I often think that at the center of me is a voice that at last did split, a house in my heart so invaded with other people and their speech, friends I believed I was devoted to, people whose lives I can simply guess at now, that it gives me the impression I am simply a collection of them, that they all existed for themselves, but had inadvertently formed me, then vanished. But, what: Should I have been expected to create my own self, out of nothing, out of thin, thin air and alone?
Lorre Moore, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?
Opening yourself up and being honest with someone you care about is scarier than any monster or madman the most creative writers can conjure up. You tear yourself open and let them sift and see, knowing that amid the viscera and inner ethos that makes you who you are, they may find something they don’t like, something that scares them away. Hannibal Lecter opened up Will Graham and he found something he didn’t like. He didn’t get scared away, though — he removed it. That’s what you do in a relationship: You make your partner a better person, even if it hurts them, or you.
“Aperitivo,” directed by Marc Jobst, is concerned with relationships and opening people up, and one has to wonder how Vincenzo Natali, who directed the trio of episodes that opened this season, would have handled this material. His absence can be felt from the opening moments, in which a CGI-rendered bullet ruptures from the barrel of a gun, breaking glass, tearing through Frederick Chilton’s face, splitting and searing his muscle, his tissue, and discharging a bright red brume of blood out the back of his head. The idea of seeing the insides of Hannibal’s friends/victims, the internal damage both discernible and not, is a fascinating Poe-ish idea botched by clumsy execution and really bad computer effects. The episode is all-around clunky, ersatz Hannibal. It is to the show what those Matthew McConaughey commercials are to True Detective.
Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza), who took a bullet to the face because of, but not from, Hannibal, visits Mason Verger (Joe Anderson, taking over for the inherently insane-sounding Michael Pitt). Mason has offered a $1 million reward for any information that can help lead him to Hannibal Lecter. Mason and Chilton discuss scars and makeup. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” he snarls, sounding like Gary Oldman impersonating Tom Hardy’s Bane.
The two men, one desperate and one depraved, go back and forth removing layers of makeup and prosthetics, revealing their true selves: ugly, angry, disfigured men, callous and writhing with mutual hate for Hannibal. Chilton, now beginning to resemble the conniving knave of the films and books, is trying to set in motion a ploy to find and kill Hannibal. But he can’t — Hannibal isn’t his to kill. It’s great to have the hugely underappreciated Esparza back, and children by the million sing for Frederick Chilton when he comes ’round, but this super-silly scene is handled sloppily and without the poetry of the previous three episodes.
We’re back in the hospital with Will. The doctor tells him he has a guest. Again, Abigail walks in, drifting like a specter, but as she steps closer, we see it isn’t Abigail, but doctor Chilton.
“I was hoping for someone else,” Will tells the man.
There’s a pause.
“He left us to die,” Will says again.
But they didn’t.
“He wanted you to live,” Chilton says, reminding Will of the surgical precision with which Hannibal cut him.
“You survived him, too,” Will tells Chilton.
“This is exactly how he intended me to live,” Chilton retorts.
Chilton knows that Will and Hannibal will inevitably be reunited, and he wants to be there to get his revenge. They have an opportunity, he tells Will, but Will shuts him down. Will knows, and we know, that it’s not his revenge to have.
Jack Crawford visits Will, who is working on a boat motor in his garage. While Will’s dogs meander around in the background (a nice touch), Jack apologizes for going after Hannibal alone. Jack asks why Will went to Hannibal’s house that night. “He was my friend and I wanted to run away with him.” Had this scene been done well, that line could be heartbreaking.
Chilton next visits Alana Bloom (Charoline Dhavernas), which is less than exciting. She’s now pinned to a table by a semicircle of bolts and rods, a nice metaphor for the writers struggling to find anything to do with the character. (She remains the least interesting character on a show mainly concerned with toxic male friendships and cannibalism.) Chilton tries to recruit Alana to his anti-Hannibal cause. Chilton knows that Will will go to Hannibal. So does Alana. So does everyone on the show. “Aperitivo” spends a good half-hour sluggishly reminding us of this four different times, in case we weren’t paying attention to the last two episodes.
Alana, now wheelchair-bound, goes back to Hannibal’s Baltimore home, quietly cruising the hall where Abigail pushed her out a window and subsequently died, past the pantry door behind which Jack called his wife in his final moments of life. Will sits on the ground, brooding. Alana says she was looking for him, and Will asks to be left alone. But he’s not really alone: Abigail, appearing as a blood-spattered ghost (not unlike the meatloaf friend in An American Werewolf in London, but played painfully serious here), sits next to him.
The dead and dying pervade the episode. As the sapient narrator of Haruki Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle says, “Memories and thoughts age, just as people do. But certain thoughts can never age, and certain memories can never fade.” Co-written by Nick Antosca, who has a few solid homage-laden horror novellas to his credit (Midnight Picnic is particularly good, and The Hangman’s Ritual, while overtly indebted to Oldboy, is a fun, breezy read), “Aperitivo” is rife with themes of honesty and closure, ghosts and tainted memories lingering like stains on the mind, the idea of people opening up and revealing themselves. But Jobst doesn’t extrapolate or expound these ideas — he just leaves them on the surface and splashes a lot of CGI gore all over everything.
Alana visits Mason Verger, too. (She also has apparently become Margot Verger’s new therapist.) Mason has found the Risen Jesus, and nobody beats the Ris. He also found a new personal doctor, named Cordell, played by True Detective’s Glenn Fleshler. Mason asks if Hannibal was fond of her; Alana says he was amused by her. Things either amuse Hannibal or they don’t. Mason didn’t.
In the hospital, Jack wakes up and finds Bella looking at him. “I died,” he says. “I know I died.” They’ve both died once now. Sometime later, while Bella lies in bed struggling to breathe, Jack serenely shoots a stream of medicine into Bella’s IV and crawls into bed next to her while she dies for the last time.
At Bella’s funeral, attended only by Jack and Will, Jack sees an envelope in the wreath of flowers. That familiar, eloquent cursive festoons the envelope: “I’m so sorry about Bella, Jack.”
Jack hands the card to Will, and the three friends and briefly together again before Will turns and heads to Palermo.
The inured, often reticent dialogue, intoned with so much seriousness, doesn’t feel as dreamy or ethereal as it did in Natali’s baroque episodes. Mads Mikkelsen and Gillian Anderson handle the unnatural dialogue better than the other actors on the show; they both lend an odd solemnity to the lines, their sinuous whispers as tangible as tendrils. Laurence Fishburne is great, and Jack Crawford has an undeniable importance to Will and Hannibal’s relationship, but the show has moved past Alana, Chilton, and the Vergers. It feels like a step backward, a boondoggle. Will has chosen Hannibal over everyone else. They have a dynamic, a reflective relationship. Will and Hannibal don’t connect well with most people, and yet they somehow seem to complete each other. Will knows himself better when he’s with Hannibal, and everyone else just seems to be sapping his energy. “Aperitivo” is the Alana Bloom of season three in that it adds nothing and doesn’t say or do anything that stays with you. Watching it feels like going back to a relationship that you tried and it didn’t work out, but we only know this having had the brief pleasure of the first three episodes. Like Will finding happiness in Hannibal and not being able to go back to Alana or Jack, we found happiness in Hannibal, and we can’t go back to Alana or Jack.