The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Rubicon: “No Honesty in Men”

Posted by therebelprince on September 22, 2010

After this week’s episode, I’m finally beginning to enjoy Rubicon on more than just a cerebral level, and it’s about damn time.

I’m not the first to say this but since the pilot, it has felt as if Rubicon is moving in baby steps, showcasing – as a few critics have noted – the basic plot elements of a conspiracy movie. Only in this case, they’re stretched out over several hours. Part of the problem is my overhyped expectations: I perhaps expected a conspiracy thriller in which Will Travers goes head-to-head with the government, a hybrid of The X-Files and ABC’s shortlived Traveler. Instead, we’ve got what could be described as a very noughties take on government conspiracies: the think tank is a staid, cramped office building in which analysts have nagging wives and worrying ex-husbands, and conspirators meet over Chinese food.

For eight weeks now, we’ve been watching the most languorous (some would say ponderous) show on television. Will Travers isn’t exactly imbued with initiative. For someone who is slowly becoming aware that what happens in the world, and how much we’re allowed to know, may all be a grand puppet show, he’s remarkably nonplussed. But I’m not entirely complaining: what would I do, I wonder, if tomorrow I learnt this news? Go on the lam and attempt to blog my anarchical thoughts? Probably not. I’d sit tight and try to comprehend the information. But there comes a time when action must be taken and, if “No Honesty in Men” was anything to go by, that time is now.

It was nice to see Will become more pushy on the subject. James Badge Dale has taken the challenge of a lifetime in wringing emotions out of such a placid man as Will appears to be, but he’s clearly up to the task. He was great in the thankless role of Chase on 24 all those years ago, and he’s interesting – if not revolutionary – to watch onscreen again. His nocturnal conversations with his neighbour didn’t force Will out of his shell quite like I’d hoped they would, but seeming him actually react to something was a nice change. Kale, meanwhile, is the most fascinating character in Rubicon’s line-up: he’s aware of the project’s reach, and he doesn’t necessarily agree with their aims. Or maybe he supports their aims but has personal reasons for revenge? Or maybe he’s looking to be bumped up the ladder a bit? But he’s a company man with a job, a lovely home, and a handsome partner to take care of, so Kale isn’t going to risk his own skin quite so openly. Arliss Howard is a wonderful performer, and has at least kept the main plot interesting as we’ve meandered through the private lives of the rest of Will’s colleagues.

Oddly, for the episode that cemented my interest in the series, “No Honesty in Men” felt more like the traditional A/B plot structure than any so far. Since none of Will’s subordinates have any knowledge of the global implications of crossword puzzles, scenes featuring just the team lack a certain urgency required in such genre works. Every time we cut back to the guys in the meeting room, I couldn’t help laughing and wondering how much time had passed for Will. It’s a classic storytelling move to present great things through the eyes of those who don’t understand, and watching honest, down-to-earth analysts do research that we know is being put to nefarious uses, is certainly a valid method of conveying the structure of the conspiracy. But…

I’m not sure how I feel yet about the awesome foursome – now threesome, it seems, with the receptionist (Maggie?)’s absence. Dallas Roberts is effortlessly talented and he’s given great weight to Miles’ somewhat typical backstory. I like all the cast members, but so far it feels as if we’re just being given tidbits of their fractured lives to keep us interested as the main story winds up. (Kind of like how Murder One made us sit through seven or eight cases-of-the-week while they prepped the court case.) In my mind, I imagine that Grant, Tanya and Miles will all be placed in positions of further trust and/or precariousness as the series goes on, and that their respective flaws will play into this. Do I really think that these mundane dramas are groundwork being layed? Not really, but it’s nice to hope.

Note that I do appreciate that both Maggie and Tanya’s secrets have already been outed. Miles, too, appears on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Grant’s life clearly goes in these cycles, so I don’t expect him to fall apart just yet, but at least we’re being given the promise of character change rather than a stale status quo. (The show could still pull an Alias, and “shake things up” only to return everyone to a slightly different position on the field, but I have some faith!)

After “No Honesty in Men”, I’m really looking forward to seeing the pieces come together. Will knows now that his life is in the hands of the Institute; Kale knows that his own position is in no way safe; and poor, poor Miranda Richardson – I mean, Katherine Rhumor – is compiling further clues. In retrospect, it would probably have been great to have Richardson on maybe every second episode. More often than not, she’s been given one scene each week and even now, her investigation has hardly yielded much fruit. She knows Spangler’s name, and that she can’t trust her friends, but for the life of me I can’t understand the purpose of this storyline. What possible use can Katherine be to Will’s unravelling of the conspiracy? Does she really know anything he couldn’t piece together himself? Miranda Richardson is nothing less than frakking awesome, so I’m placing my trust in the show’s writers, but I can’t exactly say that I’m waiting with baited breath for the conclusion to that trail of breadcrumbs.

At the end of the day, I’m a sucker for a good serialised storyline, so I’m hanging in there with Rubicon. The show has a solid cast, and a commanding germ of an idea. Some of the greatest TV shows of the last decade (AMC’s Mad Men among them) gave us first seasons which in no way hinted at the epic canvas to come. And I wasn’t sold on Breaking Bad until at least midway through the second season, either. Here’s hoping Rubicon is of that pedigree.

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