Clarice Season One, created by Jenny Lumet & Alex Kurtzman, has a promising start, but there are some weaknesses in the television show’s tone. Rebecca Breeds portrays Clarice Starling as a brilliant profiler and a woman struggling with mental illness. In addition, the television show captures the FBI during the 1990s. The governmental institution wrestles with racism and sexism. However, until the last couple of episodes, the main issue is that it feels like a glossy procedural instead of a dark and gritty horror crime drama.
Hannibal, developed by Bryan Fuller, does a better job of creating a coherent stylized story while digging into the dark mind of psychopaths and the FBI agents who get lost in their twisted psyches to track down the serial killers.
The CBS television show feels too much like a polished procedural. Part of the problem is that Clarice doesn’t enter the world of psychopath Alastor Pharmaceuticals’ CEO Nigel Hagel until the last two episodes. For fans of the Hannibal television series, the interest is not in solving the mystery but instead unraveling the psychology of the twisted killer.
Following both the FBI’s investigation and the serial killer in Clarice would be especially interesting with Hagel because his psychopathy remains linked with Capitalism. Fuller’s Hannibal was so successful because Mads Mikkelsen as forensic psychiatrist cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter, manipulated his friend FBI Profiler Will Graham during his cases while killing people under his nose.
Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman miss that whole point by designing the show like a police procedural that contains well-lit scenes, and the investigative style is a lot like Criminal Minds or Law and Order: SVU. Like network crime shows, the story focuses on the sexual tension between Clarice and her partner, former sniper Agent Tomas Esquivel.
Some early episodes are structured based on solving one case per week instead of figuring out who’s making it look like a serial killer in Washington D.C. It does not help that two of the central characters in the television show are performed by actors who have been in shows Like Criminal Minds or Southland. Both Michael Cudlitz and Jayne Atkinson harken back to classic crime dramas.
The best part of the series is Rebecca Breeds as Clarice Starling. Breeds capture the West Virginian accent perfectly. More than that, she expertly shifts Clarice from a calm agent to spiraling into a PTSD episode within a couple of minutes. For example, later in the season, Clarice runs through the park trying to remember her past. She calmly jogs, holding the necklace her father gave her. Clarice starts to have flashbacks of her therapy sessions, her father calling her his little deputy, and him using her to get out of being beaten up by drug dealers. She speeds up, then suddenly falls. Clarice can’t stand up because she is so overcome by emotion.
The character spends a lot of the first season suppressing the anxiety and emotional pain from her time with the killer Buffalo Bill. Clarice seems to the put-together agent the exact opposite of the young woman she rescued, Catherine Martin, a mentally broken recluse. When Clarice starts her therapy with Dr. Renée Li, she has confusing flashbacks about her beloved deceased father. She suppresses all these traumatic memories from her childhood. Clarice’s father, a West Virginian town marshal, had her deliver partial payments to these local gangsters. One time the gangsters almost shot young Clarice.
These re-awaken memories don’t just further traumatize Clarice but make her realize that she built her FBI career on a lie. Clarice’s ability to understand human nature allows her accurately profile psychopaths, even when they are wearing their disguises.
The television creators could have chosen to write Clarice’s weakness as her small stature or nativity, but the writers made a more exciting choice. Her weakness is her unwillingness to deal with her feelings and PTSD that crystalized before meeting Buffalo Bill.
The sexism and racism that the characters experience bring a sense of realness and drama to the television show. Clarice’s first sexist incident is in the pilot episode when a colleague hides cream and tissues in her desk. The most egregious moment is when a male agent massages her in a surveillance van without any solicitation. While Clarice suffers discrimination in the FBI, her Black best friend, Agent Ardelia Mapp, is doubly oppressed. First, using forensics Ardelia helped solve the Buffalo Bill case but never received the same level of fame as Clarice.
Then during the show, Ardelia solves the cold case of Bobby Larkin’s murder, wins funding for a task force, builds a DNA database for investigations, and applies for a leadership position for a task force involving her expertise. She isn’t even appointed as the senior agent. Instead, Ardelia works under White “senior agent” Eddie, who doesn’t know the first thing about DNA or her database. Eric Phalen, Anthony Herman, and Eddie take credit for her forensics work in the FBI newsletter.
Earlier, Herman criticized her for the newsletter article about her work on the Bobby Larkin case. Being a Black woman traps Ardelia in the basement, working grunt jobs for the cold case unit. It’s uplifting to see the friendship between Clarice and Ardelia despite all the oppression they face. Clarice endorsees the fact the Black FBI Coalition is suing the FBI for racially discriminatory actions using her and Ardelia as an example. The FBI and press dubbed Clarice the poster child for Criminal Profiling while ignoring a Black woman’s significant contributions to solving the case. The television show depicts a loving female friendship but doesn’t ignore the real sexism and racism that FBI Agents who were not straight White men faced during the 1990s.
Clarice Season One is not what I would call “quality television.” Still, it’s refreshing to see Clarice Starling depicted as a complex female character who deals with trauma while still being one of the best criminal profilers in the world.