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TV Review: Rubicon – “Wayward Sons”

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“Carry on my wayward son; there’ll be peace when you are done; lay your weary head to rest; don’t you cry no more.” Kansas

There are many sons “carrying on” despite exhaustion and frustration, fear and great risk in the penultimate episode of AMC’s Rubicon. (Hey, AMC, if you are listening out there, DO NOT cancel this fine show and give it a second season!) Some carry on for glory, like our All-American type home-grown terrorist, known by the name Kateb. By the admission of friends and family this kid is a loser: the type that turns into a Timothy McVeigh, a skinhead or a Columbine killer. Instead he becomes (at least he thinks) a tool of Middle Eastern extremists. 

Will Travers (James Badge Dale) carries on for his father-in-law, murdered for his part in trying to expose a greed and hubris fueled conspiracy. And whose son is Kale Ingram (Arliss Howard)? API chief Truxton Spangler (Michael Cristofer) believes him to be a trustworthy protegee and long-time friend. And despite Ingram’s horror that he’s been working for a conspiracy possibly headed by his old and trusted friend, Ingram carries on to the truth whatever it may reveal.

Rubicon’s first season is almost at an end, and in an episode one might expect in a season finale, the terrorist Will and his team have been hunting for weeks blows up a devastating target right here in the U.S. Having finally figured it out, Will is devastated to learn that they are simply too late. Or are they?

Kateb’s target—an oil tanker in Galveston Bay—causes a strategic oil spill. It’s nowhere as large as the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but its location renders Galveston Bay is lost for months. API chief Truxton Spangler and his cronies have exactly what they want. Oil production and movement will by blocked, with a quarter of our oil supply needing to pass through Galveston Bay. Price of oil futures? Way, way up. Bet I know a certain API bigwig who’s got lots of those oil futures: big, big money. Oh, what’s a little terrorism and a lot of chaos when money’s at stake? But can it really be as simple as all that? 

There are, of course, big questions raised regarding governments and their use of ex-intelligence types as contract consultants. Is this the inevitable outcome when the lines between private contractor and government are blurred? The priorities of the government and business are not the same, yet when contractors like API become (in a sense) our intelligence arm, whose priorities are we following? Has the military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned about been replaced by a military-consulting firm complex. Clearly it has, and taken as a cautionary tale, Rubicon has fictionally illustrated the frightening potential inherent in such couplings: a homegrown, hence invisible, jihadist, hired and used for corporate strategic interests—a tool not of Al Quaeda, but of greedy men.

On the other hand, there is yet one more episode to the season, so it’s not over ‘till it’s over. We’re being led to believe with the climactic and completely unexpected terrorist attack by Kateb that the season finale will be to tie up loose ends. But will the season finale really be the denouement? Or is there something bigger on the horizon? 

I’ve said all along that the series seems almost novel-like, and with what seems to have been the “book’s” climax in last night’s episode. The next step would be the neat (or not-so-neat) tying up of the story.

There are certainly a lot of dangling questions. What is it in that Meet Me in St. Louis DVD that Thomas Rhumor wants his wife Katherine (Miranda Richardson) to find? What key (or what evidence) does it hold? Is Kateb still alive? Will Kale indeed be carried out of API—assassinated by Spangler (as the deeply sinister Spangler seems to imply)? Or will Spangler be arrested for treason and API go on with Kale at its head?

And, what about Maggie (Jessica Collins)? Who is she—and more importantly—who is she to Ingram? We still don’t understand her relationship with Kale. And then there’s the team: Miles (Dallas Roberts), Grant Test (Christopher Evan Welch), and Tanya (Lauren Hodges). Each one an interesting character, three-dimensional and very human despite their genius.  

The entire series began with photographs. One of them is of an intel photo of clandestine meeting between foreign agents; the other is of a group of boys on the shore, innocent and playful. Who is in those pictures? Why are they together and why is it important? Each picture tells a story that has been unraveled these last weeks.

One picture eventually leads Will and the team to Kateb. The other leads inward and upward in the API hierarchy—right to its head in Truxton Spangler. But it is Spangler who originally gives the intelligence photo to Will and his team. And if Spangler is the evil genius—the head of a conspiracy that clearly began decades earlier, and suggested by that second photograph of summer innocence— then why lead the team on a chase that will eventually lead to the answer?

Had Spangler seriously underestimated Will’s team? Had Will’s father-in-law and head of Will’s section David Hadas been murdered (along with a bunch of other people) not only to get him out of the picture, but also to put the much less experienced Will Travers in charge of the investigation? Or has this been a sort of “fox and the hound” game for Spangler, whose hubris is supreme?  With successful conclusion of the terrorist attack, has Spangler won this victory only to have grossly overplayed his hand, only to reveal the entire conspiracy? 

One last question (in the “is it only me?” realm): Anyone else here see a very strong resemblance between Spangler and the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files? That can’t be unintentional. He’s obviously more competent than the old CSM, who arrogance was annoying but never really frightening after a couple seasons. Spangler is as sinister a character as I’ve met in TV Land recently. I think he frightens even his cronies. But are things really so black and white with him? What’s Spangler’s end game?

The season finale (and hopefully not the series finale) airs next Sunday night on AMC 9:00 p.m. ET.

 

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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.
  • http://willkillforfood.com Lisa McKay

    Nice write-up, Barbara, I can’t imagine being left hanging if AMC chooses not to renew this.

    I think Spangler is way scarier and way more dangerous than the CSM ever was — there was something about the way he was able to order a hit on Will one day and then casually assign him to NJ the next that really chilled my blood. And I think Kale is the most interesting character in the show.

    Yeah, they really do need to renew this.

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    To me, Spangler is truly sinister. Cold blooded. Like you, I think Kale is the most interesting character there. I’ve always liked Arliss Howard.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    This series began promisingly, but it has been so attenuated, with so little narrative or dramatic substance, that it tries my patience.

    For the first 8 or 9 episodes, there was plenty of spooky hinting; the plot barely moved an inch. And now those dots have been connected in the most unimaginative way possible.

    The everyday work of Will’s team is just laughably simplistic. The dialogue between the supposedly scary conspirators [the “group of old guys”] is plain ridiculous.

    James Badge Dale and Arliss Howard are decent actors, but no one is given enough to do or say. There is very little nuance, no layers of complication and detail to peel back. The plot is all holes, the characters as cardboard as 24.

    I wanted to like Rubicon, but I won’t be sorry to see it end. Of course, being scheduled right before Mad Men, one of the best series in history, invites unflattering comparisons.

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    I would agree with you if last night is was the finale (sort of). I ask the question: is it really as simple as it seems? Because it has sort of played out very straightforwardly (with only a few small twists). Sort of like a Ludlum novel rather than say something by Graham Greene. I’m hoping more Greene than Ludlum (tho I like them both, Green is more textured). So we’ll see next week.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    The cleverest thing in the plot is having the two plot strands converge: the spooky old guys causing disasters for financial gain, and the attempt to stop Kateb before he acts. The greedy conspirators plotted to blow up the tanker; they are the real terrorists. But really, couldn’t we have moved from there to here with a little more panache?