Writing a series finale might be the hardest job in the world. Those unlucky writers must follow a stringent set of guidelines if their ending is to join the likes of “Six Feet Under” in the Great Finale Hall of Fame and avoid being tossed into the Garbage Can of Garbage Finales with “How I Met Your Mother” and “Dexter.” First, series finales have to wrap up lingering plot threads from previous episodes; series finales are also season finales, after all. However, the writer can’t be satisfied with just crafting a pat chapter ending. Viewers expect that the show end up going somewhere, which means that the writer had better start tying things up in a beautiful bow or blowing shit up. But most importantly, the writer has to craft ten perfect minutes to end the show. Those last few scenes are what people remember about the finale; everything else is incidental.
The series finale of “Hannibal” was, admittedly, not perfect. Because of the season’s split structure, mid-season time jump and the introduction of new characters, “Hannibal” relied more heavily on exposition and table-setting to advance the story to its endpoint. With better plotting (or a higher episode count), Francis Dolarhyde’s (Richard Armitage, “Strike Back”) fake-out death could have occurred in a different episode, so Will (Hugh Dancy, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”) and Jack’s (Laurence Fishburne, “The Matrix”) scheming could have been more developed. The final appearances of beloved supporting characters could be more organically mixed into the drama, and Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas, “Wonderfalls”) could have a better reason to visit Hannibal than, well, convenience. But I’ll cut the finale a bit of slack — series creator Bryan Fuller imagined seven seasons to tell his story, and “The Wrath of the Lamb” is only the final installment because of a cruel strike from the TV Gods. Some things don’t end the way they should.
Francis Dolarhyde (alias “The Red Dragon”) served as an effective villain for the second half of the season, but his stories were regretfully isolated. As the clock counted down to “Hannibal” ’s final episode, I was acutely aware of how little Dolarhyde interacted with the show’s main characters apart from close calls and near-threats. The character existed in his own world, drawn to art, films and literature because of the distance and they afforded him. From the beginning, Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen, “The Hunt”) made such an effective villain because of his proximity to investigator Will. The infamous Chesapeake Ripper was right there the whole time. Dolarhyde’s silence, while a cool change of pace from Hannibal’s omnipresence, was not the best choice for a final battle.
But when it comes down to it, The Red Dragon didn’t really matter. He was a catalyst, the bait that would draw Hannibal and Will together again. Dolarhyde’s crimes ripped Will from his “maddeningly polite” life with his wife, stepson and dozen adopted dogs. The mirrors that Dolarhyde placed on his victim’s naked bodies forced Will to confront the fact that he’d never be able to escape this life. His empathy would always extend to The Ripper and The Dragon and sick fuckers of the world, and he was cursed to see himself in the atrocities they created.
From the beginning of the season, “Hannibal” has made it clear that Will would never be able to escape Hannibal’s influence. Will could bide his time, but Hannibal would always be waiting, knife in hand, ready to enjoy his long-awaited meal of the only man who ever challenged him. The finale received a jolt of energy as soon as Hannibal brought Will to the cliffside house where he brought Miriam Lass and Abigail Hobbs so long ago. Hannibal lamented the erosion of the cliff and the passage of time; the cliff would continue edging back and engulfing land, and someday it’d overtake them all. With one gorgeous metaphor, “Hannibal” predicted the ending that would come just a few minutes later.
After Dolarhyde was vanquished and lay a bloody husk on the ground, a wounded Will reached to embrace Hannibal. He clutched him like a savior, as Hannibal reassuringly said that “this is all (he) ever wanted … for both of us.” So Will gave in, and the two of them fell gracefully off the cliff. The two were shot like a Renaissance painting, all Caravaggian lights and shadows and Biblical-pained expressions. “Hannibal” is consistently praised for its gorgeous cinematography, but director of photography James Hawkinson (“Community”) deserves one final shout-out for framing such iconic final images. Just like Hannibal remarked, his and Will’s ending was truly beautiful.
When considered as a whole, “The Wrath of the Lamb” may not be “Hannibal” ’s finest episode. The season had to work overtime to finish up the arcs of two major villains — since he was only featured in a few episodes, The Red Dragon wasn’t as formidable as he could have been. But I truly think that ten years from now (or whenever that inevitable “Hannibal” reboot ends up happening), nobody will remember season three as the season when Reba tried to grab a key from Dolarhyde’s neck and Alana wore pantsuits. The job of a finale is to provide a poetic end to a show, a dreamy final note to close a years-long symphony. Ultimately, the last chapter of “Hannibal” was all about that jump off the cliff. It wasn’t perfect, but it was all I ever wanted.