Series spoilers for Rubicon.
I’ve started to watch Rubicon for a second time. I shouldn’t really. I’ve got a pile of TV shows that I’ve not seen once: half-seasons of Homeland and Alcatraz occupy valuable space on my Sky+ box; Rome and Deadwood boxsets have been gathering dust on my shelves for years. Yet I wanted to see how Rubicon holds up to a second inspection, now that I know how it all ends.
First time around I enjoyed the show right away and became pretty obsessed with it by mid-season (writing my first draft of this I realised I was wearing my API t-shirt. I also now own a brass owl). Yet the finale disappointed me. Katherine’s death was important, but both Will and Truxton were left looking futile. Will had failed to protect Mrs Rumour, and his threat to release his findings to the media was scoffed at by Spangler, who had received the death sentence he had failed to apply to Will. I probably gave too much importance to that episode as the one that would wrap up the entire series, when it was made to set up a second season that would never materialise.
With that colouring my memories, I cranked up episode one.
As I watched those great opening credits run I recalled the show’s transition of power from Jason Horwitch to Henry Bromell. Would this changeover be reflected in the show? First episodes of TV shows often have details that seem strange on re-inspection, so it would be hard to say what was due to Horwitch’s departure, and what was simply a show finding its feet. In The Sopranos first episode, for instance, James Gandolfini’s voice is very different – more like his dream alias Kevin Finnerty than the Tony Soprano we now all know. In The Wire’s first there’s a jarring use of slo-mo as Stringer and crew walk through the low-rises, a stylistic choice never seen again.
Rubicon was never a show to overstate its points, so it seems unfitting how bluntly Will’s genius is established. As soon as he arrives at API he answers questions in the hardest crossword ever. Shortly after he lists off trivia that has Grant and Miles staring at each other, here he goes again. Ed also reveals that David referred to Will as a genius. Yet as the season wrapped up I never felt as if Will was much smarter than those around him. He was very clever, as are his team, but he uncovered the conspiracy not just through intelligence but with inquisitiveness and paranoia.
Also irksome is the establishing of a link – for the viewer at least – between the clover Tom received and the one mentioned in the crossword puzzle. Though the characters so far have no idea of the connection, the show made it obvious we should find one. I understand that a show’s first episode has to get certain points across quickly, but these moments don’t fit the rest of the season’s slow pace.
What else doesn’t fit the rest of the show? The train crash. It does fit the style of the group I first called The Profiteers on first review, those glimpsed at the end of the episode discussing David’s death. An accident of that scale is their MO. Yet all that to kill one person? Rubicon is an intimate show, it’s face to face, even in matters of death. The attempted hit on Will took place in his flat, Roy had to touch Katherine to kill her. The only other large-scale event in the show – Khateb’s terrorist attack – took place off-screen (though probably for budget reasons). So to see a train run off-track and into another looked like a scene from another show.
Will’s office is shown as having rows of bookshelves. I don’t recall ever seeing the shelves in later episodes. Bromell only showed Will’s couch and the pinboard behind it. For aesthetic reasons, maybe, but I can’t help but think that this was a conscious decision by Bromell to minimise Will as ‘book-smart genius’.
Knowing that Will figures out what happened to David, it’s nice to see him veer down the wrong track (if you’ll pardon the pun). He sees David’s car in parking spot 13. David, being highly superstitious, would never park at such a number. So Will assumes that David’s car was parked there by someone else, and extrapolates that into David not being on the train, and his body being placed at the scene. With mystery fiction, the hero generally goes from knowing nothing, to suspecting something, to having those suspicions confirmed. Rarely do they theorise wrongly. The obstacles they often face are physical, or put there to deceive them.
Despite my minor quibbles episode one was very enjoyable, a strong episode in a very good season.