As the plot of Hannibal continues to move forward, it also won’t stop looking back. In last week’s “Aperitivo,” that meant returning to the indefinite Baltimore area setting of the first two seasons, as well as a few excessively long flashbacks to last year’s finale (as if anyone had forgotten it). The characters’ pasts play an important role in “Contorno,” but in a far more interesting way: by focusing on how Hannibal has influenced them. This allows the plot to move forward, and stay in the gorgeous Italy setting of the first three episodes, without losing sight of how everyone got to where they are.
The focus on the past starts in the teaser, where the gorgeous shot reverse shot sequence with Chiyo and Will on a train allows the former to explain how she met Hannibal. The darkness obscures both faces, but the cut to the body she killed and Will arranged in the Hannibal’s style makes the implication of their conversation clear: they’ve become indelibly influenced by him. The second scene of the teaser showcases Hannibal’s own discussion of his past, once more highlighting the “reciprocity” described by Bedelia. The final shot before the credits brings us back once again to Will and Chiyo’s victim, reminding us that, in case we forgot, they’ve mimicked his brutality. When she throws Will from the train, there’s not a shred of doubt as to who is to blame for her being capable of such an action.
They’re far from the only ones who’ve been influenced by Hannibal, as we find out after the opening credits. It’s easy to dismiss Jack’s tossing of the wedding ring and Bella’s ashes as the act of a grieving husband who wants to move on, but the final scene of the episode shows us the brutality he’s developed thanks to Hannibal. The sound design of the opening scene forces us to come to terms with the implications of the act — the ring hits the water with a “plop” so loud it’s impossible to ignore. In case the mere image of Jack getting rid of the ring doesn’t affect you, the dynamics of the sound effects create a palpable feeling of violence.
The emphasis on Jack’s aggression doesn’t work as well when his violence becomes more literal, as it does in the last scene. The scene is reminiscent of the violence of last year’s finale, but the sequence of shots of Hannibal being thrown through glass feel repetitive to the point of camp, in a comic book-y sort of way uncharacteristic of the series to date. Hannibal has never treated realism as an objective, but the over-the-top gore serves the purpose of creating a terrifying atmosphere, and repeated shots of Hannibal falling simply don’t have the same effect. Although the scene shows us how brutal Jack has become (thanks to Hannibal), it feels redundant in a way which, say, the shots of Beverly sliced up like garlic never did.
By contrast, Alana’s revenge plot feels more plausible, although it’s bogged down by Mason’s presence. I described the flaws in his sophomoric presence last week, and his “spitters are quitters” comment in “Contorno” makes it clear that his immaturity isn’t going anywhere. Misogyny aside though, he comes across as a boring, typical villain in a show named after (and driven by) a one-of-a-kind monster.
There’s one person in “Contorno” who doesn’t rise to Hannibal’s brutality, and his fate shows what’s necessary to survive in the show’s universe: Inspector Pazzi. Although he’s clearly onto the doctor, he doesn’t act fast enough, and he pays the price. Unlike Will, Chiyo, Alana, and Mason (even if he was deranged before he met Hannibal), Pazzi doesn’t get the chance to become like his enemy, which means he won’t stand a chance. As “Contorno” shows, learning from the past makes all the difference in Hannibal.
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.