Mambo Italiano: Hannibal’s Sumptuous Season 3 Slide into Romantic Excess

Curator's Note

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.


One of the things I loved most about season three (and there was a lot) was the emphasis on narrative and story-telling as a process. So many lines about endings and story and possible worlds, as well as some of the meta comments about the show/Lecter as only having niche appeal. I'm not sure where I'm going with this - and I agree absolutely with your analysis here - but it seemed strange to me that some of the criticism of the first part of season 3 was that the show lacked aim and story (as a result I suppose of the move away from the procedural) but in itself was ever more occupied with storytelling and narrative and fairy tale.

Ah! Great point. The more overt the series became about being a story, the more its storyness was called into question. But the kind of narrative it presented was--harder to see, perhaps? Or required a different kind of attention than some viewers were ready or willing to give. While other shows play in metatextuality, it seems to me that Hannibal *embodies* it.

Thanks for these really interesting insights into thinking about season three as a reworking of the fairy tale, which is a genre that has been of great interest to literature and media scholars and now the industry itself. I think what I took away from season 3 was Fuller's willingness to again "invert" American storytelling conventions as the focus shifted to Hannibal's sojourn to Italy. A tactic that makes complete sense as the series is the product of a French media company and was not made exclusively for NBC or an American audience, per se. Still, in shifting to a more surreal, experimental tone and mode of storytelling Fuller was able to expand the possibilities of television storytelling and in the process show just how conservative American forms of narrative really are even in a time when the industry is focused on transmedia and franchises.

Cheers, Brian! You make an interesting point about Fuller: in essence, he's using one of the oldest storytelling forms, the fairy tale, in order to "expand the possibilities" of American TV narrative. If we don't get this series back, in some form, here's hoping that someone picks up the raw materials of those possibilities and remakes them into something new. Something beautiful.

So many interesting points made already. Personally, I really enjoyed the metatexulaity of this season. Maybe this is just how I like to perceive it, but it seemed like this was the most authentic expression of what Fuller wanted to do with his Lecter fanfic; having survived against the odds for two seasons on a major network and readying himself for highly likely cancellation. He abandons the generic procedural hook and moves it into more complex and heightened emotional territory (even though that would have seemed like an impossible task after season 2). The idea of the fairytale I think is a really useful one, especially as employing such a framework helped to free viewers from the expectations of the narrative, especially as Fuller crosses solidly into the established canon for the first time in the series. The season is book ended by fairy tale tropes - the early scene in Antipasto where Lecter, in addressing Gideon, seemingly breaks the fourth wall and begins the even-more-mythic tale "Once upon a time..." Skip to the ending of The Wrath of the Lamb and the dragon is slayed and the romantic couple are reunited to live (and dine) happily ever after (maybe).

NIcely put, yes. And for me, the idea of a fairy tale also acts as a gloss on season 3, especially the Italian Job section. Things that I otherwise might question--like why did no one in the faculty ever Google Roman Fell? If the dude's got notoriety, why didn't anyone recognize that Hanni was not he?--can fly by the wayside in the flood of castles and longing and, as you say, a pitch-perfect HEA. If it's fairytale, the logistics of the everyday don't matter as much--which might be part of frustrated some of the more procedurely-inclined audiences.

I can absolutely, 100% attest to this. My husband and I watched this - and Sherlock, and occasionally other stuff - together; he has absolutely no ability to suspend disbelief, so that every viewing experience is always him pointing out what's not actually feasible, and me hitting him and asking him to shut up. But the difference was that, with Hannibal - and especially in Season 3, as you say, it was SO very clearly working at the level of fairytale and metaphor (I said metaphor, but fairytale works even better) that even he was able to temporarily tell that intrinsic part of his mind to shut up for awhile and just enjoy the show. I mean, there's a whole paper to be written there by me (but it would mostly be a screed about watching TV with him), but what you're saying is exactly the case. At least, in my subjective experience.

>I mean, there’s a whole paper to be written there by me (but it would mostly be a screed about watching TV with him), 10/10 would read. Interesting how who you watch something with (or don't!) can affect your experience of the thing.

This is such a great take on the Italy episodes of Hannibal (which I have just rewatched). The slide from controlled mastery to emotional excess hadn't occurred to me before, but now that you've pointed it out, I can certainly see it. I mean, Hannibal lets Pazzi dangle out a window and allows Jack to get a good glimpse of him, which is rather different from his previous murder tableaus. Likewise, I'd say that Will becomes much more forward in his statements about Hannibal (telling Jack he wanted to run away with Hannibal, etc). There might not be much conventional plot in these episodes, but the emotional stakes are high. I also found it interesting that Fuller said this arc is closest to his ideal version of Hannibal. I also really really love the vid! It perfectly shows how the visual excess mirrors the emotional excess in the Italy arc.

> Hannibal lets Pazzi dangle out a window and allows Jack to get a good glimpse of him, which is rather different from his previous murder tableaus Right?! Like Hannibal's always been performative in his killing, but now he seems to want to *see* the effects that his killings have on his audience much more than before. He seems to enjoy Bedelia's reaction to his impulsive stabbing of Poliani at the dinner table, for example, almost as much as he does the murder itself. Technically. > I also found it interesting that Fuller said this arc is closest to his ideal version of Hannibal. Yes! That struck me as well. Perhaps that goes back to the question of excess--it's narrative and romantic excess a la fanfiction--the edges bleed, the story sits in dreamland, and it's bloody glorious. Or frustrating, I imagine, if you're tuning in expecting the safe narrative bounds of the procedural. And cheers for your kind words about the vid! It was far too much fun to make.

This one is hard for me to talk about, because I get so distracted by the beautiful vid. but I especially like your observation of how the show departs procedural altogether for something far more fairytale and narratively complex. The evolution of the show in that sense is very interesting to me; how it begins very clearly in a procedural mode - not just narratively, but visually as well. There's always a preoccupation with images and beautiful cinematography abounds throughout, but it's not really until season 2 that they start to revel in it a bit; and - as you say - by season three it's a wholly sensual delight - the Photoshop thing I mentioned the other day is but one case in point, and it fits in with your earlier fan fiction thesis, in that it's fan art as much as 'good cinematography'...

Interesting point about The Italian Job being as much fan art as fanfiction. What do you make of Hannibal's repeated redrawings of Bottticelli's "Primavera"? Is that fanart in the transformative sense or in more in the fanboy motif? (Or is do his practices fit somewhere else on that fandom Kinsey scale?)

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