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Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.07 — “The Truth Will Out”

September 7th, 2010

Although I’m apprehensive about its somewhat slow pace, I still think Rubicon has what it takes to grow into 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 1.07, “The Truth Will Out.”

There weren't a lot of good production stills for this episode, so I've gone back to the elegant image from the amazing opening credits.

I think I’ve figured out Rubicon’s problem. It’s not that it doesn’t work as a show… it does. It is just that it actually is cursed by leading into Mad Men. Although Mad Men has allowed Rubicon to hold onto viewership and actually increased its numbers in the last couple of weeks – the 1.31 million live viewers for Episode 6 reversing some of the bleed from the highly hyped second episode (the premiere event several months after the pilot first aired) – it also strikingly displays how far Rubicon has to go to reach that peak.

AMC is advertising it now as the show for your head, as Mad Men is for your heart. That may be true and I do believe that this has the potential to weave complex and entertaining storylines over 13 episodes, season arcs, much as Damages does. But as Damages is sloppy in describing the legal profession, Rubicon similarly struggles at times with maintaining the intelligence it should follow through on. This means getting literary, getting anal about detail and skirting some of the unnecessary character development that you must undertake in the first few episodes of a show’s run.

I’m hopefuly that that hump has been passed (or that Rubicon crossed, if you will) with this past episode. Not only was it the most action packed in the series run, but it also reflected the first time a character was integrated organically into the cast.

Read more, after the jump.

The basic plot point surrounded an FBI lockdown of API to uncover a mole who eventually is found to be a forensic accountant working on the same team as Julia (who assisted Miles in episode 6). With the uncovering, Spangler fires the head of that team, leaving one to question whether it has been fragmented to the point of disbandment. The team had been examining cyber-terrorism in the financial, which led to the ability of the accountant to trade on that information.

Travers became more courageous in his investigations, building on the empowering scene at the close of last episode.

The arrest and firing leads almost inevitably to what I anticipate will occur in the next episode, Miles lobbying for and succeeding in getting Julia assigned to Travers’ team. Miles may not end up asking for it and, heck, he might even oppose it, but it’s going to happen and it’s going to be one of the best things to happen on the show. Learning in the polygraph that Miles had separated from his wife recently confirms that the producers intend to go down this road. Of all the actors on the series so far, Dallas Roberts stands out as Miles and this is a real opportunity for the show to take off in this direction.

In any respect, I wonder if leading in to Mad Men is a bit of a curse for Rubicon. It will certainly allow it to keep some level of ratings (at least in excess of a million viewers), which should be enough to greenlight a second season. But I wonder if the show will ever be able to realize success critically or in the minds of intelligent audience members when it is going to inevitably be compared to the current gold standard in television. Although I think this might have been the best episode of Rubicon yet, it was followed by the best episode of Mad Men since “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.”

And now, for some quick hits:

  • The premise of the FBI raid was another one of the problematic weak spots of the series. To the extent someone is trading on inside, top secret information and that is what the FBI is investigating, they would damn well know exactly who the culprit is without a raid and polygraph and there is no way the investigation would be carried out as it was. Furthermore, the idea that one could exploit SEC data to trade is also somewhat bizarre to a securities lawyer. I work with EDGAR and am quite well aware that most all the key data submitted through EDGAR is public, and often now in sortable format. Unless they were referring to active SEC investigations or some other non-public information, that plot point was ridiculous.
  • Notwithstanding that fact, the raid and mole allegation was an excellent tool to effect what made this episode quite good. The first element was bringing out Miles’ nervous ticks over having lost a classified file in a taxicab. He was convinced he was the leak, and then learned he was not. The second was getting each character into a polygraph examination as a means of delving into their character and the storyline. Again, the tests themselves weren’t terribly realistic in their conduct. For example, one examiner notes that nicotine withdrawal would skew the results, completely ignoring that nicotine is a stimulant which would likely go to greater lengths in disturbing results.

On the arrival of the FBI, Kale, Travers and the other team leaders gather in Spangler's office, where Travers first spots the Atlas MacDowell deal toy.

