Spoiler Shields up. This is going to be a detailed and spoiler-filled recap with critical commentary. Check it out after you’ve watched the episode and see if there’s anything I missed. Or anything you missed.
“Primavera” opens with a look back at the ending of Season 2, as Will (Hugh Dancy) hunts for Hannibal, only to discover that Abigail (Kacey Rohl) is actually alive. It was a startling and surprising moment, as viewers had believed for an entire season that she was long dead and eaten. However, instead, here she was, alive and frightened, crying and confessing that she didn’t know what to do, so she did what Hannibal had told her. Suddenly a huge portion of Will’s animosity towards Hannibal dissipates. If Abigail is alive, what does that do to his motivations for capturing (or possibly killing) Hannibal?
We didn’t find out then, because Hannibal arrived and the focus quickly shifted to their emotional relationship. Remember, Will had anticipated Hannibal would run, and then everything would go back to a semblance of normalcy, but he didn’t run. Will asks him why, only to get the heartbreaking response, “We couldn’t leave without you.”
Hannibal says he had made a place for all three of them, in an echo of Jesus’ preparing a home in his Father’s house (John 14:2), but Will betrayed him. There’s a poignant sense of disappointment and love lost in the way Hannibal speaks to Will here, cradling his face before stabbing him in the stomach and holding him close — like a lover, almost.
“I let you know me… see me. I gave you a rare gift, but you didn’t want it.”
The question then becomes, did Will really not want it? That’s something that “Primavera” spends a lot of time contemplating. But before we get there, Hannibal posed a question, almost sarcastically: “Did you believe you could change me? The way I changed you?”
Season Two was really devoted to watching the effects on Will’s psyche as he was forced into the position of the killer, believed by nearly everyone to be guilty of heinous acts of murder, only to slip into the darkness and slowly work his way into Hannibal’s graces, before using that opportunity to expose him as the real Chesapeake Ripper. The Will that appears in the finale is not the Will that began working with the FBI back in the series premiere. Through it all, we also watched as Hannibal, perhaps incapable of really experiencing Will’s gift for empathy, took on Will’s role as profiler, finding himself at least attempting to see the world through Will’s eyes. He thinks this didn’t affect him.
Will thinks otherwise, and says so. “I already did” change you, he challenges.
Confronted with this, we see a thought glimmer behind Hannibal’s eyes. An idea that seems to have come to him at just that moment. He motions for Abigail, embraces her and says, “I forgive you Will. Will you forgive me?” He then slices Abigail’s throat as Will watches.
With this act, the prior thematic focus on isolation and friendship that had played out through Season One, and the attention to guilt and transformative revenge in Season Two, give way to a brand new thematic element that seems to be where Season Three will spend time navigating: the desire for and effects of Forgiveness.
We move into new territory finally as Will tries to save both his own life and Abigail’s but is haunted by the vision of the stag lying on the floor across from them, bleeding out from its own stomach wound. The stag had become an internalized symbol for Will of his growing similarity to Hannibal, and to see it dying before his eyes, we are invited to assume his identification with Hannibal is dying along with it. Then, in a scene inspired by The Shining, the stag opens up a floodgate of blood that pours out across the kitchen floor until both Will and Abigail are submerged.
In an echo of last episode’s image of Bedelia sinking into the darkness of her tub, we watch as Will sinks into a crimson-tinted darkness of his own. However, instead of the face-up pose Bedelia took (perhaps symbolizing that she had not yet succumbed completely to Hannibal’s influence — at that point, anyway), Will floats face-down like a drowned man, already dead. This is followed immediately by a familiar image to Hannibal viewers: the shattering of a teacup.
All the way back in the very first episode, Will has been associated with the image of the teacup, with Hannibal telling him that Jack sees Will as “a fragile little teacup, the finest china used for only special guests” and then later in Season Two (in “Ko No Mono”), when Hannibal explains the he occasionally purposefully drops a teacup to shatter, and is always disappointed when “it doesn’t gather itself up again.”
