This Clarice review contains spoilers.
Clarice Episode 3
Clarice, episode 3, “Are You Alright?,” almost allows Agent Clarice Starling (Rebecca Breeds) to overcome the typecasting of her role in the events in the film The Silence of the Lambs. The federal cop practically changes the venue by sheer force of will, as if she could burn the idea of a serial killer from the network series. Sadly, her flame is still attracting too many moths.
The episode again begins in the therapist’s office, so we know the scene will be brief. Both the patient and the doctor appear to be sparring rather than psychoanalyzing. Every sentence is a game of chicken, and it begins to feel more like an interrogation than a session. What makes it interesting are the cuts, which bring doubt to the proceedings. Is Clarice being paranoid? Yes, of course, but that doesn’t mean no one’s after her. When the shrink taunts her about visiting people at trauma recovery centers, he’s also on an unabashed fishing expedition. And he always gets a nibble. Clarice is triggered by the very word “trigger,” which the doctor pulls as often as he can. There are moments when we expect Shawn Doyle, who plays the therapist, to put on false vampire teeth or shoot rubber bands at Clarice like Harvey Corman’s Dr. Charles Montague did in the 1977 Mel Brooks comedy High Anxiety. But there are no jokes on Clarice.
At least things appear to be lightening up on the field. The first two episodes set the character so deeply in the underdog role, it didn’t look like Clarice would ever be allowed to take off her muzzle. This includes talking about other muzzled characters. Tonight, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz) and his team are actually listening to Clarice, asking her questions and believing what she’s saying. Like the therapy session, we know this will be short-lived. But she gets to lay out the conspiracy and clue everyone in on what has been a guessing game for many of the players and played.
Clarice maintains a unique atmosphere, from the blue tint of the TV monitor screens to the jump cuts and forced perceptions. This sometimes adds suspense to the scenes where the VICAP unit is interrogating their suspected serial killer. Other times it just makes moments seem like minutes when time is supposed to be of the essence. But for the most part, it is used for emotional subterfuge and diversion. Much like the lawyer is used so no one looks at the delivery guy just to make a suspected sniper drink root beer even though he hates it.
Most of the action in “Are you Alright?” takes place in the interrogation room. Much of the questioning seems a little too Psych 101 for such seasoned agents. Agents make out the “Reid Technique” like it’s god’s gift to investigations when it’s just the same old “good-cop bad-cop.” Fellow sniper, Agent Esquivel (Lucca De Oliveira) gets to play both with an itchy trigger finger, which also triggers Clarice. The apparent hallucinations are both distracting and interesting, but add a much-needed creepiness to the proceedings. The fantasia Clarice has of the hand coming out of the moth is beautifully disturbing. We look for more every time we see a facial tic.
Clarice tends to equate exercise with punishment. Agent Starling opened last week’s episode doing what looked like punitive pushups after her public relations gaffe. In “Are You Alright?,” Catherine Martin (Marnee Carpenter) hangs upside down like she’s in a torture cell to do extreme pullups. But the biggest punishment of all comes with Attorney General Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson). Not only does her public image put her pet criminal project in jeopardy, but she has to walk Precious, Buffalo Bill’s old dog.
The main problem is that the stakes are set too high. If VICAP can’t offer up a serial killer to the media demons, they will cease to exist. If Clarice isn’t the most talented psy-op wiz on her second case, no one will ever believe her again. She can’t even spill one more cup of coffee. One false word and, boom, everything falls apart like any last round of Jenga. Ardelia Mapp (Devyn Tyler) gets a lot done from the Cold Case division. She really should get a raise. Without her, there would be no way to tie fake teeth to the nibbling sniper in time to conclude the episode.
Like The X-Files, the episodes on Clarice are divided into “monsters of the week” and the overriding mythology of Clarice Starling. This season’s big caper is the clinical trial killings, which take the place of the serial killer from the film. The Silence of the Lambs had “Buffalo Bill’s House of Horrors,” Clarice has the torture chambers of bureaucratic oversight. “Are You Alright?” ends with the promise of a shakeup to come.
Clarice airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on CBS.