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Rubicon: A Newbie Viewers Guide

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We’ve come to expect our big and small screen thrillers to be accompanied by explosions, gunfire and other accoutrements of big-bang action. We grow impatient when the narrative moves forward at a snail’s pace and we’re required to think along with our hero as he (or she) unravels the big mystery or identify the bad guys. We’ve been spoiled by 24, where every hour of Jack Bauer’s day is filled with treachery, torture, pursuit and “the chase.” 

The slow reveal has to peppered with hot action sequences adequate to hold our collective attention, and that’s unfortunate. It’s also (I think) at the root of the Twitterings I’ve heard from impatient viewers, who can’t appreciate the slow art of this genre as expressed in the new AMC series Rubicon. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve been following the Twitter buzz for a couple of weeks and what pops out at me are the complaints that the series just moves too slow. Just for the record, I vehemently disagree.

My biggest problem with Rubicon is that I don’t want to wait a week to find out what happens next. If Rubicon were a novel, I could forge ahead late into the night and long past my bedtime to find out what’s up with Will, his team and the people they work for. I could find out whether Will’s boss at the American Policy Institute (an intelligence think tank) Kale Ingram, and the director of API (American Policy Institute) Spangler are forces for good or evil. But it’s not a novel and I can’t read the last chapter until we get there.

The provocative tagline for Rubicon is “Not every conspiracy is a theory,” which heavily suggests the direction of the plot. If you haven’t yet watched the series, and you like conspiracy thrillers, excellent writing and don’t mind going for a longer ride, without a lot of explosions and yelling, I recommend that you watch the first episode embedded below and then catch up with the series with the kindly provided “story thus far” video

And, because it’s sometimes hard to tell the players, as they say, without a scorecard, I have provided for your use and information some intel on the main players in the story:

Will Travers (James Badge Dale, The Pacific): The hero of our story, he is a brilliant analyst and an expert at pattern recognition. Will lost his wife and young child on 9/11; he had planned on meeting them for an outing at the World Trade Center, but was late. He is haunted the loss and his own survival. At the start of the series, his father-in-law heads the analysis team for which Will works at API, but by episode two, Will is in charge.

In the first episode, Will is drawn to a pattern he discerns in crossword puzzle clues in major international newspaper, leading him on a treacherous path to unlock the clues and the mystery lying beneath. Is it a coded message to a conspiracy? Where the clues lead forms the underlying mystery of the Rubicon narrative.

Kale Ingram (Arliss Howard, Full Metal Jacket, Men Don’t Leave): Kale is Will’s boss, and is the eerily soft spoken manager of all analysis teams at API. He is an intelligence veteran, having served in several agencies since his days in the military. It is Kale who recommends Will for his team leader position. Aware that Will is very interested in solving the crossword puzzle mystery, he warns his young team leader not to get in over his head. How he’s involved in the conspiracy isn’t quite clear. His quiet and calm demeanor is creepily intimidating; he gives me the chills. It’s also not clear how intensely he has Will’s best interest at heart. Methinks his relationship with Will may be a case of “keep[ing] your enemies closer.” 

Truxton Spangler (Michael Cristofer, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of The Shadow Box): The director of API, Spangler is a seemingly eccentric veteran of the intelligence services. A Harvard-educated lawyer, he seems to have taken an interest in Will, and is very interested in maintaining API’s independence from any government oversight. There are many things we clearly do not yet know about this character, other than his insistence on brilliance from his analysts and his considerable connections within the government and military.

Miles Fiedler (Dallas Roberts, 3:10 to Yuma, A Home at the End of the World): Miles is a member of Will’s API analysis team. With a genius level IQ, Miles is tightly wound, well understanding the sometimes “irreversible” decisions intelligence analysts must make. He’s having serious marital problems, which he seems to be keeping secret from everyone. He seems to be a character on the edge.

Grant Test (Christopher Evan Welch, The Good Shepherd, War of the Worlds): Grant was passed over to lead the team in favor of Will. He harbors some resentment both about being overlooked and about the fact that his life must be kept secret from his wife and family. He’s “the arrogant one” on the team, feeling superior to Will and pretty much everyone else. Of all the members of “Team B,” Grant seems the most obviously self-interested and cynical.

Tanya MacGaffin (Lauren Hodges, The Adjustment Bureau): Tanya is the young idealistic newbie on the team. Not quite sure of herself, and grappling with moral clarity issues about their mission, she seems to be wandering into some very shaky emotional territory. 

Maggie Young (Jessica Collins, CSI): Maggie is Will’s assistant. It’s established in the first episode that she has a thing for Will, and wants to bring him out of his funk over the deaths of his wife and child. Will’s not biting, but in any event, can he really trust her? She seems to have quite an interesting relationship with Kale—who I’m not so sure Will can trust either.

Ed Bancroft (Roger Robinson, Kojak, Brother to Brother): Ed is a retired CIA operative. An expert at ciphers and pattern recognition, he is familiar with the use of crossword puzzles as coded messages, having created one in 1983. And it appears that his 1983 crossword puzzle and the one unearthed by Will are connected, but how? Ed is a close friend of David Hadas, Will’s father-in-law and former boss at API.

Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson, Spider, Blackadder II): Playing outside with her children when husband Tom blows his brains out upstairs at the start of episode one, Katherine is now trying to unravel Tom’s secret life. Leaving her failing company that she hadn’t known even existed, and an cushy New York apartment of which she was equally unaware before Tom’s death, she’s beginning to wonder if there’s anyone she can really trust. I have no idea at this point in the series how her story—or Tom’s—connects with Will’s crossword puzzle, but surely it does. 

Episode six airs Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. ET on AMC. According to the Rubicon website, Kale makes Will a “surprising” offer. Hmmm. Let me know what you think of Rubicon in the comments thread below. 


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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Scott Butki

    Good summary/review/analysis of the show so far. I just seeded it at facebook and newsvine.
    I’m among those watching to see if its as good as some say it will become but getting impatient at just how sloooooooooooow it seems to be happening.

  • Barbara barnett

    Cool, Scott. I don’t mind the slow if it’s a good ride and so far so good. Thanks for the seeding!

  • Carol

    Nice article, I tried Rubicon but stopped, I think I will give it another chance.

  • barbara barnett

    Thanks, Carol. The pieces may be starting to fall into place…

  • handyguy

    There’s slow and there’s sloooow. I am sticking with Rubicon for now, but as New York magazine said, sometimes it just makes me think about taking a nice, long nap.

  • AudioDog

    I’ve only just recently watched the first episode, and I can tell that the show has great actors and good production value. As we’ve seen in the trailer’s for this show, there is a conspiracy within the governmental systems. A four leaf clover, where three leaves stand for current government systems and the fourth for some unknown entity. However, the way the character discovers this plot device (which is what kicks off the entire story for the whole first season at the very least) seems rather weak. I won’t say too much about it, but I hope this show isn’t chock full of these wobbly legged ‘AHA!’ moments.