Rubicon eps 4-13

It’s taken me nearly 4 months, and a great deal of willpower, but, as of this morning, I have finally watched the rest of Rubicon.

I paused at the end of episode 3 – we had other things to watch, and, whatever Rubicon was, it was never urgent – but started watching again a few weeks ago in the fallow period, determined to finish the job and finish the story. After all, I wanted to know what the 4-leaf clover was about, what Atlas McDowell was, who the crossword puzzle was a signal for, why so many of the male characters had such strange names….

So, over the past couple of weeks, I soldiered on through what felt like endless episode after episode of atmosphere and ambience, accidentally wiping episode 11 before I had the chance to see it (no matter), growing more and more frustrated at the pace of the show, but more and more insistent on seeing it through. There was a good story in there, dammit. There were characters in there I cared about. Bathed in golden, 70’s light, gazing at a stylish hybrid of modern and retro sets, and drowning slowly in a narrative half as fast as it should have been (I watched several wordless, lengthy scenes at double-speed – they worked better); I wanted to know what happened in the end.

Did I find out the answers? Some of them. To my satisfaction? No. The body count was high, the resolution factor low, and while we found out who was behind the main plot, the climactic showdown just left me going “Yes, but then what?!?!” I sat through hours of this, fighting ennui and the urge to give up at the beginning of every 48 minute instalment, to be left with a “then what”?

My own fault, of course. With a show cancelled after one season, you take the risk it won’t all wrap up nicely, and there were some rewards along the way. This was clever, dense and ambitious tv, and I applaud them for giving it a go. But, ultimately, it was also a disappointment. Over on the Torchwood thread, unpopculter Tim has pointed out that Miracle Day might have worked much better as a 5 part series. Rubicon too – it could have been a crisp, exciting and edgy 5-part paranoia classic. Instead, it was a missed opportunity. A beautifully lit, well-acted, and intriguingly plotted one, but a missed opportunity nonetheless.

Rubicon ep 3

Or “the one in which they decided to soap things up a bit”.

Maggie got a deadbeat ex, Miles tried really hard to avoid becoming a deadbeat ex, and David was remembered as not quite a deadbeat ex, but not exactly father or husband of the year either.  Does that mean this type of all-consuming, top-secret, super-important work isn’t conducive to a healthy family life? You shock me, show.

Well, not really.  But you do disappoint me a bit.  I’ve seen these soap opera tropes too many times to count, and they added absolutely nothing to the programme, except running time.  Ditto the dull and slow scenes of Katherine slowly wandering around, slowly not finding anything out.  Slowly.  Yawn.

Despite all this time-wasting, though, I still enjoyed this.  Again.  The odd Grant joke aside, most of the real entertainment was to be found in the secrets of the Norton, the continuing (and totally useless) attempts at covert surveillance by all the clods following Will around, and, of course the cracking of David’s code.  It would have been even more impressive had I actually understood the solution to the code – I mean, EH? – but never mind, it was still good.  So, for the third episode in a row, I can exclusively report: Rubicon was slow, but I really liked it.  I’m sensing a pattern here so I don’t think I’ll be reviewing it regularly from now on.  I’ll still be watching though.  (Slowly.)

Rubicon ep 2

This week, Will struggled in his new role as boss, Katherine explored her husband’s secret townhouse and we found out a bit more about Maggie. Oh yeah, and a bunch of weird guys started following Will around in the most obvious fashion possible.  I thought these guys were supposed to be super spies?

Anyway, all this went on at the same stupendously slow pace as last week’s episode.  But again, like last week’s, apart from a few moments, it was still oddly compelling, probably thanks to the excellently creepy music giving the whole thing an atmosphere of real eerieness and unease.  I found myself unnerved throughout.

Rubicon ep 1

I can see why Rubicon never really built up a big audience, but I really liked it.

