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TV Review: Rubicon – “In Whom We Trust”

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AMC’s tense conspiracy novel of a series Rubicon heads into the climactic episodes of the narrative as the tension continues to ratchet up on all fronts. Will Travers (James Badge Dale), the presumptive hero of the story, continues being backed into a corner even as he begins to put the pieces together. Meeting with Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson), who has been doing some research of her own into the suicide of husband Thomas, Will may finally be getting somewhere. However, very little that either Will or Katherine are up to is going unheard by the conspiracy—no matter how careful Will thinks he is being. He can barely make a move without being seen and heard—and it’s taking its toll on his psyche.

Will has been camped out in his neighbor’s apartment, situated conveniently right across the alley from his building.  We (and eventually Will) wonder if her presence is a little too convenient. And although she protests vehemently that she’s an innocent in this claustrophobic game, I wonder if the lady doth protest too much. Is she, too, involved somehow, or is she, like Kale Ingram (the always interesting Arliss Howard) now appears to be, some sort of guardian angel protecting the hero as he gets ever closer to the truth (which is always a highly dangerous proposition)?

When the series first begins, it is unclear on which side (other than his own) Kale resides—is he a good guy or as sinister as he appears to be? But Kale has assisted Will in his efforts to uncover whatever it is that his father-in-law (and former boss) David was onto before his death in the first episode. And now Kale (who sweeps his apartment for bugs regularly) finds that he, too, is under surveillance. But experienced spook Ingram can still slip “off the grid” and elude even the most adept intelligence operatives it seems—much to API Director Truxton Spangler’s (Michael Cristofer) frustration. Soft-spoken and small in stature, Kale looks anything but imposing. But his affect is just that. It is easy to see Kale as the assassin he probably once was; he moves with the stealth of a ghost—as any good spy must. 

I’m going to speculate for a moment and suggest that Kale is the real eventual hero of this story. He is certainly one of the most complex characters in a series of intellectual (and somewhat nerdy) geniuses. He’s a brilliant, tough ex-ops agent, an out-of-the-closet homosexual with a live-in partner. He’s extremely protective of Maggie (Jessica Collins), an administrative assistant at API, the intelligence think tank at which most of the characters work.

It’s hard to know exactly why Kale is so protective of Maggie and her daughter, but he’s basically run her jerk of an ex-husband out of town. Why? Is there a connection to one of the other narratives in Maggie’s story?

There is also a straight-on intelligence case that has been the focus of Will’s analytical group at API. Will’s group specializes in Middle East issues, and as they track a terrorist named Kateb, previously believed dead, they seem to have wandered into a plot in the midst of hatching. 

I love the way the lives of the analysts are explored. You get a real sense of the frustration they experience waiting for the trickle of information that may mean the difference between stopping a terrorist attack somewhere in the world—and the deaths of innocents if it’s not. But the work they do takes its toll on their real lives as well. Neophyte Tanya (Lauren Hodges), who, we learn, has two PhDs, can’t get through the day without taking pills and a drink or two. The pressure of the job and having observed one of their targets tortured in some far away land, at very close hand, may have pushed her over the edge. She is now serving out the consequences of a failed drug test by doing rehab and getting a taste of the grunt work—filing—done in the basement of API. 

Grant Test (Christopher Evan Welch), the senior member of Wills’ team, is experiencing the crash of his marriage. He can’t talk about his job with his wife, yet can’t explain why he’s perpetually missing their daughter’s school events—and why he prefers this underpaid and unrewarding job when he could by virtue of his Ivy League education be rich and on the golf course. 

And then there’s Miles Fiedler (Dallas Roberts): brilliant, but whose marriage has already fallen apart. Roberts is great as the twitchy, perpetually nervous genius. He understands the burden they all bear, and like Tanya has observed at close hand the real-life consequences of their decisions. He believes in what they are doing, understanding that their work has the potential to save more lives than it costs.

He wonders early on why the government has failed to take their advice on a case in Nigeria, tormenting himself as he watches things fall apart there as he predicted they would. (And I wonder now, several episodes later, whether that event in Nigeria is somehow part of the whole picture we’re trying to view.) All of the analysts at API reside in a pressure cooker that would tear apart an ordinary person, and we are left to wonder who among Will’s group might crack and how.

In this week’s episode, we get a few more significant puzzle pieces in both the conspiracy arc and in the intelligence case being worked by Will’s team. Although she is under threat by the conspiracy (and any contact with Will will mean both their deaths), Katherine manages to send Will a photograph we’ve seen in earlier episodes. It’s an old photo, one taken when Thomas Rhumor, Spangler, and his friends were young tykes. What is it that these men hatched when they were mere boys? Was it back at summer camp on the shore that they did what? Launch a pact to rattle governments, destabilize them, and then take financial and political advantage? Is this all about money? Power? Or something even more sinister? 

The Kateb plot is also developed as Will and the team connect the dots to several bombings in diverse locations, including Cairo, Yemen, and Jarkarta. The bombings’ timing all point to a single group or individual with a very particular time signature. If it’s Kateb, and that seems likely, those closest to him have dropped like flies—they are all dead (presumably assassinated to cover up something BIG about to happen). 

I have to believe that this plot has something to do with the conspiracy somehow. Destabilized regimes, bombing, terrorists: do they all play into the hand of Spangler and the conspiracy’s plans (whatever they might be)? Is Kateb, therefore, working for the conspiracy (okay, so this is speculation, so take it with a healthy grain of salt)?

With only three episodes of Rubicon to go, we’ll find out soon enough. 

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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.
  • hishamharum

    ploddingly slow. All we see a lot of is actors going through files, walking about, looking for bugs, discussing matters on the rooftop, having endless meetings… it’s a cheap set and looks it. This for me was something that held promise but fizzled out before the third episode.

  • logan

    This show simply gets better and better. I’m so hooked on the intrigue, both in the office and out of it.

  • hishamharum

    Oh,one more thing; the cliffhangers or what they’re supposed to be, really aren’t. One episode ends with the protagonist smashing a bug and the latest one sees him getting a note with a picture…
    Still, as irritated as I am with the series and how unsophisticated and old-school it is where espionage is concerned, I hope it would get better. For now, I would think that this series is so badly edited; so many redundant scenes, like Will, the supposed hero staking outside that lady’s home. And several scenes showing the girl sorting papers in a small room with dialogue that contributes nothing to the whole story. And a whole scene showing Kale looking for bugs around the house (for the umpteenth time) and then discussing a new lamp with his other half which again doesn’t contribute much to the main story. And then you have a scene where Kale threatens Will’s ex PA’s husband just to show that he has a bit of gangster in him… but how weak was that scene too…. I am not trying to diss anyone here. Just terribly disappointed in how this series has turned up. And enough with the four leaf clovers already…. as well as that particular black and white picture. So tiring…

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    If you look at the series superficially and expect that everything we know is out there in black and white, then yeah, who cares? But this is a story in which nothing should be taken for granted. It seems straightforward, but is it? The “girl” sorting papers is double PhD Tanya. Maybe she’ll see something in that stack of papers that leads them to Kateb (or Qtub or however they spell that name). This isn’t “24,” It’s Graham Greene (who I’m sure figures in some way in the morass of clues).