This week’s episode of Clarice finds the show at its most Hannibal-esque, and I mean that in both senses of the word. First, you have some of the show’s most boldly aestheticized shots: a roast duck filmed in disorienting, slow-moving close-ups designed to make it look like something out of The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre, the appearance of Clarice Starling’s memories in a glass orb on her therapist’s end table, a slow-motion suicide off a bridge that ends with a scream and an artful blood splatter on the frozen river below. I don’t think Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet’s show is going to be mistaken for Bryan Fuller’s anytime soon, but it’s willing to borrow a few tricks from Hannibal’s bag now and then.
In this episode, Clarice also proves willing to invoke the H-man himself — not by name, since that’s contractually verboten, but at least by reputation. “I am not worried about him,” Clarice tells her therapist when the woman mentions the famous serial killer who had previously taken an interest in the workings of Starling’s mind. When the therapist presses, Clarice insists, “He is not coming after me. For him, hunting me wouldn’t bring relief. It would only articulate his own unspoken self-loathing.” I’m still holding out hope that Clarice gets a season-ending phone call from her old friend — hey, this is Hollywood, miracles happen — but this’ll do for now.
One Hannibal that Clarice does not have much in common with is the Thomas Harris novel of that name and the Ridley Scott adaptation thereof. As to the novel, it’s very hard to picture this Clarice tossing her career aside to become the Cannibal’s lover and partner in crime as she does in the book. (That doesn’t happen in the movie, though this change still wasn’t enough to entice Jodie Foster to reprise her role.) Both the book and the film, however, set up Paul Krendler as Clarice’s primary antagonist, a sexist pig intent on destroying her career. But after a brief fake-out at the end of the previous episode, it seems as if we’re getting a very different Krendler here after all.
Yes, he initially played ball with crooked lawyer Joe Hudlin by calling off the ViCAP team’s investigation into the whistle-blower murders under threat of blackmail. But while the team (sans Tripathi, who has the week off, I guess) continues its investigation into Hudlin and the murders behind his back, Krendler goes into business for himself. Agreeing to a lunch meeting with Hudlin, whom he openly despises, he swipes a pen the man leaves behind and has it swabbed for DNA. It connects Hudlin directly to the assault on Clarice in that coma ward a few weeks back. Krendler then takes his findings to Clarice and her teammates, Esquivel and Clarke, in a basement storage unit away from prying eyes and ears. (Someone in the FBI has been doctoring documents to help thwart the river-murder investigation.) Now, they’re all on the same side once again — at great personal risk to Krendler, who has been made to look like the document doctorer and whose beloved but estranged alcoholic wife is in danger of being exposed and humiliated by Hudlin’s firm.
Not everyone is lucky to have such cooperative co-workers. Clarice’s best friend, Ardelia, is rightfully basking in the glow of good Bureau publicity for her key role in solving the cold case at the heart of the previous episode. But her supervisor chides her for being a glory hound and passes her over when naming the head of a new DNA task force despite her pioneering work in the field. It’s enough to finally drive her to join the Black Coalition, a group of Black agents organizing against discrimination within the Bureau.
With all this overarching plot movement, it’s easy to disregard the actual case Clarice & Co. investigate this week. At first, they’re concerned that the apparent suicide of a young Yugoslav immigrant and med student with tenuous ties to Hudlin is actually another murder. Then they find the victim’s wedding ring abandoned near the murder site, and an ultrasound photograph in her secret safe-deposit box reveals that her fetus was suffering from the same defects as those found in the clinical trial at the heart of the river-murder conspiracy. I’m still not entirely clear if this is supposed to be reason enough for her to end her life, but the team seems satisfied with that conclusion.
Clarice is suffering too, though she’s gutting it out during fraught sessions with her new therapist. As much as she’s an outsider at the Bureau, it turns out she was an outsider in her own family, too. She, alone out of all her siblings, was sent away after her father was killed, first to the family farm of some relatives (you remember, the whole screaming-lambs deal) and then to an orphanage. Many of the snippets of her memories center on a beaded necklace her father gave her before he died (seriously, we see that thing fall apart in close-ups about as often as you see Martha Wayne’s pearls fall to the ground in Crime Alley any time a Batman movie or comic takes you back to the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents), and she recalls thinking in Buffalo Bill’s basement that if she died, at least the necklace would be left behind.
I’m not sold on the idea that putting your character in a therapeutic setting is the best way to elicit insight into that character. Personally, I have never felt real revelatory power in movie or TV dialogue that just sounds like the shit I talk to my therapist about. But fleshing out Clarice’s damage is a vital task for a show that’s about that damage as much as it’s about anything else. I’d prefer this to take place in the field, rather than on a therapist’s couch; I mean, the show itself points out that one of Clarice’s previous therapists was Hannibal fucking Lecter, and it’s gonna be tough to top those sessions. But Rebecca Breeds’s lead performance, its precise blend of steely strength and fragile vulnerability, is enough to power these scenes all on its own. It’s a good sign that the show realizes what it has in that performance and is even willing to invoke the Forbidden Character to help get it across.