“Everybody thinks it’s cool or funny,” Catherine Martin says of the serial-killer phenomenon. “These monsters, they leave human beings behind — like you and me.” She’s saying all this to the mother of the serial killer who nearly made her one of his victims, but she could just as well be saying it to the audience of Clarice. From the start, the show has steadily steered away from the sort of supervillain glamour that gets attached to serial murderers in the public consciousness. Buffalo Bill is just an asshole who dies coughing up his own blood on the basement floor in flashback after flashback; Hannibal Lecter isn’t even mentioned by name. That last bit is legally mandated, of course, but from this episode, you almost get the sense that Clarice might have kept him at a distance anyway. This is less a show about the evil that men do than it is about the trauma left in their wake.
In this episode, the main action follows not Clarice but Catherine as she stalks and eventually confronts the mother of her tormentor, Jame Gumb, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill. By this point, Lila Gumb (a memorable Maria Ricossa), a recovering alcoholic, is living under a new name in a new town and killing time by playing bingo. When Catherine, who makes small talk with her at the bingo parlor (“You sure look familiar,” Lila says to her), shows up at her house, a scuffle ensues, and Lila is knocked out. When she comes to inside the home, having been dragged there by Catherine, a standoff follows: First, Lila holds Catherine at gunpoint, then Catherine gets Lila to let down her guard, at which point she swipes the gun and points it at Lila.
Into this configuration, Clarice eventually introduces herself after first knocking at the door and getting no answer. (She drives away to throw Catherine off the scent, then sneaks back and breaks into the house, apparently.) Already highly distraught, Catherine is driven to the brink of homicide by Lila’s lack of firsthand information on Bill, whom the state took from her when he was 2 years old after she accidentally abandoned him on a bus while she was drinking cough syrup. He spent the rest of his youth bouncing between foster homes and the care of his grandparents, whom he would repay by slashing them to death with a box cutter at age 12.
Catherine insists that the presence of Bill’s particular blend of lotion in Lila’s medicine cabinet points to a deeper relationship, and the scent of it re-traumatizes her heavily. Lila explains that she and Bill both became familiar with that brand because her own father had insisted that her mother wear it despite the headaches it caused her. (Men really sucking is a through line in this episode.)
This meager information doesn’t satisfy Catherine’s need to find out “what happened to” Bill to make him what he was. “He just happened,” Clarice says. It’s a clear echo of how the title character of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal series once said of himself, “Nothing happened to me — I happened.” But since there’s no more mystery to dig through, Clarice convinces Catherine that she no longer needs to carry Bill’s weight, any more than she herself does. (We’ll see if that sticks.)
Clarice ends the night by announcing to Catherine’s mother, Attorney General Ruth Martin, that she intends to turn Catherine in to the local police on an assault charge. “She needs to know what she’s done,” Clarice explains. “She needs to feel it.” It’s hard for me to imagine a trip through the carceral system would do Catherine much good, but there’s something to Clarice’s idea that Catherine needs to feel as though she has an effect on the world, instead of gliding through it like a ghost post-Bill.
Running parallel to all this is a fascinating conversation between Ruth and ViCAP head honcho Paul Krendler. Without saying the Forbidden Name, they ruefully recall how their scheme to gather information on Bill from Hannibal led directly to the latter’s escape, after which, he tore apart two cops and a paramedic before vanishing to parts unknown to claim God knows how many other victims. (Someone should really give Dr. Frederick Chilton a call to make sure he got home from that vacation in one piece.) It had simply never occurred to me before that it makes sense for these characters who orchestrated the Lecter scheme to feel guilty about the havoc he wreaked and the lives he ended after taking them all for a proverbial ride.
Back at the Bureau, things are continuing apace. While Ardelia prepares to hand in the Black Coalition’s complaint to the higher-ups, Esquivel and Clarke work with Alastor Pharmaceuticals accountant and whistleblower Julia Lawson on unraveling the company’s financials. Shell companies, blockbuster sales, a huge percentage owed to crooked lawyer Joe Hudlin — it’s the stuff that cover-ups are made of.
For all that Julia is helping them, it still at first appears that she will run into trouble with Clarke, the Neanderthal of the ViCAP team; he misgenders her straight out of the gate. But later, when she catches him staring, he makes it clear that his interest isn’t motivated by the usual litany of transphobic microaggressions but by the fact that Julia’s hair color matches the shade his missing sister dyed her own hair for her 13th birthday. That’s a side of Clarke that Julia didn’t anticipate seeing, for sure; this moment of connection may explain why she asks for time to think over their request for further intel from within the company instead of simply walking away.
On top of all this, there’s a tantalizing hint that Clarice’s idealized childhood — before her father was murdered, before her mother sent her away, before the screaming lambs — was maybe not so ideal after all. For one thing, she clearly remembers her mother furiously throwing her father out of the house the night he took young Clarice for a drive and some Coke floats, which she remembers as the happiest night of her life. For another, she’s beginning to unearth buried memories from that night too — memories of a group of men under a streetlight, gathered for unknown but seemingly sinister purposes.
The show has already established, via Buffalo Bill’s basement, that Clarice’s memory is incomplete and not entirely trustworthy. What might have happened on that night way back when? Does it tie in to her idolization of her father and her seeming need to charge into dangerous situations alone (with Bill; with that crooked coma-patient doctor, Marilyn Felker; with Catherine and Lila)? With a firm grasp on its melancholic tone and anchored by its strong performances — Rebecca Breeds really is remarkable as Clarice, while Nick Sandow as Clarke, Jen Richards as Julia, and Marnee Carpenter as Catherine all shine in this episode — Clarice has earned my trust that it will take us to some interesting answers.