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Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.05 — “Connect The Dots”

August 22nd, 2010

I think Rubicon might have what it takes to be a real winner and a hit. As such, I’m putting some faith in it and am anointing it with instant recap status.  To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.05, “Connect The Dots.”

At Spangler's wife's charity event, Katherin and Travers finally cross paths.

So in “Connect The Dots” the viewers start to get the first signs of some real payoff for the patience.  Yes, it may not pack the action punch that you’d get in Alias or 24, but we did get some forward momentum and the opening to the path toward some answers.  As I mentioned in my first Quick Hits for Rubicon‘s pilot episode, a show like this can, hopefully, operate like a crossword.  Shooting off clues to be woven into the patchwork thread.

Much as the opening credits paint an image of connecting loosely sprayed dots, the show (I hope) will be something to be collected as a patchwork and layered together in order to simplify the analysis. For the first time, we saw some actual movement to integrate some of the information we’ve learned.  Not the least of which was colliding the worlds of Travers and Katherine Rhumor.

Yes, their first interaction was a bit awkward, complete with a simple flirtation toward each other (even if the widow and widower did so almost reluctantly).  They met at Spangler’s wife’s charitable event (the introduction of which was a bit too compressed in the storyline… in that Travers and the other team leaders were only invited last second), at the bar while ordering vodka tonics.  With it, you had each admitting to somewhat addicted and depressive behavior, with Travers lamenting the moments drinking alone and Katherine referring to her vodka tonics as oxygen.

But it was the second connection that held more weight.  You had Spangler telling Mr. Roy (The Wire‘s Clay Davis) to push off attention from Travers (who was recorded telling Bancroft to stand down) and focusing it on Rhumor (who had rebuffed suggestions from all parties to get rid of MRQ Alternatives, the company her husband had left to her at the last second).  Looking on in the background was Bloom, who apparently was brought into the surveillance by Kale.

This followed Katherine’s continued efforts to look into her husband’s activities.  Although we’re only privy to the conspirators being aware of Katherine refusing to sell off MRQ, she had been slowly digging and learning.  In this episode, she paid a visit to MRQ’s headquarters.  MRQ Alternatives ended up being a clothing company.  But I’m not sure we should have expected much beyond that, as Katherine suspected, it was a drop of sorts.  In her quick examination, she was drawn to and examined a news clipping stating that “CCNY Professor Bradley Ruled Suicide.”  Perhaps the most revealing thing to us was that Katherine continued to be affirmed of her husband’s love for her, using their anniversary as the combination lock entry (despite the fact that Master Lock does not, to my knowledge, allow customization of locks of the variety that Katherine cracked).

In any respect, click on through for my quick hit thoughts on the episode.

  • Kale’s threat to Travers at the charity event was a play on the fear lecture that Travers delivered to Tanya in the rooftop staircase.  Travers spoke of the two types of fear that someone confronts: the kind that (i) motivates you and drives you to push forward each day and (ii) paralyzes you and knocks you out of the game, so to speak.  Interestingly, Travers speech noted that the good kind of fear was that which could lead one to insanity, while the bad was one which would disqualify one from intelligence work.  In the following scene, we saw that madness in Bancroft, whose wall had been transformed into the image of John Nash’s head in A Beautiful Mind.  Here was the mind that API cracked, complete with the formerly brilliant mind resorting to the sort of ridiculous paranoia that permits one to find meaning in someone flying into John F. Kennedy Airport.  On that attempt to bring in a completely random and unrelated dot, Travers realized that he needed to pull out, at least with Bancroft.  And on that order to stand down, we saw the importance of that fear that drives folks.  When the fear subsided and Bancroft was no longer driven by it, we were left with and simply saw a crippled and alone old man.
  • Back to the threat at the charity event, although Kale and Travers both payed sufficient deference to cordiality and feigning a lack of specific knowledge regarding their activities, the subtext was hardly hidden in the conversation and Kale, in particular, made no bones that he knew what Travers was up to, at least in part.  By the time Kale delivered a threat to Travers to induce him to stick to his analysis job and abandon both parties had functionally laid their cards on the table, with a resulting stalemate.