It did start off poorly, with an opening sequence as desperate to shock as it was cliched.  And our introduction to our hero, Will, intelligence analyst extraordinaire, was fairly clunky as well.  He’s not just bright, he can not only do all the cryptic crosswords of the day, but he can translate the answers into Latin for you, find the secret puzzle buried in them, and give you as many random facts about anything as you fancy.  Basically, he’s a walking computer who, as my friend put it, “sees the connections no one else can see” – do you SEE?

He also has a Non-Secret Pain – revealed very early on in the ep – so he won’t celebrate his birthday with the pretty colleague who soooo likes him, and he looks like a cross between a mad scientist and a young John McEnroe, but I don’t think any of that is strictly relevant to the plot.  At the moment. 

Anyway, once we’d got the intros out the way, super-brain Will found A CONNECTION NO ONE ELSE COULD SEE in the crosswords, the intrigue began; the quiet, slow-burning, brow-furrowing, proper intrigue.  Rubicon is one of those really good, old-fashioned, twisty conspiracy thrillers that take their time getting anywhere, the sort they used to make before everything went all 24ish and everyone had to run around blowing stuff up and shouting and waving guns about all the time, instead of thinking and frowning as shadowy persons hang about in dark corners plotting and covering things up.  There’s a lot of thinking and frowning in this, and it’s all done in as few words as possible.  With a greyish colour palette and a bunch of shadowy persons too.  All traditional spy thriller motifs present and correct then – hurrah!  I love all that business.  But, like I said, I can see why it didn’t build up a big audience; it’s slow, downbeat and resolutely retro.  Worked for me, though.

Public Service Announcement 15 of 2011: Rubicon, Parenthood, The Kennedys, The Crimson Petal and the White

Three more American imports to consider, all starting this Thursday, 7 April, and, therefore, showing on the same night as The Good Wife, Brothers and Sisters, The Big C, House, Chuck, and 30 Rock. Memo to schedulers: Tuesday’s a bit quiet just now. Why not put something on then?

Anyway, AMC’s conspiracy drama Rubicon finally hits British screens for the first episode of what turned out to be its only, 13-episode season. It seems to be about an intelligence analyst who comes across a mysterious secret organisation which is manipulating American and world affairs. Expect some slow-paced but intriguing drama drawing heavily on the influence of 70s movies like The Parallax View. A decent critical reception wasn’t enough to save it, but I think it might be worth a go. CJ’s on reviewing duties. (10pm, BBC 4)

Parenthood, meantime, is a bit more mainstream: an NBC family dramedy with the familiar but always welcome Peter Krause (Six Feet Under, Dirty Sexy Money, Sports Night) and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) as brother and sister Adam and Sarah Braverman. (For those, like CJ and me, who are interested in these things, Krause and Graham are presently in a relationship IN REAL LIFE!!!!!111!!!, the impact of which is somewhat dulled by the fact that they’re not in a relationship on Parenthood. But still.) There’s pedigree in the backroom as well, with the familiar team of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, plus Thomas Schlamme of The West Wing et al, and Friday Night Lights’s Jason Katims, all exec producing; Katims is showrunner. Its first 13 episode season did well enough to secure renewal for a 22 episode second season, and although a third hasn’t been confirmed yet it’s looking like a good bet. I don’t know if this will merit weekly reviews, but I’ll be reporting back on the first at least. (10pm, 5*)

The History Channel has the controversial miniseries The Kennedys, with Greg Kinnear as Jack, Barry Pepper as Bobby, and the underrated Katie Holmes as Jackie. It’s only just been broadcast in the US to a generally lukewarm reception. We’re not anticipating reviewing it here, but if anyone does watch let us know what it’s like. (9pm, History)

And finally back with the homegrown stuff: the BBC’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s Victorian-era-set novel ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ starts this Wednesday. Oddly enough it was once recommended to Lauren Graham’s character in an episode of Gilmore Girls. One of us might be watching, although probably not me because it’s on at the same time as the Champions League. (9pm, BBC 2)