Since it's premiere in 2013, NBC's Hannibal has set itself apart as one of the most subversive, sumptuous and challenging shows on televisions (network or otherwise). The sheer operatic horror of the show is accentuated by the delightfulness of the Hannibal fandom, which gifted up with the flower crown meme and a community of creative and wonderfully twisted people. As of now, the show is cancelled at NBC, though the DeLaurentis company is looking for other partners to bring the show back for a fourth course. However, if season three is to be our last taste, it certainly leaves an appropriate legacy which showcased much of what was great about the show, but also (and I know this may be sacrilege here) highlighted some of it's failings.
Fans came into season three with high expectations. Season two ended in a bloodbath at Dr. Lecter's home that was gutting both emotionally and literally. Season three picked up months later as Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) bided his times in Florence with Bedelia DuMarier (Gillian Anderson) captive as his bride/co-conspirator while erstwhile profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) searched for the bad doctor, either to catch him or join him . The character of Bedelia for me is a perfect microcosm of season three: she was beautiful in a way that met a very specific, heightened aesthetic, philosophical, and extremely hard to pin down. Hannibal has always been a show about aesthetics and gorgeous visual storytelling, but I found that, much like the women on the show's overdone make-up and unrealistic clothing choices, this season the visuals overwhelmed both character and story. Whereas in previous seasons the bumptiousness on screen and the languorous attention to small details had highlighted the story and themes, this season they overtook it.
The same was true aurally - the dialog became too abstract to understand casually - each character speaking in poetic prose imbued with Deeper Meaning, to an overwhelming soundtrack. I had to watch most episodes with the subtitles on because I literally could not understand what was being said (when discussing this with other fans I found I was not alone). On a grander scale, the same was true of the overall story: the plot often became lost in the flourishes. I still have no idea who Chiyo was and a casual viewer shouldn't need meta or a wiki to understand the basic story of a show. This was a season where the plot became simply a subtext of the character arcs, which was hard to swallow given the previous nature of the show as a semi-procedural elevated to fantastic heights. This problem did lessen after the mid-season time jump and move to the "Red Dragon" storyline, but it was still not as easily consumed piece of media.
In the same vein, what had once been subtle subtext was brought to the forefront of the narrative. Yes, we're talking about Hannigram. Now, I am a huge fan of slash and homoerotic subtext, so on one hand it was wonderful to see the subtext so many fans had been reading since season one brought more clearly into the light for viewers watching without the gay goggles that come standard in the fangirl starter pack. But for me personally, it was also a bit disconcerting, not because I didn't see the romantic undercurrents of Hannibal and Will's relationship, but because there was very little on screen that made me want it to succeed. Will Graham evolved significantly as a character this season, but it was into a person I didn't necessarily like. The same was true for most of the characters, I found, and it's hard for me to get behind a ship or a story when there's no one on screen I'm rooting for. And it wasn't just WIll. Jack, Margot, Alana - all became brittle and cruel this season, forcing the viewer to sympathize with the devil, as it were. Even though I didn't root for Hannibal and Will personally though, I do applaud the show for going there without fear and in a way that made sense and was extremely interesting, if still a bit ambiguous.
Conversely, I found the narrative's treatment of Hannibal perplexing. Is this someone we're supposed to be cheering for in some perverse sense? One of the best and most chilling sequences of the season was the first episode's flashback to Hannibal slowly serving Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) ornate meals made from, well, Abel Gideon and the terrifying dinner conversations that went with that. Hannibal was truly terrifying at that point, but I felt he lost some of his malice as the season progressed and he became somewhat of a lovesick (albeit cannibalistic) puppy only focused on Will.
My critiques are not to say that season three wasn't interesting and enjoyable. As always the visuals of the show were macabre masterpieces, especially in the second half of the season as they explored Francis Dollarhyde's creepy mind space. he filmmaking and acting was, as it has always been, incredible. The show continued to ask interesting questions about performance, observation, aesthetics vs. substance, and the difference between who we are and who we pretend to be. In a very interesting way, the show implicates and confronts the viewer, whether in making us see the beauty in grotesquerie and death, or bringing a love story we thought was only subtext into the main narrative.
If the last image we have of Hannibal is Will and Hannibal consummating their twisted love through killing a man together, then Will pushing/pulling them to their deaths I think that's okay. Their story was always about how their interactions strengthened both the best and worst in each other - and how that was incredibly dangerous for everyone around them. Their death is the only way the story can or should end and I'm comfortable with it. If we never see season four, Hannibal will still maintain a legacy as one of the most daring and challenging pieces of television in recent memory. Even if the dishes weren't always to one's taste, points must be award for presentation and creativity. It wasn't perfect, but it was fascinating and beautiful to watch, both as a fan and critic. And it would be incredibly rude not to at least say thank you for such a fascinating ride.