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Clarice - Ghosts of Highway 20 - Review

In the second episode of Clarice, the journey of Clarice Starling continues, as she goes up against a cult militia, but also as I will explore a little later, Clarice's deeper backstory from her childhood begins to unfold with major deviations from the source material!

The episode takes viewers and VICAP to Tennessee after an AFT agent was shot. AFT are special trained agents apart of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosions. Clarice is caught up speed by Paul Krendler, explaining the AFT Agent was trying to serve a warrant to to a fringe militia group called, The Statesman and now the FBI apart of VICAP are here to deescalate the station, believing it to be another WACO.

Krendler also makes it clear to Starling that he has made a request for her to be reassigned after this case is over and the episode continuously tries to hammer in this notion that a team can't work, if they can't trust all of their team mates, as Starling confess to Ardellia Mapp earlier, she regrets going to press over the previous case, because of how it could hurt the over all investigation.

Starling then works briefly with Agent Clark setting up transceiver equipment and getting to know a another sniper agent, but she also begins to befriend a boy named Peter, who lives in the farmhouse compound with his mother, her friends, and the rest of The Statesmen.

It's this rapport that both serves as way for Clarice to get invited inside by the Statesmen's leader, Lucas Novac (Tim Guinee) and for Clarice to begin to confront more of her past...

The episode plays out in a cat and mouse game between the very manipulative Lucas and Special Agent Starling, who is able to figure out (via rooms being recorded through one-sided mirrors) that the Statesmen had a prostitution ring going on and that local law enforcement were in on it, but in the meantime other Statesmen began throwing things at the ATF Agents and one of them allegedly misfired back and now Attorney General Ruth Martin has arrived and ordered the whole operation be stopped!

But Starling believes she may be able to get a confession and Paul Krendler defies orders and lets her do it, all leading to scene where Clarice is able to not only get him to confess, but follow her to the corner of a wall with a bordered up window giving the sniper a clear line of sight! Starling quickly ducks down before she finds the blood of Lucas splattered upon her face.

Clarice and Ruth Martin cap off the episode. This time Clarice will not go to the press, as Martin makes a deal with the local corrupt Sheriff that 50 of his men will resign and so will he. Martin explains to Clarice that this is how one plays a long game and to never mistake the idea that everything isn't political. And oh, she also informs Starling that Paul Krendler has rescinded his request for Starling's reassignment. Then after Martin also inquires, Clarice explains that she lost her Sheriff father, who died in the line of duty when she was a child. Martin ties to make a comparison that her daughter Katherine was close to her father too. The episode ends with Clarice waving to children set back behind a barrier, before getting back on the bus to return to Washington D.C.

Overall I thought the episode was mostly an improvement over the pilot's episode, especially where the case of the week was concerned. Tim Guinee really helped make the episode, as it was one of the best TV performances I have ever seen from the actor. And again it's not so much that the case itself was that engrossing or even deep, but the rather the emotional complexity and moral ambiguity of Lucas Novac could really be felt in all of his scenes across from Rebecca Reed's already near-perfect Special Agent Starling.

In addition the episode had a lot to unpack if you happen to be a franchise fan. In last week's review I contemplated the notion if Hannibal Lecter would be an ongoing figurative ghost that looms over the series, knowing due to rights issues, Hannibal can't actually be mentioned by name or potentially seen. 

Once again I felt the character at a lot of turns. The most obvious would probably be in the dynamics between Starling and Lucas Novac. The way they shared their stories, especially Starling comparing Lucas at first to her own Sheriff father, was reminiscent to the Hannibal novel, where Dr. Lecter is trying to psychologically manipulate Agent Starling into being able to house the conscious of his dead little sister, --and one way he tries to do this, is by unraveling the noble morality that Starling has placed on her father's through the imagery of his Sheriff's Star Badge, in which Clarice clearly transfers onto herself. But as Hannibal admits, he can not pierce the symbolism of the star and despite Clarice's transformation more or less into a women, and not unlike Frankenstein's bride, he can not take full credit for it, because what came out follows it's own nature and he oddly accepts this lack of control over it. And it's then a bit curious the writers decided that Starling thought she should "put her face on" in hopes of Novac's respect. There is also additional irony here that part of this story of the Statesman features the corrupt Sheriff Rowland, where Starling's father has been considered virtuous.

The other side of this dynamic also lies in the fact that in Silence of the Lambs, Lecter offers to help Starling find Buffalo Bill through a quick pro quo. Starling agrees and Hannibal asks her about her upbringing. Starling in the book and film reveals her mother died when she was young, but then a bit later, so did her father when he was on duty dealing with an armed robbery. This lead Clarice into the care of her aunt and uncle, who had a sheep farm. Every night Clarice would wake up from hearing the lambs screaming, upon being slaughtered. One night she tries to free them, but doesn't make it very far. She then runs away ends up an orphan.