This was a reference to a scene in the novel Hannibal, where he listens to Stephen Hawking talking about the increase of entropy and disorder that accompanies the thermodynamic arrow of time: “You may see a cup of tea fall off of a table and break into pieces on the floor. But you will never see the cup gather itself back together and jump back on the table… The increase of disorder, or entropy, is what distinguishes the past from the future.” Also in the novel, we learned that Hannibal’s obsession with entropy is connected to an irrational desire to see time reversed and for his little sister, Mishcha to return to life — a narrative element we’ll see before too long in the series, I’m sure.
Back in “Primavera” the teacup falls, shattering in slow-motion, but as the pieces bounce, we see some are parts of Will’s face, and slowly the scene begins rolling backward, allowing the pieces of teacup and face to recombine into Will waking up in a hospital bed. Has Will become Hannibal’s reconstituted teacup? Nearly before we can process this information, he has a visitor; into the room walks Abigail with a small bandage on her throat.
From here we are treated to another backwards sequence as we watch Abigail, blood magically flying back, returning to the wound, rising up from the bloody ground to have the slashing of her throat undone. Back in the hospital room, she explains that the doctors called Hannibal’s cut surgical in its precision. He wanted them both to live. She rightly blames Will for them all not leaving together.
This triggers a very interesting discussion that is basically a reiteration of Hugh Everett’s “Many-worlds Interpretation” of quantum mechanics, or the relative state formulation, which posits that every possible outcome of events, every decision that we make, every random happening, fragments reality into an alternate timeline. In effect, as Will puts it, “Everything that can happen happens. It has to end well… and it has to end badly… It has to end every way it can. This is how it ended for us.”
And there, in a nutshell, is our insight into Bryan Fuller’s editorial approach to adapting the work of Thomas Harris for the series Hannibal, in and amongst all the other interpretations already out there. We have the original novels as one timeline (which is already outdated, given the fact that Hannibal was born to an aristocratic Lithuanian family in 1933 – which would put him currently into his seventies — a literary conceit that is also straining – no pun intended – credulity in FX’s adaptation of The Strain), two filmed versions of Red Dragon — Michael Mann’s 1986 film Manhunter, and the Brett Ratner directed Red Dragon in 2002 — the second of which served as a prequel-of-sorts to Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), constituting a malleable-but-serviceable continuity, given Sir Anthony Hopkins’s return to the role of Hannibal after Silence and Ridley Scott’s Hannibal in 2001. The poorly-received Hannibal Rising (2007) served to return to the character’s childhood, but was so critically reviled that I’m not sure anyone considers it canon. So before Bryan Fuller stepped up to the plate, we had at least three separate Hannibals with at least five different directors all fragmenting off their own versions of the character from Harris’s source material.
So not only is Will positing an almost science-fiction style conception of reality, he’s also letting the audience in on the secret. They’re all valid and accurate tellings of the story of Hannibal. Don’t get hung up on variations and changes, whichever story you want to choose as your Hannibal is still there, existing simultaneously with this one. Fuller is, however, the only creator aside from Harris himself, who is devoting himself to telling Hannibal’s whole story, and as Abigail tells Will, “If everything that can happen happens, then you can never really do the wrong thing. You’re just doing what you’re supposed to.”
Later, Will feels the pull of Hannibal in his dreams (after Abigail explains that Hannibal wants them to find him, he feels the stag antlers attempting to push free of him through his stomach wound), and revisits another variation on a moment from the Season Two finale as he and Hannibal destroy his notes and records. This is a fantastic visual representation of how Will’s subconscious is always working, processing hints and clues that weren’t really noticed the first time around. As Hannibal tells him that the foyer in his Memory Palace is the Norman Capel in Palermo, Italy. In his dream he sees the skull engraved on the floor of the chapel and looks up to the glorious art-covered ceiling.
And then it is eight months later.
Will and Abigail arrive at the Norman Chapel. The transition is another patented Hannibal flourish, as we are zoomed in incredibly tight on a lighting match, which in turn lights a prayer candle in the chapel. Curiously, according to A Catholic Life, vigil lights are “traditionally accompanied by prayers of attention or waiting, with the Latin vigila translating as “waiting” or “watching” which is exactly what Will is here to do. And as we’ll see later, he is being watched. So even the transitions are now loaded with symbolic resonance.
