Tuned In

Rubicon Watch: Let Me Take You on a Sea Cruise

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, check into a motel and watch last night’s Rubicon.

After ten deliberate, talk-heavy episodes, last week Rubicon gave us a taste of the kind of action and violence we expect from other terrorism-and-espionage shows. Now, in the penultimate episode of its season, Rubicon showed that it could deliver tension and suspense and big shocker moments—in ways that still distinguished it from its TV predecessors.

That Will and API failed—barely—to stave off the terror attack was not unique. In season 3 of 24, terrorists partially successfully pulled off a bio-terror attack, killing hundreds, in season 4, the bad guys melt down a nuclear reactor and in season 6, Jack Bauer failed to stop a suitcase nuke from going off in California. But after weeks of hints about Kateb’s intentions, Rubicon elects not to play the top-the-bodycount game, instead having him pull off an economic attack, exploding an oil tanker in Galveston Bay to cripple the energy supply and thus the economy.

As devastating as the attack itself is the punch-in-the-gut way the show delivers the news, having the attack hit the news seconds after Will, thanks to David’s paper on the “Houston problem,” pinpoints the type and location of the attack. The closing moment—Will, falling just short after all his effort, hanging his head in silent despondency—was perfect.

The question now being: what now? Does he, and can he, try to expose the men he now sees are behind the attack? It’s interesting that, 12 episodes into the season, only now does a character literally bring the show’s title into the story, as Kale explains to Katherine the story of Caesar crossing the Rubicon and effectively ending the Roman Republic. (At which point Cato, like her husband, committed suicide so that his heirs could live in peace under the new order.) While the conspiracy has been at work seemingly for decades, this move—effecting or permitting an attack in American waters—is, like Caesar’s bold move, an act of hostility at home. Does it, like the crossing of the Rubicon, mean that the action is already too far along to stop?

Caesar, of course, wanted an empire. It’s interesting now to wonder what Truxton Spangler wants. The members of his consortium seem to be after money, but that has never really seemed like his motivation. Failing to stop the attack would seem to be a blow to API, but is it? Having nearly stopped Kateb—whom the government seemingly would not even have been close to without them—could API’s power, and the homeland security state, become only more essential and powerful? Is that his goal?

We’ll have to wait and see. What was in Kateb’s mind, on the other hand, we’ll never truly know, and the glimpses the final manhunt gave us of him were chilling while allowing him to ultimately remain a question mark. (It’s possible the writers kept him an enigma deliberately, to avoid seeming to push a particular political agenda. Having him be a Muslim terrorist on the one hand, but a white American convert a la John Walker Lindh, offers different interpretations for different worldviews. Was he a coldly rational true believer? An insane man and wayward son looking for “something he was good at” and a rationale to act out? Both? Neither?)

In any case, the truly significant thing for Rubicon going forward—and I’m praying it gets a second season—is that it’s all come together now: the terrorist hunt with the conspiracy chase, Katherine’s investigations with Will’s. One more episode to go from here this season: let’s hope it isn’t the last forever.

Now the hail of bullets:

* As I wrote a few weeks ago, the interesting thing about Rubicon’s terror-hunt story is that its principals have all existed almost entirely on paper and in photographs. So finally seeing Kateb in person was both bathetic and chilling at once, particularly the opening scene of him giggling at a cartoon (was it Heckle & Jeckle?) of a bird causing an explosion. Another nice touch: the way we followed him on his itinerary without seeing where exactly he was (unless, as is wholly possible, I missed some big contextual clues) and thus what his target was.

* No sooner did word of the attack come than characters raised the same question that must have gone through your mind: after the BP spill, what’s one tanker explosion? I visited the set during the shooting of the episode in July—a couple of out-of-context scenes that didn’t spoil anything about the attack—but for all I know the attack may have been imagined as a plot point before the April BP disaster, necessitating that the later explanation be written in.

* How plausible is the idea that the attack itself, as a means of choking off America’s oil supply? You’re asking me? I’m no national-security expert, but a quick Google search did turn up a number of reports and papers about the possibility of an attack on a tanker to create a major chokepoint—if not necessarily Galveston Bay.

* Like Spangler’s conversation with Will (for, he believed, the last time) last week, his talk with Kale was an adroit combination of sentiment and veiled menace; in particular, loved Arliss Howard’s delivery of the line, “I can’t imagine either one of us leaving until they carry us out.” Still one more week for that to happen.