“Who is Clarice Starling?” remains a question for which the nascent CBS series Clarice has still not really provided an answer. To quote Alex McLevy, your regular Clarice recapper for whom I am filling in this week, “CBS’ newest show tries to split the difference between ongoing character study and a typical network procedural, and ends up falling pretty firmly on the side of the latter.” That dynamic, set up with premiere “The Silence is Over,” has stayed steady in the ensuing episodes, including this fourth offering, “You Can’t Rule Me,” which moves the whistleblower-assassination mystery forward but stumbles in attempting to address all bureaucratic racism and sexism within the FBI at the same time. Is this the first time Audre Lorde has ever been quoted on the CBS network? Quite possibly yes! Does that automatically mean the moment is effective? Not really!
“You Can’t Rule Me” is dominated by two storylines shaped by the fallout from Wellig’s assassination under ViCAP’s noses while they all sat in an FBI field office. His killing sparks off an investigation into ViCAP led by Krendler’s old Quantico classmate and present-day rival Special Agent Anthony Herman (David Hewlett), who the show craps all over because he avoids the field while also craving power. (A recognizable-enough cop-show trope, but like every genre convention Clarice uses, the show reiterates its sneering assessment of Herman’s cowardice so often that you could play a drinking game with the phrase “behind a desk.”) Broadly, “You Can’t Rule Me” focuses on the rivalry between Krendler and Herman, who is very much in the Dr. Fredrick Chilton mold: smarmy, self-important, and smug. But specifically, the introduction of Herman allows for a greater exploration of Clarice’s fellow FBI agent and best friend and roommate Ardelia Mapp. Despite being one of the top two graduates of her and Clarice’s class at Quantico, Ardelia has plateaued in her FBI career, and has struggled as a Black woman in an agency run by white men. Writers Gabriel Ho and Lydia Teffera try to mirror whatever professional friction there is between Krendler and Herman with a similar tension between Ardelia, who reveals some lingering resentment against Clarice for her meteoric rise, and Clarice, who acts, frankly, like an idiot.
Which is, I’m sorry to say, is also how Clarice acts throughout most of this episode. “You Can’t Rule Me” begins with some very unnecessarily gruesome glimpses of Wellig’s autopsy (stop trying to be Hannibal, show!) before revealing Herman’s arrival. His investigation, with which Krendler tells ViCAP to cooperate, allows him to pull in each member of ViCAP for individual questioning. How could ViCAP have let this happen? Who allowed the fake Baltimore Police Department officer into the building, and who was fooled by his false credentials? Why did ViCAP pursue the serial killer angle instead of going with Clarice’s assassin theory until it was too late? Is Krendler still fit to lead?
While Murray and Tripathi know the history between Herman and Krendler and can recognize the former’s agenda (Nick Sandow has some great line deliveries as Murray this episode, in particular his “Tony, don’t be a dick”), Esquivel and Clarice react more tensely to this criticism. When Herman tries to bribe Clarice with a spot on his Violent Crimes Unit if she just blames Krendler for what happened to Wellig, that’s strike one. And when Herman amps up the tension by calling in Ardelia, making sure Clarice sees how Herman is manipulating their friendship by tying a career promotion to Ardelia bringing down Clarice and Krendler, that equates to strikes two and three and infinity.
Herman makes Clarice into his enemy with that move, and her resentment helps unite the ViCAP team together in defense of Krendler. Was that plot development obvious enough without Ho and Teffera writing a scene where the team tells Krendler that Herman is out to get him? Yes! Krendler knows that! Everyone watching this show knows that! But Clarice, as it is wont to do, relies on nonsensical character choices all the time. When Clarice and Esquivel sneak out of desk duty to go to Baltimore and do some digging, Tripathi tags along with the line, “I understand that one of you is a sociopath whisperer and one of you is a sharpshooter, but you might want someone with 10 years in the Bureau to ride shotgun”—which suggests that Kal Penn might actually do something this episode! But alas, no. Instead, when Clarice and Tripathi go to the Baltimore Herald newsroom to learn more about what in-hiding reporter Rebecca Clarke-Sherman, the last person Wellig was supposed to kill before being apprehended, was investigating, Tripathi’s main contribution is … recovering some documents from the trashcan that were left in a copier.
I’m not saying that’s not investigative work! But I am saying that’s something Clarice would certainly have done anyway, if we were still working with The Silence of the Lambs character. Remember when she found the pictures hidden in Frederika Bimmel’s music box? That Clarice knew what she was doing! Not like this one! Sigh. Anyway. Tripathi’s discovery reveals that a doctor named Dr. Marilyn Felker was the leader of the clinical trial in which the women who were murdered participated, but she lost her medical license five years ago. How was she running this trial? Meanwhile, Esquivel learns that the assassin stole his BPD uniform from a dry cleaner, and then stopped at an ATM and allowed himself to be caught on video, and was using the potentially fake name Mike Diaz. And finally, when ViCAP gets a warrant for Felker’s apartment, inside it they find two incriminating items: a list of the murdered women’s names, and a bottle of the poisonous compound used to kill Wellig. It all seems very tidy, and Clarice, with her customary “I’m cocking my head to the side because I’m skeptical but can’t voice why because this show made me very bad at communicating” pose, makes clear that she’s not totally buying it.
