Thursday, February 25, 2021

REVIEW: 'Clarice' - An Interrogation Drags On as the VICAP Team Struggles to Get a Confession in 'Are You Alright?'

CBS' Clarice - Episode 1.03 "Are You Alright?"

In order to prove to Krendler and the VICAP team that she is fit for duty, Clarice must find the psychological key that will unlock a confession from the suspect in the three river murders.

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 next episode of CBS' Clarice.

"Are You Alright?" was written by William Harper and directed by Douglas Aarniokoski

This episode doesn't particularly reveal any new information about the season-long story the show is pursuing. It returns to the conspiracy of multiple women turning up dead after trying to become whistleblowers over a drug trial. The VICAP team interrogates Karl Wellig in the hopes of getting a confession out of him. Overall, it's a solid structure for an episode. It has worked in different series before. In those examples though, it's all about further exemplifying the identities of the people involved. Here, the entire story basically amounts to every member of team realizing they are up against a mysterious entity with vast resources. That's it. That's lame especially considering how long it takes to get to that point. It's basically the show suggesting these dark themes through vivid imagery and on-the-nose dialogue. However, it doesn't actually earn any of those insights or revelations about the depth of its storytelling. The characters remain just as one-note as they have been in the two previous episodes. Sure, it's nice to see the show return to this case after it took a detour last week. It continues to assert that this show is going to be different than what people expect with serial killer mysteries. It wants to subvert that formula. It is simply trying too hard in an overly obvious way. The stakes just don't feel legitimate or real. Attorney General Ruth Martin testifies before a Senate oversight committee about this unit she has formed. The only reason for that is because it is perceived to be her personal enforcement to investigate cases she believes can propel her political career. As such, it's not a proper use of the department's resources. And yet, the show doesn't give the story the adequate time to actually flesh out that idea. Instead, it simply zeroes back in on the trauma that permeates throughout this world because of the horrors Ruth's family has endured. That has informed her actions as Attorney General. It is personal to her. But she also only wants to perceive the monstrosity in the same way as what happened to Catherine with Buffalo Bill. The story states that that is the only politically acceptable outcome in the case the VICAP team is now investigating. As such, the team has to fit that narrative. Ruth's actions aren't right. They serve to further alienate her daughter from her. Catherine sees the performative nature of all of this - though it's clear she has embraced unhealthy coping mechanisms as well. Her mother is using the trauma that she went through as a way to shape the conversation. It's still an important subject. It also showcases a lack of imagination for just how depraved and devious the world can be. The VICAP team sees a different example of villainy. They are no closer to the truth either. They simply question Clarice's hunch about this case as well as her stability on the job. They are right to do so and she admits that to herself eventually. She is smart enough to stop seeing her therapist because he offers no help whatsoever. He just continually mansplains what kind of turmoil she is going through. She acknowledges that she needs someone better than her to dissect these issues. But again, that doesn't seem like a herculean task. This killer-for-hire continually outsmarts the team during the interrogation. The team is baffled by that. Moreover, they talk about the interrogation amongst themselves as if this is something none of them have experienced before. That's a baffling decision. It's another example of the show trying to tell the audience what's going on instead of simply showing us and trusting that the emotional impact will be felt in the appropriate way. It gets bogged down in those details that don't actually inform the characters in an insightful way. Again, the basic dynamics that previously existed are still prominent amongst this team. Clarice just happens to have one outburst that showcases how volatile she truly is. That's the big development. The team still trusts her because her instincts are ultimately proven right. That doesn't do a whole lot to establish trust with the audience though. All of this is meant to inform some deep-seeded trauma that needs to be unpacked to provide a new understanding of how Clarice operates. Instead, it's basically a traditional story where everything goes wrong and yet the audience is still expected to applaud the character's apparent genius. It doesn't quite make any sense.