With the political and job fall-out from her recent decisions to go against orders, Clarice is fully expecting to be shipped back to the basement offices of Behavioural Science, which she doesn’t mind. But before any paperwork can be put in motion the team are called to a farmhouse where a police investigation of possible illegal fire-arms has gone wrong. An officer has been wounded and the situation appears to be escalating. The leader of what appears to be an oppressive cult on the property says they will only dal with Starling and so Clarice is sent in with strict orders to try and open dialogue and then get out.
But Clarice begins to realise that there’s more going on here than people might suspect. It would be relatively easy to let events play out peacefully, as everyone wants, but though political expediency is the name of the day, it might not reveal the true extent of events and guilt.
Clarice finds herself playing a very dangerous mind-game with the cult leader – one in which she’s forced to look back on her own upbringing and losses to find the truth…
It’s notable that the second episode of Clarice (entitled ‘Ghosts of Highway 20‘) was the first episode – after the initially-commissioned pilot – which had to abide by the stringent covid guidelines put in place for television productions. As director Doug Aarniokoski mentioned in our exclusive interview, that created many challenges, so it’s a largely a tribute to all concerned that it’s ultimately hard to tell from the result that such restrictions existed. Yes, this could be considered a bottle-neck chapter with its limited location work (basically: the interior and exterior of a farm/ranch) but the tone of the show and the arc of the contained story ultimately hide any limitations that could otherwise have stood-out so early in a run.
Mood and tone are two obvious touchstones of the CBS show, shot in a way that’s often up-close-and-personal, even claustrophobic and somewhat obscure the natural format of a procedural structure. Though Clarice’s PTSD is a recurring factor, often depicted with blurred lenses, flashback images and subtle changes in lighting, even the one-off episodic elements play into it all. A siege plays to both of those dramatic tasks and here the various agendas concerning the non-team characters are also in dispute. the leader of the ‘cult’ turns out to have other reasons for his actions and even the local police force turn out to be compromised.
Though Rachel Breeds continue to hold the camera with a quiet intensity, the ensemble nature of the series is starting to spread its moth-like wings. Though familiar names like Kal Penn have barely been given full sentences so far, we’re now getting a feel for how some of the team are coming together. Lucca De Oliveira as sharpshooter Tomas is perhaps the closest thing she has to a friend so far and the script lets him rightly take Starling to task for some of the assumptions she makes. As he notes, if the team is expected to have her back in dangerous and important situations, that team must feel that she has theirs as well and the events of the pilot probably did little to help that, despite Clarice’s frustrations. It is also clear from the looks that Penn and Michael Cudlitz share that they’ll back Clarice’s plays and decisions in the field as long as she respects the chain of command and the consequences that entails.
It would be tempting to call Clarice a cynical show and it definitely has a critical eye over the political machinations that sometimes influence law-enforcement but so far it’s proving interesting in spinning all the needed plates, adding some details to what we already know of Starling’s past. Realistically, given her trauma, she shouldn’t be back in the field and so her battle – within herself and also with others – is where she needs to be for her own sanity and for the sake of others who might benefit from her instincts. That’s a rich seam to mine and hopefully the show’s ten-episode first season will be able to do just that.