence suggest a world governed by a wholly different logic altogether. Despite Will’s denial of Hannibal being the god-like figure of their world, he exhibits a level of control over it comparable to that assigned to the Christian God.
Luckily for Will and Abigail, they have an ally in their fight against their universe’s god: Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino). Pazzi tracked Hannibal when he was arranging bodies to look like Boticelli’s “Primavera” twenty years ago, and he hopes to finally track the killer now that he’s re-emerged in his home country.
But Pazzi doesn’t totally seem to understand what he’s up against, and the episode’s final flashback reveals Abigail to only be alive in Will’s imagination, leaving him more alone then we initially suspect. “Are you praying?” Pazzi asks him, showing the inspector to be naive enough to think that prayer will help them to fight Hannibal’s evil. It’s not just that Hannibal doesn’t want to be God, as Will tells Abigail, but that, unlike the Christian conception of God, no amount of prayer or atonement will sway him.
Their helplessness becomes especially obvious in the tense final act, which finds Will and Pazzi chasing Hannibal through the catacombs of the church. Hannibal does a particularly great job of building atmosphere, and the skeletons throughout the tunnels establish a clear feeling of dread. In addition to building our fear, they add to the motif of death, which gives a fatalistic edge to the discussion of religion throughout “Primavera.”
That being said, forgiveness always feels like the aspect of Christianity of which “Primavera” is most concerned with and subsequently makes Will’s blunt declaration particularly powerful: “Hannibal, I forgive you.” Whether or not he’s telling the truth, he makes us consider what it would mean to grant forgiveness to someone like Hannibal, which is the sort of fascinating moral quandary that “Primavera” poses with its themes.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.