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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rubicon: "You Never Can Win"

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Back during the first few weeks of Rubicon's run, people kept asking me if I thought it would be worth keeping up with. I usually said that I liked where it was going, but I had seen four episodes, and I could see where it would be a show that would be better to catch up with on DVD. For the most part, people seemed to see where I was coming from or would say they had been wondering if they shouldn't do that already. And yet now that I watch the first season finale - not a bad episode of the show but kind of a disappointing one - I wonder if the show will play as cohesively on DVD as I always thought it would or if it will seem at all times as if the writers are making it all up as they go along (because they were).

Don't get me wrong. On the level that really matters - the character level - Rubicon worked throughout. We got to know these people well as the season went on. We got to see how the paranoia that spread from David to Will eventually became a kind of virus that went on to infect more and more people. (The latest addition to this list being Miles Fiedler, who now knows too much and can't put it behind him, even when Julia smiles sweetly at him.) Kale Ingram is a TV mastermind for the ages, and Arliss Howard deserves an Emmy nomination next summer. Will Travers isn't the greatest character at the center of a show like this, but he's certainly serviceable, and all of the supporting players offered up one or two terrific moments. And then, of course, there's Truxton Spangler, a villain for our times, as all of his self-interest is couched in some level of "I'm doing this for the good of all of YOU out THERE."

And I think the plot of the show largely works right up through episode 12. I'd have to rewatch the first couple of episodes again to see if they hang with what came later, but particularly from "The Outsider" on, the plot was building magnificently to that moment in Galveston Bay that ended "Wayward Sons." And if I were forced to say whether the finale had more good or bad in it, I would come down firmly on the side of good. This was an episode that had Miles gradually losing his mind after Will told him what was up, that terrifically staged scene at Bethesda Fountain, Tanya quitting, Grant getting promoted, and a marvelously ambiguous next-to-last image that encompassed both the idea of the conspiracy as a many-headed hydra and the fact that a life in intelligence is a life filled with an impossible, inescapable weight. The finale had great moments for Will and Miles and Katherine and Truxton and even David Haddas, back from the dead.

And yet, I couldn't get on board with everything here. In particular, I thought the reveal that Andy was a plant, whose address was given to Katherine in the Meet Me in St. Louis DVD she spent so much of last week tracking down, was kind of lame. I realize that some of you would argue her role makes no sense unless she's a plant or a crazy person, so this will likely please you. But it strains credulity to me that she would be put in place to watch over both Will AND Katherine and that David and Tom would have her in that position for what must have been months and months (if not years). It's a move out of a goofy spy novel, and while Annie Parisse played the shift well (and will live to see another season, should another season arrive), it still struck me as patently unbelievable on one level and sort of unmotivated on another. It felt like an element left over from the inferior show Rubicon was, not the really great show it became.

Similarly, while I thought the Bethesda Fountain scene itself was a bit of genius in terms of direction, the fact that Will was kept from getting the DVD by his own fear and by Katherine's death felt like a rather obvious writer's feint, a way to keep everybody in the dark for another season. Granted, Will mostly put together the information that David would have given him on the DVD by himself (and the audience could put together even more of it from our omniscient point of view), but the scene where Katherine is watching the movie and it cuts to her husband telling her that Truxton's been manipulating intelligence promises so much more than what we ultimately get that it can't help but feel like a bit of a cheat. Still, the Bethesda setpiece is so good that this doesn't bother me as much as I thought it did when I first sat down to write about it.

In the terms of things I might have wanted more of, if this is the last time I ever get to see Kale Ingram, then that's too bad. I liked the idea that he was willing to just move on from losing the latest battle just like that, that he was willing to drop down under the radar again and support a war against Iran, but I would have loved one last, great scene with the guy, and that just wasn't there. Considering the finale used every character that wasn't Maggie quite well, it was a disappointment that the show's best character receded into the background for the most part. Even in last week's relatively Kale-lite episode, we got that scene with him and Truxton and the scene where he tells Katherine about Caesar. There was nothing like this in this episode.


But I'm not complaining too much. In a show like Rubicon, the build-up to the climax is almost always more exciting than the climax itself. (And, arguably, the climax of the season came last week with Kateb's explosion, so this would all be a long denouement.) Henry Bromell's direction of the finale was fantastic - I really liked that scene with the Atlas gang in the darkened room sitting at the table, as preposterous as the set design was - and I thought the suggestion that now Truxton is in just as much danger as Will, since the others have turned on him, was a great place to leave the character. The show can bring him back next season with a whole new storyline hanging over his head. And the nearly final image - a four leaf clover on a building's roof in a warm summer's night - almost succeeds in pulling all of this together in a single moment that says as much about what the show has been and become as the show itself did. And if we come right down to it, the lack of Kale and the fact that there wasn't a lot of follow-up on the DVD are problems with MY expectations, not the show itself (though the Andy thing still stands as a pretty big mark against it in my mind). And the final scene itself was a masterful piece of writing, particularly when Truxton asked Will if anyone would care about what he had found out.

Rubicon started out its first - and hopefully not only - season as a show that seemed uncertain of what it wanted to be. I know there are plenty of people who wish we had gotten to see the labyrinthine conspiracy plotline that the pilot seemed to promise we would get to see, but it became clear fairly early on that the strengths of the creative team and cast lay in telling us stories about these people as people who got caught up in whirlwinds, rather than the whirlwind itself. The problem came when it was time to make the whirlwind make sense and a few too many of the loose ends were still floating in the breeze.


Stray observations:

  • Hey, whatever happened to Ed Bancroft? And would he return in a possible season two?
  • Now that Katherine's dead, what do you think Miranda Richardson added to the show, if anything? I liked a lot of the little moments she got, but that an actress of her caliber was often stranded in storylines that just didn't work was a disappointment.
  • I've seen some people complaining that there wasn't enough explanation of Truxton's motivation, but I like that the show left a lot of this up to the audience. Truxton's motivation, on one level, was making a lot of money. On another level, it's whatever you want it to be.
  • On the other hand, I loved the suggestion someone made in comments last week that Truxton should turn to Will and snarl about how he'd finally broken the United States' addiction to oil. So what if Atlas McDowell had healthy investments in green energy?
  • Weird: James Badge Dale talking about why he likes zombie movies in the Walking Dead promo.
  • Just wandered around the Internet to see what people are talking about, and there's some suggestion that Andy's apartment where Katherine finds her is not the apartment across the street from Will. It looks different to me, but I genuinely have no idea.
  • You'd think Isiah Whitlock, Jr., would have gotten more to do, but he still carried an air of menace all season long. Hard to do.
  • Will's buddy Hal ended up being one of the pivotal points of the episode. Maybe we'll spend some actual time with him next season!
  • Grant says he's promoted. Tanya says, "I quit." Great laugh there.
  • And, finally, it looks like ratings were up a bit last week, so if they're up again, I'd imagine AMC will renew the show and heavily promote the DVD, in the hopes of getting season two more attention. I sort of doubt they'll attract new viewers with a second (presumably streamlined) season, but I think AMC would like the clout of picking its third series up to a second season. Since they own the damn building the major sets are in, it would be relatively easy to cut the show's budget, too.
  • And with that, we'll see you … sometime! Hopefully next summer.