Why ‘Hannibal’ was a bloody perfect finale

“It’s beautiful.”

Those words were the final words spoken in the season (and probably series) finale of Hannibal on Saturday night (it aired on Thursday in Canada, so many people who were starved were able to devour it before its official premiere).  They were also incredibly fitting, describing the show’s final hour in a display of bloody poetic justice as it wrapped up the Red Dragon storyline and gave us a suitably cliffhanger-esque ending.  

Seriously, the episode literally ended on a cliffhanger.

Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) in the Season 3 finale.

For many shows, series finales are often underwhelming and mostly mixed at best. Who can forget the polarizing ending to The Sopranos, which still incites debate until this day?  How about the series finale for Dexter, where almost everyone and their mother anticipated a certain ending but ended up getting disappointed when their favorite serial killer took a page out of Wolverine’s playbook to chop up wood in Canada (of all places). I’m still wrapping my mind around the Lost finale – not because it was confusing but because it was so frustrating, providing more questions than answers (like everything else Damon Lindelof touches).

If anything, a lot of serialized storytelling ends up confounding viewers more than satisfying them in the end, which is probably a universal complaint most have after one of their favorite shows ends. As Bill Bradley of the Huffington Post postulated when talking about the ending of How I Met Your Mother, “after nine long years, the showrunners unforgivably bumbled the finale, presenting an emotionally tone-deaf conclusion.”  A lot of writers and producers seemingly are more interested in making a general statement rather than giving their characters and stories the satisfying, emotional climax they often necessitate and viewers often crave.  For the faithful viewers of Hannibal there will likely always be a craving for more of the artful and spectacularly visual show. However, most can take satisfaction in an ending that doesn’t strive to be profound or over-complicated – if anything, their appetites can be satiated with an ending that is both satisfying and yet leaves the door open for future meals.

Unfortunately, those future courses are in much doubt – beyond the fact that Hannibal has been unceremoniously cancelled by NBC, the show’s executive producer Bryan Fuller is off producing a new show and the actors have been released from their contracts. For all intents and purposes, the show is over. However, even though the ending might leave you quite literally hanging, it also acts as a perfect conclusion for the series as well. Every season so far could have also acted as a series finale – as if Fuller secretly knew NBC could give him the axe at any moment (thus explaining why he signed onto produce a new show before Hannibal officially was canceled).

The first season ended with Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) framing Will (Hugh Dancy) and the second season ended with Hannibal seemingly killing everybody and absconding with Bedelia (Gillian Anderson). Both endings could have been serviceable, but they were more open-ended than anything. In an interesting twist of fate, the third season finale is probably even more of a cliffhanger than either of those two yet it provides the most closure for the Hannibal/Will relationship.

For much of the series, there has been a decent amount of speculation and desire from the fans of the show (whom Fuller affectionately dubs “Fannibals”) of a romantic courtship between Hannibal and Will. Fuller could have exploited that desire and did something borderline on fan fiction, but instead Fuller and his writing team handled Hannigram (you can thank Twitter and Tumblr for that one) with the show’s trademark subtlety and nuance. Even though Hannibal embraced Will, it was more of a symbolic embrace than a romantic one.

Hannibal and Will take the phrase “Hug it out” to a whole new level.

One of the highlights of the show has been the constant internal (and sometimes external) struggle with Will and his feelings toward Hannibal. It almost feels like the entire show has been building up to this moment – much of Season 2 had Will acting as a double agent, plotting with Hannibal and conspiring to run away with him. There was even a moment early on in Season 3 when Will told Jack (Laurence Fishburne) that a part of him wanted to run away with Hannibal. This explained why the first half of Season 3 had Will traveling across the globe to be reunited with Hannibal, only for Will to ultimately reject Hannibal after coming to some sort of epiphany. When Will tells him, “I’m not going to look for you anymore”, you could tell those words stung Hannibal like the world’s deadliest insect had just pierced his heart. It was, of course, only natural for Hannibal to surrender so that Will wouldn’t need to look for him – if needed, Will would know exactly where to look.

In many ways, the Will/Hannibal dynamic has challenged and subverted our perceptions on male relationships. As Daily Dot’s own Aja Romano said, “Hannibal has continually pushed boundaries during its prematurely extinguished three-season run.” Those boundaries just don’t end with Hannigram, but extend toward the entire show itself. Even though the second half of this season was an adaptation of the Thomas Harris book Red Dragon (where Fuller based his show from), Fuller expectedly and unexpectedly still managed to create deviations along the way, subverting our own expectations of what the ending would entail. Almost every season finale managed to accomplish that in spades – from Will and Hannibal reversing roles in the season 1 finale to Hannibal bringing back Abigail only to kill her off in the season 2 finale – this finale was no different.

What made Hannibal so brilliant, however, was that even though it would often surprise us those surprises never felt pandering or written purely for shock value. Each surprise was carefully planned, written and choreographed.  The Season 3 ending feels like something the show has been barreling towards since the pilot episode – building upon this unconventional relationship between two men that some might consider being unhealthy, while others might consider to be tender and almost unobservable. Will and Hannibal always had a connection that was beyond classification, a bond so deep even knives couldn’t penetrate or destroy.

It wouldn’t make sense for Will to simply leave Hannibal in that institution, drawing pictures of people he found to be unamusing or insulting those that were beneath him.  Even though he had made a family for himself with Molly, Walter and the dogs – they were never truly his family, in the same way Bedelia was never Hannibal’s equal.  Bedelia was a placeholder, or a rebound. She was someone for Hannibal to keep him occupied while he might drift away to think about someone that meant more to him. In the same capacity, Molly and Walter would never be enough for Will, who would always gravitate back to someone that understood him inside and out – someone that has literally seen him inside and out.

Hannibal is ready to carve his turkey for Willsgiving.

So, in the show’s final moments, it was only natural for Will to surrender to Hannibal in the same way Hannibal surrendered to Will just five episodes before. In both a literal and metaphorical way, Will was finally surrendering to his feelings for Hannibal – feelings that don’t need to be romantic in order to be considered quantifiable.  As The Joker told Batman in The Dark Knight, “We’re going to be doing this forever.” In the same way Batman and The Joker are equals, so are Will and Hannibal.

It is only fitting for Hannibal to end with Will and Hannibal intertwined, entering and leaving each other’s lives but always coming back to one another – like coming back to that restaurant you love and ordering the same meal every time. In any lesser show, Will might have shot and killed the Red Dragon and then secretly called for Jack as Hannibal would get carted away in handcuffs – or worse yet, shot and killed as Will pulled the trigger, finally ending a monster that has wrought so much terror to his life and to the lives of so many others.  It would have likely left viewers unsatisfied, confounded and disappointed.

However, we already saw Hannibal getting carted away in handcuffs and while that could have been a serviceable ending for the show – it wouldn’t have been a serviceable ending for the characters.  Bryan Fuller and his team of writers, producers and filmmakers instead crafted an ending that didn’t betray the core dynamic of the people they have been developing over the course of the last three years.  They instead crafted an ending that embraced them, comforted them and then threw them off the cliff of a mountain top covered in blood in true Hannibal style. Where most series finales might betray themselves with a dishonest ending, Hannibal was never false for a single moment.

So, as Will fell into Hannibal’s welcoming arms, it was an embrace that not only resonated for the characters, but for the audience as well – an embrace so warm and inviting that it was almost like the show was giving us a needed hug just as the last course was served, reminding us everything is going to be all right.

While it might’ve been the last meal, at least it was a satisfying one.


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