Kale's operative past (and perhaps his personal) was examined in some depth in the episode.

  • And while Kale had warned off Travers from spying, it was spying himself that Kale drove toward.  While the relationship between Kale and Bloom is pretty interesting, one has to wonder it’s true nature.  There was a certain head nod that this was more than simply a platonic thing… but I’d be a bit hesitant to jump toward the idea that they were lovers, at least not primarily.  That they might be homosexual and previously involved is irrelevant to their primary purpose as killers.  Regardless, there was a nature of curiosity and panic (both spy related and personal) in Kale’s eyes when he spied Travers spying them.  This look in his eyes was reflective, at least in part, in his surprise to see an analyst playing the role of operative.  Later in the episode, we saw Kale returning to his operative past, having grown somewhat suspicious of Spangler’s activities, he observed as Spangler, Roy and Bloom departed from a discreet meeting.
  • In the early part of the episode, there was a reference which struck me as odd.  Kale takes herbal supplements in front of Travers and noted he had the immune system of a hydra.  I’m not quite the biologist I might want to be, but I do know that hydra are relatively simple organisms and have early forms of immune systems from which more complex systems evolved.  It was just an interesting throw-away line that almost certainly has some meaning to the producers.  Of course, that meaning might simply be the idea of Kale showing weakness or at least vulnerability to Travers.  Of course, the Lernaean Hydra would be an alternate reference with a completely different meaning.  Conquering the multi-headed Lernaean Hydra was one of Heraclean Labours.  The Hydra regrew a head each time Heracles killed it, until the hero learned to cauterize the wounds.  Although there are many ways to go on this, but the one point I’d like to note is that Hercules, upon defeating the Hydra, dipped his arrows in its poisonous blood; which arrows he used to kill the centaur Nessus out of vengeance.  Nessus later visited his revenge on Heracles by convincing, as he died, Heracles’ wife to unknowingly poison Heracles with his blood.  Travers certainly has his motivations of revenge, what with the recent passions regarding David and his more subtle, background pangs for his wife.

Perhaps the greatest mystery... will we ever learn HAL's real name?

  • Travers did continue spying, turning again to HAL, the somewhat interesting and humorous IT character in the basement at API.  While it is a little curious that he appears to be run the electronic, supercomputer intelligence and also serves as the tech maintenance guy (a pretty bizarre pairing), he’s a funny character and has some personality.  Here again we saw him lament being referred to as HAL, but we also saw a bit of an interpersonal insight into Travers, who claims credit for introducing HAL to his wife.  In this episode, Travers asks HAL to run a search on connections between Bloom and Kale, learning that there was but one, and that it was considered of the highest security.
  • With Bloom, I'm drawn again to referencing Ulysses in discussion of this show. But it is the umbrella that should draw folks eyes, with not a rain drop in sight.

    There was something truly endearing about Ed Bancroft in this episode.  Part of it was pity (what with his breakdown and dressing in pajamas), but a good portion of it was seeing someone who had such a passion and talent for identifying patterns.  More importantly, it was extremely well acted.  While crazy is difficult to play, that particular insanity brought upon by brilliance is perhaps the hardest.  Kudos to Roger Robinson.

