[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers about the Season 3 finale of NBC's Hannibal. Read at your own risk.]
Hannibal ended its run (for now) on Saturday, and while the finale didn't really end with a cliff-hanger, a cliff was most certainly involved.
The episode quickly wrapped up the traditional Red Dragon story with Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) faking his death and leaving Reba (Rutina Wesley) behind to assure the authorities that the Great Red Dragon was no more. However, when Dolarhyde ultimately revealed himself to Will (Hugh Dancy), he had a much more insidious plan than simply bumping off the gumshoe: He wanted to kill Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) — a task with which Will was more than happy to help.
After selling Jack (Laurence Fishburne) and Alana (Caroline Dhavernas) on the idea of faking Hannibal's escape in order to lure Dolarhyde out of hiding, Will warns the previously cocky Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) of the possibility that her "meat is back on the menu." And indeed, when Dolarhyde ambushed Hannibal's convoy earlier than expected, the good doctor was free to roam once again. But instead of fleeing, Hannibal and Will returned to Hannibal's cliffside home, where Dolarhyde soon struck. A typically bloody battle ensued, but the Dragon was ultimately put down after Will sliced open his chest and Hannibal ripped his throat out with his teeth — murder husbands at last.
"This is all I ever wanted for you, Will. For both of us," Hannibal says. But just as Will acknowledges that "It's beautiful," and is pulled into an embrace by Hannibal, Will forces both men over the edge of the cliff to their presumed death in the roiling Atlantic below. Or did he? In a tantalizing post-credits sequence — scored as was the climactic fight by a new Siouxsie Sioux song "Lovecrime" — viewers see a one-legged Bedelia sitting down to dine on her freshly cooked appendage at a table set for three.
So, what does that somewhat perfect ending mean for the show's potential future? TV.com chatted with executive producer Bryan Fuller about the finale, Will and Hannibal's fate, and whether resurrection of the show is possible — or necessary — at this point.
You've ended every season with some sense of closure just in case it turned out to be the series finale. But this one felt much more definitive. Did you have more of a sense that this might be the show's last season?
Bryan Fuller: I think it has more of a series finale vibe to it because the show is canceled. [Laughs] I think if you were watching it [thinking] that there was going to be a fourth season, there would be a different interpretation of events and an excitement of, "Oh God, how are they going to paint themselves out of this corner?" The intent to end it in this manner never changed the trajectory of [wanting to do] a Season 4.
So this season was always going to end with both Will and Hannibal appearing to fall to their deaths?
The finale feels like it was foreshadowed in many ways. Will acknowledging he has to kill Hannibal lest he become him, and Bedelia saying it's a "Can't live with him, can’t live without him" type of situation all were pointing to murder-suicide in some way. I feel like we really were very honest with the audience in terms of the direction we were going and laid down enough pipe so that when we got to the finale and Will does tackle Hannibal into the abyss, you don't say, "I don't buy that emotionally for a moment."
Unlike the Season 2 finale, when Will set a trap for Hannibal but was conflicted about it, Will seemed much more intent on ending this game with Hannibal.
I think he knew going into it what was going to happen. He even says to Hannibal, "I don't know If I can survive this, and that's just fine." He knew how far deep he had gone and he knew the chances of him getting back to himself were very slim. In that moment, when they experience the joint murder of Francis Dolarhyde and they're able to acknowledge that it was beautiful, Will realizes how terrifying a thing that is for him to have enjoyed murder so much and perhaps Hannibal was exactly right for him. [Will realizes] that embrace that takes them over the edge is perhaps the best outcome for both of them and certainly the outcome with the lowest body count.
Hannibal is usually the smartest person in the room. He guessed Will had sold him out to Dolarhyde, so did he not suspect Will might push them off the cliff?
I think he is surprised as he's tipping back over the edge, but the center of gravity has already betrayed him. He's falling, and there's a certain surrender to that. At the same time, he probably acknowledges a certain beauty that Will is falling with him to his death and they're holding on to each other until impact.
So even in "death," Hannibal feels like he won the battle?
Absoutely. In that final moment, the murder of Francis Dolarhyde, Hannibal proved himself right about Will. And there's something very antagonistic about Will saying I'm not going to give you that for very long.
A romantic love between Will and Hannibal was always more of a subtext in earlier seasons, but became actual text in certain conversations this season. Do you think of this ultimately as a love story?
It was a love story from the very beginning – it was romantic horror. One of the reasons that I really wanted to do the project is I really wanted to investigate the depths of male friendships — the intimacy and the power and the loss of self you experience in a brotherhood camaraderie. That was the thing that fascinated me the most and was the root of the story that I wanted to tell.
