Rubicon wraps up its first season tonight, doomed to be overshadowed by the season finale of its AMC neighbor, Mad Men. Which is too bad, because Rubicon became, after a meandering start, a crackerjack thriller.
Last week’s terrorist attack on an oil tanker in Galveston Bay, Texas, was one of those just-this-shy-of-doomsday scenarios that Will Travers and his API team were created to prevent in advance. But failure is one of Rubicon‘s greatest attractions — few shows seeking to establish audience loyalty would permit its central characters to botch the season-long assignment, lest viewers get turned off by them as losers, yet fans I talk to appreciate this risky novelty, combined with how much we’ve come to love hunkering down in gloomy rooms with these data analysts — Will, Grant, Miles, and Tanya — each neurotic in his or her own way. Rubicon understands that there are certain TV-watchers who enjoy seeing slightly heightened versions of themselves as overworked drones. (Of course, most Americans want to escape that very thing; that’s why millions more folks watch the cartoon antics of Desperate Housewives during the same time-period.)
Rubicon fans know that the terrorist here, the until-recently-mysterious Kateb, has proven to be an all-American Muslim convert, Joseph Purcell. One with great taste in music, listening to the Allman Brothers version of “Whipping Post” to psych himself up to do bad things.
And Rubicon fans know that Will is headed for some kind of showdown with Truxton Spangler, given last week’s Spangler comment, “He’ll be handled.” (Or rather, given Michael Cristofer’s wonderfully strangled line-readings, “Heeeel be hennndlled!”)
And having seen the finale, I will tell you these things, not in a spoilery way, but as an incentive to tune in:
• Someone gets promoted; someone gets demoted.
• Annie Parisse’s Andy: revelation time!
• You will, along with Miranda Richardson’s Katherine, learn the significance of Meet Me in St. Louis that her late husband Thomas wanted her to know. (No Judy Garland musical has carried the weight of more suspense since as children we sat at the edge of our seats hoping Dorothy Gale would be able to click her red slippers and return to Kansas in The Wizard of Oz.)
• You will see more four-leaf clovers in the finale — they are, of course, this show’s equivalent of the Godfather severed horse head.
The finale, written and directed by the series’ show-runner, Henry Bromell, nods vigorously toward the movies that Bromell has cited in interviews as influences, such as The Conversation and The Parallax View. Which is to say, it’s satisfyingly downbeat, agony for its characters while being a pleasure for its fans. If I was a wee bit disappointed in just how muted Bromell was willing to allow the conclusion to become, I have since realized that I’ve been thinking a lot about that ending. It’s haunting. It also allows you to see how the series can proceed into an engrossing second season.
But will there be one? Rubicon has developed an increasingly enthusiastic cult. I hope AMC recognizes that it has a show that’s growing in audience interest, and that James Badge Dale deserves another opportunity to deploy his curly hair and charismatic gloom as Will Travers.
Will you be watching Rubicon? Would you like to see a second season of it?