As they walk, Abigail is noticed by a priest — a point that will return to cause some possible confusion later, but isn’t really what some critics are suggesting, I don’t think. The priest watches as she and Will discuss his belief or disbelief in God. Hearkening back to the earlier conversation about multiple realities, when Will says what he believes is “closer to science fiction than anything in the Bible” we can safely assume he’s not talking about Scientology.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an exploration of God’s role in human suffering explained this way. Will asserts that no one is ever saved by God; that would be inelegant. Elegance is more important than suffering. And then, when Will concludes that this “is His design” he is aligning God with the serial killers that he hunts, tying us back into that Season One conversation with Hannibal about God and power at the end of the second episode.
The important thing to note here is that Will asserts that Hannibal believes in God. This knowledge puts his actions in a very intriguing light, especially with the Luciferian overtones to the way Mads Mikkelsen plays the character. “Defying God. That’s Hannibal’s idea of a good time” he half-jokes. But taken in relation to the series as a whole, this helps to establish Hannibal of something more than a typical serial killer — or even an ultra-classy killer who mostly preys on the rude. It situates him as more of a Miltonic adversary; the romantic rebellious hero version of Lucifer, rather than the strictly demonic.
Normally, I would be against the fleshing out of the background and motivations of a villain of this stature, and both the book and film versions of Hannibal Rising failed miserably at formulating an origin for the character, but Fuller’s Hannibal is already so much more fleshed out psychologically that I have confidence that he’ll be able to dig into those early years and pull something valuable and interesting from the source material’s wreckage.
Which brings us up to date with last episode’s climax. The transition is suitably stylish as director Vincenzo Natali teases us with more slow-motion blood drops and the reveal of Dimmond’s torso, carved and twisted into an origami heart displayed on a tripod of swords in the Norman Chapel. The image is representative of the Tarot’s 3 of Swords, reversed, which symbolizes betrayal and the pain of separation (hat tip to Eat the Rude for that one!)
With this reveal, we are then introduced to the Italian version of the Behavioral Science Unit, but only just. This moment also establishes why the priest was shown paying special attention to Will and Abigail earlier. He’s noticed that Will is hanging around the chapel and — spoiler alert — seems to be talking to himself a lot. Yes, Abigail is actually, truly dead. The Abigail we’ve seen in this episode is a manifestation of Will’s imagination; the part of him that regrets not giving in to the urge to run away with Hannibal and live a life of sin, murder, and Platonic man love. Abigail has become the symbolic sounding board against which Will bounces his less savory desires — the representation of the rebellious attractiveness of Hannibal’s influence.
She’s not a ghost. The priest wasn’t seeing her spirit. The priest was noticing Will’s disturbing habit of talking to himself as though someone else were there. The scene of the priest and Abigail acknowledging one another was Will acknowledging that he was behaving oddly in public. It really doesn’t need to be explored as anything more than that. Hannibal is a series that exists in a surrealistic reality where the emotional responses to the bizarre visuals are sometimes more important than narrative logic, but this is not one of those places.
There’s no supernatural element in Hannibal.
Anyway, the fact that a former FBI profiler, one only recently acquitted of horrendous murder charges after an extended stay in a hospital for the criminally insane, has been spending his days chatting to himself about God and defiance in a chapel that now houses a hideous piece of psychotic art, rightly makes Will a suspect — if only for a few minutes. What Will’s questioning by the Italian police actually does for the narrative is allow for the introduction of Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino).
Pazzi has an interesting history in both the Hannibal novel and film, as a disgraced police officer who, upon discovering Hannibal’s true identity attempts to sell him to Mason Verger. With Mason recast this season, we know already that he will be brought back into the storyline, and we can assume that something horrible is on the horizon for the character. However, at this point, Fuller has re-reinvented Pazzi as an Italian parallel of Will; someone who also is able to empathically imagine what is going on inside the head of a killer.
This is how the character was originally presented in the Hannibal novel. The film didn’t, to my memory, really play with this notion.
