Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FX

As “The Rubicon” dims the lights on the first season of Snowfall, and Franklin seems to have everything he’s ever wanted right in front of him, there’s no denying it’s been a rocky road. That’s true of both the characters and those of us who have stuck with the freshman show through its often sluggish, scattered first season. But much like Franklin’s ambitions to make a life for himself, one of independence and wealth, anyone who stuck with this show through the bumps is rewarded at the end of the road. “The Rubicon” doesn’t by any means smooth over the problems of the season, as we’ll see below, but it does offer up a first-season conclusion that feels like Snowfall finally pulling all of its rambling thoughts together into a coherent whole.

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The catalyst for Franklin’s success is two-fold: learning to cook crack cocaine, and stepping up to make sure that everyone knows he’s running the game. At the top of the episode Franklin, Jerome, and Aunt Louie are sorting out their money and, more importantly, working out a deal for a cut of the business. Franklin and Jerome negotiate back and forth, and while it’s mostly a lighthearted affair, it’s also clear that Franklin isn’t fooling around. There’s more behind his negotiating skills than a playful bit of business with his uncle; he’s staking his claim. To be fair, Jerome couldn’t be prouder, and that becomes even more significant before “The Rubicon” is finished.

As has been the case for most of the season, it’s Franklin’s storyline that really adds depth and emotion to the proceedings. There’s just so much fruitful territory to explore in his life. There’s his dropping out of college, his parents’ involvement in the Black Panthers, his charisma and good business sense, and of course Damson Idris’ incredible performance. All of that contributes to Franklin being the emotional anchor of this show. Don’t get me wrong, Snowfall is filled with great performances—I particularly love the way Emily Rios imbues Lucia with fluctuating confidence and insecurity, and the way Sergio Peris-Mencheta gives Gustavo the feeling of a gentle giant—but it’s Idris who is the consistent star.

Without Idris’ nuanced, captivating facial expressions, Franklin’s story of financial independence and self-discovery would look a lot more paint-by-numbers. Instead, there’s an emotional depth there that Idris seems to have access to. It’s there in the way he allows Franklin to look around his childhood room as he packs his things, making sure the symbolism of moving from relative childhood to adulthood sinks in. It’s also in the way Idris plays the episode’s climactic scene, where Franklin forces Ray Ray to kill his own man and prove his loyalty to the new bosses in town. The way Idris moves between pure machismo and childlike anxiety is pitch perfect, truly driving home how Franklin may be out of his depth, and yet unrelenting in his attempt to make a better future for himself.

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So, while Franklin’s storyline has been a highlight, the same can’t be said of Teddy. It’s a plot that’s meandered far too often, all while not giving us any reason to truly care about Teddy and his struggles. “The Rubicon” sort of makes up for the previous listlessness by putting Teddy in an impossible situation. When he’s forced to choose between killing Alejandro for murdering Veronica or continuing their partnership, it’s the kind of high-stakes decision that immediately makes his character more compelling. When he pulls the trigger and kills his partner, it tells us something about Teddy, complicating his character in a way we haven’t seen before. The CIA subplot still doesn’t quite fit in with the narrative, which is a shame because it could act as important, complicated context, but it’s encouraging to see “The Rubicon” challenge Teddy and move his character in a fresh direction.

That’s the case with Lucia as well, as she finally makes her move, and it’s a bold one at that: she teams up with Gustavo to get the Mexicans to kill her uncle during her father’s funeral. Again, it’s a story that could easily veer into the unoriginal and dull, but the script never lets it get there. Instead, doubt creeps in. Lucia’s mother tells her that her father didn’t want her to take over the business not because she was a woman, but because he thought her ruthless ambition would tear the family apart. Based on the evidence, that’s true. Lucia isn’t willing to settle, and that leads to her putting a hit out on her own uncle. That kind of psychological wrinkle adds something special to the more traditional cartel storyline while setting up future familial tensions.

Still, Snowfall and “The Rubicon” is largely about Franklin. By the end of the season he’s made a modest name for himself, and seems to be fully in control of his budding enterprise. He has a cookhouse, a stable set of partners, and more money and influence than he knows what to do with. He’s buying ice cream for the neighborhood kids and reveling in his newfound wealth with Jerome. It’s been a long road, but Franklin Saint, self-made man, is finally here. But what did he leave behind? A few bodies, perhaps a life removed from the dangers of the game, and most importantly his mother, who looks at his empty bedroom with a real sense of loss.

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That leaves Franklin with one question: was it worth it? We’ll have to wait for the second season to find out.

Stray observations:

  • “You’re juggling a lot of shit right now.” Aunt Louie with a serious understatement while talking to Franklin.

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  • A lot of credit’s due to John Singleton’s direction in this episode. The way he positions the camera is key to the atmosphere of so many scenes. I’m haunted by how Singleton uses a wide shot to underscore the possibilities of what Franklin and Leon are about to do with Ray Ray, only to then pull in with uncomfortable closeups during the fateful, brutal moment.
  • I legitmately did not expect Teddy to kill Alejandro, so that twist really threw me for a loop.
  • As for Teddy, he’s apparently doing quite well, even getting praise from the President.

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  • And that’s it for the first season of Snowfall. While I was disappointed to have coverage for the whole season cut, I’m grateful that I got to check in with the finale. This is without a doubt a flawed first season, but one that also rewarded patience with some seriously stunning character moments. Snowfall feels like a show that could really find its legs in a second season.