Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

5 episodes in, Clarice finally tries to do something a little different

Illustration for article titled 5 episodes in, Clarice finally tries to do something a little different
Photo: Brooke Palmer/CBS
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

Clarice has a bad habit it just can’t seem to shake: This series adjusts the intelligence levels of its characters based on the dictates of plotting, instead of letting their personalities and smarts determine the path of the narrative. Much in the same way Glee would revamp characters’ personalities from week to week depending on the tale it wanted to tell, time and again Clarice abandons consistency of character for story, to the disservice of both. Last week, Ardelia Mapp bore the brunt of that shifting application of brainpower. This week, it’s back to being largely Clarice’s cross to bear, though almost every one of our protagonists—not to mention the episode’s villain—gets their IQ applied on a sliding scale over the course of the hour.

Advertisement

At first, “Get Right With God” seems like it’s trying to shake up the formulaic nature of the series, by keeping our protagonist bound and drugged for the majority of the running time; unfortunately, as it unfolds, you realize that’s only partly true. Watching this show is like playing network crime drama Bingo: The pilot gave us a standard killer-of-the-week procedural; the second episode, a Criminal Minds-like one-off in a cult compound; the third was a Law & Order-esque interrogation narrative; and last week found the show doing a gloss on the ol’ “internal investigation threatens to take down our heroes” shtick. So if “good guy is caught by the villain for an episode-long battle of wits” lines up with those others on your playing board, congratulations! Bingo.

Honestly, a battle of wits shouldn’t make a viewer feel like they’ve checked their brains at the door. Our guest reviewer Roxana called out just how dumb Clarice was last week, by not telling anyone where she was going: “after Krendler tells Clarice to stop putting herself in danger and thinking only of herself, she puts herself in danger and thinks only of herself by returning to that D.C. hospital so she can question Luanne alone.” Just forehead-slappingly stupid stuff. Turns out Marilyn Felker, the doctor who ran the clinical trials that got the whistleblowing women killed, has assumed her twin sister’s identity and is keeping her sibling in a near-comatose state in the facility. (Does she work there alone? If not, seems a little odd no one else would notice the newly intubated resident who is a dead ringer for night nurse Luanne.) Drugging Clarice, Marilyn spends the episode trying to find out what the FBI knows, how they know it, and where they’re hiding Rebecca, the reporter who was looking into Marilyn’s trials. She reports to some mystery man who has apparently promised to safely provide escape for Marilyn and her sister, and her and Clarice spend what seems like roughly 24 hours bantering and bickering over their respective pasts. In the end, Marilyn kills herself rather than be captured by the feds, and Ardelia and Clarice are friends again. Yay?

Illustration for article titled 5 episodes in, Clarice finally tries to do something a little different
Photo: Brooke Palmer/CBS

A decent amount of this was fun, but let’s be clear: It was deeply, almost powerfully, stupid. Setting aside the implausibility of Marilyn’s whole setup at the care facility, Clarice’s behavior just beggars belief. This is someone who previously worked one field case that left her severely traumatized, has spent the past year hiding in an FBI lab, and now, mere weeks (if that; time moves at an odd clip on this show) into her new gig, she is drugged and tortured by a dangerously unstable woman, and her response is to be calmer and more emotionally manipulative than she’s ever shown herself capable of being prior to this? I know the show wants to keep suggesting Clarice Starling has all these unknown layers to her personality, and as-yet-untapped reserves of talent and strength, but come on, now. Would it be too much to ask to have her exhibit some baseline recognizable humanity, in line with how she’s behaved the past four episodes? She can’t keep it together when arguing with Krendler, but apparently being threatened with death while under the influence of powerful narcotics is how Clarice manifests her best self. Sure, why not.

