‘Hannibal’ (Season 3): Past is Prologue

As I noted in the last Hannibal chat, the first half of season three was very much a culmination. Had the show only been renewed for a shortened third season, those seven episodes would’ve been more than enough to serve as a satisfying conclusion to the show’s narrative. Instead, we’ve been given a final six episodes to enjoy, and more than ever before, we’re being given a direct adaptation of one of the original Thomas Harris novels.

Hannibal is finally tackling the story that started it all, and the result is every bit as entertaining as what has come before. In fact, the two-and-a-half seasons of character development we’ve already been treated to are allowing this to be the most richly-layered and exciting version of Red Dragon yet.

In the original novel and film adaptations of Red Dragon, there’s an obvious need to introduce every element of the world, including the history between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter. We’re only given snippets of what Hannibal has done in the past, and what a big deal it was for Will to find him out and catch him. Of course, in the show’s universe, Hannibal wasn’t caught so much as he surrendered, but the important point is that we don’t have to infer anything; we know exactly who these characters are and where the relationships between them stand.

The end result is that more than any other version, the focus can fall squarely on fleshing out the true star of the story: the Great Red Dragon himself, Francis Dolarhyde. He’s only been in three episodes at this point, but Richard Armitage has already become an integral part of the Hannibal universe, bringing a more savage type of killer for Will and the FBI to have to hunt down.

Richard Armitage is doing stellar work as Dolarhyde, and because we know everyone else so well, the show can indulge in multiple acts dedicated to his activities before returning to our main characters. By that same token, Rutina Wesley’s Reba McLane, after just two appearances, has become one of the show’s most tragic figures, trapped in a doomed relationship with a madman.

Even with all of this, the show still manages to give our main characters plenty of screen time. Again, their stories came to a satisfying conclusion, but we’re still getting fascinating new layers to every character. From Hannibal’s truly impressive memory-palace constructs to the revealed darkness that has always lurked inside of Bedelia, we’re getting a lot of great additional flavor to our favorite characters. The show is managing to have its cake – a satisfying ending – and eat it to – giving us more of the world we love.