In both the novel and the film, Pazzi ends up hanging disemboweled in a visual representation of the lynchings of the Pazzi conspirators who attempted to overthrow the Medicis in 1478. Interestingly, in both previous interpretations of this story, Pazzi is the one watching Hannibal’s lecture on Dante and the betrayers, where two members of the Pazzi family are interred — despite the fact that Dante’s Inferno was written some 200 years earlier. It was an irony too delicious for Harris to pass up, but Fuller opted to use the Dante lecture to different ends with his focus on Bedelia last episode.
In this version, Pazzi is still disgraced thanks to the fact that twenty years earlier, he thought he had captured Il Mostro di Firenze, the Monster of Florence. However, an innocent man (or at least a man innocent of these crimes) died in place of the actual killer. The man Pazzi knows to be the real killer escaped, though he has a picture that he shares with Will: a picture of a young Hannibal (an actual photo of Mikkelsen from the Danish TV show Rejseholdet (2000-2004) — ironically about a Danish police unit investigating “the nation’s most vicious cases of murder and violent crime”), with different hair photoshopped in to make him look younger.
The choice to use Il Mostro di Firenze is a controversial one, given the fact that the real Monster of Florence was actually a Son of Sam-style killer (or killers), known for a series of 16 murders that took place between 1968 and 1985 in Florence. Although there were four men arrested, charged, and convicted for the crime at various times, the media has maintained that the real killer(s) have never been caught. Two books, the first a 1996 novel called The Monster of Florence by Magdalen Nabb and the second a non-fiction work also called The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi both suggest the same perpetrator as the real killer.
In the film Hannibal, the Il Mostro case was worked in as a subplot, where Il Mostro was actually a janitor at the Palazzo Vecchio who witnesses Hannibal murdering Pazzi, however the scenes were cut from the film.
The real killer’s work is still relatively recent for an appropriation, especially given that Pazzi says the Monster was killing twenty years earlier — at the end of the real killer’s spree — and rather than the murdering of young couples in their cars a la Son of Sam, this version had a fondness for arranging his victims in tableaus from famous paintings. Notably, the example Pazzi shares with Will is of a couple murdered and displayed in the back of a truck as Chloris and Zephyrus from Botticelli’s painting “Primavera” — which provides the title for this episode.
Taken from the novel, that Harris would choose this image as the example of a young Hannibal discovering his voice, as it were, is a wonderful touch. “Primavera” isn’t just an example of classical art, providing a parallel for what Hannibal sees as his own form of expression; it is also a painting charged with a number of interesting symbolic elements that play into establishing the character of Hannibal. Depending on the interpretation, we have a couple of different meanings that could be inferred.
The one I think is most apropos to what Fuller is constructing with his version of Hannibal is that of Eugene Lane-Spollen’s Under the Guise of Spring: The Message Hidden in Botticelli’s Primavera, where it is suggested that the painting is not only a mythological representation of the arrival of Spring, with Zephyrus (the wind of March) claiming and ravishing the wood nymph Chloris, transforming her into Flora, the goddess of flowers (the act of which, according to Ovid’s telling, introduced color to a world that had only been one color up until that point). Lane-Spollen suggests that in the painting, Chloris is pointing out a symbol in the floral pattern of Flora’s dress that indicates the painting’s subject matter is also the Pagan Renaissance Revival championed by Florence philosopher Marsilio Ficino. Ficino is known for professing that man possessed the spark of divinity, contradicting the medieval view of man’s guilt and culpability in the corruption and sin of the world.
If anything says Hannibal, it’s proclaiming kinship with divinity and rejecting guilt. Without more detail about the victims, we can’t really establish whether or not this killing satisfies what we know now about Hannibal’s choice of victims, so strictly working with symbolic resonance, perhaps the transformation of Chloris into Flora is representative of his own transformation from killer to artist? Does he see himself as the arrival of Spring, resurrecting the dead in a beautiful but grisly tableau?
