On June 22, NBC canceled the critically acclaimed series Hannibal, drawing the ire of fans — aka Fannibals — and spawning rumors that another network would pick up a fourth season. But when Bryan Fuller, who came up with the radically inventive reimagining of author Thomas Harris' cannibalistic creation, revealed Netflix and Amazon wouldn't be picking up Hannibal in early July, hope began to wane.
In the meanwhile, the show has gone on. And for the last seven weeks, Season 3 has treated audiences to a European feast for the senses as Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) searched for Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) on the blood-stained streets of Palermo and throughout the gothic vistas of Lithuania. In the end, Hannibal the Cannibal found himself back on U.S. soil and, fearing permanent exile from his frenemy's life, surrendered to authorities in the July 18 episode, titled "Digestivo," an hour that brought the European adventure to a close.
Now, as the show preps to launch its next chapter — a six-episode arc revolving around Francis Dolarhyde, a serial killer nicknamed the Tooth Fairy (played by The Hobbit's Richard Armitage and based on Harris' Red Dragon novel) — Fuller finds himself facing, what could be, the beginning of the end.
While he's hopeful that Hannibal can find a new home, he also knows something that Fannibals don't. And that is what's to come in the final six episodes of Season 3 — installments that could, according to Fuller, change everyone's mind about the need for Season 4.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
What have the last few weeks been like for you since NBC canceled the show and fans basically petitioned every other network to pick it up?
Bryan Fuller: It's definitely been surreal and yet familiar at the same time because this is not my first time at the cancellation rodeo. It's always beloved to have that much affection for something you create or, in this case, reinterpret for a new audience. The relationship with the Fannibal community has always been one of my favorite things about doing this show because I'm meeting and interacting with a lot of very intelligent young women, primarily, who have found an odd kink that is somehow relatable in its strange perversion of romance that can be interpreted through the prism of a young woman's mind. That's exciting. And then you interact with the harder core horror audience, who is also getting something strange out of the proceedings. So in many ways, the diversity of the audience has been a wonderful experience because I see a broad demographic of people who are engaged in this version of the story — even though they might not be represented in the numbers as far as Nielsen is concerned. I absolutely feel the love.
You tweeted that Netflix and Amazon passed on picking up a fourth season of Hannibal. Are you still trying to shop the show around or have you made peace with Season 3 being the end, if that's the case?
BF: It's hard to consider what the next move is for Hannibal when the audience hasn't seen the next six moves. The way we end this season is pretty dramatic and bold on one hand, but also platforms into more story on the other. I'm in the position of knowing what happens when the audience doesn't, so it feels like the conversations we're having are half conversations. Let's have this conversation once everybody has seen the whole season and knows what goes down and with who and who walks away and who doesn't and how that would inform a Season 4. Because there may be certain members of the audience who feel this is a very satisfying place to end. They may have the closure that they don't expect because they haven't gone on the full ride. If we have more, it would be great. I'm excited about the next chapter for Will and Hannibal and what that would be, but I can't have an informed conversation with the Fannibals because they don't know what's to come yet, so even though it is precise about our end on NBC, to discuss the finality of the show without the audience understanding the finality of the season feels like a half conversation.
When you were writing the final episode of Season 3, did you have any sense it could be the last episode, on NBC at least?
BF: There is much more of a sense of finality to the Hannibal series as it existed on NBC with this finale, and that was very intentional because at the beginning of the season I had a conversation with someone at NBC who basically said, "Let's start talking about new development with you," and I was like, Oh, this is our last season. [laughs] I wanted to make sure we ended this season in a way that would be satisfying for the audience that has been with us for the last three years, and also have a doorway that is still open for us to continue telling the story of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
Would that include, as you said at Comic-Con last year, Schmarice Schmarling?
BF: The fourth season did not include "Schmarice Schmarling" in our design. It's still very much about Will and Hannibal and a big, bold reinvention of their relationship.
How do you feel about what the show accomplished in the first half of Season 3?
BF: For me, it was always about delving into the characters and their experience with grief and grieving the events from the end of Season 2. So it was designed to be much more introspective and much more about the insidiousness of relationships and the toxicity of relationships — all the things we wish we could hold onto, but desperately need not to. It was a very thoughtful journey and I think, for some viewers, it was probably too thoughtful and too introspective, but it's exactly the show that I wanted to produce and the story I wanted to tell.
The European arc, based on Harris' novel Hannibal, ended with Hannibal choosing Will over his freedom and, I know this is going to make me sound like a lunatic, but it was one of the most romantic things I've ever seen on television.
BF: This is a romance and that was something we wanted to make sure was intact. These are two human beings who care about each other deeply because they know the other one understands them in a way no one else can. It is very powerful and intoxicating to talk to somebody and realize that they actually do understand you in a deep, meaningful way. It doesn't happen often. When you find somebody who absolutely gets you, that is a beautiful thing and it is hard not to want to be in the presence of somebody who really, truly understands you. It's a rare, rare thing and that dynamic is something that is going to be threaded through the next six episodes and really reopened and explored in the finale where we get to understand exactly what was happening between those two men in that moment when Hannibal turned himself in.
