Of all literary and cinematic genres, it is the taut, dark conspiracy thriller I like best: Six Days of the Condor (and its cinema offspring Three Days of the Condor), the best of Le Carre, Ludlum, and Furst. Lone heroes (or anti-heroes) fighting a hopeless battle against “the powers that be” — trying to “do the right thing” when doing it may be fraught with danger. And this year seems to be the year of conspiracy thriller TV.
As I impatiently await the premiere of NBC’s much-hyped conspiracy event,The Event, another new series has popped onto my radar: a new AMC series called Rubicon. Although AMC had, until recently, been known mostly for airing movie classics from its basic cable roost, the last few years have seen the network bring us award-winning series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
Rubicon begins with an apparent suicide. A wealthy man named Tom Rhumor (Harris Yulin) opens his daily newspaper only to find within its pages a four-leaf clover, and while his wife (Miranda Richardson) plays with their children outdoors, he puts the barrel of a gun to his head. Bang.
Elsewhere, a small intelligence think tank puts together disparate, deeply hidden pieces of data into cohesive information. Run by an aloof director (is he a bad guy or a good guy?), the American Policy Institute (API) is staffed by an odd assortment of peculiar, but very, very smart people. Their job is to acquire international intelligence by looking for nuanced clues and assembling seemingly disparate bits of hard and anecdotal information.
One of those very smart people is our hero, analyst Will Travers (James Badge Dale). A 30-something, he is tormented by the deaths of his wife and young daughter, both killed while waiting for him on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center. Will stumbles upon a code embedded within a series of seemingly independent crossword puzzles in major newspapers. His curiosity about the puzzles may lead to uncover some big secrets — but it also may be endangering his life.
Somehow the crossword puzzle story intersects with the the four-leaf clover and the death of the wealthy man. There are graying men, clearly trying to manipulate something or someones. Is there a conspiracy? And if so, what’s its nature? The reveal of clues is slow and deliberate. It’s a page-turner of a television series, that much is certain.
The Rubicon, as you may know, is the river in Italy crossed by Caesar in 49 B.C. as an act of war: a watery line in the sand that signified “the point of no return.” Where does Rubicon‘s Rubicon lay, and will it be crossed – and to what consequence for all the players?
The entire series feels a little like a British import, from the muted colors to the narrow hallways’ brooding atmosphere. Even the characters seem like they’ve been transported to New York from a British spy novel. And just when I was thinking of Graham Green while watching episode two (I’m still catching up), there were two Graham Green novels sitting on the nightstand of the guy who offed himself at the beginning of episode one — and whose story, it seems, would unravel the entire mystery.
I can’t tell you much more without spoiling the plot of the first few episodes (episode four airs this week), so I’ve embedded a “catch up” video courtesy of AMC. Rubicon initially airs Sunday nights on AMC (and repeats several times during the week); it has been given a run of 13 episodes for this first season. It’s certainly worth a look-see, and it’s incredibly easy to catch up. The first few episodes are widely available on AMC’s website and on cable “On Demand.”