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Catching Up With: Rubicon

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Mild spoilers for AMC’s Rubicon coming up:

Between Mad Men reviewing, vacation, preparing to go on vacation—and, OK, a debilitating helium-inhalation habit—I haven’t had time to do a regular Rubicon Watch since the show debuted. My favorite episode so far, “The Outsider” (in which Will Travers and Truxton Spangler visit their Federal clients in Washington), aired while I was away. The following episode, “Connect the Dots,” worried me, though; just as the show had seemed to find a groove and a theme—the need for, and the danger in, synthesizing a vast amount of intel in the post-9/11 security state—this episode felt sluggish, and I thought I might lose patience with the slowly evolving conspiracy plot.

But with Sunday’s episode, “Look to the Ant,” I’m solidly back on board for the season.

One thing that’s always appealed to me about Rubicon is that it—unlike most TV covert-intelligence dramas—is not about a protagonist who signed up for trouble. (OK, Chuck has a reluctant-spy premise as well, but with a far different tone.) Will isn’t a warrior or a spook; he’s a pencil-pusher—albeit a brilliant one—learning on the fly to conduct an investigation rather than just analyze patterns in information that’s handed to him. “Look to the Ant” showed us, with sharp tension, Will committing to his investigation—of whatever plot he turns out the be investigating—while getting an ever-greater sense of how dangerous it might be.

Set up by the nicely played twist of having Kale offer himself as an ally to Will, the episode created a sense of dramatic claustrophobia as Will ransacked his own apartment for bugs, then left home paranoid that eyes were on him at all times. (Credit to James Badge Dale for making us feel Will’s clockspring tension, often in entirely wordless scenes involving staring at screens and pages.) And the scene in which he confronted the goon tailing him deftly showed Will coming into his own. I’ve been worried, ever since Rubicon equipped him with a gun, that the show might make him into some kind of ass-kicking agent. But while Will pulls the gun on his shadow, his lethal weapon, as Mr. Ice-T once said, is his mind: his access to information and ability to process it means he can threaten havoc with as little as a picture of the guy who’s been tracking him.

Meanwhile, I also felt fully interested in each storyline involving the supporting players, which I haven’t always. In particular, Katherine’s investigation, which has sometimes felt so detached as to seem to be a different show, has gotten enough momentum to be as involving as Will’s (with which, we have to guess, it will eventually intersect).

I still don’t know if I’ll be able to manage a weekly Rubicon Watch, especially as fall gets into gear, but I’ll definitely be watching. Have you stayed with it?