  • One thing this show really does well is sets and wardrobe.  In this episode, Bloom’s attire is pretty sharp.  There’s an air of Brit sobriety and style, but that really is just one layer.  Yes, he is the operative, polar opposite of Ed Bancroft and his behind-closed-doors analysis.  In Bancroft, we saw a disheveled, unkempt man trying to piece together theories while traveling to lower Manhattan in a trench coat over pajamas and fuzzy white slippers.  Bloom, on the other hand, is the pressed traveler… dressed sufficiently to impress, but not so formally as to be unable to blend in.  Carrying at all times an umbrella, he is prepared for all troubles and dark skies, but the umbrella is undoubtedly a subtle reference to the Soviet-era KGB poison tipped umbrella and John Steed’s Avengers get-up… also a calm reference back to the Lernaean Hydra and the poison tipped arrows drawn from it’s blood.
  • The cafeteria used by API is a pretty interesting touch.  While the setting on 40 Fletcher, a six-story building seen below and taken over by the production is authentic feeling as the API headquarters on between Front and South Streets, the cafeteria is out of place.  As someone who used to work at Chase Manhattan Plaza, a few blocks away, I can tell you that there are many food options, but to assume that folks would eat both breakfast and lunch in the same dingy cafeteria while the food carts (visited by Travers and David in the pilot) and restaurants of the Wall Street, South Street and City Hall areas wait outside is off.  I’ll grant the producers their desire to have a location where all parties can interact, from Spangler down to Maggie.  That said, the character of Spangler also seems out of place.  In the first two episodes, he was the quiet, quirky and humble civil servant.  Slowly we’re being pulled away into a world in which Spangler is rich and part (rather than the tool) of the clover conspiracy.
    • I can’t much get into the Tanya character.  Miles has his eminently likable quirks.  Grant has his annoying and uppity entitlement.  In Tanya, we’re given an enigma who seems to lack real purpose.  There seems to be no real effort to delve into what her demons are (maybe a good thing, as Travers gives us enough on his own), but we’re presented with this level of brilliance with no refinement or discipline, and a drinking problem muddying the waters.  In this episode, she was featured and she came into her own a bit, but we really still saw little on her character.  She did, however, advance the story… pushing the team from focusing on Yuri to Boeck.  Her lost, alcoholic and druggie mindfarts aside, this was important, as was seeing Spangler shredding the white paper (the “Houston Problem”) written by David.
    • Much as with Tanya, Maggie’s character is also somewhat floating in limbo.  Her role in this episode was limited to one somewhat awkward, hyper-sexualized encounter (seen below in the Featured Scene) in which Travers quizzed her on Kale’s background.  I’m beginning to wonder if her character might be being explored in the AMC website’s Maggie’s Blog, which blog seems to be written by a person with the mind of a gossip columnist.
    • We’ve had several views of what it means to be a spy and work in intelligence.  We had Travers echoing Robert Redford’s Condor (from 3 Days of the Condor) in his lamenting being unable to talk about his job when going home at night.  We’ve seen David warning of the difficulties and the need to segregate the church and state of the life apart and the day-to-day reality of analysis.  And in this episode we’ve had the dichotomy of Kale’s realistic and caustic view of operative activities and Bancroft’s somewhat romanticized concept of the information being out there… each datum seeking a connection with the other dots, it being the role of the analyst to draw those lines.  But that same romanticism also drove Bancroft to utter his warning of the invasion of hubris into the analyst’s mind.  On citing Bloom’s hubris for staying at the Waldorf under his own name, Bancroft noted that the Greek’s defined hubris as the moment when men began to believe they were gods and acted accordingly.  Sadly, the active concentration on hubris that Bancroft relied upon was simply no aegis against the mania and paranoia that being an analyst brought him.

    All in all, the episode was a step in the action direction. Despite this, the thing we’ve learned best in these first five episodes is that James Badge Dale, as Travers, and Miranda Richardson, as Katherine, know how to work a silent scene where not a whole lot happens.  Particularly with Travers, Dale is able to work through something in his mind and, with the help of Eric Hachikian’s composition and score, make the audience feel it.  The episode ended with another such scene, interrupted with a gunshot in the distance.  Although there was no implication that the gunshot (if it was a gunshot) in any way held meaning within the story (it was almost certainly unrelated background noise), it was a hint that the action has arrived.  The payoff is coming… or so we still hope.

    In the meantime, as you wait for Episode 6, enjoy the below videos and this fun, Fred Piscop designed and Rubicon themed crossword puzzle (PDF File).

    AMC’s “Most Talked About Scene” (Classified Information)

    AMC’s “Most Talked About Scene” (Close Encounter)

    AMC’s Episode Summary

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