A Refreshing Look at a Tired Trope
A confession before we begin: I never much cared for The Silence of the Lambs. Yes, I’m fully aware that without much of the profile-based procedural wouldn’t exist (which wouldn’t have been a great loss, IMHO) and there’s a very good chance that Dana Scully’s character would never have evolved the same way (which would have been a huge loss) but for all the brilliance of the performances and the direction, I’m not sure the world has become a better place because of it. Hannibal Lecter was played to death after Ridley Scott’s mess of a sequel and we’ve seen so many series based on serial killers that the idea has practically become banal and has no doubt led to the true crime obsession that has followed in its wake. Maybe the brilliant Hannibal was a work of art, but having never watched it, I can’t say one way or the other. So I really didn’t think I’d have any used for CBS’ Clarice, a series which follows Clarice Starling a year after her experience with Buffalo Bill and Dr. Lecter.
However, I didn’t realize just how just how show runners Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet would approach this new series. This show takes place in the early 1990s, when people still think those who profile are just as crazy as the criminals they’re chasing. And in the case of Clarice, they might very well be correct. Clarice is still going through what seems to be PTSD and is definitely a strong sense of denial as we see in the opening therapy session she’s going through in the Pilot. She gets drawn back in to the field reluctantly when Catherine Martin’s mother (now the Attorney General with even more ambition beyond this) puts her back in against her will to help a unit to try and chase down serial killers.
The team she’s apart of is very prickly towards her. DI Krendler (Michael Cudlitz, playing a variation of the authority figure he did so well in Southland) doesn’t think she has any business being in the field. How much of this is distrust of Quantico, her inexperience or ingrained sexism is still not clear. Her other teammates, Shaan Trapathi (Kal Penn) and especially counter-sniper Esquivel are more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, which she’s still not entirely willing to give them.
The crimes the Bureau is called in to investigation are, like so many of the other procedurals these days, more or less conventional, and to an extent, not entirely believable. (When Clarice catches the killer in the Pilot and reveals that he’s part of a conspiracy, Krendler tells her to tell the media that the killings were the work of a serial killer. The implication seems to be that this is more comforting to the world than the idea of a conspiracy, which is borderline laughable in any context, even in the early ‘90s.) What makes the series work — so far — has been the superb performance of Rebecca Breeds in the title role. She has Jodie Foster’s accent and mannerism from the movie almost down perfectly, but what makes her character interesting is something that I’m pretty sure has never been explored in any follow-up to the book or movie — just how much trauma Starling went through with her experiences. We see Catherine Martin a couple of times in the Pilot, and her mother tells her that she’s in terrible shape and Starling has refused to talk with her since saving her life — the implication being that the ordeal has scarred nearly as badly. This is something that I’ve never seen on any procedural dealing with killers — most of these shows focus so much on the murderer and the investigators that almost no attention is paid to the victims. And at the very least, it’s a more intriguing picture than the ones we get.
Now, to be clear, I’m not entire sure if Clarice can manage to keep working. The series uses far too many montages and flashbacks to emphasize Starling’s state of mind throughout the episode. I’m sure it’s meant to show a state of confusion; it looks like Terence Malick is behind the camera. And I’m not sure if this series intends to resolve the cases once their over, though it is a change of pace from the killer-of-the-week approach. But after drowning in the conventional CBS’ procedural for decades, it is refreshing to see that somebody is willing to take a different approach to darkness and madness. At the very least, it’s a good time-filler until Evil returns. (It was renewed CBS, right?)
My score: 3.75 stars.