Rubicon is better than what you’re watching. It’s better than that show with the vampires, better than the one about the guy with the face, better than the fantasy one with Sean Bean and a midget.
I’m not even that far into Rubicon, perhaps only six episodes or so, but it’s a tremendous show. It’s slow, very slow, as far as the main storyline is concerned. As well as drip-feeding us information on the story, Rubicon is perfectly happy to wander off-message completely, and spend the best part of an episode on something (probably) unrelated. This is measured, confident storytelling. At least, up until it got cancelled.
While spoilers keep me from googling Rubicon much, the last I heard was that it had definitely been cancelled. Slow, 70s-era-paced narratives don’t appeal to the decidedly non-70s TV viewing demographic. Which in a way makes watching it more enjoyable. Every episode is a treasure when you know that there’s only a limited amount. Soon, the beast in the corner of the living room will stop feeding me these delightful stories. Then I will weep hard.
Rubicon is James Badge Dale staring at things. There, I’ve boiled it down. The story centres around his character Will Travers and his employment in an US intelligence agency. In the opening episode, a man named Tom, seemingly unrelated to the main cast, kills himself. He finds a four-leaved clover on a newspaper in his study, and boom, puts a bullet where his brain was. From then on, his widow handles his estate, finding out his secrets, and wondering if he planned for her to find them.
Also during that first episode, Will’s boss, David, also his father-in-law, dies in a train crash. The episode ends with some shadowy men discussing his death, hinting that he may have been killed. From then on the show parallels Will’s and the widow’s stories while they hunt for secrets. Will finds out that, round about the day of the crash, the same crossword ran in a number of major newspapers. The last time this happened, the puzzles were a coded kill order. Will investigates further, finding more of David’s clues from beyond the grave. Will is repeatedly warned to steer clear of such things by his supervisor. But there ain’t no stopping the Badge. Will has also assumed David’s role, managing a team of analysts. While they work on the agencies’ needs, Will gets deeper into a world of conspiracy.
The show highlights the effects that this searching is having on Will. He’s reaching high levels of paranoia. Some real, some imaginary. He’s being followed in the street, his house may be bugged. Clay Davis from The Wire watches him with binoculars. He begins to wonder who his agency actually works for. By now (again, episode five or six), a company named Atlas McDowell seems to be edging in from the sidelines. Their name being linked to Clay Davis, and also appearing on paperweights in both Will’s boss’ and Tom’s offices.
And for the main narrative, that’s where we’re at, that’s all we’ve got. Yet it’s all so brilliantly presented. Dale plays moody, contemplative Will brilliantly. His manager, Ingram, is creepy. He alternates from whispering and quiet to angry and disgusted with Will in a second. In every one of their scenes his disdain for Will’s enquiries always threatens to burst through, regardless of topic of conversation. Ingram’s boss, Spengler, is quirky and odd, all vocal tics and odd pronunciation. Seemingly scatterbrained, he’s prone to moments of great insight, making you wonder if his absent-minded facets are really just an act to get people to let their guard down.
Rubicon also does well is in devoting time to Will’s team of analysts, who all show the effects of their work. For security reasons, they all have to lie about where they work. One’s marriage is falling apart. One struggles with lying to his wife and missing important parts of his child growing up, because of the demands of the job. One’s alcoholism is getting worse as she struggles with the moral and ethical decisions of her role.
I don’t even know if Rubicon got finished filming the full season. I assumed that ‘cancelled’ meant ‘not getting renewed’. It’s only dawning on me now that the story might never get finished. The very thought sickens me.
Regardless of how it ends, you should be watching. It’s a fantastic show, full of great characters, bold storytelling, and things being stared at. Rubicon might be the one show that benefits from a normal broadcast pace. An hour a week is perfect. Watch a bunch of episodes together and the slowness of it all may be too much. No matter how you watch, get it watched, and stop being an arse.