And yet Hannibal's love for Will was his fatal flaw.
His compassion for Will always hinged on Will's ability to understand him in a way that he feels like he has never been understood. I think that is the same gift that Will has received from Hannibal. The core of their attraction to each other is that they truly see other for who they are. Hannibal is glamoured by that. If he wasn't, he probably would have killed and eaten Will a long time ago.
I loved the scene between Will and Bedelia when he lets her know he's going to free Hannibal in order to catch Dolarhyde. Will really seems to relish the fear that returns in Bedelia in that moment.
There is something greater happening with Will, which is he is beginning to see that he may not be able to navigate his way out of this situation alive. So, there is a gleeful sharing/warning of comeuppance that stemmed from the idea of Will saying, "If you play, you pay. Dr. Chilton played and he paid. You played, Bedelia, you're going to pay. I played, I know I have to pay. All of us deserve everything that's coming to us." There is a calm that comes over Will in that moment because he's surrendering to his destiny and accepting it. That's perhaps the most liberating thing that he's experienced. He doesn't have to fight for his life any more because he's laying it on the line.
The audience has a sense of what Will is up to when he asks Jack to let Hannibal "escape." But does Jack also realize the game Will is playing? And if so, why does he go through with it?
It goes back to Jack saying to Will, "I didn't kill Hannibal Lecter because I needed you to." Jack's willingness to go along with such a dangerous plan is partly motivated by his strong feeling that Will is going to actually take this to the mat. Will may be bending rules and working outside the law, but he's going to kill Hannibal Lecter. He may lose himself in that endeavor and, once again, that's just fine [with Jack].
Tell me about that Siouxsie Sioux song that played over the final scenes. How did that come about?[Hannibal composer] Brian Reitzell knew I am a huge Siouxsie Sioux fan and have seen her in concert more times than any other artist in my life. We knew that she was a fan of the show, and we reached out to see if she'd be interested in writing a song. Essentially, she hasn't had a single in eight years, and she said she hadn't been inspired to write in a long time, but that Hannibal had inspired her and she would write a new song. It was an incredible honor. I told her it should be a love song between Will and Hannibal. She came back with this wonderful Bond theme of a ditty, and I just said that has to go over the finale. It was pitch-perfect.
Then it became the battle over… how do we pay for it? We didn't have any money left in the budget, and the studio wasn't going to put any more money into the show than they already had. I went to NBC and Sky, who are our American and U.K. broadcasters and said, "I know the show is canceled… and it's absolutely unheard of for a showrunner to come back to you and ask for more money for a show that has no further revenue potential for you. But it's Siouxsie Sioux and it's an honor and it's her first single in eight years." They both said, "Yes, absolutely, we'll split it right down the middle, and we're doing this because we love you, we love the show, and we love Siouxsie."
Just like last year, you had a post-credits sequence that offered a hint of what might come next. What are you willing to say about what Bedelia sitting down to dine on her own leg means?
It suggests that Hannibal survived, that's the main thrust of it. I guess I should correct that to say that it suggests that at least Hannibal survives.
Well, her table is set for three! Of course, the only way to know what happens next is for the show to be revived in some form. Where are the conversations about that at this point?
The conversations at this point are Martha De Laurentiis is still investigating financing a feature film. We're trying to do that as well as get feedback from the audience of: Are you satisfied? Are you done with this story? If the audience is done with this story, then I will be done with this story. If the audience wants more, then I would love to give them more because I feel the most interesting chapter of Will Graham's story is yet to be told.
The series was initially sold as a Red Dragon prequel. This year you brought your story up to and through that arc. So, do you feel like you accomplished what you initially set out to do?
I do absolutely feel a sense of completion, and yet I have the ghosts of stories untold roaming in my head.
If this is the end, what do you hope the legacy of the show will be?
I would love the legacy of the show to be Mads Mikkelsen's portrayal of Hannibal Lecter being the definitive one.
Any final words about the experience?
The fan collaboration with this show has been so much fun. It really blurred the lines between storyteller and audience because so much of this show is my own fan fiction of Thomas Harris' writing. The fans that have been inspired by the show to that same degree, we share the inspiration Thomas Harris has given all of us. That was a wonderful communal experience. So I'm grateful to Thomas Harris for creating these characters, and I'm grateful to the Fannibal family that allowed me to share that passion for these characters with them and for sharing that passion with me. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced as a storyteller.