Warning: The following review contains spoilers.
The opening moments of “The Great Red Dragon” reminded me of one of the best scenes in Freaks and Geeks, where we watch Bill do mundane tasks like make a sandwich and laugh at a stand up on TV, and just by seeing how he is when he’s completely alone we understand a different side of him than we do when we see him at school with his friends. The difference is, for Francis Dolarhyde, doing mundane tasks involves obsessing over William Blake paintings, bulking up, and buying teeth. The cold open is essentially an incredibly creepy silent film, introducing the (likely) final antagonist of the series in the most Hannibal of fashions.
I’m tempted to write that Richard Armitage didn’t do too much in this opening episode, but I realized that really isn’t true at all; he just didn’t say anything and we only saw the aftermath of his murder, not him doing the murder itself. It’s actually truly extraordinary that Armitage delivered such a powerful performance and made Dolarhyde come to life so strongly without uttering a word. I don’t expect that trend to continue, but it’s a hell of an introduction.
Speaking of his murder, the decision to not show Dolarhyde commit the crime, but instead to have us watch Will relive it was a perfect call. It actually surprised me during the episode just how long it has been since we’ve seen Will’s pendulum swing and watch him commit someone else’s murder. The three year time jump is rocky in some places, but here it absolutely works. Hugh Dancy show just how tormented Will is by having to do this again after he thought that he left this part of his life behind.
There are some small moments in the episode that don’t work. Alana and Chilton’s conversation in her office sounds like one they would have the day after they caught Hannibal, not three years later. And Hannibal beating the death penalty on an insanity plea feels sort of cheap and clichéd. And unnecessary. Unless Fuller’s plan for season four (haven’t entirely given up hope yet) deviated so widely from Silence of the Lambs that Lecter has to be in prison for many, many more years (More than it actually takes to finally be executed), the idea of having Hannibal on Death Row seems so much more exciting. But these are small matters that likely won’t have a lasting impact on the final season arc. From the start, Hannibal has been about cutting through fluff to get to what Fuller and Co. really wanted to say, and the predictable but perfect final lines of the episode have given us what so many of us have wanted to see since the series began. Hannibal behind bars. Talking to Will. The reversal from “Savoureaux” is finally complete.