Well, that was…disappointing.
While “Rubicon” made great strides as the season progressed, particularly in creating some interesting characters inside the shadowy, moody world of API, my greatest concern was that all of these pieces we were fed from episode 1 wouldn’t quite…jell. I was afraid the tapestry of the broader conspiracy story, an infrastructure that had to be hastily reshuffled after series creator Jason Horwitch was booted after the pilot, wouldn’t support the weeks of careful revelation we invested to get us here.
And unfortunately, I think that’s what happened.
“You Can Never Win” doesn’t pull all the elements of season 1 together. Even working under the assumption that more will be revealed in season 2 (a promise that AMC may not let the ratings-challenged show keep), this was a decidedly lackluster, even ambiguous way to wrap up the maiden season. While it was appropriately shadowy and somber, the season 1 finale left way too much unresolved. I’ll come back for season 2 because I enjoy the characters and the life inside API – but the conspiracy itself? You lost me, guys.
Spangler tells Will that the API-Atlas McDowell conspiracy goes far deeper than him – and while I’m sure that’s true, that’s really just tapdancing at this point. Sure, we found out that Spangler’s plan is supposed to ultimately lead to a coffer-fattening conflict with Iran, but if he’s not pulling the strings here, then who is?
The four-leaf clover seems to indicate that Spangler has been overruled by his own Legion of Doom and won’t be long for the world. As the apparent leader of his cabal, I would expect Spangler to push back against that ruling, possibly setting up an API vs. the shadow government faceoff next season.
But for all the death and distrust – hell, Spangler tried to have Will killed, for God’s sakes – what’s the big end result so far? Will’s gonna write a report and then, man, won’t Spangler be in trouble then? We just spent 13 hours watching Will stumble through the Atlas McDowell labyrinth so he could write a report? Really? REALLY?
Yes, Kale councils for a sound tactical retreat, ensuring Will lives to fight Spangler and his dirty deeds another day (and as one of the most compelling characters on the show along with Spangler, Kale was way too removed from the action during this finale). But with everything Spangler and Will know about each other, I completely don’t buy that either would go for maintaining the status quo.
Oh, I forgot, Will got demoted. Yeah, those are adequate stakes to suffer when you uncover a U.S. shadow government manipulating world events. It’s a good thing Will didn’t find out about the men manipulating Spangler. Otherwise, I’m sure there would be a strongly-worded letter of reprimand put in his file by API Human Resources.
Part of the problem here is one of the innate flaws of “Rubicon” so far – if Will Travers is so smart, why does he constantly keep making dumb mistakes? He knows Spangler is monitoring his every move, so why is he putting Katherine Rhumor’s life in danger with his careless meetings and communications? Will’s working with a life-long spook in Kale…couldn’t he have deferred to his expertise at least once in a while to help keep Katherine from receiving a Roy injection?
And at the end of the day, we sure wasted a lot of time this season on Katherine, a character who ultimately plays little part in unraveling the whole conspiracy. Yes, she did provide Will with some valuable clues to help unlock the puzzle, but did it justify how much time we spent following her all season? Did it even justify the strength of casting an actress like Miranda Richardson? I’d say not even close.
Speaking of women, the revelation that Andy was part of the conspiracy was another disappointment. Sure, they’ve been telegraphing that she played a larger role in this whole story as far back as the crossword puzzle on her coffee table in “No Honesty in Men.” But she was far more interesting a character as a clueless civilian drawn into Will’s web by chance than as just another “honey trap.”
Now that we know she was planted there, no explanation really works. Was she put across the street to hopefully entice Will someday, even though she made no overt attempt to contact him before he approached her. If she’s supposed to be protecting Will, the same logic applies. Yes, the Andy situation can probably all be worked out in a hypothetical season 2, but I had a lot more interest in Andy outside the spy game than the accomplished field agent she appears to be.
“You Never Can Win” proves once again that in the espionage-conspiracy genre, it’s not about the set-up – it’s all about where it leads. And “Rubicon” dropped the ball at the goal line.
I like API. I like Will (the workplace Will, not the one who does idiotic stuff outside the office). I like Grant and Miles and Tanya. I like the unusual position Maggie holds (and we never did quite get to the bottom of her relationship with Kale, did we?). I like the sense of pressure that’s constantly pushing all the analysts at API. I not only like, I love Kale Ingram and Truxton Spangler (even though I guess he really is the uber-bad guy he seemed to be from the beginning).
Despite my severe disappointment with the finale, I’d be sad to see “Rubicon” finish here. I this is a show that awkwardly found its footing after Horwitch’s departure and gradually rounded itself into an intriguing program. It’s almost too bad they had to deal with all that world-shaking conspiracy stuff all season long. The personal workplace dramas of “Rubicon” were far more satisfying than its core mystery.
NOTE: Thanks for all the visits and kind words about the site this season, folks. As a programming note, while we won’t have “Mad Men” or “Rubicon” to dissect anymore, I’m planning to start doing weekly “Walking Dead” deconstructions following the Oct. 31 premiere on AMC. Who knows if it’ll be on par with “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad,” but considering the attention-grabbing pedigree (Robert Kirkman’s amazing comic series and director Frank Durabont), I’m definitely jazzed for it. Hopefully, I’ll see you back here after episode 1.