While ViCAP is running around doing all this, Herman leans on Ardelia to try and figure out how the team screwed up re: Wellig. Did the series need to explicitly name him as a racist and member of the “white boy Mafia” and “old white boys’ club of the Bureau” to prove its point that Black agents in the FBI were ignored, underestimated, and tokenized? I honestly think that specificity has diminishing impact because it suggests that the Bureau’s inclusion problems are caused only by one or two bad apples, not by widespread systemic sexism and racism that absolutely do plague our law enforcement and criminal justice institutions. And I think it makes Ardelia’s certainty that she can advance up the ladder and impress Herman through good work seem extremely naïve.
Her frustrations with Clarice for compromising her investigation are valid, as is her side-eyed response to Clarice’s belief that her own feelings are more important than anyone else’s approaches to the work. But for Ardelia to spill out all her vulnerabilities and irritations with her job, and with how Clarice advanced up the ladder, and with how the FBI mistreats it Black employees and employees of color, but still think that Herman will praise her for her discovery that Krendler altered the logs to take the fall for whomever in his team let the fake BPD officer through? That doesn’t seem like the highly logical Ardelia, who just finished lecturing Clarice about her privilege. An Ardelia who seemed to genuinely expect that her work would be recognized and credited by an agency she just acknowledged as bigoted and ignorant doesn’t make sense for the character, and the only purpose of Herman’s dismissal of her seems to be bringing Clarice and Ardelia back together again. It’s an unfair use of the Ardelia Mapp character, and it also raises the question: Did Clarice and Ardelia never talk about race at Quantico? Not even once? That doesn’t seem right.
But “You Can’t Rule Me,” like this series at large, relies on a characterization of Clarice that is constantly contradictory. When ViCAP is searching Marilyn’s apartment, the camera lingers on a photo of Marilyn and her twin sister, nurse Luanne—who Clarice and Tripathi interviewed at the long-term care facility where she works—with one of the teen girls pushing the other in a wheelchair. Did anything in their research into Marilyn suggest that she was differently abled? No. Was Luanne in a wheelchair when they met her? No. Wouldn’t any member of this elite FBI team think to themselves, “Huh, that’s weird. I wonder if maybe Luanne is actually Marilyn, and maybe the twin stole the other’s identity to hide?” No! Not one of them thinks that! All of these people are bad at their jobs! So even after Krendler tells Clarice to stop putting herself in danger and thinking only of herself, she puts herself in danger and thinks only of herself by returning to that D.C. hospital so she can question Luanne alone about whether Marilyn ever expressed interest in moving to Buenos Aires. She’s not even there because she’s suspicious of Luanne! She doesn’t even bring any kind of backup! So when Luanne/maybe Marilyn stabs her in the neck with a syringe, causing Clarice to pass out, no one knows where she is. Just like when she was after Buffalo Bill. Pretty sure Krendler isn’t going to be too happy about that.
- Between Murray manning the FBI complaint line and fielding phone calls about aliens, and the show alluding to someone higher up than Krendler wiping away his transgressions, falsifying Wellig’s cause of death so that it is officially a suicide, not an assassination, and diminishing the effect of Herman’s investigation, it certainly seems like Clarice might be going in an X-Files direction. Of course, I’m assuming some shadowy FBI higher-ups play more of a role in this series than Black Oil, but you never know!
- I know that Clarice’s whole aesthetic is dimly lit interiors and moody corridors, but that Gothic mansion-looking long-term facility somehow in Washington, D.C., really pushed that style choice to its limit.
- The first rule of Quantico is “Don’t embarrass the Bureau”? Shouldn’t it be more focused on catching bad guys or something?
- Of course Murray keeps skin mags at work. Of course.
- This episode had some real dialogue clunkers, mostly tied to an indecision regarding these characters’ personalities. Is Murray truly a closed-minded scumbag? Was his “Who the hell knows what Esquivel and Tripathi eat for lunch every day, and it’s not my turn to track Starling’s cycle” line sincere, or just giving Herman’s underling what he expected to hear? Does Ardelia really believe she can “build a new [system]” in the FBI, when men like Harman are standing in her way? How many times did the members of ViCAP, Herman, and Ardelia need to repeat “Three women are dead” to each other? The only really solid line was Rebecca Breeds’s sharp delivery of “Do not tell me to slow down; you catch up,” which might be the most Clarice Starling thing this character has said over all four episodes.
- OK, I lied: Ardelia’s “Let’s not mix business with nonsense” was also a hilarious burn.
- Tons of telling, not showing, with Krendler this week, as Tripathi becomes the person who basically tells Clarice that Krendler is actually a very nice protective dad type, and he “hated” that the Bureau sent her to the “Cannibal” alone. (Remember, no one in this series can say “Hannibal Lecter”!) But why not actually have that conversation between Clarice and Krendler? And why not give Tripathi more of a personality than just, “Oh right, Kal Penn is on this show”? I’m glad my man is getting paid, but give him something to work with already.