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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rubicon: "Caught in the Suck"

Illustration for article titled iRubicon/i: Caught in the Suck
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Kale Ingram has gone from a guy I couldn't give less of a shit about to one of the best characters on TV. It's not really fair to the other characters on Rubicon to hold him up as a sign of all of the things the show has been doing well for the past few episodes, but I do. The reason it's not fair is because Kale is the character on the show who's automatically the most interesting to the audience. He's the guy that has the most information we want, but he's also the guy who doesn't have all of it. What knowledge he has is patchy, and he has to make a few leaps to cover over the gaps in his information, but he's the one holding the most cards. Is he playing Will? Is Truxton his true boss? Is he trying to play all sides at once, the better to come out of all of this alive? What do we really know about Kale Ingram?

The "Benjamin Linus role" (just to use the most recent take on the man who doesn't know everything but knows just enough to make himself valuable to all players) is a meaty one for an actor who can offer up an air that oozes menace yet somehow remain just friendly enough to make sure that he wouldn't be taken off the board entirely. There's always a sense in the show that Kale is dancing around the edges of things, that he doesn't know nearly enough to be as valuable as he seems to be, but that he's figured out a way to make himself seem like a good asset to all sides. Arliss Howard is having the time of his life with this part, and he perks up even poor Maggie, who remains the show's least defined character. What is this man's game plan? Is he using Will as a pawn? Or is he actually the guardian angel Will probably needs?


What sets Rubicon apart from many other shows of this type that have failed is the fact that we're asking these questions about the characters, rather than about the grand conspiracy. For as much as viewers complained about Lost and Battlestar Galactica's finales, both shows offered up conspiracies that had just as many character-based questions as plot-based ones. After a while, the question stopped being, why does the Island think John Locke is special? and became, is John Locke special? What's weird about Rubicon is that I'm not sure the plot end has entirely held up, but I also completely don't care. What we've learned about the grand, Atlas McDowell conspiracy is that, well, it's not all that exciting. Lots of people - lots of powerful people, in fact - are involved, and the group has a pretty sweet office suite, but the nature of what they're doing, the nature of their evil, seems pretty banal.

But, in many ways, that's shaping up to be the central theme of Rubicon: The things that seem most banal and ordinary to us in the States (or any Western capitalist democracy, really) are the things that are capable of the most evil. There's an intoxicating quality to evil, toward being on the side that will always be torturers, not the tortured, but the show makes no bones about the fact that very, very terrible things are being done in all of our names. Sure, we don't torture anymore, but that doesn't mean we're not comfortable with outsourcing our torturing to Jordanians. There's a matter-of-factness to the world presented in Rubicon, a sense that no matter what happens, these evils will continue. Atlas McDowell could be taken down, maybe, but something else would just spring up in its place. That chilling world-weariness is what keeps the show's inner thematic wheels turning.


What keeps us engaged, though, is increasingly the characters, who are becoming sharply defined as the show goes on. Tonight's episode tossed in a B-story that was, essentially, a sequel to the B-story in "The Outsider," where the team decided that, yeah, it was a good idea to call in an air strike to take out a terrorist. At that time, these ideas were purely theoretical, and even as the show strained to show how those ideas shouldn't be so purely theoretical, there was always a sense of the decision being made based on abstract data. Here, Miles and Tanya travel to an undisclosed location and see some of the offshoots of the decision they made, a man being beaten and tortured to be asked whether or not the terrorist is still alive somewhere. There's some talk from Miles about how the information that the tortured man provides is useless, but the best thing about the episode is that the spies who took them here basically know this and are fishing for information they already know they want. To a degree, Miles and Tanya know this is going on, but not thinking about it is easier than realizing this is being done in their names, based on information they provided. That close-up on Tanya's face, the soundtrack getting lost in distorted noise, as she watches is one of the more powerful moments of the show so far.

I've always thought that a conspiracy show about the people involved in the conspiracy, without really knowing that they're involved in it, would be crackerjack TV. It's The X-Files told from the point of view of low-level workers in the Syndicate, basically. What's interesting about this episode is that we get ever more of a sense of how API, just a tiny part of the Atlas McDowell octopus (I assume), is like any other office. It's just involved in morally questionable activities some of the time and not really sure of its affiliations. But Truxton helps get Tanya into a good rehab program, and Kale makes sure that Maggie lands on her feet after Will fires her. These are people who really believe, on some level, that they're doing the right things, that when the dust clears, they'll be cheered as heroes. No matter what side Kale Ingram is on, and no matter the extent of what Truxton has done, both believe themselves to be angels. And that makes the show all the more fascinating.


Stray observations:

  • Great scenes involving Ed tonight. First, his chess match with Will was so well-filmed and choreographed, with the constant close-ups to his finger tap-tapping on the table and his taunts to Will about how he couldn't see the patterns. Second, his meeting with Kale was just the right level of terrifying, and Kale leaving that folded paper on the bench was like leaving a nice, big bag of cocaine next to a junkie. And, finally, the sad climax, with Ed lost back up inside of his head.
  • I like the extended look we get into the world of the conspiracy members tonight as they meet up to talk about what they're up to in re: Katherine Rhumor (and I like the hints we're getting that James is protecting her because of his personal attachment to her). I just wish that Katherine herself wasn't trapped so thoroughly in a storyline that is clearly just marking time until she can meet up with Will and the rest of the gang at API.
  • Grant is probably pretty happy about getting that compliment, particularly since he didn't get to go along to Torture Central.
  • I do not get AMC HD, so I could not make out the text on those documents Will was riffling through. Did I miss anything incredibly important?
  • "With too much free time, I become a sort of pajama disaster."

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