Friday, 15 April 2011

'RUBICON' 1.2 - "The First Day Of School"

Friday, 15 April 2011

The title of this second episode felt subtly significant, as it's beginning to feel like the analysts of the American Policy Institute (API) are children in many ways. In one scene we even see Grant (Christopher Evan Welch) eating a beaker of jelly in the workplace cafeteria, while Miles (Dallas Roberts) revealed that his own kids think he designs video-games all day. It's also a place where your sanity's at risk, too; demonstrated when Miles can't stop watching a TV report about a situation in Nigeria he believes could have been avoided if governments had acted on his intelligence analysis.

"The First Day Of School" was a distinct drop in quality over the murky pilot, mainly because the deliciously thick '70s-esque atmosphere dissipated. Technology even became more prominently used than last week. The changes are probably because the show's creator, Jason Horwitch, actually left Rubicon after the pilot and was replaced by Henry Bromell -- who wrote this episode based on his predecessor's storyline. Episode 2 was also slower than the already unhurried "Gone In The Teeth", which is the kind of obstacle casual viewers won't feel compelled to move past. It helps that I'm prepared for a slow-burn, aiming for episode 4 (a key turning point, I hear), but it's a pity Rubicon's probably losing viewers because there's a distinct lack of urgency.

It was Will's (James Badge Dale) first day as his team's leader, having achieved promotion through dead man's shoes, and he was immediately tasked by API boss Spangler (Michael Cristofer) to identify two men accompanying a Russian missile broker called Yuri Popovic in a photograph, given a tight 24-hour deadline to deliver results. Will's team was briefed about their high priority assignment, but Will was actually more distracted by the coded crossword puzzles he discovered before David's death, so got computer nerd Hal (Manish Dayal) to research the history of similar crossword-codes. Hal's findings being that numerous international newspapers printed identical crossword clues in 1983 -- shortly after the bombing of a marine barracks in Beirut, and a day before the attack's sponsor mysteriously disappeared. It seems more than likely the crosswords are a "go code" for revenge killings...

Will also found strange typewritten numbers in his predecessor David's office, which he brought to the attention of reclusive ex-analyst Ed Bancroft (Roger Robinson), who identified them as an old-school code he created (the numbers relating to pages, lines and letters of a particular book.) This prompted Will to pour through all of David's tomes until he used the road-food guidebook David gave him to crack the code: THEY HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT.

Everything's intentionally vague right now, of course, although I suspect the API itself is a secret society that manipulate world events. The only thing that has me unsure about that is the fact characters like Spangler and Kale (Arliss Howard) discuss the emergence of that crossword-code like it was something beyond their control, so perhaps there are rival groups in a long-standing power-struggle?

Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson) only featured briefly last week, but she was more prominent here, as the widow of the old man who committed suicide in Rubicon's opening scene. After attending the reading of her husband's Last Will & Testament, Katherine was astonished to discover he signed over his company to her days before his death, and has bequeathed her a New York townhouse she never knew existed. And, after snooping around inside the house, there are signs it was a place he frequented. Katherine assumes this was a love-nest where he had affairs with women behind her back, but is assured that's not the case by her husband's friend.

Anyway, I've fallen into the trap of just recounting what happened, as there's not much else to add beyond wild theories and speculation. I liked the twist that Maggie (Jessica Collins) is actually spying on Will's team for her boss Kale, although she's less truthful when it comes to snitching on Will himself. And there were plenty of mysterious strangers lurking around in this episode: a shadowy figure at Will's doorway, who moved away once Will had grabbed a baseball to protect himself; two figures watching Will on the API rooftop, through a telescope from an adjacent skyscraper; and when Will was followed down a street, narrowly avoiding getting hit by a taxi when he bent down top pick up his lucky rabbit's foot. Are these strangers tailing Will friends or enemies? I suspect friends, actually -- people keeping him safe from harm. One guarding his house? One nudging him into investigating David's death with the car parked in bay 13? One perhaps ensuring the taxi didn't hit its intended target? Then again, conspiracy-themed shows tend to make you as paranoid as the characters!

Overall, this was distinctly average fare, lacking the pervasive atmosphere of the pilot, but I'm prepared to invest some time in Rubicon. It's the kind of show that feels like there's a purpose behind everything happenings (no matter how trivial it may seem) because it's all been meticulously planned, which helps keep you watching -- dissecting the dialogue and body language for "clues", as they're more helpful than cryptic phrases like "THEY HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT", frankly. We don't really have enough to formulate workable theories yet, just random ideas and predictions about where a show like this could take things.

A quick reminder about the common sense rule governing Rubicon comments. The show aired last year in the US, so I'm sure many of you have seen it. If so, please don't drop spoilers, or hint too much about future developments. If you must comment, keep it very vague, or focused on events that have happened for those watching BBC4. Comments that spoil the fun will be deleted and, in some cases, those who left them will be blocked from posting here in future. Thank you.


  • Why was Tanya retching into a toilet? Is it a drink-related thing, as Maggie's reported to Kale, or perhaps morning sickness?
  • The four repeated crossword answers Will discovered are "Bicameral", "Fillmore", "Marsilea quadrifolia" and "Marshall" -- so are they four groups involved in world events, passing messages to each other?
  • It looked like Will was contemplating suicide on that rooftop in the opening scene. Is that a subtle nod that he's started down the same path as Tom Rhumor, who did eventually commit suicide? The two men watching him clearly wish he'd jump -- but why? What does he know, or is close to knowing?
  • If David knew the train was going to crash, why did he get on it? Another suicide, but in a way that left a breadcrumb of clues for his protégé Will to follow?
written by Henry Bromell (story by Jason Horwitch & Henry Bromell) / directed by Guy Ferland / 14 April 2011 / BBC Four