Tonight’s episode of Hannibal is, essentially, a short film, one that functions as a gorgeous, somber mood piece — or a tone poem, as would be more to Hannibal Lecter’s high brow liking. Will Graham has emerged from the gruesome events of the Season 2 finale, alive but not unscathed, with myriad existential and logical questions that have but only one answer: Hannibal.

It’s not as if Will would suddenly be cured of his mental anguish once Hannibal disappeared, and both Bryan Fuller and director Vincenzo Natali (who also helmed last week’s exquisite “Antipasto”) use Will’s slippery grasp on reality to their advantage, crafting an episode that feels as unnervingly surreal as the tenuous reality Will inhabits. As a series, Hannibal has been escalating since Season 1, the artistry progressing into Season 3's outright avant garde approach.

“Primavera” is layered, both narratively and visually, the latter reflecting the fluidity of Will’s uncertain mind. His conversations with a phantom Abigail are the narrative centerpiece, the keys to deciphering Will’s clouded frame of mind. The two ponder the idea of fate: if everything that is going to happen will happen, then the end result is both the best and worst case scenario, and in this instance, they were left physically and emotionally maimed. Perhaps this is their best case scenario — perhaps the best ending for poor, tortured Abigail is death, and perhaps the best conclusion for Will is no real conclusion at all, just more questions.

To this, Abigail offers, “We don’t have an ending. He hasn’t given us one yet.” Will (and Bedelia, and Jack, and Abigail, and, well, everyone Hannibal meets) exists in a world created by Hannibal, a man who, as Will explains to Inspector Patrizzi, would not be content with simply playing God — God does not intervene in the lives of man because it would be “inelegant.” Hannibal views the world as his canvas, manipulating and arranging the lives around him to his liking, to create a more elegant and refined existence. But that is his sick, inverted view. Is Hannibal a deity? He is in the minds of Abigail and Will, to some horrific extent. If God is responsible for fate and we have no control, then Hannibal is their God, in a sense.

Abigail reinforces this idea by assuring Will that, if they’re just doing the inevitable, then there is no right or wrong; they are simply existing as intended.

This is where Will’s mentality is most cloudy. Before we’re even shown the reality of Abigail’s death, it feels apparent. Will’s mind is a slippery and convoluted place, one that we both trust and distrust in equal measure. His analytical instincts remain, but his judgment is suspect, and even he is startlingly aware of it.

To find Hannibal, Will goes to the place once described to him as Hannibal’s “mind palace,” and he finds it in the chapel adorned by a skeleton on the floor. It’s here that Hannibal, aware that Will will come looking for him, leaves his old friend a terrible valentine — evidence of a broken heart. Last week’s premiere skipped out on the artistically gruesome tableaus, but “Primavera” gives us two: the young Hannibal’s precise Botticelli homage, and the current Hannibal’s victim, horrifically contorted postmortem into the shape of a beating human heart.

That heart gives us the episode’s second most striking sequence involving the symbolic elk, as the heart unfolds itself and the elk’s hooves protrude from the ventricles — a highly detailed and startling visual, made all the more terrifying as it begins to stalk toward Will:

In this moment, Will retreats to a safer reality with Abigail, but when that reality crumbles and true reality slips in just long enough for him to realize she’s dead, Will finds himself planted firmly in an empty chapel.

The subsequent life and death montage is orchestrated beautifully — so much of this episode feels like a symphony of sight and sound, from the impossible river of blood rising around Will and Abigail’s bodies in the flashback to the Season 2 finale, to the layering of visuals, all blood and bone. It’s that fluidity contrasted against that harsh delicacy that truly captures the conflict between the fragile Will and the sharp Hannibal; it also serves to highlight Will’s inner struggle between what is real and what is surreal.

What is the real world to Will? The only thing that comes close to reality is one still being manipulated by Hannibal Lecter, who silently lurks in the chapel like a lover stalking the person who shattered his heart, unable to let him go, desperate to know who he’s seeing and talking to, and what he’s doing every moment they’re apart.

Patrizzi, like Will, cannot let the dead go — he once came close to catching Hannibal, his “Il Monstro,” and that sloppy heroic impulse remains irresistible. Will warns Patrizzi that he should not get so close to him, that he does not know whose side Will is truly on.

What will Will do when he comes face to face with his monster? “I’m curious about that myself.”

Additional Thoughts:

  • Yes, that is Kacey Rohl reprising the role of Abigail Hobbs — she’s grown up a little bit since Season 2!
  • I didn’t talk much about Patrizzi and the younger Hannibal, or Il Monstro because so much of this episode is about Will and his state of mind. What we learn this week: 20 years ago, Hannibal killed many people in Italy, posing them artistically as Hannibal is prone to do. Like all burgeoning artists, young Hannibal’s early works weren’t just derivative — they were outright plagiarized. Artists learn by copying first before they develop their own style and confidence.
  • Hannibal’s leather jacket Italy style isn’t just impeccable and incredibly attractive, but it indicates a shift from formality to whatever approximates “appropriately” casual in Hannibal’s mind. It’s like sophisticated casual for serial killers.
  • This is such a rich, complex episode, and one that will likely reward repeat viewings. The conversations between Will and Abigail are just so heavy with meaning. It’s like a thesis statement for Season 3.
  • Is it that kind of party yet? Maybe when Will finally shows up for dinner, it will be.