Hannibal Rising
Hannibal Rising

It's not clear until the final novel and film Hannibal Rising why this would be so significant to Hannibal, but the novel is a prequel set to the backdrop of WWII that tells Hannibal's origin story that tragically includes the brutal death of his little sister being eaten in front of his eyes, just shortly after the death of his parents, and where his family's Lithuanian Castle and farm are transformed into an orphanage that Hannibal is eventually taken back to, before his aunt and uncle arrive to take him to France. Clarice and Hannibal have rather similar backstories, despite the difference in class and time period, or cannibalistic inclinations.

In Clarice however, Starling's backstory has been altered quite significantly. Right off the bat we see Starling has three other siblings: two brothers and sister. In addition her mother is still alive when they receive the news that her father has been shot!  It's not clear yet what the full intent of this bigger deviation is, but in some ways it's enhances that bond Clarice had with Hannibal in the sense that having siblings puts an inch closer in paralleling his own backstory. But on the other hand, not knowing if her siblings or even if her mother is still alive would in fact push her away from Hannibal. But even more importantly, how did she ever get her relatives' sheep farm and where any of her siblings with her? Did something even more heinous go on there?

At the very least though viewers may be able to speculate that by giving Starling siblings and changing some of the dynamics with her parents around, would give the writers an advantage to have more story to tell, which makes sense of having a TV series that explores Clarice's whole life as apart of it's overall tenor.

The other way Hannibal was felt was in the addition to adding food to the menu. I had never heard of "Leather Britches" before this episode, but with quick research I found the preservation of drying green beans an interesting choice that goes way back to a time before refrigeration/freezing; one way that settlers may have made sure they had green beans for Thanksgiving. This was an interesting little thing to include into the episode, or more so, as the metaphoric plights of Lucas Novac.

While some viewers who are familiar with this method of hanging and stringing the beans up almost like Christmas garland, may not think much of it, I was visually stricken by how eerie and surreal it looked, as if Starling was in a forest of bloated pine or green knobby fingers. There was something about that felt like a veil that Starling was willing to cross.

Again, if one isn't familiar at all with Hannibal Lecter franchise, then one may not know that not only was Lecter a psychologist and medical student, but also a master chief, in which he would cook his victims organs into grand world-renowned dishes and sometimes serve them to his friends and colleagues...

 Back to Novac one more time, there was something in his speech that was almost prophetic. As it turned out no adult in the compound intentionally shot the AFT agent, but instead it turned out to be the young boy Peter, also know as Rabbit, wanting to get the attention of anyone who may come and help help save his mother and her friends from the prostitution ring. So while in theory, sure, Lucas Novac could of had some awareness or background on Starling from the news media, is it really realistic that he would be so prepared to deal with her that he would not just touch on her cases but not once, but twice? He first calls back to Buffulo Bill by applying a lotion to her hands, but then he also mutters something about, 'We're all just receptacles to pour chemicals into.'  That line is sort of an nicely written double entandre, as it both acts as a through line to lotion being applied by Buffalo Bill, but also because it acts as a through line to her next case, which was about a pharmaceutical company trying to cover up the ill-results of their trial causing serious birth defects in children.

In fact I would argue that the whole episode felt quite transverse. There isn't just the ghosts of Starling's childhood, or even Buffalo Bill, or even Hannibal dancing around, but as a proxy to those things I do wonder, if Novac is here for the longer haul, --as an extrapolation? If so, it does put the series on similar track to Bryan Fuller's Hannibal, in the sense that Will Graham kept extrapolating Gerret Jacob Hobbs after his death. Getting back once more to Hannibal novel, Thomas Harris never explains how or why Hannibal comes to believe in necromancy and exactly why Clarice is considered the perfect vessel to house Mischa's conscious. I had suspected that if Bryan Fuller would had his way, that his version of Clarice may of ended up having a supernatural ability as a medium or clairvoyant, something again that kind of goes back to that unspoken bond that exists between Hannibal and Clarice when she asks him for help. But will THIS show go that far? I honestly don't know, but I am now wondering if it could.

As for the relationships, this where the episode semi-falls flat. Adelia Mapp, despite helping out a bit more, still feels like a third wheel and Agent Tripath acted like he never met Clarice before in his life. I get the need to try and introduce some of the other characters such as agent Clark, but I did feel a little jarring that these other two characters were setback for it. However, Clarice's relationship with both authority figures Krendler and Martin continued to march on at a good pace and felt like a natural progression. I would of liked a little more from 'Peter Rabbit' too. The child was instrumental to the whole story, but I felt like there should of been more time spent there. There is no need to say anything more about Novac, he absorbed the episode like a sponge, and at least for me, elevated the second installment in a great way!

So what did you think? Any insight, theories, or opinions you would like to share?! Sound off in the comments below!


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