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hannibal season three

This review contains spoilers for the third season of “Hannibal”. It will mainly focus on the second half of the season.

This third season of “Hannibal” has been a tale of two halves. I thought the first half was fantastic, as we followed Hannibal’s (Mads Mikkelsen) exploits in Florence and watched the supporting cast attempt to subdue him. However, the second half didn’t hit the mark as far as I’m concerned, because The Red Dragon’s (Richard Armitage) storyline was streamlined so that the show could focus more on Will (Hugh Dancy) and the way that Hannibal’s influence was impacting his personality. Nevertheless, the finale was satisfying and I believe that it was a beautifully brutal way to end the series.

I’ve heard the word ‘focused’ thrown around regarding the second half of season three, but I think that evaluation is misguided. In my opinion there was actually a complete lack of focus, because while Francis Dolarhyde (The Red Dragon) was introduced and frequently visited, his story was bare and without context – I never felt as though the story was centred around him. Dolarhyde wasn’t developed at all, so although the narrative was clearer when he was involved, his involvement felt like a distraction.

Dolarhyde is supposed to be a man damaged by the world, treated like an outcast by everyone other than his abusive grandmother, due to his speech impediment and physical appearance. This leads to psychological damage, which in turn leads to delusion and psychosis. None of this is clear in this adaptation because we just don’t know anything about Dolarhyde – he’s nothing more than a villain for Will to chase; a reason for him to be reunited with Hannibal.

This not only took away from what I thought was a decent performance from Richard Armitage, but also ruined the character of Reba (Rutina Wesley), because we didn’t see what Dolarhyde as a man was really about. Yes, he’s a horrible killer, but he’s also lonely and has never felt real love. Reba shows him affection, and he can shed the shackles of the dragon because she can’t see him – his disability is masked by her’s, which has a certain beauty in the novel which is lost here. I feel that this is truly a shame, because if any show could’ve done The Red Dragon’s story justice it would be this one, given the show’s focus on psychology and the general intelligence which has been displayed since the start of season one.

I was really looking forward to seeing The Red Dragon on “Hannibal”, because in Thomas Harris’ novel the origin of his madness is compelling, and I thought that the television show would thrive in exploring this, due to the nature of the show and also because of the amount of time available to tell the story. Sadly, we weren’t afforded any proper insight into Francis Dolarhyde’s past, so he didn’t feel like a fully-formed character. This was incredibly apparent because everyone else on the show has had three seasons to establish themselves. We should’ve felt sorry for Dolarhyde because of all he had been through, but instead he came across as a monster, and ultimately he felt like a spare part in his own story.

Having said all that, I should note that I didn’t hate the entirety of the second half of season three; it’s just that my expectations were extremely high given what had come before. There were many memorable moments to take from the last half of this season, particularly Doctor Chilton’s (Raúl Esparza) gruesome treatment at the hands of the Dragon, which was harrowing even on a show about a psychologically deranged cannibal. I was pleased that the show didn’t use Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) for that moment like the book did, because on the show she isn’t nearly as interesting a character as Chilton is, as she hasn’t had as much time on screen over the course of the series. I felt a great deal of sympathy for Chilton as he faced the Dragon, because although he can be despicable I don’t think he’s that bad on a show filled with morally grey individuals, he just wanted to be exceptional and never really was.

The performances throughout the season have been superb, especially those of Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy, who have developed a real on screen chemistry. Their relationship blossomed into something of a love story at the end of season two, and that continued in season three. Their affection for each other was amazingly portrayed over the course of the season, especially because it was mixed with anguish due to the pain that Hannibal had inflicted on Will since episode one.

Mikkelsen has a disturbing presence, controlling the screen whenever he’s around, which is even more evident when he’s appearing in scenes with Dancy, due to Will’s attraction towards him. Dancy plays Graham as though he is a super-intelligent alien visiting our world, understanding everything that’s going on around him whilst simultaneously feeling confused by it. He never seems settled or satisfied, which is perhaps accentuated by the psychological torture that he endures whenever he is around Hannibal.

As the show has progressed Will has altered drastically, as Hannibal has sunk his teeth in and shown him how good it can feel to take control. To me this evolution is the essence of the show, so it was incredibly satisfying to see Will give in to Hannibal right before the end credits rolled, orchestrating his escape and also a final showdown with the Dragon. Their cooperation in taking down Dolarhyde was an ingenious way for the season to close, because it gave both characters what they wanted whilst preserving their personalities. Hannibal had shown Will what he was missing and Will had liked it, but Will also knew that if he let Hannibal escape they would both kill again. Jumping off that cliff finished the whole sordid saga, because it was the only way to be sure that Hannibal wouldn’t kill Alana (Caroline Dhavernas), Jack (Laurence Fishburne), and many more. It was an almost Shakespearean finale, ending “Hannibal” in the poetic way that it deserved.

All in all, “Hannibal” season three made for great entertainment, even if it was a bit disappointing at certain junctures. I loved the first half of the season, and although I felt that The Red Dragon’s story was wasted I still thought his role in the final sequence was fantastic and meant that his character felt necessary. The series petered out towards the end, so perhaps it is a good thing that NBC aren’t going to renew it for a fourth season, but it still gave us one last brilliant episode. It wasn’t perfect, it lost a lot of steam, but “Hannibal” season three was solid and the series as a whole has been truly great.

8/10

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