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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Clarice stumbles trying to pursue a mysterious suicide

Just once, would it kill CBS to let one of these characters run face-first smack into a glass door? Rebecca Breeds and Lucca De Oliveira on Clarice
Just once, would it kill CBS to let one of these characters run face-first smack into a glass door? Rebecca Breeds and Lucca De Oliveira on Clarice
Photo: Brooke Palmer

Is there anything that doesn’t cause Clarice Starling to have painful flashbacks? Just about any statement her new therapist Dr. Li (Grace Lynn Kung) makes to the FBI agent seems to set off a new round of memories from her childhood, and while Clarice understands that, by any logical metric, she’s suffering from PTSD, she still doesn’t quite seem to believe it. She evinces skepticism that she may need some psychological help, despite granting Dr. Li permission to bench her from any investigations, should the good doctor decide it’s in Clarice’s best interest. The show may continually try to argue Clarice is fantastic at reading other people, but it’s more than content to let her biggest blind spot remain herself.

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“Add-A-Bead” simply doesn’t do enough to justify its existence, and the few scraps of plot advancement that do occur feel a bit anticlimactic, none more so than the secret meeting of the VICAP team in the basement, where Krendler reveals that not only is he being blackmailed by his divorce attorney, Joe Hudlin, to move on from the river murders case, but that Hudlin’s DNA is a match for the guy who attacked Clarice while she was imprisoned. It’s not just that the audience already knew all this; it’s that the hemming and hawing which preceded it, narratively, sapped this scene of its strength. There’s no real stakes established yet for what the dead woman, Carolina, brings to the investigation, pregnancy or no, and until there’s a better sense of what this week’s discoveries might mean for our team, it’s too nebulous to feel exciting.

Both Michael Cudlitz and Rebecca Breeds do good work this installment, but they’re saddled with sequences that don’t lend any new depth or forward momentum to their characters. Krendler’s son is mad at him, and during their brief fast-food mealtime chat, the kid storms off after reminding Krendler that “there’s no such thing as lying for a good reason… you taught me that.” What a sick burn that also handily relates to his dad’s current predicament at work! Clarice, by contrast, has unresolved feelings toward the mother who gave her up, which seems like such a no-brainer, it’s genuinely weird that the episode treats it as some portentous adjustment to what we know about her. Sure, it hadn’t really been addressed yet in the present day, but it’s not like we haven’t had a hundred of these flashbacks that suggest a profound emotional rupture between Clarice and her mom. If the goal here was to have this therapy session anchor the rest of the episode, it doesn’t really succeed. It feels more like “Add-A-Bead” is a collection of B-plots in search of an A.

Illustration for article titled Clarice stumbles trying to pursue a mysterious suicide
Photo: Brooke Palmer/CBS

As usual, all the bad blood between Murray and Esquivel that bubbled up last episode has been set aside, because this show only remembers previously established character dynamics when it’s useful. But hey, Esquivel has a girlfriend of two years! Good for you, Esquivel! He keeps it a secret from everyone because of “work” (fair enough), yet this is also the guy who has confessed to some deeply personal drama in front of his colleagues, so it’s possible Esquivel doesn’t have the most consistent decision-making skills when it comes to opening up about his private life at work. That’s okay, though, because he and Clarice have a hilarious encounter with the lawyer who stopped going after Big Pharma thanks to the lack of evidence. Esquivel reminds her they weren’t supposed to come back until they had more, yet the “more” they provide her with is entirely evidence-free. So, of course, she hands them a dossier filled with useful information on a recently deceased young woman, Carolina, who had some unknown connection to their case (being on the same drug that had clinical trials before is the likely candidate, more so than carrying Hudlin’s secret baby). That was easy!

Just like last episode, Ardelia has the most interesting scenes, in large part because it finally acknowledges the absurdity of Krendler just appointing her to his team, and in even larger part because it’s fun to watch Devyn Tyler act really, really pissed off. First, she gets shut down by her boss, which already makes her mad, and with good reason—the series may as well give him a mustache to twirl, given how overt they make his racism and old-boy attitudes. But then her fellow agent comes in to “recruit” her, which turns out to mostly consist of offering to make her a glorified secretary and bringing him up to speed on her entire work to date. If steam could shoot out of someone’s ears, Ardelia Mapp would’ve cooked an entire brisket. By the end, she’s finally joined the Black coalition, which will presumably irritate the hell out of her racist boss, and hopefully help spur the show’s efforts to get her on VICAP.

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Illustration for article titled Clarice stumbles trying to pursue a mysterious suicide
Photo: Brooke Palmer/CBS

Every week, I sit down hoping that Clarice will finally start sustaining some narrative momentum. But every time there’s an episode that suggests the show could be finding its footing (like the previous one), the next episode undoes it, rewriting character and story as needed—which is ironic, because none of the installments have felt strong enough to justify such inconsistencies. “Add-A-Bead” feels like wasted time, an effort to dig down into Clarice’s psyche that never pays off in a satisfying way, while simultaneously treading water on its larger story until the end comes, with Krendler’s confession to his team. Hopefully, this means next week will get back to being able to advance the story.

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And hey: I went this whole review without mentioning Tripathi’s glaring absence at all! Just like the show. It’s one thing to wave away a character’s episode-long absence with the equivalent of “he’s at the dentist today”; it’s another to not even bat an eye at the Tripathi-sized hole in the room when Krendler and the team have their intense, season-defining heart to heart about going after the Big Bad in secret. Come on, now; maybe he could’ve Zoomed into the meeting?

Stray observations

  • This week in “undeserved praise for Clarice”: When Clarice goes to Carolina’s boss, Tyson, and says one sentence about how we can’t always save people, he fixes her with a look of wonderment and says, “You understand.” Yes, truly, Clarice saw right into your soul, buddy.
  • Krendler and Hudlin’s tense meeting made me laugh, in large part because Hudlin kept demonstrating what a good divorce lawyer he will be, and Krendler—master of the art of subtlety—keeps telling him to go to hell.
  • That opening was a real fake-out of grossness stolen right from the page of Dexter’s opening credits.
  • Speaking of gross: Last episode’s truly gruesome body was replaced this week by some intense violence, as we watch Carolina fall to her death with a sickening thud.
  • Murray tapes his initials onto his pens. Let’s see someone try to steal that!
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Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.