After the enthralling “Mizumono,” which ended season two on a moribund ellipsis, and the three sublime Vincenzo Natali–directed episodes that began this season with the lingering discomfort of a faulty memory, Hannibal has finally reached its nadir. The end of “Contorno” is, while inevitable, also infuriating and emblematic of everything that’s wrong with the two most recent episodes of Hannibal: With its arm-snapping, face-cracking histrionics and unrepentant deus ex machina, it feels like fan service gone awry. It lacks the fun of the killer-of-the-week episodes and also the profundity of the slower, more pensive ones. It’s at once a not-so-sly inversion of the fight that began, and ended, the glorious second season, in which Hannibal stabs Jack in the neck and leaves him to die before departing calmly (and comely) into that good night while Jack just manages to hold on to life. And it's also an annoying ploy that serves no thematic or narrative purpose.
“He’s charming the way a baby cub is charming,” Chiyoh says of Hannibal, at the episode’s start.
Chiyoh and Will, both swaddled in shadows, sit and stare pensively, exchanging whispers as their train slips like a sneak through the night. Snails, they say, travel across the world in the beaks and bellies of birds. Some snails even survive digestion. Who’s in whose beak right now?
“You broke your one rule about taking life,” Will says, unwisely reminding Chiyoh that, by setting free her prisoner, he is vicariously responsible for the ruination of the only life she knew. She retorts by reminding him that he only wants to kill Hannibal so he can expunge that enticingly murderous influence from his life. (Hannibal’s version of the “Will They, Won’t They?” trope of network TV is “Will Will Kill Hannibal, or Will Will Not Kill Hannibal?”)
They are, as Will says, heading into the belly of the beast, at which point episode director Guillermo Navarro (the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Pan’s Labyrinth) lets slither across the screen the snails and insects that have become a prominent motif of this season.
“To the misfortune of the snail,” Bedelia says to Hannibal, back in Florence, as Hannibal feeds her a mollusk.
Will, she says, is going to try to kill Hannibal while Hannibal stands and waits for it to happen. Hannibal is a predator, but he’s not chasing his prey. He’s waiting, skulking. “Will agonizes about the inevitable change,” he says. Will refuses his true self, which he only knows because of Hannibal. And Hannibal has come to know himself through Will. Is this, as Bedelia asks, reciprocity?
Jack, ostensibly in mourning, walks through Italy, carrying Bella’s remains. He stands on a bridge arching over the Arno, and he looks down into the water below. Oddly calm, he pours Bella into the water, her ashes falling slowly like the sheets of paper in Hannibal's office or the feathers from Chiyoh’s bird.
Jack goes to Inspector Pazzi’s for dinner. They share wine and talk about Hannibal. Neither man is chasing Hannibal on official business. Both have a personal grudge, scars to erase; Jack bears one scar on his neck, another indiscernible one on his heart. But Jack doesn’t seem to be mourning Bella. He seems relieved — he can now pursue Hannibal without the guilt of leaving behind his sickly wife.
Stateside, Alana Bloom conspires with Mason Verger. Together they’ve become the worst part of the show, a pair of conniving knaves (she looks like a femme fatale, while he's less like someone who tore off his own face and more like someone who stuck his face into some cake batter) who plan and scheme and exchange unfunny insults.
“He has the most marvelous taste,” Mason says of Hannibal. “How do you taste?” he asks Alana. Maybe if Michael Pitt had been the one uttering these painfully overt creep calls, they would be frightening or funny, or both. But Joe Anderson just can’t make Mason work. He sounds like he’s imitating Mason instead of inhabiting him. When Pitt stabbed Hannibal’s chair in season two, or guffawed as he sliced off a sliver of his own face, it was unnerving because Pitt possesses a kind of projected insanity that Anderson lacks.
Alana, ignoring Mason’s odious non-witticisms, says she found Hannibal via Bedelia: A woman matching Bedelia’s description (beautiful and blonde) has been buying the same exquisite, rarefied food from the same exquisite, rarefied little shop once a week for the last three months. Must be Hannibal.
