From a ban on saying "Hannibal Lecter" to exploring the white gaze, here's how CBS' The Silence of the Lambs sequel will be different from what we've seen before.

By James Hibberd
December 17, 2020 at 10:30 AM EST
Advertisement

In the three decades since The Silence of the Lambs, we’ve seen plenty of Clarice Starling copycats on television. Author Thomas Harris' FBI agent trainee was an engaging combination of cleverness, tenacity, vulnerability, and ambition. And after Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning 1991 film adaptation starring Jodie Foster, Starling became a trailblazing figure that spawned a slew of daring investigative heroines wielding flashlights. But the pretenders all lacked at least one thing.

“Nobody’s had her specific set of circumstances,” says Jenny Lumet, an executive producer on CBS’ new Silence of the Lambs sequel Clarice, which stars Rebecca Breeds (The Originals) as Starling. "She came face to face with the worst of what we have and the worst of what we are, and lived through it. If you imagine a puzzle box of puzzle pieces all thrown up into the air – that was the experience that she had with [serial killer] Buffalo Bill."

Here are five new revelations about the upcoming series.

Credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

1 . The show’s 1993 setting is significant

Clarice picks up one year after the events in Demme's film. The show's fictional version of the FBI is reeling from a series of real-life disasters that all took place within six months – the tragedies of Waco and Ruby Ridge, and the first World Trade Center bombing. “The FBI has just had their asses handed to them, and that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Clarice and all the characters in the FBI building,” executive producer Alex Kurtzman says. Moreover, the film portrayed Clarice as grappling with a law enforcement world heavily dominated by men at a time when women had less power, an aspect the show will explore as well. “'Don’t silence me, don’t marginalize me' — all that vocabulary didn’t exist,” Lumet adds. “We wanted to make it as tough on her as possible.”

Credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

2 . Clarice won’t (and can't) mention Hannibal Lecter

The rights to author Thomas Harris’ characters are bewilderingly divided between MGM and the Dino De Laurentiis Company. So the CBS show will have all the Harris characters that NBC’s Hannibal didn't have — such as Starling, her colleague Ardelia Mapp (Devyn Tyler), Deputy Assistant Attorney General Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz), the late serial killer Buffalo Bill, and a few others. And all of Starling's experiences with Dr. Lecter still happened in this new story, and the cannibal doctor remains at large. But Hannibal is, legally speaking, He Who Shall Not Be Named. "I’m still trying to understand how the rights are divided,” Kurtzman says. “But it's been quite liberating because we have no interest in writing about Hannibal — not because we didn't love the films and the show, but because it was done so well by so many people that it didn't feel fresh for us.”

3. Season 1 won’t have a traditional serial killer

It would be too obvious, say producers, to kick off with another murderer like Buffalo Bill or Hannibal the Cannibal (and, perhaps, risk the show suffering by comparison to those iconic Silence villains). Instead, there’s “an entity that represents something that we deal with in our lives all the time,” Kurtzman teases. “It’s a more expanded, nuanced, complicated, and topical version of a serial killer.” And while the show's style seems to evoke Demme's film to some degree, the team is trying to avoid replicating the movie's signature look too closely as well. "We're looking for not to repeat what Demme did, because I think the biggest mistake that we could make would be to mirror the style of that," Kurtzman says. "We harness the spirit of it and ask, 'What was he doing that was so meaningful and how do we interpret it now, 30 years later, for a modern audience?'"

Credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

4 . Clarice will tackle racial issues

Demme famously critiqued the male gaze in The Silence of the Lambs long before that term, coined by filmmaker Laura Mulvey, was widely known. The director flipped the usual Hollywood script by framing scenes from Starling's perspective amid a law enforcement world where men were either openly skeptical of her competence, leering in their desire for her, or both. Similarly, the series will explore the white gaze via Starling's FBI colleague Ardelia Mapp. “There was the male gaze in the movie, but baked into our scripts is the white gaze that Ardelia has to function under and navigate," Lumet says. "There's no 'black best friend' thing going on here, that would be intolerable to us. We take a big bite into the relationship between a young black woman and a young white woman who are best friends, and have each other's complete support, yet have never had the conversation about the differences in their lives – and Clarice has a lot of catching up to do. While Ardelia needs to navigate having a best friend who is at the same level as her – in terms of intellect and power – who is now famous all over the world.”

5. Catherine Martin is a major character, and she adopted Buffalo Bill's dog 

The U.S. senator’s daughter (Marnee Carpenter in the show) who spent most of Silence being tormented gets to do much more here than "put the lotion in the basket." “Catherine Martin is a strange, fun-house-mirror version of Clarice,” Kurtzman says. “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.” Martin also adopted Buffalo Bill’s infamous poodle Precious – which sounds like the worst possible option for her emotional support animal, but it apparently works for her. "One of the ways in which Catherine has dealt with her trauma with Bill is that she has adopted Precious as her own dog – the dog that represented torture, the dog that represented the killer, the dog that represented everything." Adds Lumet: "The dog also represented warmth, and light and freedom. The only warmth she had in this stone room. What does that mean? Are you going to fall in love with the thing that represents the weirdest, most f--ked up thing in your life?"

Here is the show's teaser trailer:

Clarice premieres Feb. 11 on CBS.

Related content:

Comments