'Hannibal's' Bryan Fuller on Tackling 'Red Dragon,' Alana's Big Shift and Season 3's Body Count

Showrunner Bryan Fuller talks with THR about season three's "dreamlike" quality and introducing new, iconic characters.

When audiences last left Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) in the second season of NBC's Hannibal, many lives were left hanging in the balance thanks to Hannibal’s slasher spree.

Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) was lying in a heap of glass after taking a plunge out the window; Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) was holding a gash in his neck; a resurrected Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl) had her own neck slashed and Will was left coiled up on the ground thanks to a stomach punctured by Hannibal’s knife. 

During Thursday's third season premiere, viewers won’t yet find out who actually made it out alive. “Antipasto” jumps ahead to Europe, where Hannibal and his former psychiatrist Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (new series regular Gillian Anderson) are moonlighting as husband and wife.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Bryan Fuller to get the lowdown on season three's new tone, introducing infamous Red Dragon characters and this year’s body count.

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How would you describe this tonal shift in the new season?

The fun of it for us creatively is to abandon the broader elements of the crime procedural and tell much more of a character-oriented story. There are so many elements from the first two seasons that we’re harvesting. In this first arc that allows us just to connect the characters and their honest pursuit of Hannibal as opposed to complicate that with a murder of the week.

Why not pick up where season two left off?

I suppose all good things come to those who wait. There is something exciting about leaving season two with Bedelia and Hannibal and then picking up on their adventure eight months later when they’re in the thick of it. We discover in episode four what happened immediately after that finale, after we see where the characters have gone. There was something direct and linear that I was resisting — jumping in and doing the obvious thing. It was just a matter of freshening up the narrative in every way into this season. There were certainly voices in the mix that were saying, “Episode 4 is the episode that actually occurs after the finale so let’s make that the first episode.” It was like, “No. We’re doing it this way.”

There are many time jumps in the first episode — how do you keep track of them in the writers’ room?

It’s very easy to keep track of them in the sense that we don’t necessarily have a linear plot logic. We have an emotional logic that unfolds in the storytelling. So I feel like we are telling a linear story in some sense, but it is an emotionally linear story picking up where characters are giving a sense of how they’ve changed as a result of the finale of season two and following their redirection as characters. I always felt a guiding rope as we were thinking through the darkness of the narrative, and that guiding rope was always about what are the characters feeling right now.

You also play with the concept of reality a lot more this season. How is that constructed?

This season, perhaps more than the previous two seasons, there's a dreamlike quality to the storytelling, and for me, the most important thing was to tell whatever story we were telling in the framework of that episode. We almost looked at each of the individual episodes as a movie. The first episode is a bit of Talented Mr. Ripley. There’s a feeling of Don’t Look Now in the second episode, which follows a man dealing with grief composing a poem to grief and guilt. In these first seven episodes, even though it is a very serialized story that we’re telling, there is a sense of each individual episode having a movie paradigm.

This season introduces many new Red Dragon characters. How do you do that while still servicing the characters you have?

It poses an interesting dilemma. As a "Fannibal," I want to tell the stories of Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino), Mason Verger (Joe Anderson, who replaced Michael Pitt in the role), Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) and Reba McClane (Rutina Wesley) and to give them their due. So the casualties then become the supporting characters who are given a reduced amount of screen time.

It was a really tough call in terms of how do we service everyone in this world and yet tell a clean story. What we tried to keep to, centrally, is the Will Graham/ Hannibal Lector relationship and the partners they had in those stories. So each of our four central leads — Will, Hannibal, Jack Crawford and Alana Bloom — partner with new characters. It became about keeping them integrated into what’s unfolding and allowing us to explore what they’re experiencing as a result of that horrible finale in season two.

What can you tease about what’s in store for Alana?

Alana goes through the biggest shift of any of the characters. One of the things I was very determined to do to the character was to reinvent her in a way that allows us to dispose of the arc we’ve explored with her in the first two seasons. She was very much a caregiver of sorts for Will in the first season, and in the second season she became this triangulation between Will and Hannibal that more or less reduced her to the girlfriend role. One of the first things I said to the writers when we sat down that first day is that Alana Bloom has to become one of the most interesting characters on this show. We wanted to take her to places that seemed valid given the trauma and also were organic given the things that we’ve set up with her in the first two seasons. So she has a much more pivotal role.

She also has a love interest — in the form of Margot (Katharine Isabelle)?

We do develop that relationship. There was an interesting scene in season one where Alana confessed to Will that she avoids relationships because she thinks too much. She finds herself lost in her head and not engaging with the person she’s with. I’m imagining that is part of the difficulty for someone who is more open sexually than a straight or a gay person, in terms of being bisexual. It does provide certain complications in relationships when the person you’re with doesn’t necessarily understand your nature and figures that not only are you able to be attracted to both genders, but that gives you a broader slate to cheat with.

What does this year’s body count look like?

The body count is not as significant in season three as it has been in past seasons, particularly in season two when there was an almost gleeful run through cast members. There are some big deaths in this season, but they’re not as frequent as they were in the second season in particular.

Hannibal returns Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC. Do you think everyone makes it out alive? Which Red Dragon character are you excited to see? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling