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Home > Entertainment, Film / TV, Quick Hits, Review / Recap > Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.01 — “Gone in the Teeth”

Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.01 — “Gone in the Teeth”

August 2nd, 2010

Rubicon stars James Badge Dale as intelligence analyst Will Travers.

I’ve noted before (link to my general endorsement of the pilot episode and the show) that I think Rubicon might have what it takes to be a real winner and a hit. As such, I intend to do what I did for LOST, posting quick hit thoughts after watching an episode in recap format. Here are mine for Episode 1.01, “Gone in the Teeth.”

“Gone in the Teeth” served more as a primer for both the idea of the show and the introduction of certain elements of the cast. As I noted in my preview, the pattern I’d like to see the show take would be in the vein and structure of a crossword – something more sophisticated than a standard puzzle which challenges the viewer and asks us to help piece together the greater construct, rather than simply handing us the answer key. If that’s the case, then the 5-down handed to the viewer in the pilot is a centerpiece clue, providing both a grounding for the key persons and a 19-letter link to the rest of the board in Marsilea quadrifolia (the entry the lead gives as the Latin translation for four-leaf clover, the answer to a clue asking for what a particularly lucky insect larva gets to chow down on).

Not the least of the clues in that answer is that Marsilea quadrifolia is not, in fact, a true four-leaf clover. No, that designation falls to a mutated Trifolium. Marsilea quadrifolia are just commonly passed as four-leaf clovers, so what is the real game here… what lies beneath? In a series that opens with a child’s game of hide-and-seek, we’re certainly warned to look a little deeper and, perhaps, not always trust that the view presented will always hold veracity.

Let’s start after the jump.

The pilot presents us with an introduction to a few of the core characters in the show. Will Travers (James Badge Dale) is to Rubicon as Robert Redford’s Condor was to 3 Days of the Condor. He is a sharp, broadly educated bookworm and intelligence analyst for what is presumed to be the U.S. Government. He is an extraordinarily introverted and brilliant analyst, incapable of opening himself up to anyone. We learn this withdrawn way of life is the result of losing his wife and daughter at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th, 2001.

Will's reticence to open up almost makes him seem autistic at first; however, that inability to remember his own birthday is perhaps more accurately a symbol of his denial of pleasure in light of his family tragedy.

Travers’ assistant Maggie Young (Jessica Collins) is the individual who tries to crack Travers’ cocoon. We see this with her invitation to lunch, which, upon granting of a rain check, results in Maggie stating that she’s not going to give up on Travers. She is also a single mother who appears a likely candidate for a love interest on the show. If nothing else, she might provide a less comedically inclined version of Josh Lyman’s Donnatella Moss from The West Wing.

The two work at the American Policy Institute (API), an outwardly anonymous intelligence analysis shop that poses as a think tank on a blank side-street off Water Street in downtown Manhattan. There, Travers works alongside Miles Fiedler (Dallas Roberts), a fellow analyst who mans HAL, which can only be assumed to be a high level supercomputer that analyzes codes.

As persona non-grata is Grant Test (Christopher Evan Welch), a starched collar, power-hungry colleague of Travers and Miles who reeks of middle management. Lacking the brilliance of Travers, he seems to be a more favorable lapdog type and while Miles fears having eventually to work for Grant, it should be noted that there is no hesitation for Miles to have a cafeteria lunch with him.

It is at that cafeteria luncheon where Miles and Grant feed Travers’ family back-story to Tanya MacGaffin, the new junior intelligence analyst. There’s really not a whole lot about Tanya other than the fact that she handed off the opening crossword puzzle after being frustrated with Marsilea quadrifolia.

All four initially work for David Hadas (Peter Gerety), Will’s confidant and father to Will’s dead wife. David’s ultimate boss is the mysterious Kale Ingram, a true company man who has a definite potential for true evil or, at least, mischief.

Also introduced briefly are Ed Bancroft (Roger Robinson) and Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson). Bancroft is the former API analyst (and a legendarily brilliant one, at that) who burned out and remained only in touch with David, including playing chess by phone. Katherine, meanwhile, we see only briefly as the wife of the billionaire Tom Rhumor, who kills himself in the opening scene.

That said, here are my quick hits on “Gone in the Teeth”:

  • The producers have gone to great lengths to take a thoughtful, balanced pace in this premiere.  It actually reminds me a bit of LOST‘s premiere in that it allowed us to hop into the story organically.  For LOST, the pilot accomplished this by focusing on a couple of main characters and introducing the concept of the questions to be presented.  Here, Rubicon gives us an initial glimpse into the irritable Miles, stuffy Grant and inquisitive Tanya, but the focus is on Travers.  They also drop big hints that something important is going on without actually providing any information or insight into what that something might be… keeping the audience from the temptation of getting ahead of ourselves.  This was particularly important, given the length of time between the pilot’s premiere and the formal series launch.
  • The series appears to meld several different genres when I grasp for something to compare it to.  While it definitely has the feel of a classic conspiracy caper like Three Days of the Condor or The Manchurian Candidate, there’s a very real intellectual vibe that you get off of it as well.  While Mad Men earns this stripe with its dogmatic faith in historical accuracy (almost as Joyce recreated turn of the century Dublin in “Dubliners“, Mad Men did so with 1960s Madison Avenue), there’s a deeper quest here with hidden mysteries to be interpreted both by the lead characters and the audience (much as Joyce set forth with Bloom in “Ulysses“; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ulysses itself pop up in the series, as it is a popular workplace watering hole just a few blocks from where the API offices).  In any respect, Rubicon has the strange feel of period authenticity tied to a contemporary setting.  It doesn’t overdose on the technology of modern mysteries and thrillers, as Hollywood is want to do.  Instead it focuses on the characters’ intellects and makes throwaway references to HAL, as if we can assume it’s a supercomputer but it really is not all that helpful.  There’s the further promise of some action and adventure in this series, but it likely would be closer akin to Condor‘s than with anything Jason Bourne would be caught doing.  All in all, if I had to piece together my thoughts on where the series is going, I’d have to point to something plotted out like Damages, with attention to detail similar to Mad Men and a focus on challenging the viewer like LOST.  Or at least that’s what I hope we’ll see out of it.  I also feel quite strongly that while we’ve been introduced to superstition, this will very much remain a political and conspiratorial thriller and stand off from the mistake of falling into the well of sci fi that Fringe disappeared into.
  • We saw the desired level of detail best with the focus on David’s character.  If we are to believe that David really is dead (more on that below), the producers went to great lengths to discuss his background and superstitions specifically to provide background on Travers.  Notably, it gave a face to Travers’ one confidant and real family member.  It also presented his last human connection to his dead wife and daughter.  The dramatic death thereof left Travers looking up to the sky and almost begging for answers, as if he were reliving September 11th again.

    The character of David Hadas was intensely examined -- particularly his intense superstition -- despite his untimely death about halfway through the episode.

  • Through LOST, I’ve learned to keep a keen eye out for literary references.  In this episode, we get two quick ones.  First, we’re introduced to Travers with him shelving String Theory, Vol. 1, a book that serves as an introduction to and overview of bosonic string theory.  I take this as a key indicator that Travers is a student of many disciplines (science, Latin, politics, economics and history are all on display in the episode) and that he doesn’t step back from the more theoretical and fringe elements of science.  Later he is given by David as a birthday gift an edition of Alice Schertle’s Down the Road.  It should be noted that the book handed to Travers appears to be many multiple more than the 40 total pages Schertle’s tale lends and the cover really doesn’t look like a children’s book… that said, there is a tie in that’s important.  In the book, young Hetty goes off down the road by herself because she’s finally old enough, according to her parents.  It is a message, tied through with the gift of the motorbike and hand written note to just take off.
  • Both Travers and Redford’s Condor question whether they ought to move on from their jobs and both eerily quote that the most difficult part of their job is not being able to talk about it after leaving work.  In each case, they take counsel on whether it is time for them to walk on down the road by themselves.  That’s not where the similarities end.  Both the API and Three Days of the Condor‘s American Literacy Historical Society are quiet, unassuming think tanks that outwardly are not clearly assets of the American intelligence superstructure.  In Condor, the ALHS looked more like the book image of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series and its off-Park Treadstone townhouse.  API is more of an anonymous workplace downtown that is just a buzzer to the outside world.  Both institutes, though intelligence related, are also far from the land of spooks.  Additionally, Travers refers to API as “a tomb”, while the actual ALHS ends up a virtual tomb.
  • Redford’s Condor refers to himself as just a reader of books… someone who reads anything he can get his hands on, both to find patterns or codes and to see where Company secrets and actions might pop up or be inspired.  Although it appears Travers’ duties are a little more operationally specific, it’s really not that far off to place the API team in the genus of nerdy, library analysts who serve their country by consuming information.
  • The initial episode shows, but gives no context for Tom Rhumor's suicide, presumably brought on by the sight of the four-leaf clover.

