Wow. Clarice has always been a messy program (we said so right there in the headline of last week’s review), but as the series accelerates toward next week’s season finale, it’s really started letting the seams show. This heightened momentum and rushed sense of structure isn’t without its pleasures—bye, Joe Hudlin, you were a fun bad guy!—but when it leads to episodes like this, where half of the narrative decisions leave a viewer saying, “Wait, what?!”, it’s awfully hard to feel like the trade-off is worth it. Will I take stupid but engaging Clarice over the dull, plodding nonsense that kicked off the season? Of course. But I really wish this series could deliver some thrills without constantly requiring viewers to check their brains at the door.
“I don’t have time for this, I’m busy!” Clarice tells the therapist whom she just asked to move times to accommodate an appointment right now, which is the first sign that our protagonist might be in even worse shape than usual. And to this episode’s credit, it finally does the thing I’ve been saying Clarice Starling should do since day one: not be an FBI agent. She’s clearly too traumatized to be trusted as a member of ViCAP, and her actions time and again have borne that out, mostly through idiotic, go-it-alone self-sabotage. To Dr. Li’s credit, she calls out Clarice’s bullshit for what it is; to her great discredit, she then refuses to do her job by not signing the paper and thereby keep Starling out of active duty, even though she literally just told her she’s not fit to be working. “You need to do it yourself” is not a great reason to risk people’s lives, doc. Your job is to decide if Clarice is fit to be an agent; you decided she’s not, and then sent her back to work. Not enough eye-rolls in the world.
But Clarice, finally showing a modicum of understanding about herself, quits, even though she hilariously tries to throw her therapist under the bus in doing so. The scene with Krendler and Clarice tries to generate some interpersonal drama by implying he’s been a great father figure to her, something that might’ve resonated, had there been an iota of evidence in the previous 11 episodes to suggest that. “You’re a good dad,” she says, and then basically says he was that to her, as well, which is odd, because she has no reason to think the former, and we have none to believe the latter. But hey, unjustified character dynamics are this show’s bread and butter, so it doesn’t come as a shock. At least it was fun watching her punch that open racist of an FBI agent, right? So cool how the rest of the guys had no problem with comically overt racism and misogyny. What a great recruiting tool for the FBI. “Come work for the Proud Boys!”
Turning in her badge and gun, Clarice goes for a run (hey, that’s the thing she did in the beginning of The Silence Of The Lambs!), and finally gets the full flashback to when her dad used her as a prop in his illegal dealings when she was a kid. Some criminal put a gun to her head and threatened to kill little Clarice in retribution for her dad’s feeble attempt to steal money owed to these crooks, and dad responds by looking like he’d rather skip town than save his daughter. Finally, we can stop these elliptical visions of her past—and Clarice responds with a very corny slow-motion throw of the necklace her dad gave her. Our hero knows the truth about her past (or enough of it, anyway), and an entire season of throat-clearing can hopefully be put to rest. This was always one of the weakest elements of the show—Don Draper, Clarice is not—so it’s a relief to finally have this endlessly recycled flashback complete. (I know, now we’ll have to have an entire second season dealing with that memory of the mom washing out blood, sigh.)
And all that doesn’t even address the plot that got burned through this week. The team gets the go-ahead to raid the Alastor offices, and hilariously, the big piece of evidence turns out to be the painting in Hagen’s office—a painting that he had commissioned by the artist he sexually abused for god knows how long, and then decided to place DNA samples of the fetuses he fathered that never came to term, thanks to a variety of genetic defects. You know, run-of-the-mill CEO stuff. I actually thought this was the best material of the whole episode; Clarice is pretty bad at the “relatable human drama” thing, so why not go soaring over the top? Learning that Hagen is not just a criminal, but a disturbed sociopath/rapist/murderer/who-knows-what-else makes for a wild twist, and gives the show the same lurid pulp appeal of some other CBS crime shows.
And with the discovery of the true depths of Nils Hagen’s malevolence, the team finally realizes that jittery weirdo Tyson Conway is also a bad guy. Yes, the thing that should’ve been obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes has finally been made known to the brilliant minds of ViCAP: Tyson is supplying his dad with the steady supply of women from war-torn countries, women without families, who no one will miss when they end up disappearing. Better still, they connect these dots at the exact moment that Hagen’s creepy son is visiting Clarice, who decides the wise thing to do is buzz in an active subject in a criminal investigation the evening after she has quit the FBI. (Never let it be said that Clarice Starling doesn’t know when to do the dumbest possible thing.)
There were a number of other noteworthy moments crammed into this silly and overstuffed episode, which kept it moving along at a nice clip. Catherine tells Ruth to ignore the blackmail and kick Hagen’s ass! Joe Hudlin calls Krendler right before he’s killed and set up to take the fall for all of Alastor’s corporate malfeasance! Esquivel opens up about his anger-management issues! Krendler pulls rank on Hermann, to hilarious effect! But of all these, the most effective might have been Ardelia calling out Clarice’s ludicrous failing-upwards luck. “You do things like punch a fellow agent and get promoted,” she acidly notes, announcing the plan to add Clarice’s latest foolishness to the lawsuit evidence. With any luck, Ardelia will be a member of ViCAP before the season is up. Maybe she can take Clarice’s place? I’d be down to watch Ardelia. We’ve got one more episode to see how the series wraps up this case; with any luck, it will be just as absurd and fast-paced as this episode, but with, oh, let’s say 50% less stupidity.
- Where to start with the many goofy moments this week? Let’s run down the list:
- Dr. Li, in what passes for insightful on this show: “You don’t do well with [being] helpless.” Does anyone, doc?
- A guy puts his hand on Clarice’s shoulder while he’s peeing right behind her, and no one says a thing until Krendler opens the van door and Tripathi goes, “What the hell?” What the hell, indeed, Kal Penn!
- Speaking of which, Tripathi being an expect in modern abstract artists—and more than that, an expert in “orphans,” work that stands outside artists’ normal oeuvre—is the kind of hilarious “sure, why not” at which this series excels.
- Does the FBI seriously not have an easy way to record incoming calls? Having a recording of Hudlin’s confession and subsequent murder seems like it would’ve been useful! (I’m seriously asking; do they not? That feels weird.)
- That FBI agent’s bizarre racist and misogynist rant was meant to provide an excuse for Esquivel to get pissed and Clarice to lose her cool, I get it, but to have a bunch of FBI agents stand around while one of their own says that is either a truly damning indictment of the FBI—and Clarice making a case for the entire enterprise to be abolished—or it’s lazy writing. Based on this show’s history, I’m gonna side with the latter.
- Clarice telling Tyson about his dad: “He scares me, and I don’t scare easily.” Clarice, you have a panic attack about a memory from your childhood almost every day.
- But of all the weaker moments, the one that made me laugh the hardest was Rebecca suddenly reappearing and saying that when she saw Hagen being handcuffed on TV, she knew she had to come out of hiding and do the right thing. At which point Clarice tells her she’s no longer on the case, and Rebecca essentially goes, “Oh well, never mind then!” Great moral compass, there, Rebecca!
- This was a dumb, clumsy episode of Clarice, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it.