At the same time, Inspector Pazzi conveniently makes a trip to visit Hannibal, still going by the alias of Dr. Fell.
“You’re a Pazzi, of the Pazzi, yes?” Hannibal inquires.
Pazzi is a descendant of the disgraced Pazzi responsible for the failed usurpation and assassination of Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1478. Pazzi’s much-distant relative, Francesco (in the Hannibal universe he’s an amalgam of a Pazzi and a Salviati, the other family who took part in the failed coup), tried to kill de’ Medici, and consequently found himself dangling from his neck outside a window of the Palazzo Vecchio. The question, Hannibal says, is whether Pazzi’s bowels were in or out at the time of death. Historians can’t say for certain, but he seems to think it’s the latter.
Pazzi, Hannibal tells Bedelia, has to decide what his honor is worth. Honor has a short half-life among the Italian police force; he would be better off selling Hannibal, like one of the doctor’s cherished treats. And Pazzi does exactly that: Understandably upset, he calls Mason to report on Hannibal's whereabouts. Creepy Cordell instructs Pazzi to obtain a fingerprint of Hannibal, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but whatever. Pazzi, of course, won’t live to collect any bounty. It’s not his to collect.
“I wasn’t becoming anything,” Chiyoh later says to Will. “I was standing still, exactly where he left me.”
“I like the night … it’s another place,” she continues. “There are means of influence other than violence.”
Chiyoh isn’t Will’s to control or influence. The obvious parallel here is Will seemingly trying to control Chiyoh the way Hannibal seems to control Bedelia. But, of course, Bedelia has a plan herself, as does Chiyoh: As they stand at the back of the train, moving quietly through that black abyss, Will and Chiyoh come together and begin to kiss. Then, with one urgent thrust, she throws Will from the train. He falls down, into the darkness, while the train’s burning red lights dissipate into that other place.
Pazzi visits Hannibal at the Palazzo. Hannibal shows him a sculpture of Francesco, whose bowels are most certainly out, and proceeds to describe the man’s torture and execution with graphic, if detached, detail. Playing with the delicious line uttered by Anthony Hopkins in the horrid Ridley Scott film, Hannibal tells Pazzi “he’s considering doing the same,” and knocks the man unconscious.
As organs wail and moan, Hannibal traipses through the museum, admiring the myriad medieval weapons in a scene pulled from a Hammer Horror picture. He reveals a red cable, like a coiled vein pulled from a body, and loops a noose around Pazzi’s neck. Whereas Hopkins’s version of Hannibal seemed to be enjoying this, taking perverse pleasure (with that slender smile and gossamer voice), Mikkelsen is just going about business. He does not seem to have his heart in his work.
The question, of course, is, bowels in or bowels out?
And Pazzi is out the window, his entrails splashing across the cobblestone street.
And who happens to be standing just outside the window? Jack Crawford, who locks eyes with Hannibal for a second before he runs into the building.
Hannibal taunts Jack, asking if he practiced using a syringe on an orange before killing his wife. This seems out of character, as Hannibal has never hated Jack, and in fact expressed remorse for Bella’s death just one episode ago. Jack, clever guy, takes off his shoes in a reversal of what Hannibal did before attacking Miriam Lass and kicks Hannibal’s ass. He hooks his leg, snaps his arm, punches him and kicks him and throws him through glass cabinets, the archaic relics adorning the room tumbling to the floor as Hannibal’s body bends and breaks and bleeds all over. The fight has a comedic feel, not that far removed, oddly enough, from the cathedral tower fight at the end of Tim Burton’s Batman, with the classical music playing.
Jack finishes Hannibal by throwing him out the window … the same window from which Pazzi’s corpse hangs like a broken pendulum. Pazzi, poor guy, breaks Hannibal’s fall, and the doctor scurries off into the night as Jack doesn’t bother to chase him. He’s not Jack’s to catch.