Pazzi’s story of discovering the young Lithuanian man seated before “Primavera” sketching the scene reenacted in the back of the truck is a nice touch, but there’s not enough detail to really establish its importance in the development of Hannibal. Instead, it serves as the point that undermined Pazzi’s career, though we haven’t had a chance to explore that yet, either. He says it ruined him, but he still has access to police records. Photographs of the Dimmond-heart he hands off to Will, which allows us to finally dive into Will’s imagination.
We don’t get the traditional pendulum sweep to take us back, instead opting for a more straightforward fade as Will circles the display noting that Hannibal splintered every bone, skinned, bent, twisted and trimmed the body into the heart, calling it a “Valentine written on a broken man.” It’s a bit obvious, but it is underscored by a soft, but slowly growing heartbeat worked into the soundscape by composer Brian Reitzell. It’s almost unnoticeable until the heart actually begins to beat and then split open in one of the most horrifying images to ever appear in Hannibal.
The broken arms and legs flop free, allowing the hooves of the stag to poke through the stumps where hands and feet should be, and the antlers sprout from the neck stump. The body, twisted around, arcing backwards stomach to the ceiling, begins to clamber forward as Will stumbles backward and Hannibal is resurrected in Will’s imagination, no longer as a humanoid nightmare or a monstrous force of nature, but as a hideous monster.
One can only hope we don’t see this thing again, if only because of what it would symbolize going on in Will’s head.
He is startled out of his vision by Abigail, who again reiterates the desire to be with Hannibal despite everything he’s done. It’s a touching scene with Kacey Rohl and Hugh Dancy nailing every emotional tick and prodding every psychological wound, but ultimately Will has to acknowledge that “this place wasn’t made for” Abigail. To viewers’ horror, her neck slowly splits open and for those who hadn’t already made the connection, we find that Will is alone in Palermo.
But he’s not really alone.
The camera pans up to reveal Hannibal watching from above, his face framed in a star of masonry, and as he slips away the camera lingers on a fresco of Saint Ambrose — known as a Christian Universalist who claimed that through redemption all human beings and fallen angels would be restored to their relationship with god, while also espousing the philosophy of adaptive worship most familiar though the phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Was this an intentional connection being made or just an attempt to visually tie Hannibal to a role of potential sainthood? He has Will back, the teacup he shattered, reformed and whole, but there is still that pesky question of forgiveness, and whether or not Hannibal truly wants to be forgiven.
But that’s not the end of the episode!
First we get a moving montage of parallel imagery showing Will’s rescue from Hannibal’s Season Two finale attack and Abigail’s burial preparations. The similarities in the machinery of life and death are presented without commentary, but visually create a connection between the delicate balance between preserving life and essentially preserving death.
When we reach the end, we have what some critics have noted as a slight parallel with the conclusion of The Silence of the Lambs, but it’s only slight. I don’t think it was an intentional callback (call-forward?), and Will’s venture into the underground serves more as a symbolic journey to the underworld, echoing any number of myths (for example that of Hermes rescuing Persephone from Hades – a parallel origin of spring to that of the “Primavera” painting), as he lurks through the catacombs beneath the chapel, searching for Hannibal.
I say searching here, rather than hunting, because at this point, as Will admits to Pazzi, he doesn’t know which side he’s on: that of the law or that of the killer. If nothing else was made plain by this episode, it’s that Will does not seem to be in Italy on official FBI business. With no reference made toward or contact being shown with Jack or Alana, Will is either on his own here or again using himself as bait to lure Hannibal into the trap. I don’t think they’d go the same route twice and I seriously doubt that Hannibal would fall for that again.
Nearly every myth involving a journey into the Underworld involves the hero searching for a lost love or forbidden knowledge. The same thing occurs here, and after the final moment, as Will calls out into the darkness, “Hannibal, I forgive you” and Hannibal disappears into the shadows, both characters are going to be forced to reevaluate where they stand. What exactly will receiving forgiveness mean for Hannibal? Forgiveness is tied up with redemption and Hannibal’s self-perception as a Luciferian being claiming power by challenging God’s order through sheer chaotic curiosity would seem to decry real forgiveness.
I’m a little worried that if Will truly forgives him, that may actually push him to more extreme acts of violence to establish himself as unforgiveable.