Tuned In

Rubicon Watch: The Ex-Marriage Ref

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Spoilers for last night’s Rubicon coming up:

It’s a cliché of storytelling that you can make a story more frightening by showing less what everyone is afraid of: the monster, the killer, the enemy, what have you. But it’s only started to dawn on me what a job Rubicon does of this, especially regarding its terrorist-hunt storylines. API’s analysts have studied their targets and parsed the intimations of threats from afar. Except for Miles’ and Tanya’s field trip, we’ve seen almost none of the machinations, interrogation or espionage at first hand. No flashbacks, no “Meanwhile, in Syria…” The plot, if it is one, unfolds entirely through notes, reports, photographs. Bombs go off, and we only hear the bloodless reports. Which made this episode’s hint—that there may in fact be a very big attack brewing—all the more chilling.

The analysts, they learn just as they begin to get a sense of the enormity of the situation—their target appears to be offing associates, to cut ties before an operation—are sitting on a “Godot”: there’s nothing they can do but wait for more information. And waiting, solitaire games aside, can be very tense.

I’ve paid less attention to that storyline than the Clover Conspiracy in there writeups, but the terror hunt is a necessary compliment to it. There needs to be a threat, or at least the possibility of one, for us to see that the analysts actually do have a calling that they believe in, and for API to be something more complicated than something more than an arm of a big bag security-industrial complex. That is, it may very well be dangerous, and associated with something rotten. But as showrunner Henry Bromell has said, it’s run by people who would probably tell you (and sincerely believe) that they are doing something very necessary, even if in fact they are doing things that are very terrible.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the conspiracy, we’ve seen very little overt, mano-a-mano violence either (suicides and a train crash instead). There’s a gun, but it hasn’t gone off; there are threats, but they haven’t been realized. Which makes them that much more chilling, as when Katherine gets her almost jolly visit from Bloom, who informs her that she, Will and her family will be “terminated” if they have further contact, then goes on to drolly explain what “terminated” means. (I.e., exactly what you think.) It works, and it doesn’t; she’s determined enough to get to the bottom of her husband’s death to give Will the photograph, scared enough to cut things off with him.

Even Kale cannot escape the sense of suspicion and generalized dread, being unable even to trust his partner at home, as he trashes a bugged bedside lamp. It’s kind of a relief, then—to us and maybe to him as well—to see Maggie’s boor of an ex finally give him an excuse to take the gloves off and actually, physically hurt someone to protect her and her daughter. And even the way he does it is elegant and Rubicon-esque—no blood, no beatdowns, just elegantly chokes the jerk and forces him down. “The way you live is disgusting,” he sneers contemptuously.

This is a show that would rather kill—or at least threaten—with suffocation than with a blaze of gunfire. And it’s all the more creepy for it. I, then, will supply the hail of bullets:

* A nitpick on the Maggie plot: Did it seem odd to anyone else that her daughter had to be talked through how to tell the time on a digital clock, yet was able to pick up a phone and dial her mother? (In New York, with ten-digit dialing yet?) Was I missing something here?

* We learn this episode, if we didn’t suspect it already, that Spangler is at least as worried about Kale as about Will. “When he’s not being the most innocent man in America, he drops off the grid for hours at a time. He’s still very good.”

* I said as much before, but I really loved the dark humor in the scene of Bloom threatening Katherine. “By terminated, they mean killed. Do you understand this message?” “Yes.” “Because sometimes they can be unclear, but that one was pretty straightforward.”