September 16, 2010


'Rubicon' makes idiot box a lot smarter: Subtle, grown-up spy drama has characters, viewers thinking (John Kass, September 17, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

"Rubicon" isn't about characters with big muscles and big guns and cool gadgets. The stars of this show are troubled, emotionally flawed intelligence analysts working in a Manhattan think tank. They're quirky, brilliant, neurotic, intrigued by codes.

One keeps a brass owl on his desk. Another demands special pastries at the morning meeting and pouts if he doesn't get them. One is a drug addict. Another's soul was broken after losing his wife and child in the Sept. 11 attacks.

And they even write on paper. Yes, paper.

They're academics, or failed academics, searching for patterns, connections and the meaning of that four-leafclover clue that appeared in the crossword puzzles of several major newspapers, the clue that prompted the first suicide.

There's plenty of treachery and a desperate urge to learn about the guys behind the guys. So in this, it's much like covering politics.

"We've got to talk about Kale," said a friend at work, about the ruthless openly gay supervisor character, Kale Ingram.

Kale may be evil or he may be patriotic and virtuous, but either way his is a fantastic role, subtly and malevolently played by the wonderful actor Arliss Howard.

Kale leaves clues for his subordinate Will Travers to follow, leading the emotionally shattered Will into a world of paranoia. He lures Will — and viewers — right down the rabbit hole.

The pace is positively glacial and they producers give us no confidence that they've genuinely thought through the arc of the series, but the Truxton Spangler character--ostensibly the bad guy, at this point--has had a few of the best scenes in recent television. Here's one where he's trying to convince a military/intelligence panel that the agency he runs has particular value to them because of its independence:
SPANGLER: One final thought, if I might.

When you left the house this morning wearing that tie, perhaps your wife stopped you in the doorway, perhaps she told you how good you look in that tie, how handsome it was.

Now, while I’m sure you love your wife, might I suggest, you have many reasons to distrust her judgment about that tie. Maybe she has a fond memory of another time you wore it, a sentimental attachment.

Or perhaps, she knows your tie collection and she’s simply glad you didn’t choose one of the ties she dislike. Perhaps she just sensed you were feeling a little fragile — she felt like bucking you up a bit.

Now, imagine for a minute, you sit down here with us, and I say to you how much I admire that tie. Instantly, you have another opinion, but you don’t know me. There’s nothing personal between us. We have no sartorial history, no emotional attachment.

Who’s judgment are you going to trust? Mine or your wife’s?

The gentleman to my right is a remarkable intelligence analyst. He is skilled in pattern recognition systems analysis, emergence theories.

But, in truth, his greatest asset for you, is that you don’t know him and he doesn’t know you. He’s doesn’t care about you or your feelings. He just knows what your tie looks like.

You can trust him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 16, 2010 7:19 PM
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