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Shock Value: Hannibal’s Explosive Finale

Friday’s explosive Hannibal finale left viewers gasping for the next installment of this tight, smart, and creepy television drama, proving that the production team still has the power to shock after the body horror that’s already thrilled and disgusted the show’s fans (who keep coming back anyway) for two seasons. Viewers were brought back around to the events of the opening episode, but finally learned how they played out, and it wasn’t pretty: instead of being the usual elegantly horrific fare of mutilations and canapes, it was a pure, unadulterated bloodbath. If Fuller was aiming for shock value, he definitely got it, because the internet collectively exploded as soon as the last 15 minutes started unfolding.

The ‘oh, SHIT’ moments of this episode (as viewed in a room filled with hardened fans): the resurrection of Abigail, the slow pan to Bedelia De Maurier sitting next to him in First Class at the end of the closing credits, and, of course, the blood. So much blood. As everyone’s tangled plots and schemes started to come unraveled, we found the onion-like layers of even more scheming, and, predictably, Hannibal came out on top. That may be the most important lesson of this series, for those who have forgotten: Hannibal always wins.

Hannibal always comes with viewer discretion warnings, but it somehow felt particularly warranted for this episode, though the show itself has depicted much more disturbing violence in previous episodes. The show is always somewhat dreamlike and eerie, which is part of the appeal, but Hannibal’s series of vicious attacks was anything but dreamlike, making instead for a very jarring, acutely real episode. He may have moved with the grace and speed of a tiger, but there was a harsh, glaring reality underlying his attack on Jack, followed by his quiet stalking of Alana through the house to drive her into the arms of Abigail, to his sucker punch taken to a new extreme when he whipped a knife through Will’s stomach, to the moment he tenderly called Abigail over and laid her throat wide open.

Blood saturated everything in this episode, and we came to see why the season’s theme was ‘water’ — if it hadn’t been obvious before, it was everywhere now. Themes of water, drowning, and darkness wound throughout the episode — tears spilling from Alana’s cheeks, Will’s river, rain falling down on Alana’s broken body, great pools of blood slowly filling Hannibal’s wine cellar and kitchen as he calmly strolled out of his house, put on a coat, and walked away from the carnage he’d created, preparing to hop on a flight to far away and, he thinks, out of reach of law enforcement.

While Fuller’s been criticised for what many see as queerbaiting in terms of the homoeroticism of the show and the handling of same-gender relationships, and even more heavily criticised for his treatment of Margo, he does know how to make masterfully beautiful and aesthetically plotted television (though this doesn’t negate or devalue the criticisms of the show’s handling of certain thematic issues). Hannibal is bold, daring, and compelling. It works because it’s so far out there from existing TV, but in a totally different way than his previous work, which was heavily characterised by whimsy.

Hannibal is Fuller’s dark side, and it seems to be working well for him. I’m not entirely sure what this says about Fuller…but his dedication to sticking to short seasons and packing in well-plotted, elegant stories haunted with aching beauty is working out. This episode read as a series of gems laid out upon a string, with scene after scene of bizarre, dreamy, surreal narrative, punctuated by a sharp period at the end of the sentence that jolted viewers out of their complacency. They’ve watched Hannibal because it’s pretty, but there was nothing pretty about this episode.

This show was a brave experiment for NBC, and it’s unlikely the network would take it on now — it happened to come along at precisely the right moment for the network, which has since returned to more conservative programming. This is a great pity, as more shows like Hannibal are really what could set US television apart; they don’t necessarily have to be filled with body horror and brutality, but they could push boundaries in terms of surreality, hallucinations, and complex characterisations viewed side by side with absolutely beautiful settings and carefully crafted productions. Everything about Hannibal, from the painstakingly styled and amazing food to Will’s bizarre dream sequences, has a logic and a beauty and a compelling grace all its own.

Until US viewers meet with Hannibal again, they’ll have to settle for more run of the mill fare. And I don’t want to be the one to spoil you, but you’d better look forward to a wild season three.

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s.e. smith

s.e. smith is the Editor in Chief at Global Comment, with publication credits including Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Bitch Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Rewire.