"Hannibal" is back for its third season, and as usual, I plan to review every episode of this disgusting, beautiful, great show. I published some overall thoughts on the series at this point yesterday, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I try not to eat anything with a central nervous system...

"Observe, or participate?" -Hannibal

It's hard to believe now, but once upon a time, Hannibal was a supporting character on the show that bore his name. Will was the unequivocal lead, while Hannibal operated quietly in the background, influencing events and taking advantage of the distractions caused by the show's other serial killers. (In the first year, Mads Mikkelsen even submitted himself as a supporting actor for the Emmys, and it didn't seem like category fraud.) That time is long past, and as great as Hugh Dancy was, is and will likely continue to be on the show, Hannibal has become the main attraction. He's now so important that season 3 can begin with an episode that only features (save for a brief flashback clip from the end of last season) Hannibal and Dr. Du Maurier on their adventures through Europe, making us wait at least one more week to find out who survived the bloodbath in Dr. Lecter's house, and what kind of physical and emotional shape they're in now.

Our menu theme this year is Italian, which is fitting given that Hannibal chooses Florence as his new home, and "Antipasto" feels an apt title for this episode, fitting not only the menu but the hour's role in the season. This is a bit of fun before the meal can properly begin, as "Hannibal" gets to (as Fienberg noted in this week's podcast) briefly morph into a Tom Ripley story, with Dr. Lecter stealing the life (and eating the body) of a European academic so he and Bedelia can set up shop in the birthplace of the Renaissance.

The most fascinating character here isn't so much Hannibal, since we know who and what he is by now, and since he appears largely unaffected by his new fugitive circumstances. Rather, the one I kept staring at in scene after scene — and not just because Gillian Anderson seems to have dipped in the Fountain of Youth somewhere along the way — was Bedelia. Her presence next to Hannibal on the plane was one of the bigger surprises of last year's finale, because everything we had seen previously suggested she was understandably terrified of her former patient. Had the show been playing us? Or was she in the process of playing Hannibal, believing it the only way to survive his interest in her?

"Antipasto" doesn't entirely clarify her role, nor her feelings for her fake husband. She has no interest in eating Hannibal's cuisine, but she seems to react to his murders more as an irritant than as a source of revulsion. She claims she's not participating in his crimes, but as he points out, when she has a good idea of what he's going to do to someone like Anthony, and declines to take steps to stop him, that's as good as participating.

And yet... why does she keep going to that shop with all the dead birds hanging from the ceiling? Why is she sitting around the train station, and making eye contact with the security cameras? Is this all some elaborate attempt to alert the authorities and trap Hannibal — to be the master fisherman that Will turned out not to be last season? Or is she on some level sincere in her desire to be around this man and his crimes? I would suspect the former, given that she fantasizes of plunging into an bottomless pool of water each time she gets into that old bathtub, drifting far away from anything Dr. Lecter might expose her to. But until we know all about their relationship, and how she came to be on this trip with him in the first place, it's a delicious bit of mystery.

Our best insight into Hannibal this week comes not from his adventures in Paris(*) and Florence, but from the black-and-white flashbacks to his time playing host to, and butcher of, Abel Gideon. I wasn't expecting to see Eddie Izzard back on the show, given what was left of Gideon by the time he died, but the flashbacks catch Hannibal at a time when the world is still his oyster (or, if you prefer, snail), yet still unsatisfied. He has complete control over this man who fancies himself a peer — "It's only cannibalism if we're equals," Hannibal says dismissively — and not only gets to make exquisite meals out of his flesh, but witness Dr. Gideon reluctantly consume himself. Yet, as Gideon points out, Hannibal is lonely, because the only company he truly wants is not him, nor even Dr. Du Maurier, but Will Graham. And the last we saw of Will, Hannibal had just gutted him like a trout.

(*) Hannibal racing around the Parisian streets on his motorcycle seemed the series' most overt wink so far to the work of Michael Mann, who directed the very first Lecter film, "Manhunter." That, or director Vincenzo Natali (who has filmed Paris night scenes before) thought Mikkelsen looked really cool on the bike and wanted to convey that as best he could to the audience.

The show continues to look and sound spectacular, and to stick with the more abstract visual and narrative style that took the series over around the time Will was released from the mental hospital. When Hannibal moves through the Parisian party, for instance, the scene is all quick edits and dissolves, with no image staying in focus for too long, because we're now trapped in the dream world right along with Hannibal, Bedelia, and all his victims. When Hannibal finally gets to deliver his lecture on Dante, impersonating the late classics professor, the slide projector puts the demons of the Inferno directly on his face, and it's clear which monster should make us most terrified.

And he's a monster who wants to be noticed, as we see in the episode's final shot, of what's presumably Anthony's corpse on display as something resembling a giant human heart. That will not be dealt with quietly by the Italian authorities, I wouldn't think, nor should you (especially if you looked at the names in the opening credits) expect this season to focus exclusively on Hannibal and Bedelia.

A strong start to the season, but brace yourself for a whole lot of craziness next week.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "TV (The Book)" about the 100 greatest shows of all time, is available now. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com