Both of them were coming from a place where they want to end the other and then they save each other — or [were] saved by the various women in the piece — from Mason Verger. And so, their relationship, in a way, was put on pause. There's this truce that then begins to get whittled away at as they enter one another's orbit yet again and they realize the unfinished business they had between them in the first part of the season is now back on the table and they have to deal with it and they're not going to escape it.
This week's episode sees a three-year time jump. Why was that break important to the storytelling?
BF: The demarcation in time helps to reset the characters and also gets you a little bit of fun in "Who are they now?" Three years is a while. Like, I'm still pretty much the same person I was three years ago, but I also didn't have my best friend gut me and pursue him across the world only to have him try to cut open my skull and eat my brain. So a lot has changed and we wanted to give [the characters] enough time for new lives to begin. We wanted to have the story relaunch so that Will would have enough time to develop a relationship that gives him something he has not experienced yet in his life, which is the capacity to laugh and smile and enjoy the things he's been away from most of his life. And I love casting Nina Arianda in the Molly role because she has a levity and a comedy to her and seeing Will genuinely react to her with humor and enjoyment also gave us the opportunity to demonstratively illustrate a new Will Graham.
Does Hannibal know Will has a wife now? I can't imagine that will sit very well with him.
BF: We see him figure that out by making observations and we should be very nervous about that. Will's married and has a family and that is a threat to Hannibal's relationship with Will.
Are Gillian Anderson (Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier) and Katharine Isabelle (Margot Verger) still part of the show, three years later?
BF: Yes. Gillian comes back into the fold in Episode 10 and continues through to the finale of the season and Katie comes back as well, not as prominently as she was in the first half, but we do see her and catch up and understand what the last three years has meant for her as well.
Jack Crawford also went through a lot in Italy. What kind of man do we find three years later?
BF: Jack is somebody who lost a bit of his humanity in the last three years. In Episode 9, we see that Jack has hardened. In the first part of the season, Jack was only pursuing Hannibal to save Will from the trap that he inadvertently steered him into. Jack has been twice burned by Will and Hannibal's relationship and ultimately caught him with Will's help, but he's also a guy who wants to catch the Great Red Dragon and has been down this road before and isn't going to be nearly as hesitant as he once was.
In the July 25 episode, titled "The Great Red Dragon," Dr. Chilton says that Hannibal the Cannibal has "niche appeal," but the Tooth Fairy is a "four-quadrant serial killer." Is that a meta moment, poking fun at the television industry?
BF: Absolutely. That was very intentional. I wanted to say, "We get that this show is niche and that Hannibal Lecter himself — with his fussy aesthetics — [is] going to have limited appeal." [With] the Red Dragon, who is a more accessible killer in his own right, there was absolutely a commentary on the show and its place in pop culture as well as the Red Dragon mythology coming into light in the tale we're telling. I felt like it was pertinent enough to comment on within the parameters of the show.
Red Dragon is a story that's been told three times before — first in Harris' 1981 novel, then in Michael Mann's 1986 film Manhunter, and most recently in 2002's Red Dragon. How do you feel yours is different?
BF: Tom Noonan [played Francis] as this wonderful outsider, yet, in moments, captured your sympathy. Ralph Fiennes, up until the end of Red Dragon — which kind of unraveled under some really shitty pop psychology — was capturing the character from the book quite nicely but then had to play emotionally stunted in a way that was not true to the character or the book. It was just pop psychology bullshit and completely invalidated the character in my mind and was kind of a lazy catchall for the climax. For me, Red Dragon was such a confusing experience because I look at Ralph Fiennes in so much of the film and he's brilliant and Anthony Hopkins is wonderful and yet there is a soullessness about the storytelling that prevents me from really connecting to the material. I thought he did a fine job and was so masterful as an actor, but a script convenience totally undermined a great performance.
Now we have Richard Armitage, who is closer to Ralph Fiennes' interpretation but with a steelier character as indicated in the book where he wouldn't fall for pop psychology. He is actually as smart as anybody in the piece, is military trained, and has a precision and meticulousness with his attacks that slowly begins to wobble under the duress of a human connection — not only with Reba McClaine, played beautifully by Rutina Wesley, but also Hannibal Lecter himself. There's aspects that we've seen a couple of times before in previous adaptations that you will see again in this adaptation of the Red Dragon story, but informed with character dynamics that are completely unique to our series.
The episode opens with a really unsettling sequence where Richard twists and contorts his body — was that CGI?
BF: That is all Richard's body. We talked at length about that because we wanted it to feel like An American Werewolf in London, that it was a transformation taking place and things were popping and locking and moving as he is becoming the Great Red Dragon. Richard did a lot of research into body movements and this wonderful dance style that he found and really explored and made his own. Richard was just a gem, such a fantastic addition to the series because he, like Mads and Hugh, is such a consummate professional and so well prepared for his role and collaborative. Richard would send me his journals for the character and then we would discuss what was going on between them — the them being Francis and the Great Red Dragon — and maybe he's not as insane as you would assume!
This interview has been edited and condensed.