“Hannibal” has likely had its last supper, concluding a somewhat ungainly third season that delved further into its literary underpinnings. Assuming there’s no stay of execution, the NBC series goes down as one of the most meticulously produced – and hunger inducing – in the recent annals of network TV, one that finally appeared to run out of options along with hospitable real estate.
Despite an extremely loyal cadre of fans, showrunner Bryan Fuller’s program endured various indignities during the course of its run, among them being moved to Saturday nights to mitigate ratings damage to the network. Viewing had always been low (with international financing keeping production viable), but tune-in shriveled further after its relocation. And while there was talk of a revival elsewhere, that always looked more hopeful than likely, demonstrating that Netflix and Hulu can’t always be counted upon to reheat network leftovers.
None of that could be certain when these closing chapters were shot (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), which, if nothing else, brought a refreshingly literal meaning to the term “cliffhanger.” While Fuller has outlined plans, at various points, for season four and beyond, his tendency to produce blood-soaked finales without an obvious escape plan can be described, alternately, as ballsy and optimistic.
Titled “The Wrath of the Lamb,” the last episode – finishing what Fuller has characterized as an “enhanced” adaptation of Thomas Harris’ twice-filmed “Red Dragon” – culminated with a titanic three-way, slow-motion fight between Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage). Shot and stabbed, the two leads again demonstrated there’s almost no amount of punishment from which they can’t walk away, or (were a renewal in the cards, anyway) recover.
The finishing shot, with a blood-soaked Graham embracing the wounded Lecter before pulling him over the bluff toward what looked like certain death for both, had a certain Sherlock Holmes-and-Moriarty-over-the-falls quality. It wasn’t closure, exactly, unless you choose to ignore the rest of Harris’ mythology, but it did further cement the sense of how powerfully the two are joined. (Fuller has acknowledged the homoerotic overtones of their unique bond, which seemed more overt in that sequence.)
If that is all she wrote, “Hannibal” shouldn’t pass into history without a final nod to Mikkelsen, and what he accomplished in taking a role so indelibly associated with Anthony Hopkins and making it his own. “What a cunning boy you are,” he said to Will in one of their exchanges, simultaneously oozing menace and charm.
That said, the prospect of continuing “Hannibal” into the character’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” which had been discussed, always felt like a creative bridge too far, given how superior that movie is to other cinematic adaptations of Harris’ books. Indeed, even the decision to bifurcate this season felt awkward, with Hannibal’s rather abrupt arrest segueing into the “Red Dragon” storyline.
“Hannibal” remained visually stunning, with such gorgeous flourishes as Dolarhyde’s imagined dragon wings. Yet Mikkelsen’s heroics – or actually, anti-heroics – didn’t consistently extend to the peripheral characters. Although that ominous dialogue sounded cool coming from Hannibal, it risked lapsing into parody at times elsewhere, even allowing for the show’s exaggerated approach to everything from artful blood spatters to preparing a light meal.
Expressing such misgivings about “Hannibal” is a no-win proposition, inasmuch as almost nobody would be engaged enough to read about the show at this stage unless they’re positively gaga about it. Most journalists who continue to cover it are likely similarly inclined, creating a positive feedback loop.
To an admirer of the early episodes but something of a skeptic about the concept’s longterm viability, “Hannibal” is, or was, a fascinating show, notable for its flaws as well as its ambitions – the latter having become increasingly rare in NBC’s programming arsenal. But the show, much like this ending, wasn’t entirely satisfying.
If that mixed appraisal is hard for dedicated fans to swallow, they can always try washing it down with a nice Chianti. They should at least take some comfort in knowing the diagnosis, like everything associated with “Hannibal,” was prepared with the utmost care.