  • The producers were good about not being too ambitious with introducing characters.  They pushed off introducing Rhumor (who it appears will be a major character), much as the producers of LOST were patient with bringing in Terry O’Quinn as Locke.  And they played in slowly the character of Bancroft, making it clear that he’s someone out of the game who had perhaps seen more than any man should.
  • That fearfulness in Bancroft which leads him to push away Travers when approached lends some credence to the idea that David had been protecting Travers in this episode.  Bancroft appears to have some hint and knowledge of what the crosswords might mean.  Earlier, David brings to Kale the crossword find as if it had been his.  Immediately, it was easy to think that David was stealing Travers’ work for his own credit, but one would be hard pressed after watching the full episode to believe that David was not aware, in some way, that the code was important and dangerous.  David had been pushing Travers to leave API and this act of shielding him and granting him a motorbike in which to drive off into the sunset fits best with the idea of protectionism.  Especially if one is to believe that David isn’t dead.
  • As hinted at above, I have a hard time believing David really is dead.  On the train, we were presented with the back and briefcase of someone who looked like David, but never were shown his face.  Further, David goes to great lengths to specify on the phone to Travers what train he will be on (as if he knew that train would crash).  This is also somewhat off as we’re initially shown David driving into the city (and having a coveted Wall Street parking lot spot, to boot) and then there’s the idea of someone so superstitious happening to choose the 13 spot at the Putnam station, which phobia leads Travers to believe that David did not park his car there.  I would not be surprised in the least if we see David pop back up somewhere along the way.
  • As for the clover puzzle itself, would a person as well read as Travers not automatically assume the Fourth Estate is not the fourth branch of the United States government, even if the term referred first to the British press?
  • And how creepy does Kale have the potential to be?  The wordless minutes of acting in which Kale watches Travers searching David’s now empty office reminded me slightly of the brilliance of Bunk and McNulty’s investigation of the kitchen in the County in The Wire (video link here).  There wasn’t a need for verbal crutches for those two to reflect the points they were trying to get across.  And man does Kale have a very Benjamin Linus way about him.  There’s a bit of The Smoking Man, too, but mostly some Michael Emerson chills.  Especially when discussing that a few carefully chosen words could bring down a company.
  • The one thing I took away as really not liking was the marketing tagline “Not every conspiracy is a theory.”  First off, no conspiracy is a theory.  It is a plot.  What they mean to say is that not every conspiracy theory is just a theory.  For a show that takes such efforts to be period, you’d think they’d get AMC to make a poster that makes sense.

It’s not hard to understand why Travers decides to stay and assume David’s leadership role.  If nothing else, there’s the Anthropic principle (were he not to take the role, there would not be the show to watch).  It will be interesting to see how this show develops.  A handful of early questions I have include:

  • What is the significance of the clover and the fourth branch?
  • What’s with Spangler and why does his office ante-room look like it is something drawn straight out of Men In Black?
  • Was there any connection with the company whose stock crashed and the suicide of Tom Rhumor?
  • And what is the deal with Tom Rhumor and was does Spangler wonder if he’s really dead?
  • Finally, will this show build up and prove to be as good as it looks?

I’m off to watch the second episode now.  I’m going under the knife Tuesday morning, but hope to write the next Quick Hits and have it up by Wednesday.

AMC’s “Most Talked About Scene” (Tom Rhumor’s suicide)

AMC’s Episode Summary

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