Four dead women. One dead hitman. A reporter who barely escaped with her life. A disgraced ex-doctor who kills herself rather than be brought in. A pharmaceutical trial with disastrous results. The pending sale of the company behind it. A sinister lawyer trying to keep it all under wraps. And a big ol’ conspiracy wall in the FBI’s basement. What, if anything, ties together the case that has animated Clarice since its inception?
Clarice’s big brainwave in this episode is to treat the vast conspiracy to silence whistleblowers the way they’d treat a traditional serial-killer case: Profile the culprit. Using this rubric, all of the case’s hallmarks thus far — the brutalized women dumped where they were sure to be found, the boldness (to the point of recklessness) of assassinating a hitman in FBI custody, you name it — are not random elements of a wide criminal enterprise, but the signature flourishes of a single guiding mind.
And that mind, it turns out, is not that of crooked lawyer Joe Hudlin (an appropriately smarmy Raoul Bhaneja). Obviously he’s in on a lot of the conspiracy — he did knock Clarice out with a telephone, after all — but despite his attempts to take point in shutting her and Esquivel and Tripathi down when they arrive at Alastor Pharmaceuticals asking questions, he’s not the man in charge.
That would be Nils Hagen, the show’s newly minted big bad, about whom Clarice first heard through his only child (and her own potential love interest, it would seem), Tyson Conway. And Nils Hagen is where this episode loses me.
Not through any fault of actor Peter McRobbie, an authoritative screen presence I’ve enjoyed everywhere from Boardwalk Empire to Daredevil. Rather, it’s the writing that hamstrings Hagen — a lot of pretentious jaw-jacking about Greek myths, fathers and sons, modern art, and being “a leader of men,” as he actually has the stones to describe himself.
I get what the show is doing, as it’s pretty much impossible not to: Clarice is giving its title character an imposing and erudite older man with whom to match wits. Does that dynamic sound familiar to you? Here’s a hint: You can enjoy it with some fava beans and a nice chianti. Thththththththththhh.
But it just doesn’t work in the relatively workaday environment of Clarice, as opposed to the heightened horror dynamics of The Silence of the Lambs. After spending her days with shirt-sleeved working stiffs like Murray Clarke and no-bullshit career guys like Paul Krendler, the TV-show Clarice simply doesn’t fit right with a guy who named his company after one of Zeus’s monikers because he identifies with Cronus, the literal god-father who ate his children to stop them from supplanting him. For a show this down to earth to suddenly find itself in some sort of rhetorical Olympus … it throws the rhythm right off.
That said, his casual, barely considered sexism is more on the money. Ditto his attempt to blackmail Attorney General Ruth Martin into dropping the case by threatening to expose her daughter Catherine’s antics with Buffalo Bill’s mom last week; I continue to insist that calling high-ranking Justice Department officials on their home or office phones to blackmail them without disguising your identity is a horrible idea, but at least it’s par for the course on this show.
Good thing we get some good old-fashioned crime-fighting hijinks to balance things out. In the episode’s most engaging and entertaining side plot, Julia, the trans whistleblower on whom the ViCAP team has come to rely for insight into Alastor Pharmaceuticals, takes it upon herself to sneak into an off-limits file room and fax incriminating documents to the FBI page by page. “Who is this girl, Nancy Drew?” Tripathi asks in the episode’s funniest moment. But in the end, as Clarke notes, Tripathi is not far off the mark: Just before she gets interrupted and swept away by Alastor’s security detail, Julia shrewdly shoves the remaining files in a manila envelope, addresses it to her grandma, and drops it in the nearest outbox, ensuring that the telltale paperwork will survive any attempts to hide or destroy it. Nancy Drew indeed.
And from the look of things, Clarice is going to have to do some Nancy Drew–ing in the recesses of her own mind. Plagued by dreams about her father, she’s beginning to recall some troubling details about her so-called “best night of my life,” when her old man took her out for a late-night drive after her mother kicked him out of the house. For one thing, he seems to be, well, not a cop, or at least not acting as one on the night in question; his non-regulation baseball cap and utility belt instead of a gun holster indicate he either moonlighted or had some other job entirely. For another, he sent Clarice to hand an envelope apparently full of cash to a gaggle of guys under a street lamp, one of whom seems to have menaced her at the very least. It’s a far cry from the idealized father figure we got to know second-hand in Silence and in previous episodes.
Meanwhile, Clarice’s best friend and roommate, Ardelia, is going through trials of her own. After lodging her complaint of racial discrimination to the higher-ups, she suddenly finds her unctuous boss taking her side — a ploy, she realizes, to make it look like everything she and the rest of the Black Coalition are complaining about is all in their heads. Her ally Agent Garrett, meanwhile, gets a “promotion” to head of security at a Bureau construction site; he’s damned if he takes it, damned if he doesn’t. The move, they both realize, is to “squeeze” them, forcing them to give up and quit rather than firing them outright and thus exposing themselves to the discrimination complaint. It’s a heck of a storyline for the show to keep on the back burner, and I wonder if and how it will tie into the main action.
With two episodes to go, and thankfully no more weeks-long breaks between them, Clarice is closer than ever to its core mysteries’ denouements. I don’t know that we’ll get anything as transcendent as The Silence of the Lambs’ riveting closing act. But what we’re getting — especially with Rebecca Breeds’s fantastic performance at the center of it all—is reason enough to keep watching until the case is closed.