Bryan Fuller on That Hannibal Finale and the Show’s Campy, Sensual Undertones

Photo: Amanda Edwards/WireImage

Spoilers ahead for the season three finale of Hannibal.

Hannibal fans: It’s all over, but what a ride we had. NBC declined to renew the show for another season, making the third season finale in effect a series finale — at least for now. Like Sherlock Holmes tumbling off of Reichenbach Falls only to return, Hannibal may very well live to eat again. Still, the finale provided an intensely satisfying end to one of the most improbable shows on broadcast television, with a grisly, gorgeously orchestrated murder, coinciding as the culmination of one of the most unconventional love stories between two men. We spoke with Hannibal’s creator Bryan Fuller about the finale — he spoke of the blue balls suffered, the camp genius of Gillian Anderson (Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier), and how we might see Hannibal return.

Had you planned on that ending from the beginning?
We knew we were going to have to move Hannibal and Will into a place that they haven’t gone before. The extent of their relationship the first two seasons has been verging on blue balls in terms of the expressions of intimacy, and yet without any sort of real confirmation — spoken or otherwise — of the pure truth behind the relationship, which is a love relationship. And a love relationship does not have to be a sexual relationship to be a powerful relationship. We had talked about Moriarty and Sherlock going over Reichenbach Falls. We needed something along those lines to give us a big, powerful season ender, but also if we were to do a fourth season, allows us to say, And this is how they survived or didn’t survive, and here’s the continuation of our story. So, it was always intended to be a cliffhanger that propelled us into a new direction for the following season, and because of the cancellation, it has a great sense of finality for obvious reasons.

It’s funny because Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to kill off Sherlock in The Final Problem, but then was forced to bring him back.
Right. Who knows? The same thing might happen. It was such an interesting three years on Hannibal, living in Canada away from home and family and friends. I’m sure there was part of me that was comfortable with that being the last episode if it were to come to pass.

In the earlier seasons, it struck me that the act of killing was an artistic practice, and in this season, it took on a much more charged, erotic tone — especially when Will and Hannibal kill Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) together. It felt very much like sex.
It’s an interesting three-way, that’s for sure! Where you eliminate the third and get to business with the two who matter.

Who wants the sidepiece anyway?
Exactly! Pick him up at a bar and he leaves and then you go to sleep together in each other’s arms at the bottom of the sea or wherever that may be. So much of the show has been sensual, intentionally, and so much of the storytelling has been subjective, intentionally. So, I love that we get to really fall inside people’s heads and not be definitive — particularly in the first part of the season — about what’s real and what’s not real because of that character’s potential trauma. And so the extension of the sensuality of that are those close-ups that give you whose view of the hatchet going into the back of [Francis] Dolarhyde’s calf and jetting blood. Those intimate moments of the attack that are magnified in Will and Hannibal’s minds as they bring him down. It’s like two jackals bringing down a rhinoceros.

What do you feel like doing that act together was a consummation of?
It was a consummation of the last three years of their relationship, well, the last three seasons of storytelling. Will wanted to kill Hannibal Lecter out of fear of becoming Hannibal Lecter if he didn’t. Once he’s pulled back into Hannibal’s orbit, he realizes just how strong that pull is and wonders if he can ever return to normalcy, and that perhaps he needs to end things with Hannibal. Those conversations between Will and Bedelia where he is asking, “Is he in love with me?” and she’s saying, “Yes, but are you in love with him?” He doesn’t know how to answer that question, because when we feel a connection to another human being who seems to understand us in a way that we are not often understood, it’s such a beautiful expression of connection. As broad as some of the human elements of the film avatar were, what really resonated with me was that the term of affection for them is, “I see you.” And there’s no greater expression of affection. That’s how Will felt with Hannibal — he felt seen. He felt naked and vulnerable, and yet understood in that. It’s a very addictive feeling to be in a relationship with somebody — whether it’s a friendship or a romance — where the dysmorphia of how you feel on the inside finally connects with someone else’s perception of you from the outside. It’s dizzying.

It’s interesting because he’s not just seen, he’s held by Hannibal. And I think that holding is in some way mutual.
Absolutely. Will puts his head on Hannibal’s chest, and Hannibal puts his chin on top of Will’s head.

Like a puppy
They nuzzle! And actually we went much further than that. There were lips hovering above lips. We really went for it, and we were like, "We hope you like it!”

You mean when it was shot originally?
Yeah, but it felt like it became something else in that moment and sort of verged on fan service that felt inauthentic to me for this adaptation. So, I rode that line very closely, but I had the footage to go much, much further in terms of, Oh yeah, they want to mack.

I totally want to see that.
Maybe we’ll put it on the Blu-ray, who knows?

In an interview with our TV critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, you said that the theoretical season four would be a “reexamination and a reinterpretation” of their relationship, and that it was creatively terrifying to think about. Now that we’ve watched the finale, I’m curious about what it would look like.
Well, I still want to hold that in my back pocket because Martha de Laurentiis* is trying to find financing for a feature film, and you never know two years from now if Mads [Mikkelsen] and Hugh [Dancy] have an opening in their schedules, we can shoot something again. I still want to be able to tell that story, and it’s perhaps the most fascinating chapter of Will Graham’s story yet. But I feel like if I tell you what it is, then it kind of closes a door on it in my mind.

