I’ve talked about “Rubicon” intermittently since it started here on the blog, although its placement right before “Mad Men” means that my recapping energies are pretty much spent by the time I detail Don Draper’s latest drunken dovetail into the abyss of his soul. But while I haven’t written about “Rubicon” on a weekly basis, I have been watching it each Sunday. After a few episodes that one might generously describe as “glacial” in terms of pacing, the last few weeks have taken things up several notches. While it’s still methodical, one gets the sense that the show is at least moving towards something specific, and moving there with an ever-surer hand.
The first three episodes might have well featured people speaking in Esperanto: so dense was the dialogue, so Pinter-esque the pauses, the “man, if I take my glasses off, Will Travers looks exactly like Matthew Morrison.” The fact that it moved along with the same speed as continental drift was a feature, not a bug, in my estimation. I almost felt like it was a decision made not only in terms of telling its own story in a specific way, but also to made “Mad Men” seems like “Sons of Anarchy” in terms of relative pacing. But starting with the fourth episode, “The Outsider,”* the show not only solidified API’s place within the intelligence community, but also started to scare the living crap out of Will as he searches for the truth behind his father-in-law’s murder.
* “The Outsider is even more intriguing after this week’s episode, since Spangler’s desire to avoid Congressional oversight has less to do with intelligence independence and perhaps more to do with Atlas MacDowell footing API’s bills.
Having not seen the recent HBO miniseries “The Pacfic,” I largely knew James Badge Dale as Kim’s boyfriend and pre-Prinze Jr. partner to Jack Bauer on “24.” To say his role on that show didn’t showcase his talent is an understatement, but I’m also pretty sure “24” could have casted Helen Mirren as a mole and she would have sucked. So, nothing against Dale, but I didn’t know the guy’s talent until “Rubicon.” Often times, the show will spend inordinate amount of time close-up on Will’s face, taking us through his increasingly paranoid viewpoint as he silently susses out his ever-constricted world. If that whole intelligence doesn’t work out for Will, he’s be a helluva mime.
I can’t say I’m especially fond of the government conspiracy genre unto itself, although I am fascinated by the price certain people have to pay for choosing a particular lifestyle or profession. I never cared much for the “Mole of the Month” club, or interdepartmental pissing contests that muck up the work of The Noble Naïve Analyst. I did care about Jack Bauer’s overall struggles to maintain sanity in the face of unyielding pain and sacrifice, however. And starting with “The Outsider,” I started to care about Will and his team, all struggling with forces so vast and yet so invisible they might as well be fighting the jet stream.
“Rubicon” showed these people as they are seen within API itself: analysts first, people second. We got to know them a little through their work and the mannerisms within, but the show has gone to great lengths to show the cracks in the veneer of this characters. We have Will, broken by personal loss during 9/11. We have Miles, married to his work instead of his wife. We have Tanya, who uses drugs and alcohol to dull the real-life impact her academic decisions create. We also have Grant, who may or may not be already in love with the woman with whom he spends more time everyday than his own wife. These are people who can’t see the forest from the trees, in that they can’t see the mass of people in NYC that they pass daily on the way to work as anything more than puzzles to be solved, not human beings to engage.
The notion of being married to one’s job isn’t new, but it’s particularly fitting that intelligence is the type of job that, like marriage, just might drive you crazy. Ed Bancroft stands in as the Poster Boy for the tendency of connecting the dots to make you…well, dotty. Will fears catching this in the way most of us fearing catching cold from a sick relative, but the same force that allows him to piece together disparate bits of information is also the one that could turn him cuckoo for cocoa puffs before all is said and done.
His perhaps ally, perhaps nemesis Kale Ingram might be the only thing keeping Will from either ending up in an insane asylum or six feet under. In the pilot, Ingram seems like a likely nemesis, but he’s since tried to subtly help Will find out the truth without attracting any undo attention from the man in charge of both the API and perhaps the Four Leaf Clover Conspiracy itself, Truxton Spangler. Watching Arliss Howard and Michael Cristofer, respectively, play those two roles has been an unending delight, as the pair seem to try and outdo each other in terms of delivering frankly bizarre, yet riveting, line readings in their brief time onscreen.
I haven’t dealt with Miranda Richardson’s role in the show yet because, quite frankly, there’s still not that much to talk about. Just as Will’s father-in-law left him clues to be post-humously discovered, so too has Katherine Rhumor’s late husband given her clues to discover after his suicide. But aside from a brief, unknowing encounter with Will at a charity function at Spangler’s house, the two remain separated, not knowing they are investigating the same thing but from different angles. Eventually, their paths will cross, but for now, I’ll just admire the interior decorating in Tom’s Super Secret Townhouse and hope this pays off in a satisfying way.
Ultimately, this show won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not an Earl Gray, it’s more exotic, not to everyone’s palate, but incredibly delicious to one predisposed to this unusual beverage. I’m personally not a tea drinker, but I drink up the mood, intelligence, patience, and paranoia of “Rubicon” week after week. If you think it’s not your (tea) bag, give it a taste anyway. You might be delighted by what you find.