The ratings for Rubicon, after a pretty strong debut, have settled into a range that may as well be called "not good." There's basically no certainty that this show will get another season at this point, even with the relaxed standards of cable. At this point, the most important thing for Rubicon will be critics banging the drum about how it's a good show, but it seems as if quite a few of us tuned out after episode two as well. And I don't blame people. You really have to like this sort of thing to see promise in those early episodes, and not everybody does. But Rubicon has turned rather swiftly into a show I'm becoming kind of obsessed with in the last two episodes, and if it doesn't yet have the subtlety and restraint to join AMC's other two acclaimed dramas, well, it's learning and learning extraordinarily quickly. The show is now fully Henry Bromell's baby, and he's showing off some of the skills in character writing he brought to Showtime series Brotherhood.
"Connect the Dots" dives right back into the conspiracy plotline after a week where that was mostly sent away for a while, and yet, it brings some of the same sense of urgency the show has last week to the master plot. Up until now, this has felt like the sleepiest conspiracy ever, and while there's still some of that sense in the early scenes, as the episode goes along, the show starts connecting the dots in earnest. Even better, what seemed like a massive conspiracy to control everything happening on Earth in the pilot now feels refreshingly small scale. These are just a bunch of men who (apparently) struck it rich in the '80s in Beirut after the assassination of someone - the "go code" for which was hidden in a crossword puzzle - brought them success. The show hasn't connected all of the dots, yet, but it's signaling that this isn't going to be yet another conspiracy to subject the world to a New World Order and all the better for it.
I've talked in the last few weeks about how I'd enjoy this show almost as much (if not more) if it were just a show about the cost of this line of business, the cost of constantly suspecting everyone in the world of wanting to do harm. The best thing about "Dots" is that it brings this kind of storytelling to the main plotline. It's a bit of a stretch to imagine that Will could tail Bloom that easily, but his obsession when he sees the guy meeting with Kale starts to spill out to everyone around him. The scene where Ed talks about how he wants to leave his house, to go out into the world and try to find patterns in the data of the life slipping by his apartment, suggests just how thoroughly thinking like this can warp the brains of even the smartest men. Rubicon is smart enough to know that if you look hard enough at anything, you can suggest a conspiracy to yourself, that the world looks stranger and stranger the more you hold a magnifying glass up to it.
The connections in the conspiracy are all becoming more apparent as the show goes along, too, but the series is nicely drawing out just how evil these people are. Truxton, for instance, certainly didn't seem evil last week. He's willing to do what he needs to, it would seem, but he's also capable of any number of good things (as we learn tonight, when he cajoles pretty much everyone into giving money at the fundraiser). Similarly, Kale's allegiances are not as clearly defined. He's in league with the conspirators somehow, but he's also intent on keeping Will safe and he's willing to keep an eye on the conspirators as well. Then there's the connection to James Wheeler and the dead Tom Rhumor, which is becoming slowly more apparent as well. We're only five episodes in, and the show is already giving out more information than one would have suspected from the glacial pace of the first two episodes, and it's muddying the water just enough to make it clear that no one's going to be all good or all bad.
Perhaps there's no better indication that, yes, this is all going to come together at some point than the fact that this episode finally lets us have Katherine meet someone from the main cast. She bumps into Will at the fundraiser, and the two exchange a few quick words. Obviously, the show wasn't going to give away too much of the game this early on, but just having the two in the same space and talking to each other gives me confidence that this series knows where it's going and is willing to do both the hard plot work and the hard character work of getting there.
To be fair, nothing here is going to rewrite the rule book. The conspiracy is all very standard stuff, meant to assassinate someone with ties to the oil industry (and possibly Nigeria and Houston, Texas, though Nigeria has come up before, hasn't it?). And the episode builds and builds to a point where Will calls Ed off of the investigation - in a way that resolves through Spangler telling everyone to focus on Katherine exclusively from now on - but then is reassembling everything Ed told him and everything he learned on his own in a big web of Post-Its on his apartment floor. It's a wonderful image, but it's also one you've seen before, in every story like this. Similarly, there's Spangler feeding the very report Will was looking for into his shredder, which isn't exactly breaking the mold in terms of telling stories like this.
And yet, I have every faith that Rubicon is heading somewhere I want to go, and I especially have every faith after these last two episodes. This is a show where the plotting is important, but the writers lavish just as much attention on the characters. After the flat, declarative exposition of the pilot, the writing of the people on the show has grown more and more nuanced with each episode. Bromell is very smartly figuring out ways to delineate just who everyone is within the framework of the show. (This week, for instance, was a big Tanya episode, as she tried to fend off her very real demons to make the argument to Spangler and Kale that they were going after the wrong guy.) There's a cool nuance to the show here, a sense that not everything is as it seems, sure, but people are plagued by the same things, regardless of whether they're plagued by conspiracies or insomnia. Somehow, Rubicon is sneaking up on me to become one of my favorite shows on the air right now. The Save This Show campaign starts here.
- I loved the way that scene between Will and Maggie was framed, all close-up and in silhouette. There was a real, palpable sexual tension to that scene, and it reminded me of how good James Badge Dale is when his characters are cornered.
- For additional thoughts on last week's episode, check out Dan Fienberg's excellent interview with Michael Christofer, the guy who plays Truxton, here.
- Will can't afford $250 for a children's fundraiser? And he has a high-paying think tank job? I could afford $250 for sick kids, and I'm a frickin' freelance writer. Maybe Will's just a massive bastard!
- This is the first episode that I saw on TV, rather than a screener, so if I messed anything up, let me know. I've only seen it the one time, and this is already a dense enough show.