Tuned In

Rubicon Watch: I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, pop in an old Meet Me in St. Louis DVD and watch last night’s season finale of Rubicon.

“Do it. Do it.”

With those words, not so much encouraging as defiant, Rubicon ended its first season bringing Will face-to-face with the conspiracy behind the clover messages and the terror attack on an oil tanker. It resolved some stories (Katherine’s, in particular) and complicated others. But above all, it gave the strong signal that the intrigues extend far beyond this one investigation and this one attack—if, in fact, Rubicon gets a second season.

In a way, the finale played more like the second part of a two-part finale with the explosive penultimate “Wayward Sons” (indeed, its title, “You Can Never Win” could as well apply to the just-barely failure of Will and his API team to head off the terror attack that Atlas plans to profit from). But while the previous episode gave a definitive ending, if a depressing one, to the terror-hunt storyline, this finale did no such thing for the conspiracy plot—it simply set pieces in place for a future season.

As Kale, again frustrated with Will’s inability to strategically set aside his emotion, says, this was one battle in a larger war. What’s more, the objective of the conspiracy is not in fact complete; as Kale suggests and Spangler confirms in his talk with Joshua, the attack is not the end in itself but the first step in a process, leading to a retaliatory war with Iran, that Atlas somehow plans to benefit from. Arliss Howard had one more fine moment of the season in that confrontation with Will, as the question about the disposal of Bloom reminded us that (though Kale’s relationship with Bloom was never explicitly spelled out) he had lost someone in this hunt as well.

For his part, Spangler is not a rousing success with the other Atlas members, who don’t see the attack, followed by evidence laid out to point to Iran, as an unqualified success, as it’s put Will on their trail; the brash confidence that Spangler uses to put himself over on the U.S. government is not as effective on his boyhood chums and co-conspirators, and he finds himself cloverized. (But not, notably, dead by the end of the episode, suggesting he may have another life in him going forward.)

While I’ve given a lot of praise to Howard here, in some ways Michael Kristofer has been the real revelation this season. Kristofer, a playwright first and actor second (he won a Tony and a Pulitzer for his 1977 The Shadow Box) gives Spangler a hoarse, cranky intelligence. Spangler carries himself as a lonely man who has set himself on a path that’s required to close himself off to people, so that he’s become expert at negotiating with people but seems clumsy at any kind of intimacy with them. Brooding in his office or eating cereal alone, Kristofer manages to make him at once a menacing authority figure and a kind of peevish, lonely child at once. (Both of which you can see in his dressing down of the API staff at the episode’s beginning, all the while knowing that he actually banked on the “intelligence failure” and is steering him toward the narrative he wants.)

Speaking for “failure to stay ahead of the narrative,” there’s something almost automatic and too easy about the way Will manages to put together the final pieces of Bloom’s, and thus Atlas’s, involvement; he somehow gets into Bloom’s apartment, has Hal execute a few searches, and bingo, there’s your connection. And yet as with the attack itself, he seems to be staying one step behind them. (I loved the knowing glances he exchanged with Kale during Spangler’s speech to the troops; James Badge Dale has given his eyes a workout this season, and here his stare both conveys his outrage and shows his gear turning at once.)

As for Katherine’s end, it was at once stunning and banal—after all the skulking and terror, she falls to a deathstroke (poison) that she may not even know hit her, at least until her final, incoherent seconds. The stunner—and a beautifully set up one—is that Andy, after our suspicions that she was actually part of some scheme seemed to be dispelled, turned out to be part of some scheme. What scheme, exactly? Tom Rhumor sends Katherine to her apartment as though she’s meant to be her protector, which Andy says she is—yet she quietly walks away after Katherine falls, a scene that, after several re-viewings, I don’t yet know how to read. (Because her mission is accomplished? Because her mission has failed, but there’s nothing to be gained by calling attention to herself? To avoid being spotted by Will?)

Andy’s role in all this raises more questions: what was the intention of David and Tom’s DVD—or of whoever got them to make it? Was their intent somehow subverted? What else was on the DVD? (And incidentally, correct me if I missed something, but wasn’t Will able to see Katherine pulling out the DVD before she went down? Why would he leave it?) Further questions: what happens to the API team now that Will has brought Miles in (and perhaps made him a target) and Grant is in charge? And if the objective is was not the tanker but the backlash, what is the backlash supposed to yield? What, as will asks, is the motive?

All of which the series will take up if AMC renews Rubicon, which is still hanging in the balance.  In all, the finale was a bit of an anticlimax—it seems to get Will the rest of the way through his investigation almost mechanically easily, and there were few real wow moments after a season of buildup. But the season overallearned a place in the top tier of 2010’s TV shows, and, I hope, a place in 2011’s.

Now for the hail of bullets and/or syringes:

* One place where Rubicon’s conspiracy has always faltered a bit is when we get an actual look at the conspirators. Particularly in the halls of API, the show does such a good job of placing its intrigue in in the real world of the mundane that it’s off-putting to see the board taking its vote—presumably on the cloverization of Truxton Spangler—in what seems to be the cavernous lair of the Legion of Doom. I’d have loved to see just a boring little conference room.

* On the other hand, I am interested in seeing the conspirators further explored in their character and history. The few interactions we’ve seen, especially Spangler’s argument with Joshua, suggest history and dynamics developed over 50 years—these are powerful men and boys still playing a game—that I’d love to know more about.

* Loved Grant’s assurance that nothing will be different with him as leader: “I’m still Grant!” as if his chief concern is that their beloved Grant will change. (Yet I also like that, while he takes the job in the end, Grant really has no interest in selling Will out; a lesser show would have made him a craven, opportunistic underminer.)

* It’s not lost on Will that Katherine died because, again, he was in over his head when he tried to operate alone—he assumed Bethesda Fountain was a public enough place to be safe. Going forward in a let-us-hope second season, Will’s going to have to become a better spook, or seek out more help.

* “It’s only bullets whistling by. They can’t kill you.” Even though that’s not actually reassuring at all, I think that’s going to be my new philosophy of life.