There’s something about the sight of a gaggle of FBI agents standing around looking at a painting like students at an art critique that tickles the funny bone — for me, anyway. Crime-scene photos? Conspiracy walls? Evil Big Pharma execs giving press conferences before getting perp-walked? That’s the kind of stuff you’re used to seeing the Feds gawk at. Somebody’s commissioned modern-art masterpiece? It feels like someone’s pulling a prank. Which, in effect, somebody is.
The painting in question, seized as evidence in a massive raid at Alastor Pharmaceuticals’ headquarters, appears at first glance to be nothing more than vivid crimson blocks divided by a darker slash — sort of like something Mark Rothko would have painted during a goth phase. Whatever connections it has to the myth of Cronos/Cronus/Saturn devouring his children, which in theory is the subject of the piece, would therefore be more tonal than representational.
But when viewed under crime-scene-style UV light, the real painting reveals itself: There is the cannibalistic Titan, caught in the very act that Goya famously depicted during his own dark period. Why is the special lighting a necessity? Because the deity was painted in Alastor founder Nils Hagen’s own blood. (It’s kind of like Andres Serrano, or what KISS did with their comic book back in the day.)
But wait, there’s more. A constellation of five stars appears under that same light, stars that the painter herself says she had nothing to do with. When those portions of the painting are chipped away and sent out for analysis, they’re revealed to be made of fetal tissue from five separate miscarried fetuses, all of them with abnormalities — presumably akin to those that Alastor Pharmaceuticals’ wonder drug Reprisol causes, the very abnormalities that the whistleblowers died to expose.
Which leaves the team with a question: How can even a multimillionaire keep on fathering miscarriages without anyone getting wind of it? The answer is darkly simple: because his son, the oh-so-genteel nonprofit organizer Tyson Conway, is bringing women from war-torn countries to the States on one-way tickets, procuring them for his father’s sinister needs. To put it bluntly, since there’s no other way to put it, he’s importing breeding stock for his dad to use and discard. It’s an impressively fucked-up scenario, and one that the ViCAP team needs to get to the bottom of pronto, now that Hagen’s goons have pinned all the blame on lawyer Joe Hudlin after staging his murder to look like a suicide.
And who should come calling at Clarice’s apartment when her roommate Ardelia and the whole ViCAP team are uncovering the truth about Nils Hagen and his son? Well, this simply wouldn’t be a story about Clarice Starling if she didn’t wind up alone with a killer — and this time around, the killer, Tyson Conway, has come to her. A little bullshit about needing to come clean about his father is all Clarice needs to hear to buzz him in, which is where the episode cuts to black.
It’s a cruel turn of events for Clarice, really. Throughout the episode, she’s been struggling with anger issues brought on in equal part by the more retrograde elements of the Bureau — she literally breaks the nose of a rival agent who spouts sexist and racist rhetoric about her and Esquivel — and her own fractured memories of her father. After her attempt to belligerently goad her therapist into helping her piece those memories together fails, she winds up handing in her badge and gun on her own volition (though she tells Krendler her therapist refused to sign off on a return to active duty). And after blowing off the investigative reporter who was working on the whistleblower case before fleeing her home one step ahead of hitmen, she goes for a long run through the woods in a scene that will be familiar to Silence of the Lambs fans. Before she knows it, she’s run halfway home.
Collapsing under a lamppost, she remembers the whole truth. Her father wasn’t a cop, he was a night watchman, as indicated by the watch clock on his belt. On the supposed “greatest night of [her] life,” her father made her his “little deputy” by telling her to deliver a payoff envelope to local gangsters, one of whom holds a gun to her head when the envelope is revealed to be light on cash. Her whole image of her father is shattered, to the point where she takes off the treasured beaded necklace he gave her and chucks it across her apartment.
But then a funny thing seems to happen, just as her therapist predicted it might: Clarice appears to realize that she doesn’t need an idealized father to be the person she is. You can actually see the tension dissipate from her body — a reminder, if you needed one, that Rebecca Breeds is doing excellent, finely tuned work in this role. For Clarice to have this breakthrough only to receive a visit from one of the architects of the entire season’s series of unfortunate events … man, it’s a kick in the teeth.
And if, as seems unfortunately likely, there is only one episode to go for Clarice the series, it sets up a real make-or-break moment for the character just at the moment her story is poised to stop for good. I have little doubt that Clarice will survive the season, and series, finale, of course. But given that her arc has been one of repairing the trauma brought on by her experience in Buffalo Bill’s basement, how will she handle the horror coming right into her home? Clarice has grown in quality episode by episode, and as much as I’ll now miss it, I’m excited to see it to its conclusion.