I've seen dozens of lie detector tests administered on TV over the years, possibly hundreds. It's rarely, if ever, depicted as a way to do anything other than catch criminals or reveal previously unknown secrets about the characters we know and love. It's a way to shake up the storyline, a deus ex machina of technology that swoops in at the end of the episode to either make us re-examine everything or create a scenario where we have certainty of just who the culprits are. It's rare to see something where the introduction of a polygraph test is presented with the sort of paranoia that taking such a test in real life must engender, but the latest episode of Rubicon, "The Truth Will Out," did just that. Happily, the episode was probably the best of the run so far, keeping up with the conspiracy, but moving it to the back burner in favor of a new question: Who's the leak in API? And how well do we know the people who work there? And how well do they know themselves?
We're told at episode's start that there's a leak, and that means everybody's going to be on lockdown for the rest of the day, while the feds try to determine just who has been tossing the information out there. Kale treats this as a waste of time. He saw three KGB agents defeat one of these things back in the day, and he doesn't see how this is going to reveal anything worth knowing or even how the results of the test can be trusted. But there's a procedure to these things, and there's a leak in the office. Someone's going to have to be arrested, and the people who will be doing the arresting have all of the power for once. When they haul off some guy from the financial division at episode's end, we're not told just what about him perked the FBI's interest. Do we trust that they got the right guy? Or do we trust that they just arrested someone?
Usually, if you take a lie detector test, you have a rough idea of why you're taking it. You're under suspicion for a crime, or you're interviewing for a position with a federal agency, or you're on the Maury Povich Show. But even with the assurance you may feel that you know you can escape the test if you just tell the truth (or lie artfully enough), there's no way to know exactly what the machine thinks of you. When the FBI arrests that guy, we never get any real indication of what turned up in his polygraph to suggest that he was the guilty party. What we do know is that the machine doubted that Tanya's name was Tanya, could be easily thrown off by Miles needing a cigarette, and suggested that Grant was going to cheat on his wife if he hadn't already. These are a chilling series of scenes, ones that continue to nicely delineate the people on Will's team (as well as Kale and Truxton), while leaving plenty of room for Will to pull apart metallic owls in his quest for the truth.
In terms of a deus ex machina, a lie detector is a uniquely well-suited device. In this episode, obviously, the person reading the machine claims that the machine knows the future, that as far as Grant's polygraph is concerned, he already has cheated on his wife, which means he probably will, since he hasn't already. It's a preposterous notion, but it's one that suggests the nebulousness of completely trusting in these machines. And yet, there's no better way to know the "truth," if such a thing is knowable. Never mind complexity of motivation or the fact that human beings can be driven by any number of impulses. The machine claims to be able to read a person's intentions and thoughts as well as any one of us can read a book. The act of knowing the full truth in and of itself is a power that should only be held by a god, really, and "Truth" suggests at times that thinking you have the correct answer to anything is an act of hubris. The truth may seem readily apparent, but it can just as easily slip through your fingers.
Meanwhile, Will is poking around the API building, getting it in his head that the person he really needs to be investigating is Truxton. The weird triangle that's developing among Will, Truxton, and Kale is rapidly turning into one of my favorite things about the show, and the scene where Will is digging around in Truxton's office - to discover that Truxton was spying on David and Ed - is a marvelously executed series of tense little moments. When Kale confronts Will in the door to the office, it's a great moment, underlining just how Will appears to the people around him, just how stupid he seems at the game he's playing. I can't help but think that Truxton knows just what Will's up to and is more or less letting him play this game for a little while. I just can't figure out why, just yet.
The one sour spot in this episode was the set of scenes featuring Katherine Rhumor, who had less occasion to be here than usual. I get that the show feels the need to give Miranda Richardson something to do every week, but when the tension back at API was so high, it felt odd to keep cutting to her deliberately low-stakes storyline. I don't know that this episode needed these scenes, and I rather wonder if the show wouldn't be better off keeping her off the game board until she's ready to hook up with Will and the gang. Or, perhaps, the show could do an episode where she's the main character, and Will's the supporting player we pop in on every now and then, just to vary things up a bit.
But this doesn't matter because the material back at API, the lie detector storyline, is so damned compelling. It lets us in on more information about the characters, to be sure, but it also suggests that the search Will is on, the quest for the truth, is ultimately futile. In the episode's first scene, he finds that little bug inside the owl, and at episode's end, he realizes how futile it is to try to remove said bug. No matter what happens, he's just going to keep getting hounded by the same people and the same forces. The world of Rubicon is a place where the powerful grind down the powerless or even those with some small amount of power and they barely seem to realize they're doing so. It's a place where the drudgery of everyday life in the office conceals a barely restrained panic.
- God, I loved Miles' increasing panic when he realized just what he'd done with that file. He's probably my favorite of Will's underlings, and the scene where he and Will talk in hushed tones about what happened is one of the best in the series so far.
- "I'm sure I have. It's been a really good five years." The sexual voraciousness of Kale Ingram knows no bounds!
- Somewhere in my reading this week, I encountered the fact that Rubicon is drawing better ratings than Mad Men and Breaking Bad did at this point in their first seasons. Now, both of those shows debuted small and mostly stayed small, while Rubicon debuted big and then slipped quite a bit, but it's an interesting point. I don't think this show is Mad Men good or Breaking Bad good, but it's rapidly turning into something that's good on its own terms, nonetheless, and its ratings seem to have stabilized somewhat. Here's hoping that the show continues to hang on to what audience it has.
- Nice shots of the night: People walking up a white stairwell, all of those perpendicular lines looking striking. The expressway traffic whizzing by outside the window as Will and Miles talk about the missing file.