Without further ado, here is what I took from the pilot episode of Rubicon. Remember, spoilers abound!
There are two reasons for which I decided to watch this new show. The first is that it comes from AMC. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are two of the most critically acclaimed shows currently on television, so here’s to hoping that this is another hit! The second reason is that James Badge Dale, who was excellent on The Pacific, plays the main character Will Travers. If you haven’t watched any of the shows mentioned above, drop everything and do so right away.
Even with expectations high, I had no idea what to expect from Rubicon. After watching just the first five minutes, I was completely enthralled. I have a terrible habit of watching television almost dutifully. As much as I claim to be having fun, I’m mostly just excited about crossing another show off of my to watch list. Rubicon doesn’t feel like that and I am very excited about the rest of the season.
The episode opens with a man noticing a four-leaf clover on one of his open books. Nearby, a woman, presumably his wife, is playing with her children. The man then proceeds to kill himself.
What really struck me about the sequence was the colouring. The colours used were all very grey and light brown and beige and white. My girlfriend tells me that this is called sepia. Regardless, it was cool because nothing really popped out of the screen, save for the four-leaf clover. Those same dull colours were used throughout the entire episode. Everyone was wearing a grey or brown winter coat and a simple coloured button down underneath. Maybe the point was to underscore mundane day-to-day living as it contrasts the secretive conspiracy analysis at the heart of the show. Or maybe it was just to show us how important the four-leaf clover was. Either way, I really like the way it’s being filmed.
Another thing that struck me was the music, which is probably what made the episode so good for me. I loved the way it used the piano and the strings to build the suspense. My favourite type of musical composition is one that uses variations. Taking one musical theme and then adding to it as it changes and builds is very moving when done well. My favourite example of this is the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th. Almost all of the music present in this episode starts off as something and then goes through a series of variations as the scene progresses. My one complaint is that a lot of the music builds and builds and then just stops suddenly as a scene or even as part of a scene ends. This is very apparent in the opening sequence. In fact, the show has moments of very heavy emotional music interspersed with moments of complete silence. I’m not sure what kind of a feeling it was supposed to leave me with, but it was a bit too jerky for my taste.
Anyway, all of that aside, the death goes unmentioned until the very last scene of the episode. In looking up the cast list, it would seem that the dead man’s wife is actually an important character. I didn’t get that sense at all from the pilot. She only appears in the opening sequence of the episode. This is probably where the sepia colouring created some confusion. It’s hard to tell who matters and who some of the characters are when everything looks the same. The episode should have tried harder to make us notice some of the supposedly important characters to help us remember their names.
On the other hand, four-leaf clovers are referenced a fair amount. Will heads to work and notices a pattern involving different crossword puzzles from different newspapers. The pattern involves three branches of the government all meeting in one place. The problem is that the clues involve four leaf clovers, which means that a fourth unknown organization is involved.
Will brings this information to the attention of his boss, David, who dismisses everything fairly abruptly. As soon as Will leaves, David jumps on the pattern and lets his own boss, Kale, know. At first, I thought that he was trying to take credit for Will’s work. It became apparent though that he was trying to protect Will. In one of the most interesting sequences of the episode, David is killed in a freak train collision. The scene itself shows David heading to the back of the train and then sitting down. We are never actually shown his face.
Will is waiting in a bar to meet up with David when he sees the train crash on the news. The look on his face as he realises what has happened is simply heartbreaking. I’ve heard a lot of comments about how James Badge Dale is a “soulful” young actor. It wasn’t until this scene that his talent truly shines. Before that he comes off as mostly dour.
Three Things That Made All Of This That Much Cooler:
1. There is a super computer somewhere off-screen named Hal. Awesome.
2. Saul Rubinek plays David. The best pacing in the episode was in the development of our understanding of their relationship. At first, David seems to be nothing more than Will’s superior. We then find out that David got Will his job. He invites Will over for dinner because it is Will’s birthday although Will refuses. They seem to share some sort of connection involving Will’s deceased wife. It’s only in passing at David’s funeral that we learn the truth. A priest intones that David is leaving behind many people, one of whom is his son-in-law Will.
We also see their connection in the fact that Will seems to have a deep understanding of David’s superstition. Will notices that David parked his car in parking space number 13 right before he died. David would NEVER do this under normal circumstances. And just like that, Will, who was ambivalent about replacing David, takes the job and finds himself embroiled in a deep conspiracy.
3. The show does some really cool storytelling in regards to explaining who these analysts are. David, though clearly an intelligent and levelheaded man, is highly superstitious. Spending your life looking for patterns in places where no one else would find them probably messes with your head. This kind of thinking is elaborated further in the character of Ed Bancroft. Ed seems to have been an old friend of David’s. All that Will knows about him is that he was “the best” at his job and then one day he cracked.
There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. When you throw paranoia into the mix, something is bound to go wrong. All of the analysts we are introduced to are young. David is the oldest of them and he is incredibly superstitious. Ed is older still and he has apparently gone crazy. It’s an interesting theme to explore. When is paranoia unwarranted and when are they actually out to get you?
As awesome as the episode was, there were still two scenes that really bothered me. Both took place in the cafeteria.
The first is when we find out why Will is involved in this secretive organization. The new girl at the agency asks Will’s colleagues why Will is so morose. Apparently he lost his wife and daughter on 9/11. It wasn’t the entire scene that bothered me; it was one line. A character that AMC tells me is named Miles Fiedler and who shall henceforth be known as awkward bearded man replies to the question with “Try wife and daughter. Try 9/11.” I don’t know if it was the writing, the character, or the actor’s delivery that bothered me the most.
The second scene also involved awkward bearded man. When Will is offered David’s job, all of the other characters try to convince him to stay on. Awkward bearded man approaches Will and throws some lame excuses at him before pulling out the “It’s what David would have wanted” card. Sure that’s an abhorrent and sleazy move, but the way the lines were delivered was really weird. I don’t know how to describe it, just watch the scene. It was strangely unsettling. I think my problem is the actor, but only time will tell.
A few peccadilloes aside, I really like this show! If you made it all the way down here, I hope you enjoyed reading my first recap. Comments on both the recap and the show are welcome. Thanks for all of your time!