Tuned In

Rubicon Watch: You Gotta Have Doubt

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, fire up the teleconferencing software and watch last night’s Rubicon.

Whereas most spy/espionage dramas create drama and excitement by showing us how intelligence is collected and acted upon, Rubicon to this point has created many of its chilling effects the opposite way. We see the analysis that goes on in the offices of API, but the way that intelligence is gathered and their conclusions executed—suspects engaged, missiles launched—happens chillingly offstage. This week, Miles and Tanya took a business trip to an undisclosed location and saw the theory to which they’ve applied their minds meet flesh-and-blood practice.

Their witnessing of the detainee’s torture, and Miles’ doubt, in particular, about whether his information is useful at all, leads to the conversation that gives the episode its title, “Caught in the Suck”: that colorful phrase referring to the state of uncertainty they live in, while fanatic are rewarded with certainty. The discussion is, on the one hand, related to Rubicon’s ongoing critique of post-9/11 intelligence; but it also states a larger theme of the episode, namely, whether it is better to have absolute faith or doubt, and whether a person who has the former or the latter is more trustworthy.

That’s the question Will faces as he wonders whether he can trust both of his advisers—Kale and Ed Bancroft—or, if not, which he can rely on. Kale, as Bancroft describes him, is a man of absolute certitude: dedicated to country and mission, a “pure, linear drill.” So, Will asks, “Can I trust him?” “Hell no,” Bancroft says.

Bancroft distrusts Kale, and suspects his way of working, precisely because Kale seems so lacking in doubt. Kale says Bancroft has always looked down on him because of his background in operations—i.e., his dirty hands. No, Bancroft says, it’s that Kale’s worldview blinds him to the subtleties and complexities necessary to the work they do.

It’s an intriguing argument. But then again, is Bancroft the best advocate for it? Bancroft is, it would seem, the ultimate man of complex thought and doubt; the same genius that allows him to see patterns invisible to most people also, seemingly, makes him almost incapable of dealing with the real world. We may not know exactly why he’s so reclusive, disturbed and scattered, but the strong suggestion is that years of puzzling over possibilities within counterpossibilities has taken a toll. He seems like a decent and devoted guy, a useful resource and a worthy benefactor for Will. But is he also a warning: a suggestion that seeing the world in endless shades of gray is the road to madness?

Kale, on the other hand, is as disciplined in mind and action as Bancroft is unruly, and is showing himself, to all appearances, as Will’s “guardian angel.” (He even tries his hand at playing Cupid with Will and Maggie, releasing her from spy duties even as he reveals them to Will.) But is he? Even if we accept at face value that he is in fact assisting Will and not undermining him, as he begins connecting Truxton Spangler and the Atlas MacDowell organization, by Kale’s own admission it’s not Will that he cares about ultimately, but API. Kale may indeed be a man of principle (compared with, say, the cynically realpolitik Spangler), but what happens when and if his principles diverge from Will’s?

The necessities of the moment force Will to trust Kale: he’s getting close to something, yet Will and Kale both know that Will’s not close to capable of conducting his operation alone. But he’s still rightfully wary. The relative value of faith and doubt makes for an interesting philosophical discussion, but when it comes to the needs of a paranoid story like Rubicon’s it’s no contest: doubt wins every time.

Quick hail of bullets:

* Kale’s help for the novice Will provides an obvious storytelling function, helping his investigation along, and his unwillingness to help too much creates an element of mystery, while also preventing him from becoming a deus ex machina. But I’m increasingly curious how (or whether) Rubicon will further explain why Kale is helping Will in this specifically restricted way—otherwise, it risks seeming too much like a convenient plot device.

* While Spangler seems increasingly like a heavy as the show unfolds, he’s positively avuncular to Tanya after she fails her drug test, offering her rehab and the chance to stay at the job “a long, long time.” Is this just taking care of his own, or will the obligation she’s incurred to him come into play eventually?

* One of the many things I really like aesthetically about Rubicon is its choice to shoot in lower Manhattan (the financial district area, largely); it gives the show a distinct, lived-in urban look without relying on locations you’ve seen used on TV a million times. And in the show’s exteriors, the narrow streets of New York City’s oldest section add that much more to the show’s air of artful claustrophobia.

* Another strong episode that—coincidentally or not—had relatively little Katharine Rhumor. But we’re starting to see her story intersect the main storyline bit by bit, here with Spangler revealed behind the break-in to scare her off. I’ll be curious to see whether she’s fully integrated in the A-story by the end of this season, or if that’s something the show intends to play out over years (if, in fact, it gets years).