  • Nevertheless, the tests were important. The whole thing about Grant and cheating seemed a bit over the top, but it struck the first cord of a chink in his armor of pomposity. And it well capped his episode-long moaning about his daughter’s play. With Tanya, we actually had her as a likable character with personality for the first time, both in the chair and in questioning Grant later. And with Kale you had a fine scene and showdown of a man and the secrets he holds quite dear and without fear.
  • You also had the introduction of a key plot point in the revelation that David had been under investigation. Confirmed later by him in sneaking into Spanger’s office, Travers plays a CD he had found with David talking to Bancroft. The conversation revealed to the audience involved Spangler conducting an off-the-books investigation and that David worried that Travers would come to Bancroft with questions. It’s unclear when this conversation and investigation took place, but the telling point was David’s instruction that Bancroft should turn Will back from further questions. The call ended with the realization that someone was either there or listening.
  • Katherine Rhumor opened this episode with a scene taking place in her Long Island mansion. The scene perfectly exemplified Rubicon for me. I find it thrilling and consistently with the promise of action, although permitting that action either to pass by or occur off-screen. This is not a completely unknown tactic. Shakespeare himself did not often show violence or real action on stage and this was a great tactic of the Greek tragedy – partially because technology and costs would prohibit the display of the action that both Shakespeare and the great Greek playwrights might want to show. In this scene, Rhumor hides in a closet as she hears men rummaging through the mansion. This was good, thrilling and captivating TV, one of the better openings of the series so far.
  • The followup of her ostensibly abandoning the mansion by tossing her keys was less than spectacular. Her giving up on this element of her life implied that she was turning to the townhouse. But what it really drove home to me was when she was looking at the mantle. Not the dot she was examining, but rather the picture frames she looked at showing pictures of her and her son. Umm, where has her son gone? We’ve not seen or heard a peep out of a child who just lost his father and only has his mother left. Is this just going to be a Boxey type moment where the character is abandoned and ignored wholesale, as was the case in Battlestar Galactica?

Travers violates Spangler's office sanctuary when the boss is being polygraphed.

  • David’s owl that Travers decided to keep on his desk played a key role in the episdoe and immediately draws one’s mind to Bubo, the mechanical owl from the original, campy Clash of the Titans (as opposed to the no-fun and heretical 3D remake of the same name, which I refuse to see). Although the owl was mythologically inaccurate (like most of the movie), Bubo was supposedly built on order from Athena to Hephaestus, the son of Zeus and Hera. While Hephaestus was the god of technology and craftsmen, there was a better answer to be had for mechanical birds. The great mathematician and philosopher Archytas was a student of Philolaus and contemporary of Plato. He also was the father of mechanical devices with the c.400 BCE creation called “The Pigeon”, a self propelled mechanical bird which was both the first robot, the first sophisticated flying device (although it was self propelled, it was more bottle rocket) and the first steam engine (or at least the first of all three in the West – much props to the Chinese… their rocketry might deserve recognition here). What’s important to note is that The Pigeon was entirely superfluous and a toy for the rich, not a real complex accomplishment. Those were reserved for Archytas’ real accomplishments in geometry and complex numbers, not to mention his success as strategos of Tarentum. If you want to see how much smarter Archytas was than you, Google “Archytas Curve.” That makes my head hurt and I have access to a TI-81.
  • David’s owl did not hit as a bug when the FBI went through and yet the bug had been returned later, which confirmed to him that the surveillance was being done by someone on staff at API (implied to the audience that it might have been Kale). Travers flipped the lid by conducting surveillance of his own, taking the time to look at Spangler’s office where he both confirmed that the paperweight he had spotted earlier was an Atlas MacDowell deal toy and that David had been under investigation. That Kale discovered Travers spooking around Spangler’s office and that he did not fire him on the spot is reflective of the factor that Travers needs Kale only as much as Kale needs Travers.
  • Travers’ questioning of Kale as to who they really worked for at API was an interesting and important one. I remember pondering whether or not we would have an ALIAS type of revelation that the agency was not, in fact, working for the U.S. Government. While the DC trip certainly assured that API is, at least on its face, legitimate, Travers question hinted more at the fact that API might not be working exclusively for the government. In fact, the question is posed quite clearly and openly as to whether or not Atlas MacDowell is getting the answers API finds, as well.

The introduction to a background flag is a reminder that API outwardly works for the government, but may subtly and covertly have different purposes.

  • As a side note, the difference between LOST and Rubicon can best be exemplified by the fact that is an empty website right now.
  • The scene in which Tanya, Miles and Grant realize and figure out that Tanaz Sahar (the woman Miles and Julia witnessed talking to Boeck at his son’s funeral) was the third “man” meeting with Yuri and Boeck in Sofia, Bulgaria. Say what you will, but when they confirmed this and you were watching, you cracked a smile a little bit. We still don’t know how this piece fits, but for the first time the investigation made progress.  As a whole, the interactions on the team have started to meld and become better TV, at least since the Tanya-centric episode where she was really broken in as a member of the squad.

On a final note, it was great to see AMC start to run teasers for the new series The Walking Dead, which will be the next recipient of “Quick Hits” status on this site. Though I’m not typically a huge fan of graphic novels or serial comics, I picked up Robert Kirkman’s epic “The Walking Dead” series on Amazon along with a few other books over the last two years. “The Walking Dead” is undoubtedly the class of them and is so incredibly dramatic and powerfully depressing in its image of apocalyptic America, post infection. If one can imagine 28 Days Later, if they allowed it to properly play out, that’s what you have in this series. I plan on writing up a full review of it at some point, along with some of the other books found in the below Amazon widget.

AMC’s “Most Talked About Scene” (Spangler’s Secret)

AMC’s “Most Talked About Scene” (David’s Last Words)

AMC’s Episode Summary

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