NOTE: The following review contains spoilers. Read further at your own discretion.
In one of the final scenes of Hannibal’s fantastic season opener, Hannibal turns to Bedelia and asks if she is observing or participating. Hannibal sort of mocks her after she says she’s just observing, but there’s a bit of an irony here. Throughout the episode, we see just how much Hannibal loves being observed. More specifically, we see how much Hannibal loves being observed by someone who has peeked beneath his person-suit. Whether it’s Bedelia, Dimmond, Gideon, or Will, Hannibal takes a sort of pleasure in letting his true self be out in the open for moments at a time.
This is clearest through the flashbacks to Hannibal’s extended preparation of Dr. Gideon. At first, I wondered what the purpose of these flashbacks was. We had already seen (or so we thought) Gideon’s “death” last season. What more was there to be mined from the character? But it’s through Gideon that we really see how much Hannibal enjoys being able to be “himself” in the company of people know see what he really is. Sure, he’s feeding Gideon certain foods in order to make his meat more delicious when he finally decides to feast on him, but as Gideon points out in the poignant final scene, Hannibal also enjoys the company. And Gideon drops the mic when he points out how mad Hannibal is that he isn’t spending his time with Will instead.
It’s the first time Will Graham is mentioned at all in the episode, and it’s the last line of dialogue! But it recontextualizes so much of what we saw in the episode and made all of the flashbacks with Dr. Gideon make sense. If Hannibal is someone who very much likes being seen without his person suit on, then having Will see him must have been more enjoyable than anything. After all, it was Will who managed to first see through Hannibal’s suit just by observing. Will was the one who broke through Hannibal’s exoskeleton, and Hannibal is fascinated by that. No one else, not Gideon, not Bedelia, could replace exactly what he and Will had.
Although, if the penultimate scene is anything to go on, Hannibal might be trying with Bedelia. His “observe or participate?” questions harkens back to when Hannibal thought that Will had turned to his side, and had gone past merely observing Hannibal’s actions and had decided to start helping him with preparing dinner. This was all a farce of course, which has also no doubt scarred Hannibal. But if all Hannibal wanted was for Will to participate with him, he might be trying to scratch that itch by getting Bedelia to participate in his place. But if Bedelia does participate, it’ll be after she’s kicked and screamed until she can’t anymore. Hannibal thought Will participated willingly. It’s but another reason that he cannot be replaced.