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‘Hannibal’ Finale Postmortem: Bryan Fuller Breaks Down That Bloody Ending and Talks Revival Chances

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen the “Hannibal” season three finale, “The Wrath of the Lamb.”

Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal” takes its leave from broadcast television in exactly the same manner in which it entered — full of style, subversiveness and some of the most cinematic imagery ever presented on the small screen.

Even fans familiar with Thomas Harris’ literary works would’ve had a hard time predicting how Fuller and his stars Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy would pull off the climax to Harris’ familiar “Red Dragon” story arc, but the team behind “Hannibal” once again made the material their own by focusing on the complex (but always compelling) relationship between Mikkelsen’s titular cannibal and Dancy’s criminal profiler, ending with a literal cliffhanger that was made a little less cruel (or more, depending on your perspective) by the post-credits stinger that saw Gillian Anderson’s Bedelia Du Maurier back on the menu, suggesting that its heroes might’ve survived that brutal fall.

Variety spoke to Fuller to dissect the finale and discuss the show’s revival chances — read on for our palate cleanser.

That finale was one hell of a mic drop. How do you feel, now that it’s out in the world?

It’s surreal. It serves as a series finale when it was designed as both a series finale and season finale, and knowing what would come next in my mind and seeing it very vividly, it’s hard to reconcile the ghost versus the living thing. I’m in a state of surreality, I would say, with it all.

Fans already seem to be speculating about Will and Hannibal’s intentions in that final scene — from your perspective, was Will hoping they’d die from that fall, or planning for them to survive? What was going through his mind in those last moments?

All season long, it had been developing this story of Will’s realization, even as he is going into Europe to track down his friend, that his agenda — as Chiyoh (Tao Okamoto) points out — is “I have to kill Hannibal in order to not become Hannibal.” And he gets so fed up with the machinations of the relationship and Hannibal sawing his head open and trying to get at his brain that he’s just like “f–k it, I’m done with you, I’m walking away.” And yet, as he states in the finale, that was all a ruse to get Hannibal to turn himself in. And so it was kind of a band-aid on a bigger wound, and then when Will is pulled back in to the Red Dragon arc, he’s asking Bedelia, “is Hannibal in love with me?” and Bedelia is saying “is this a ‘can’t live with him, can’t live without him?'” And essentially it is, and that’s sort of the conclusion Will comes to at the end, “I can’t live with him, I can’t live without him. This is the scenario where the least amount of people can die,” meaning, “the two of us.”

I think when Hannibal says, “This is all I ever wanted for you; this is all I ever wanted for both of us,” Will is forced to acknowledge that what they just experienced was actually a beautiful thing. He lingers on that feeling of, “it was beautiful and I will desire it again, and I will be chasing this feeling.” And as he said to Hannibal earlier, “I may not be able to save myself, and that’s just fine.” I feel like we were very honest with the audience in terms of saying exactly what Will does at the end — we said it a few times.

The foreshadowing was delightfully heavy in this episode.

And yet it still feels like a little bit of a surprise at the end. [The post-credits scene with Bedelia] was very intentionally setting up another season of the story … essentially saying that Hannibal could’ve survived.

Speaking of Bedelia, were you thinking you’d want to keep her around, Abel Gideon-style, for appearances in season four, or was that stinger going to be the last we saw of her?

I’m always up for more Gillian Anderson, as much as I can get, however I can get it, so we absolutely would’ve seen what happened before and after that stinger in season four.

As you said, Bedelia and Will actually discussed whether he and Hannibal are in love with each other in the penultimate episode, and it feels like the show spelled out the answer fairly clearly, even if it’s not an overtly sexual love — but where do you think Will lands on that, in the end?

I think that’s what motivates the leap, is his realization that Hannibal was right all along. As beautiful as that felt to him, he understands that it is a place that who he is will not survive in, and so his option is essentially to pull the plug on the whole story, and that’s the only way he’s going to win himself back. It’s a sad gesture in so many ways, and it brings an interesting question to the strength of friendships. In my personal experience, I would say I’ve experienced more hurtful betrayals by friends than I have lovers, and friendships I’ve had in my life have been every bit as intense as relationships I’ve had that have been sexual, so there’s an aspect of that where nothing quite hurts as badly as a friend betraying you. In an infidelity, that type of betrayal between lovers, you understand the human nature and that the heart wants what it wants, and the draw of sexuality and the temptation of that, so you get how human nature is the betrayer in that situation. When it comes to a friend and it’s not about genitals, it’s about the souls, it cuts much deeper.

What’s going through Hannibal’s mind when Will takes them over the cliff?

I think he’s thinking, “Oh s–t, I’m falling!” [Laughs.] No, in seriousness, I think he’s feeling that embrace and that’s the first thing that he’s feeling, and even as he’s plunging into the Atlantic, he’s first and foremost thinking about the man he’s holding onto and the man who’s holding onto him.

How did you guys conceptualize that show-stopping fight between Will, Hannibal and Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage)?

It was interesting because we did it much, much cheaper and cheerier than we had any other fight sequences in the show … We have spent days on one fight scene before and so much more structured, and there was a lot where we were flying by the seat of our pants in the very last days of production with being over-budget, having no money for relief to do it the way we intended to. So there was a certain catch-as-catch-can quality to the filmmaking.

