I suspect "Keep the Ends Out" is going to be the point fans of Rubicon mark as the episode where the show stopped being interesting and started to get good. It's still a touch too slow-moving, and there are character moments that don't really work (Single Mom's fears about her ex-husband feel weirdly prosaic in this world), but for once, it's starting to feel like we're headed somewhere, that the train has left the station and is rumbling toward a destination, just very slowly. Combined with next week's very, very good episode, I have a lot of hopes for Rubicon that weren't there after the pilot. I've liked all of the episodes so far (and I realize that saying "so far" when we're three episodes in is just ridiculous), but I wasn't sure if anyone involved had a plan to make them cohere. I'm still not sure, but the storytelling is more confident, and that makes me willing to risk some sort of disappointing resolution.
The first good thing the episode did was start to differentiate the personalities of the think tank members. I still can't tell you the name of Beard Guy (this is a much better name than Mustache Guy) or Quirky Brunette or Single Mom or even Gruff, Possibly Evil, Boss, but they're starting to feel more and more like actual characters, rather than a collection of personality quirks Jason Horwitch and Henry Brommell got out of a Creating Great Characters book they picked up at Borders, then blended together into the character types we see before us today. And one of the characters even got a name I'm unlikely to forget because most of the episode revolved around how his namesake was a terrible president. I am not going to forget who you are Grant, formerly Straitlaced Guy.
Really, though, the think tankers are starting to come into their own. They're starting to get believable personalities and personal issues. While I didn't exactly enjoy the "Single Mom is worried about her ex!" plot, at least it gave her something to worry about beyond the office. I guess, ultimately, I didn't hate this storyline in concept so much as I disliked it in execution. The scene where the ex-wife thinks maybe her ex-husband has turned it all around is such an old and overdone one that there's basically no way to make it anything interesting or new and, indeed, Rubicon doesn't succeed on this front. On the other hand, I'm appreciative that it adds yet another shade to the character, who stands out nicely now. Now if only we could get some sort of memorable name!
I also quite liked what was, I suppose, the A plot for the episode, where Will decides to give David's bike (the one he gave Will in the pilot - something I had almost forgotten about) to David's actual, biological son. In the process, of course, he finds a code that David left for him, as well as a gun (hidden within the seat, no less), and he spends much of the rest of the episode pondering both what the man meant to him and what he could possibly be trying to tell him from beyond the grave using that code. The code ends up signifying important games in baseball history - a fact David lets Will know is correct by having the first data point be a player named "Travers" - and it's a more interesting code than the other ones on the show so far, since it actually requires Will to mull some stuff over and not just break out the easy substitution ciphers. By and large, Rubicon seems to subscribe to the "if you stare at it hard enough, you can break the code" school of cinematic code breaking, but this was the first episode where the series really made the joy of solving the puzzle palpable.
It's not really a complaint, I should admit, when I say that David remains the most compelling character on the show, even though he hasn't been in it since the pilot. A big part of the early portion of this season involves the characters trying to figure out just what David might have wanted or what he's trying to tell them from beyond the grave, but it's never stupid, like in a story where a character orchestrates events from beyond the grave. David is simply leaving messages to the people he cared about to say "Watch your back" and alert them as to the possible dangers in their midst. I hope and suspect that the show will grow from here, will turn into Will taking up the mantle of David's crusade and start rooting out the bad guys on his own, but in the early going, it's fine that David remains the primary driver of the plot.
At the same time, the guys behind the conspiracy - including State Sen. Clay Davis, as so many of you pointed out last week - are now realizing that pretty much nothing they do is going to stop Will from digging. He's too paranoid to write off their following of him as a further test that the think tank is putting him through (and I liked that little twist quite a lot). I don't quite understand why they don't just kill him off quietly before he's a threat - particularly considering he spends a lot of time standing precariously on rooftops - but, then, I never understand that in conspiracy stories, so maybe it just comes with the genre.
Finally, we have Miranda Richardson, who gets more to do but still seems to be trapped in a storyline that has nothing to do with anything whatsoever. This might be fine if she were in an actual storyline, but it seems more like she's just stuck in an unending indie movie about how hard it is to get over the death of a loved one (though if this were Miranda Richardson in Morvern Callar amidst all of the other conspiracy craziness, that would be a show well worth watching). I have no doubt that whatever it was that Tom was involved in to get that four-leaf clover in the pilot will hook up with the main plotline at some point, but "at some point" seems farther and farther in the future, and the show might do well to have it intersect with the main plot sooner, rather than later.
All the same, though, what's making Rubicon work for me are the little character grace notes around the edges. At the center of the show is this monolithic conspiracy that threatens to devour the world whole, but around the edges of the show are a series of stories about people who are trying to put their lives back together after a series of world-shattering events. True, not all of these events were literally world-shattering, but trying to get your life back together after your ex-husband proves to be a total flop as a person can seem that way sometimes. Early in the episode, David's wife says, as she sees his office for the first time, that he tried to keep his home life and work life separate, tried to make them "church and state," as it were. Rubicon is at its best when it understands that for most people, that's impossible.
- I have to admit that I was a little concerned when Will was ripping apart the motorcycle seat. I know it had the tape there already, but he has NO respect for other people's property.
- I'm still not completely sure how Will arrived at baseball. It seemed as though David's SON was the one who was into baseball, yet Will knew to head off in that direction, and then the code has Travers in it? It was a cool series of events in the moment, but the more I think about it, the less sure I am that it makes sense.
- Beard Guy is winning my race for "favorite non-Will Think Tanker." He must be a stitch at parties! You?