Also, that best self engages in some problematic choices. Just as she’s got Marilyn talking about the past, and her captor starts to emotionally crumble—such that Clarice actually takes her hand, apparently a first for Dr. Felker—our protagonist tries to stab Marilyn in the neck and sedate her. True, no one could’ve foreseen Marilyn possessing Jackie Chan-like reflexes and catching Clarice’s wrist (what?), but it’s still a dicey move that backfires instantly. But that’s nothing: Let’s talk about the climactic struggle, when Clarice literally attempts to murder an innocent woman to facilitate her escape. Starling can justify it all day long that she was counting on Marilyn to perform CPR and bring Luanne back from otherwise certain death, but from all appearances, that was a gamble, at best. Meaning, Clarice was willing to kill a helpless bystander to free herself. Given that we had just watched Marilyn do the same thing in an attempt to force Clarice to give up all her secrets, it’s a bit ironic, this mirroring of the good guy from the bad in the scenario. Unless this show is planning to do some sort of Walter White descent into villainy with its main character (no, it’s not), that was a jarring and ugly call. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it; Clarice Starling, would-be murderer of the innocent, is an interesting series. But the show doesn’t seem to understand that that’s what just happened.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled 5 episodes in, Clarice finally tries to do something a little different
Photo: Brooke Palmer/CBS

Meanwhile, the rest of the team spends the episode pooling their collective intelligence, only to never actually learn what was going on. (The only reason they save Clarice is because the report comes in that her car was discovered near Felker’s facility.) Esquivel, Murray, and Tripathi literally just talk until they come to the same conclusion Clarice did last week—that the evidence against Felker was obviously planted, and someone is setting her up to take the fall. Kal Penn still doesn’t get anything to do besides accompany Ardelia to the hospital, but at least he gets a brief conversation with her about friendship afterward. And Krendler gets some personal life reveals, as we learn he and his wife are divorcing, and he successfully pisses her off by suggesting he should have primary custody of their children. It goes exactly as well as he should’ve anticipated, but didn’t, because it was his turn to be dumb, I guess.

Advertisement

The flashbacks and hallucinations that are peppered throughout Clarice’s ordeal are meant to help shade in and add depth to Clarice’s character, but there isn’t actually much revealed by it. She got along with her dad, he died through some violent act that put a hole in the back of his head, and she tried to repress the pain of losing her animals at a young age. Other than Mr. Hole-In-The-Head, we already knew all of that. Seeing Marilyn as Buffalo Bill, murmuring “You don’t understand my humanity,” sounds intriguing, but amounts to little in practice. I don’t mind these little flourishes of visual panache, and the conversations between young Clarice and her father were engaging; hopefully the show will go somewhere with them, and sooner rather than later.

Marilyn dies, but not before Clarice witnesses a conversation between her and the person puling the strings. Luckily for the purposes of drawing out a narrative and nothing else, she doesn’t see the identity of the man. So let’s end on a note of pure speculation that I am nevertheless pretty sure is right: The bad guy is Kal Penn, right? He’s been given so little to do, that having him revealed as the person behind it all would at least make sense in terms of what a nothing burger his character has been thus far. True, it probably won’t make sense structurally, but hey, forget it, Jake: this is Clarice.

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • I enjoyed that opening needle drop of “Everybody Dance Now.” It’s rare for this show to just be goofy for a moment. I like it.
  • Murray as audience surrogate, again. Esquivel: “What do you think snipers do besides notice things?” Murray: “Kill people?”
  • Some brutal violence this week, between Marilyn intubating Clarice while she’s still conscious and that horrifying electrical-shock torture.
  • Ardelia not picking up on the warning signs at the hospital is pretty dumb, though one could argue Tripathi assuaged her suspicions (which, again, would lend credence to my theory that he’s the mysterious bad guy.)
  • A couple of good lines from Starling, as well. Marilyn: “There is no ‘they’.” Clarice: “Oh, there’s a ‘they’; and they always dump the girls.”
  • The first hallucination Clarice sees is the glass ceiling shattering under the weight of all those moths. Symbolic enough for you?
Advertisement

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.