Thursday, February 11, 2021

REVIEW: 'Clarice' - Clarice Starling Returns to the Field While Still Dealing with Psychological Trauma in 'The Silence Is Over'

CBS' Clarice - Episode 1.01 "The Silence Is Over"

A year after rescuing Catherine Martin from the horror of Buffalo Bill's basement, FBI Agent Clarice Starling gets an urgent assignment from Catherine's mother, Attorney General Ruth Martin, to join the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) in the investigation of three serial killings.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of CBS' Clarice.

"The Silence Is Over" was written by Jenny Lumet & Alex Kurtzman and directed by Maja Vrvilo

What happened to Clarice Starling's life and career after the events of the 1991 feature film The Silence of the Lambs? That is the central premise of this new drama. The FBI trusted her to navigate a relationship with one serial killer in the hopes of catching another. That trauma shaped her as a young agent. And now, a year has passed. This story starts there to check in on her and how her career is going. It's not a series adaptation of other stories in this franchise. It's not based on anything that happened in the sequels to the film. It can't even reference some of the key players from the film because of the tricky rights involved. It feels like Clarice is the only character in this world who has an attachment to a previous story. Catherine Martin - the final victim of Buffalo Bill's whom Clarice managed to save - also plays a role here as does her mother, who has been newly named as Attorney General. However, it's shocking just how much of this premiere comes across as a typical CBS crime procedural. Clarice is brought in on a case. She investigates the various leads. She makes assertions that don't particularly line up with the other members of her new team. And then, a confrontation occurs with the killer. It's clearly setting up some larger story. She is brought in to serve as the public image of this team and bring credibility to the presence of serial killers in this world. The media doesn't know how to talk about this subject matter. Nor do the various members of law enforcement. Clarice being here is basically all that they require to understand something twisted is going on. That's not what particularly interests her about this case. She is brought in to provide a psychological assessment. In the end, she is trying to convince everything of a grand conspiracy involving a clinical trial where whistleblowers are being killed by a trained assassin trying to cover up his trail by staging the crime scenes as a potential serial killer. It's probably a way to lower the tension of this world. It will allow things to be less vicious and gruesome. The film itself was aware of just how gory this imagery could be. Three decades later, the medium has been oversaturated with stories digging into the minds of vicious serial killers. This show starts off with that same expectation. Clarice understands the minds of these depraved and crazy individuals. That's the only value she has. She is also a young agent trying to get her bearings in this profession. She speaks up with her theories. The show clearly asks the audience to accept her understanding of this case. It's different from the expectations though. Again, it suggests the possibility that Clarice will have a successful career in the FBI without having to constantly wade into these traumatic waters of serial killers. That's not her only value. That overall message is lost throughout the proceedings though. So many characters are essentially telling her over and over again how she is feeling. They dictate the terms of her identity. Meanwhile, she blocks herself from being able to genuinely express anything. That can be alienating for a lead character. Her experience is not immediately accessible. People are labeling her as a victim who is volatile enough to concern anyone who must work alongside her. People project feelings of instability onto her. That includes Catherine as well as Clarice's new therapist. Meanwhile, the agents of her team don't know what to make of her. And so, they basically push her out of the investigation they are running. Clarice grabs ahold of her voice at the end of this premiere. She chooses not to do what Ruth Martin and Paul Krendler demand from her. That's the first step of this evolution. She has personal experience and a worldview that allows different aspects of this investigation to come forward. But again, it's difficult to connect with the protagonist because the writing is stating how others perceive her instead of allowing her actions to speak for themselves. That makes her passive in a way that is disarming. Again, the ambitions for the series are clearly going for something that extends beyond the typical Silence of the Lambs canon. The audience should manage one's expectations accordingly. This may be nothing more than an above average CBS procedural. It still requires more specificity with the supporting ensemble and a distinct flair for why these characters evolve as they investigate these heinous crimes for the government. The focus should always be on Clarice as she is the title character. Her life can evolve in unique ways. Those just have to be told in a compelling way and not the bland uncertainty that drives a lot of this premiere.