How feasible do you think it would be in terms of actualization?
It’s so hard to say. Who knows if I have a relationship with a network that wants to do a six-episode miniseries of a return to this Hannibal Lecter story, or if it works out where rights align and we get The Silence of the Lambs story. There’s so many possibilities in my mind of what we could do, and I'm the worst person to ask for that because I see that next chapter of their story so vividly that it’s hard to say, “No, that ghost in the machine will never come to fruition.”

What’s been interesting to me reading reviews and recaps of the show is how seriously people take the show.
For me, the show is a very, very, very black comedy in many ways because it’s so absurdist and it’s so pretentious. I laugh at some of this stuff because I thoroughly enjoy it. A lot of the hard-core Fannibals take it very seriously. At the same time, they’re enjoying the seriousness of it and having fun with it. So I’m glad that people take it seriously, but I also love the experiences I’ve had seeing it on a big screen in a packed theater where people are laughing through the episode and I’m like, “Yeah! They get it! They get that it’s okay to laugh!” I watched episode 12 with a couple of friends of mine last week and they were horrified on the couch, and I was giggling at all of the most horrific stuff in the episode.

Which parts?
Chilton getting his lips ripped off and then set on fire.

Poor Chilton.
It was so over the top that I was laughing, and they were just looking at me horrified because I was getting such glee out of the ridiculousness of this poor man’s circumstance. And part of doing something to Chilton every season was a big aspect of the black comedy of the show. There’s no way this guy would have survived that, and yet he did. He’s cracking wise and haunting people and it’s fun. It’s a fun storytelling tool. Do you laugh at the show? Do you find the show funny at this moment?

I do! It’s interesting to me because the show has a very strong camp sensibility to me.
Absolutely, and nowhere better serviced than Gillian Anderson’s interpretation of the material.

Can you say more about that? Her conversations with Will this season have just been hysterical to me.
Oh, they’re so bitchy to each other, it’s hilarious. Her cadence as that character is so fascinating to me because it was so methodically enunciated, I find it hypnotic. At first, I was like, “Her cadence is so weird,” and then I was like, “I fucking love her cadence,” once I got used to it. And there was almost this Victorian approach to the material that she uniquely balances.

There’s a gruesome scene where Gillian Anderson’s character, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, kills one of her patients, a paranoiac played by Zachary Quinto, by shoving her hand down his throat as he’s choking. How did that come about?
We really wanted to homage, in some way, Multiple Miggs choking on his own tongue. In writing that episode, I was trying to think of a cool, unsettling image for a small woman murdering a much larger man in a way that can be deconstructed a couple different ways, and the idea of trying to prevent him from choking by removing what was in his mouth. That’s the first thing you do: You run your fingers down the mouth to see if there’s anything in there that you can pull out while you’re trying to resuscitate. And I was like, “Let’s go one step further, where you’re trying to help somebody and then you’re looking at them and you’re thinking, Fuck it. Let’s crush them instead.” I thought it was a fascinating place to put a character who was pretty ambiguous to begin with — and then also the imagery of Gillian Anderson fisting Zach Quinto tickled me.

Camp needs a certain seriousness about it.
It’s so serious that it becomes absurd, and oftentimes people will argue that camp has to be unintentional to be camp, but I sort of fall back on the “so serious it’s absurd” rule, and that’s where I had a lot of fun in the Hannibal storytelling. It’s so dark, it’s so unrelenting that you can’t help but giggle at some of the ridiculousness.

How should the viewer read Will and Hannibal falling off the cliff together? Is it a double suicide?
No, I think it’s a murder/suicide. And then of course coming back in and seeing that someone has cut off Bedelia’s leg and is serving it, and she grabs a fork and hides it under her napkin to stab the neck of the person who’s going to come into the room next suggests that either Uncle Robertus and Lady Murasaki are going down Hannibal’s enemies list and checking them off, or that Hannibal may have survived that fall.

Some people have told me that their interpretation of it is that she sawed it off herself, cooked it up, and is waiting for him to come home like, “Honey, I made dinner!” [laughs], which is hilarious.

I read it as a double suicide where Will finally was able to find someone who he could be his whole self with and that now would be the time to end his self.
In that moment, we are playing off the idea that “If I don’t kill him, I’ll become him.” [Will is thinking], I didn’t kill Hannibal and I became him because together we hacked up this guy brutally, and I really got off on that. I could either keep doing that, or I could just pull the plug right now because I just became the thing that I was terrified of the most, and if I have to end myself to end him, fair enough.

That’s more antagonistic than how I thought about it. And also the fall sort of felt like a trust fall.
[Laughs] Mean Girls. I get that. More importantly, it was Will experiencing pure joy and connection with Hannibal and realizing how terrifying that is, and not wanting to go on if that’s who he is.

You’ve said that you wanted Mads Mikkelsen's Hannibal to be the definitive one. Do you feel like he accomplished that?
I think for certain portions of the audience, he did. And for those who watch the show regularly, there’s 39 hours of Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter as opposed to six of Anthony Hopkins. But it all depends on who’s speaking to you generationally as that character. Who would you say is your definitive Hannibal Lecter? Still Anthony Hopkins?

Not anymore.

* Correction: Fuller misspoke and said Martha Stewart. Vulture confirmed that he meant the film producer Martha De Laurentiis.