Hannibal often reflects an awareness of itself as a text, as a product of fannish production and desire. During the show’s European sojourn in season 3, Hannibal himself evinces a metatextual understanding that he is both producer and product of text. However, as the amoral aesthetics of “Antipasto” (3.1) suggest, Hannibal’s role as auteur is destabilized by the absence of his favorite character, Will Graham, an absence that ultimately tips the balance between erudition and excess in Hannibal’s life and shifts him from author of his own Inferno to heroine in a love story penned by someone else.
At first glance, the life that Hannibal’s crafted in Florence is as breathtaking and blood-gilded as we might expect. However, Hannibal knows there's something wrong with this story: Will's missing from the script. In his absence, Lecter becomes uncharacteristically excessive in his behavior and expression; “more interested,” as Bedelia observes, “in making appearances than in maintaining them.”
These performances, however pleasurable, don’t quiet Hannibal’s unease, and, as my vid here suggests, “Antipasto” offers the viewer a similarly discomfiting encounter with pleasure. While Hannibal often challenges us to see beauty in horror, this episode crowds architectural, sexual, and sensuous splendor into that same frame. Hannibal’s body, for example, is put on display for Bedelia, as are the piazzas of Florence; we, like she, are hard-pressed to look away from the beautiful lines of both her jailer and her cage. Wherein Hannibal’s murder tableaus force us to keep looking, the lushness of “Antipasto” dares us to look away, to deny the pleasure we’re taking from beauty that barely masks the grotesque.
Thus, in the all-too-fitting guise of Roman Fell, an academic who's famous for his schlocky novels, Hannibal chooses to make his broken heart flesh and leave it for Will to find—and, with that, Hannibal abandons its procedural mode and slides sumptuously into romantic excess. “Antipasto," then, signals a shift from an emphasis on Lecter’s narrative mastery to an exploration of its dissolution. Although he still controls the stories of others, like Bedelia, Hannibal's own is now out of his hands. Instead, he's become a heroine in a fairy tale, awaiting the return of his prince: what happens next, it seems, is no longer of Lecter’s design.