Rubicon: Sneak Preview Review

M: As we mentioned a few times last summer, the summer fare on TV is usually so poor that the bar is significantly lowered, and things that would otherwise seem pretty weak are perfectly acceptable and entertaining.  In preparation for that, yesterday E sent C and me an email with links to info on a few new summer shows that we might want to check out.  There was one that stood out to me as looking legitimately promising, AMC’s new code-breaking conspiracy show Rubicon.

Then last night, on the off day for Celtics-Lakers, and in a commercial break for Last Comic Standing, I flipped to On Demand (that’s how empty my DVR is right now), only to find that the first hour of the premier of Rubicon became available just that day for a sneak preview.  Apparently they aired it Sunday night, with relatively little fanfare, and have now made it available On Demand and online.  Needless to say, I had to check it out.  What follows is my best attempt at a spoiler-free, or at least minimally spoiler-infested, early review.  The full two hour premier will air on August 1st.

The term “Rubicon” comes from the days of of the Roman Republic, at the turning point in which it was to become the Roman Empire.  At the time Julius Caesar was an up and coming general, striking fear into the leadership in Rome because of his popularity, as well as his military and oratory skills.  He was commanded, because of this, to resign his post in what is now northern Italy.  He instead chose to take his army across the Rubicon River, a fairly random stream that it was forbidden in Roman law for generals to cross with a standing army.  This move launched a civil war that led to Caesar claiming power and creating the Roman Empire.  It was a truly defining moment in the history of western civilization, and since then the term “Crossing the Rubicon” has meant taking a decisive step and passing a point of no return.

The show Rubicon puts its main character, Will Travers, in position to make such a decision in his own life.  Travers, played by The Pacific‘s James Badge Dale, we find to be an immensely intelligent member of a government agency that dissects information looking for codes, connections, and patterns.  As we are introduced to him, we find that while he is brilliant and highly respected, he is tormented by the death of his wife and son in the attacks on 9-11.  Oh, and that he looks kind of like John McEnroe, only if Johnny Mac were to have become the director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History instead of a tennis player.

The episode starts with the beginnings of a mystery, as we see a mansion and a family, including Miranda Richardson, playing outside while the patriarch of the family, played by the venerable Harris Yulin, finds a four-leaf clover in his morning paper, and promptly kills himself.  From there we spin into the world of Will Travers, and a seemingly innocent newspaper crossword puzzle clue that a coworker can’t figure out.  That clue, the answer of which is the Latin for a four-leaf clover, turns out to be part of a pattern, and is found to appear in all the major newspapers, along with other answers that represent the three branches of the federal government.  The question that Will ponders is: what is the fourth leaf?

As we find out bits of information on the clues, and the office dynamic, we get introduced to the rest of the team, a mix of what in the first episode look to be simple but promising characters: the shy bookworm; the bossy, possibly chauvinist jerk; the new woman who lacks confidence; the stern, scary man who everyone’s afraid of; the female coworker who won’t let Will slide into depression or be a hermit; the kind but fair boss who’s as superstitious as the day is long.  The boss, David, played by Peter Gerety, also turns out to be Will’s father-in-law, who shares the lament of his lost daughter and grandson, but pushes Will to put it behind him.

David also shelters Will, who brought the crossword issue to him, when informing his superior that “someone was either careless, or didn’t care if it was found,” claiming that he found it himself and no one else knows about it.  That was a well done, subtle but ominous moment, and set up the rest of the episode, which I won’t get into so as not to spoil.  Suffice to say, people were not happy that the pattern was found, there were consequences, and Will was put in a situation, like Caesar, where he had to choose if he would take the safe path knowing it was probably the wise choice, or if he would plunge forward, cross the Rubicon, and set into action events that will create shock waves in his life, and send ripples far and wide.

All in all, I thought the episode was very well done.  The look and feel of it was very muted, with grey tones and a lack of direct sunlight that helped set the somber and serious mood for the show.  It maintained a deliberate pace, not allowing details to come out too quickly, and built tension as information was discovered.  In the end, it led to Will making a decision where the audience knows what he will decide, but it built to it in a way that made us wonder if he would actually make it, and if he should make it.  As I’ve said before, when you know exactly what’s coming, and are still entertained by how they get there, then the show did a good job. Rubicon did just that…  a good job.  It whet my appetite, and I look forward to August when it starts up for real.

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3 comments on “Rubicon: Sneak Preview Review

  1. Mike D says:

    this one is on my radar. i was planning to watch it online and see if it was worth picking up in August. i see the previews for it watching Breaking Bad. nice review. now i’ll definitely check it out.

  2. E says:

    Ooooh, here I was thinking I’d have to wait two months! I’m going to see if I can find it online now. Thanks, bro!

  3. Daniel says:

    The only convincing pilot I’ve seen so far this season. And a well-written review indeed. I’m going to point my friends here if they won’t take my word for it that this is one pilot they’re going to have to watch.

    If they manage to sustain the mystery and intrigue, and don’t make too many concessions to genre clichés, I could easily see this becoming the next X-Files. At the very least, it is a desperately needed replacement for the lacking gap of mystery that the end of LOST left behind in the TV landscape.

    Tell everyone. This is a show that needs, and deserves, every viewer willing to put in the effort of actually watching and thinking about a show anymore (LOST audience should be a good starting point, incidentally). It might be a hard but necessary change after the genre has been diluted by shows like 24 or Fringe that are as inconsequential as they are shallow.

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