And the editing process was really interesting, because it was the episode that took the longest to cut because there were so many production issues in terms of not getting what we needed to get to tell the story and not getting close-ups of Richard Armitage for the fight sequence and having to shoot close-ups of Hugh and Mads on stage and then using a sequence that was supposed to go earlier in the episode with Dolarhyde burning his shrine, moving that to the end so we could actually get a close-up of the actor’s face — because we would’ve ended the show without seeing a close-up of Richard Armitage’s face. So there was a lot of “let’s fix it in post!” with the finale, and we added the visual effects of the dragon wings to pump up the volume on the sequence. There was quite a bit done in post to bring that to fruition, because we didn’t have all of the footage to pull it off.

Those final moments were made all the more powerful with that Siouxsie Sioux track behind them — how did that song come about?

Oh my god, I love that song so much! It was something we were trying to get done for many, many, many months. Brian Reitzell had known some of Siouxsie Sioux’s people and I had been such a huge fan of hers — Siouxsie Sioux and David Bowie are kind of like the mom and pop of my musical tastes, I’ve seen her in concert more than any other artists — so for me, the honor of having her write an original song for the show is a career high and one that I’m still on, because I love the song. It feels like a James Bond theme and it’s big and poetic and lyrical and she hasn’t released a song in eight years. We asked and she said, “actually, I haven’t been inspired to write in a really long time, but this show inspires me and so yes, I’ll do it.”

We talked about the love story, that it was a love story between Will and Hannibal and the song should be a love theme, and she wrote “Love Crime.” It’s exactly what the sequence needed, and it was one of those where I had said to Brian Reitzell when I finally finished editing the episode, I was like, “this ending, it’s yours to save, because I think it needs to be better and we really need you to put your magic on it.” And he was like, “well, I just got the Siouxsie Sioux song…” And we had a listening party over at David Slade’s house; David and his wife Erica and Brian Reitzell and I were just sitting there, and everyone just kept pointing to their forearms because they were getting goosepimples and chills from hearing it.

When did you come up with the idea for this finale — was it between seasons, or further back?

It came about halfway through season two and we knew that Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter had to work together to defeat the Red Dragon, and that was a big move forward in their relationship, that the two actually hunt side by side. The ending of the book is not an ending of a season because it just sort of stops and people talk about strange feelings because of it and then they move on and you don’t know what happens but you think, “oh, this isn’t going to go well for the family” and all of that. But we needed something much more impactful and much more intimate, and Steve Lightfoot started talking about Sherlock and Moriarty and Reichenbach Falls and then it was like, “of course, that’s exactly what we need to do, and that murder-suicide for Will is what’s going to define his character and his last heroic act,” and it just felt perfect, so hats off to Arthur Conan Doyle.

It feels like Jack (Laurence Fishburne) should’ve seen all of this coming. From his perspective, did this outcome feel inevitable, or did he actually trust Will’s motives?

I think it goes back to something Jack said to Will earlier in the season, which was essentially, “I didn’t kill Hannibal Lecter because I need you to kill Hannibal Lecter.” I think Jack knew this was a horribly risky endeavor, but I think he also believed he would get what he wanted out of it, which was Hannibal dead and Dolarhyde dead. I think he was open to the possibility that he would lose Will too, and I think it was worth it for him.

Hannibal also made Alana (Caroline Dhavernas) a fairly ominous promise about her future, leading her to take Margot (Katharine Isabelle) and their son and get the hell out of dodge, proving she’s pretty much the only sensible person on the show. Did you foresee Hannibal keeping that promise in season four, or for Alana and Margot to live happily ever after?

It certainly was going to be a part of season four, and I actually was really excited about exploring the Margot/Alana relationship and how they were going to dismantle all of the Verger slaughterhouses and turn them humane. She was going to completely undo the evils of her family with Alana, like a Joan Crawford sitting at PepsiCo’s table saying “don’t f–k with me, fellas.” I was really excited about that story for Alana and Margot and seeing more of them, and also seeing what it would be like for them to realize that Hannibal might be coming back into their orbit.

How are chances of a revival looking at this point? Have you put a pin into it until after season one of “American Gods” is done, or are there still active conversations?

Martha De Laurentiis is investigating financing for a feature film and there’s any of a number of scenarios. Shows have come back years after they’ve been cancelled, and I’m never saying never because … as creatively daunting as it would be to tell that fourth season of Will and Hannibal’s story, I’m very excited by that challenge. If I’m terrified by something creatively, because I fear my ability to pull it off, that inspires me to work harder in order to accomplish it. So I’m inspired by it and I’m inspired by Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy as my partners on this show. That final exchange between Hannibal and Will, Hugh and I wrote that while we were talking about what the scene should be. I was like, “It’s very simple, it’s Hannibal saying this to Will…” and Hugh was like, “and Will would say ‘it’s beautiful,'” and I was like, “I’m just writing this down now and we’re gonna film that.” I miss that collaboration and I would love to engage in it again.

Finally, anything you would like to say to the fans as we close the NBC chapter of “Hannibal’s” story?

Yes, I’m very careful to talk about how this is the NBC series finale. [Laughs.] I will try but I don’t think I’ll be able to accurately articulate my appreciation for the enthusiasm of this fanbase that has taken this show, made it their own and created parallel worlds of fan fiction to this work of fan fiction — because that’s very much what this show is. I feel like it was a unique experience of myself as a fannibal, writing the show as I imagined it — it was my fan fiction — and then sharing it with other fan fiction writers who then elaborated on it in their own ways. It was a wonderful communal experience. I’ve never had a show in the thick of the Twitterverse like I did with “Hannibal,” and it was a really fantastic, exciting experience, and hopefully one we’ll be able to repeat on “American Gods.”

What did you think of the “Hannibal” season three finale? Share your reactions below. 

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