One of the best things about watching this first season of Rubicon play out has been watching the show toy with the most basic elements of the conspiracy thriller storyline. We've had clandestine meetings in parking garages, the protagonist growing more and more nutty, and the protagonist ripping his apartment apart in a search for bugs. Weirdly, the best scenes in the conspiracy arc - which has rather been the weakest part of the show so far - are the ones where the show revisits one of these old markers in the conspiracy thriller storyline and pays homage, like the series needs to bow toward All the President's Men five times a season. Tonight, the series got to another one of these stations and it resulted in what might just be the best episode of the show yet.
Tonight, Will finally went across the way to talk to Andy, as we knew he must, since she was played by the always charming Annie Parisse (who also starred with James Badge Dale in The Pacific, though the two shared no screentime there), and you don't hire Annie Parisse just to paint things and say nothing. There was some speculation that perhaps Andy was in on this because you don't just fill a nothing part with an Annie Parisse; you give her something important. (A similar line of thought ruined the reveal of who Gus Fring was on Breaking Bad, since you don't just toss Giancarlo Esposito the role of some chicken restaurant manager.) But, no, Andy's here to play a role that every conspiracy story must have: the sweetly dorky neighbor girl who gets gradually drawn into the paranoid kook's web of conspiracy theories. (Not every conspiracy story has this element, but enough do to make it feel like an homage.) In about half of these stories, the main character's obsessions turn off the girl, and in the other half, the girl somehow falls for the hero, in spite of everything.
What makes this take on the material work so well is the fact that Andy's playing both sides of the coin. When she finds a gun in Will's bag, she's as taken aback by it as most people would be. But she's also just a tiny bit intrigued. And in the long, long opening scene, where the two embark on their first late night date, the way she mocks Will for the things he believes is kind of terrific. (I particularly liked her line about whether this was the part where he tied her to the radiator.) Parisse and Dale have an easy chemistry, and it's the first time that Will's really felt like someone who has a side other than unreadable emotional cipher. Don't get me wrong. Unreadable emotional cipher Will is a fine character, but I loved the tension on his face when Andy started kissing him and the dawning realization for both him and the audience that this was a huge step for him.
Tonight's episode, more or less, deals with late welcomes. The episode all but points this out with two separate scenes where a character barges in on someone with demands, then pauses to say hello to that someone after making those demands (the scenes involve Miles and Grant and Will and Julia, respectively). But this same thing happens between Will and Andy, as he steps into her life well beyond the boundaries most people would set up for a first-time visitor (though, admittedly, these two have been eying each other for a while now), solely to accomplish a certain objective, but then comes to also care for her as a person. Some of this should feel too abrupt, but it worked for me, perhaps because the courtship between the two was taking place against the heightened backdrop of Will wanting to find out who was planting the bugs in his apartment.
But he does get to find that out, when Andy - naked, no less - steps out into the living room in the middle of the night and sees Donald Bloom's flashlight dancing around Will's apartment across the way. It's a nicely creepy moment, and I love the way Parisse plays the slow realization that her new, crazy boyfriend isn't so crazy. Something really is going on, something that's ensnaring Will and everything he cares about, and if she gets too involved, there's every possibility that she'll end up dead, too. And yet, there's something thrilling about this prospect to her, about the idea that she's getting wrapped into this massive world where nothing is as it seems and her new, crazy boyfriend carries a gun around, wrapped up inside a shirt.
I don't mean to focus so exclusively on the Will and Andy relationship. There was also good stuff aplenty going on at API, where Kale, Truxton, and especially Miles all get great laughs. The thought of Truxton kicking back in his office and eating cereal (and apparently not wanting to be disturbed while doing so), then worrying about said cereal getting soggy was just the right absurdist touch to enliven the umpteenth scene of he and Kale talking mysteriously about mysterious issues. And every scene with Grant was great, livened by the way that the show had introduced the character of his wife finally. Initially, I thought the wife character was a bit too much of a nag (a character type I despise), but Grant's rationalizations for why she acted that way mostly made sense. I do hope we get to see her outside of this context at some point, but her frustration at the way her life was turning out (especially after getting fired!) seemed entirely appropriate.
Then, of course, there's the case of Miles, who gets most of the best lines in the episode (particularly his reaction to finding out Tanya has entered rehab (and I wonder if this wasn't a way to give Lauren Hodges some time to work on another project or something, since it would make far more sense from a story perspective to have Maggie - still an almost completely unformed character - disappear). But that final scene where he finally asked Julia out on something resembling a date was very sweet and nicely done, and it contrasted nicely with some of the darker stuff swirling about in the episode (notice how the camera shifts focus from the couple to Katherine Rhumor walking up to the API building in the background). It's another late welcome, but the episode suggests even late welcomes can be good ones eventually.
The Katherine stuff even had more bite in this episode. Though there was surprisingly little of it, she was finally told the names Truxton Spangler and API, and the episode ended with her finding the API plaque tucked away on the corner of the building, even as Will (gifted with the clipping by Kale) put an article about the death of Katherine's husband in his folder of information. The writers have often seemed stymied by what to do with Katherine. Her function has always been entirely about meeting Will at some point, but the series has delayed that as long as possible because once Katherine meets up with Will (and hands him that photo of the boys on the beach so long ago), Will is immediately on the trail of everything he needs to close out the conspiracy storyline. Still, I like the way this episode closes with those two sequences, the inverse of the other. In one, Miles and Julia walk away as Katherine steps in. In the other, Will hides away Tom's obituary and goes to his new lover. The new gives way to old business. Old business gives way to new things. If you wait long enough, it all comes back around.
Or, put it another way. I've finished the last several Rubicon episodes finding the show very good and enjoyably executed. But when I finished this episode, I had to know what happened next. It was all I could do to not skip right to chapter ten.
- I talked to Henry Bromell last week for about 20 minutes, and I was very intrigued by some of his hints as to where this season is going. You'll hopefully see that conversation very soon.
- I watched the last 30 seconds of this episode a dozen times, and I still have no idea what Andy's last line is. I think it's probably pretty key, but I can't make heads or tails out of it on the screener copy I have.
- Kale, who's been central to so many of the most recent episodes, takes something of a back seat in this episode, though his scenes where he realizes he's being followed and then confronts Truxton about it are good, as is the scene with Will in the late-night diner.
- The "And we were all boys together! And then we took over the world!" photograph strikes me as the clumsiest element in this storyline. I get that the idea of a small group of men that rules everything in the world is inherently unbelievable, so you may as well make them all lifelong BFFs, but it feels like a step too far to me.
- A number of excellent guest turns in this episode, yet the character I like best is poor, beleaguered Emily, always wandering in on Will and the gang at the least opportune moments. Stay strong, Emily!
- I'm absolutely terrified of what Boardwalk Empire is going to do to this show. Boardwalk's a fantastic series, but I'd like to see the both of them succeed, and I fear they're chasing too much of the same audience.
- In my talk with Bromell, he brought up just how much he had changed from the pilot to the following episodes. So I went back and watched the pilot, and while I still like it, it feels like a completely different series from the one we've embarked on. This may be one of the rare drama series where it's heavily recommended that people start with a later episode, possibly "The Outsider" (since nothing much in the first three episodes has really paid off, outside of Tom's death).