The final words of the final (perhaps ever) episode of Hannibal are, “It’s beautiful." Spoken by Will, they attest to showrunner Bryan Fuller’s successful seduction of the viewer as well as Hannibal's seduction of Will. The visual presentation of the narrative is similar to how Hannibal presents his food and his victims. With some technical assistance, I created this montage, which begins with these final words, in order to show how Hannibal creates visual pleasure through the use of aesthetic techniques that allow us to see the beauty in the horror. Will’s line calls back to the pilot episode, when Garret Jacob Hobbs implores Will (and by extension, us) to "see"; an invitation to consider more closely the look of the show.
As the montage illustrates, the principles of art such as balance, unity, rhythm, pattern and emphasis are encoded into Hannibal’s visuals, particularly the more gruesome elements, so that they can be decoded like high art. The frequent use of classical music in the soundtrack as well as cinematic techniques like crane shots encourage the viewer to find the aesthetics impressive. However, these overtly composed moments are not simply pleasing in the way that most would recognise as beautiful; often there is a fusion of the attractive with the repulsive on an operatic scale, like the flower tree man and the suspended angel. These baroque tableaux present this gothic horror with the trappings of beauty and, in doing so, create intentional moments of cognitive dissonance.
These strategies don't work on all viewers. So who is susceptible to this type of seduction? The text has a passionate audience of fannibals who are, like me, often educated, culturally-aware women who appreciate the show’s artistic and cinematic influences. The horrific-but-beautiful images, may be more appealing to a female viewer for a variety of reasons. Do female viewers, in particular, crave both visual pleasure and perverse allegiance in their horror more than they want to be scared? Or do we simply know what it takes Will three seasons to learn: you can’t have beauty without horror too.