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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rubicon: "Look to the Ant"

Illustration for article titled Rubicon: "Look to the Ant"
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After a couple of episodes where the focus was on making sure we understood the characters of Rubicon, the show returned toward pushing forward with the main plot in earnest in this one, and it continued the string of good episodes the show has put together in the last few weeks. This is a show that's really starting to crackle, a series that's starting to find its voice in earnest, and I'm glad it also seems to be finding its audience on the various TV blogs I follow. This is a show worth getting passionate about, and I'm hopeful that the passion of its core fans will somehow translate into increased ratings or AMC realizing they have a show that could win over some of those who left the series on DVD. I realize that both of those rarely happen in the world of television, but I choose to think positively.

Now. We're into the portion of the conspiracy thriller where the hero realizes just how deeply into the shit he is. To a degree, I think the show has been hurt in this regard ever so slightly by the fact that Will already works in a world where there's a healthy degree of paranoia about anyone and everyone. When Will is suddenly shocked to find out that he's being bugged in this episode, it rang false to me. Wouldn't he have assumed that someone was keeping tabs on him, given how many tails he's had on him over the past few weeks (and those are just the ones he knows about)? The scene where the hero tears apart his apartment looking for bugs is a hallmark of any conspiracy thriller, so the show pretty much had to go to that point, but I didn't buy that Will would only think of this after Kale suggested it to him.

On the other hand, I liked that whole scene where Will went over to Kale's place. I'm glad that the show is letting us know just where all of its bigwigs fall within the conspiracy chain of command, and having Kale be a guy who obviously knows a lot but doesn't know everything and is nonetheless willing to help out Will is a good move, I think. As it turns out, Kale is gay (and not a fan of Hot Chip, for that matter), and it would seem he's had a prior relationship with Donald Bloom, which raises his level of involvement in the conspiracy and level of conflict with it substantially. I also like the world-weariness that comes when Kale tries to tell Will about the bugs. Of course Kale sweeps for bugs. He sweeps for bugs all the damn time. How else would he live his life? This is just the world Will has stumbled into, and maybe instead of trying to uncover a giant conspiracy, he should settle in for a long life of that conspiracy keeping tabs on him.

But this is a TV show, and Will is the hero, so of course, that's not going to happen. He's going to head out into the night to do his research in an all-night Internet cafe and suspect everyone around him of being somebody who's out to get him. He's going to stop the guy who's tailing him and point out to him that now that he has the guy's photo, the guy is as good as useless to his employers. There's a lot of great stuff in this section, and I like Will growing more and more proactive. This section of the conspiracy storyline - protagonist starts to suspect everyone and feels that any single person he meets could have turned on him - is often my favorite part, and James Badge Dale is playing the twitchy uncertainty of Will in this situation terrifically well.

But this is an episode that winds together a further look into the conspiracy and how it operates (including some interesting revelations with Katherine that we'll get to in a moment) with some nice, personal moments. We get the visit to Kale's home, but we also get to see Miles spying on a wedding, needing an expert in Urdu, and recruiting Julia. Julia is pretty much a female Miles, and the show is clearly setting us up to think that these two should be together, but I love the way the show lets all of this simmer along in the background as the two go about their work, which just happens to comment on what's happening between them. It's good, understated writing, and when Miles again affirms his connection to a marriage that, by all rights, should be something that's out his life, it feels like another glimpse into just how stuck the character is.

The series has been having trouble making Maggie as interesting as the people on Will's team, Kale, or Truxton, all of whom have gotten fantastic material in the last few episodes. Maggie should be so interesting - she's ratting out her fellow employees, and she's clearly hiding some deep, dark secrets about what happened with her husband - but there's just something about her that the show can't seem to figure out. It's like she's a character the show thinks it needs to have, simply because it's the kind of show that would be filled with traitors and moles, but it hasn't bothered to figure her out much beyond her obvious plot functions. Tonight, there's an attempt at giving her stuff to do, but it still feels a little too much like a stock plot that comes out of the list of plots you can give a single mom, as she sublimates her sexual desire for Will into some other guy … only to have him come back to her place, forcing her to ask him to leave.


Finally, you have Katherine, who's continuing her investigation and discovering that there was another guy who shot himself in connection to a four-leaf clover … and her dead husband just happened to benefit from that man's death. I'm starting to really dig the Katherine scenes because I enjoy the way that Miranda Richardson is filling them both with the sense of her character's personal loss and with her sense of needing to right what went wrong. These scenes had a tendency to be the draggiest in the show's early going, but they've tightened up considerably now, especially as the show has started to embrace what it really wants to be. After that third episode, which seemed like a transitional one, in many ways, every episode of Rubicon has been a winner, and I don't hesitate to say that this show has turned into one of my favorites.

Stray observations:

  • I had hoped to talk a little bit about how this fits in with other stuff that Henry Bromell has done over the years tonight, but I got wrapped up in plot recap. We'll hopefully talk about that next week.
  • There was some discussion of how Ed holds the show back last week. I tend to like him as a cautionary tale for what Will could become, but I can see where he would irritate some of you. I think the show is wise to moderate just how often it uses him.
  • I've also read some carping about how the show looks "cheap," particularly in this article, and I couldn't disagree more. I think the show is one of the most mesmerizing looking on TV, taking a low budget and somehow stretching it to make it look at once claustrophobic and expansive. The series uses the closed-in buildings of New York City in the way that Breaking Bad uses the wide-open spaces of New Mexico (and with good reason, since both are shot by Michael Slovis), and I've come to really dig the show's look.