Clarice Starling is back, but she's a little worse for wear. The new CBS thriller Clarice picks up where Silence of the Lambs left off with the FBI agent, played by Pretty Little Liars' Rebecca Breeds, reeling from her run-in with serial killer Buffalo Bill, who pops up in disorienting flashbacks. Visions she's doing her best to keep under wraps so she can keep doing her job.
This is billed as a sequel to the 30-year-old movie, which means having a deep knowledge of the OG Clarice, played by Jodie Foster, does help, but it isn't a prerequisite. Breeds keeps the West Virginian accent, but she carves out her own take on the classic character who has seen some things.
This Clarice, who has now graduated from the academy, has been hardened by her experience in the field, but she's also more emotionally vulnerable than ever.
That being said, having a familiarity with the horrors of Silence of the Lambs certainly helps explain Clarice's headspace. Specifically, why she's not all that keen on opening up to a psychiatrist — even if this one isn't a cannibalistic serial killer like Dr. Hannibal Lecter, whose name you won't hear on Clarice due to rights issues.
While Hannibal plays an important role in the 1991 movie, he doesn't actually appear in Thomas Harris' 1988 book of the same name, which CBS owns the rights to. (He makes his horrifying debut in Harris' previous novel, 1981's Red Dragon.) That ownership, however, does allow Clarice to include Buffalo Bill and his only survivor Catherine Martin in its story, which producers told Entertainment Weekly will not have "a traditional serial killer."
Let's be honest, though, that sadistic doctor, made most famous by Anthony Hopkins, has had his time to shine. (We definitely recommend watching Hannibal if you're looking for a Lecter fix.) This new series attempts to draw out something new from Harris' novels. It offers a deep dive into Clarice's psyche as she tries to reckon with the aftermath of a case that has turned her into tabloid fodder and made her question herself.
In many ways, Clarice plays like your standard CBS procedural. It picks up in 1993, a year after she kills Buffalo Bill. The wunderkind agent has been relegated to desk duty, inputting data for the Behavioral Science Lab. That is until she's summoned to Washington D.C. at the request of Attorney General Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), Catherine's mom, to help with a case she hopes Clarice's previous experience will help them solve.
The show clearly wants to be feminist with a capital F, spending much of the premiere showing how hard it is for a young female agent to earn respect in a bureau full of toxic machismo. (Her boss, played by Walking Dead's Michael Cudlitz, feels a little one-note.) But Clarice also gives its protagonist a chance to reintroduce herself, delving further into her upbringing. Yes, we are going to hear more about those screaming lambs on her childhood farm, but we're also going to be clued into the secrets of her past.
The most interesting element of the show — and something I hope they focus more on throughout the season — is her relationship with Catherine (Marnee Carpenter), who isn't as willing as Clarice to forget what happened to them. Instead, she's looking for Clarice to help her heal, something the FBI agent is uncomfortable doing.
“Catherine Martin is a strange, fun-house-mirror version of Clarice,” executive producer Alex Kurtzman told Entertainment Weekly. “They both shared this hell experience, but have been marked in different ways. Whereas Clarice is running from the fear and the pain, psychologically, Catherine is still in that well. So she is like a truth-teller.”
Through its titular character, Clarice contends with what it's like to be seen as a survivor when you don't consider yourself a victim. It's an interesting angle made more interesting by the fact that screenwriter Jenny Lumet is an executive producer on the series. In 2017, Lumet accused hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct and later appeared in the documentary On The Record alongside 19 other Simmons accusers.
In a post-#MeToo world, society is trying to better understand trauma and its lasting effects. We're finally talking about healing and how there is no one way to do it. By showing its willingness to grapple with big issues like PTSD and survivor's guilt, Clarice has an opportunity to turn a television format known for its preoccupation with dead girls into an empathetic look at two women learning how to heal. A welcome twist that is worth tuning in for.