"You smoked me in thyme," Dr. Gideon says, watching as Hannibal Lecter serves them both a meal of Gideon's own leg. It's a hell of an opening scene, both literally and figuratively, and begins the episode's uncomfortable relationship with time. The past and the present dance with each other from scene to scene, giving us an idea of how Hannibal arrived in his own particular slice of heaven.
Hannibal is back, and it only takes the first few moments before it reclaims its crown as the best-looking show on television. We see the world through the eyes of the titular character, who is once again a version of Hannibal that is more supernatural apex predator than the campy "hero" of the final films.
We find Hannibal Lecter, having apparently "won" after the events of season 2, in Europe. "Ethics become aesthetics," he tells his pseudo-wife, his doctor from the last season who doesn’t exactly seem to be there of her own free will. He’s self-actualized and operating openly in their relationship; she knows who he is and what he can do. He kills. He eats. He’s among beauty. If his internal monologue is unknowable, we can assume he’s as happy as he gets.
It’s hard not to gush about the visuals; how the show’s lighting takes full advantage of Mads Mikkelsen's calm, reptilian demeanor and Gillian Anderson’s willful self-control. They don’t look like friends, nor lovers, as much as they look luxurious objects that happen to occupy the same room. The camera watches Anderson remove her dress the same way it watches the needle fall on a record.The camera lavishes the same affection on Hannibal's naked form as he emerges, still dripping, from the shower. These aren't human beings, they are beautiful things, as much a part of the landscape as the buildings and sky.
This is an interesting way to begin the show’s third season, and this episode seems almost to take place in a sort of shared hallucination. Hannibal the show has always been comfortable mixing the internal life of its characters with their external reality, and here we see how slipping your head under bathwater can feel like sliding into an abyss. These are characters who seem comfortable bending reality to their will.
There are a few moments of humor here, including when a dinner guest confused the talk of food as an invitation for a threesome, but by the end of the episode the slow motion shots and loving views of meat and architecture become cloying, like a dessert wine served with a rich cut of meat.
We know the director knows how to make these scenes beautiful, but the actual story doesn't move far enough to justify the gorgeous visuals; if anything this episode feels more like a languid tone poem than an hour of an episodic television show.
The slight threat to Lecter near the end of the episode was removed using blunt force trauma, once more the good doctor removed his person suit. But what's clear from this season opener is that Lecter could, if he chose, go on like this forever. The only reason he would draw others into this game is if he chose to. This is, again, an apex predator, and he's at the height of his powers.
This is a wonderful setup for the rest of the season, and of course it will be fun to see how Will Graham and Jack Crawford come back into play, but for now this episode was comfortable enough to show us the pleasures of a killer's life in a beautiful place.
This was 60 minutes of a lizard sunning himself on a particularly comfortable rock, and while that's not exactly exciting? At least it looks really, really good.