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'Rubicon' Finale Review: Up on the Roof (VIDEO)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 17th 2010 10:00PM


['Rubicon' - 'You Never Can Win']

"Intelligence is largely a failure business." --Kale Ingram.

It's usually a TV show's job -- really, any story's job -- to get us to care about the characters' predicaments.

During the course of its first season, 'Rubicon' did with thoughtful, intelligent flair. After a muddled beginning, this drama found its hushed voice and its graceful stride, and by the end of last week's episode, when Will collapsed after he and his team failed to find Kateb in time, we cared.

We cared about the fact that Will had tried so hard and had, for a variety of reasons (many of them outside of his control), failed to solve the puzzle in time. It was heartbreaking that the one thing that had sustained this grief-stricken, lonely man -- his job -- had been the source of so much dread, anxiety and pain for him.

The big Kateb/conspiracy story mostly wrapped up last week, but we certainly cared about what Will would do with the information he had: Truxton Spangler and his associates, using Mr. Bloom as a go-between, arranged for a terrorist act that would affect the world's oil market and perhaps start a profitable war with Iran. Spangler and his associates were able to do this thanks to the efforts of the unsuspecting and hardworking analysts at API.

Will finally confronts Truxton with what he knows, and the response Will got was similar to what we got as viewers -- a Truxton-esque shrug of the shoulders. "Pfffft" was pretty much the resolution we got.

Sorry, but I'm not buying what 'Rubicon' was selling in that final episode. You may call the ending ambiguous, and of course, ambiguity is one of the show's trademarks. Still, I'm not buying it. This ending was simply vague, as if the entire point was to leave open all options for a possible second season. But I'm with Truxton on this one: You have to make a choice.

I didn't expect everything to be tidily resolved and wrapped up in a thorough white paper. I get that that's not what this show does. But this ending was simply unsatisfying. Certainly, I understand that life is messy and that powerful people get away with bad things all the time. But this is a fictional story, one that put a lot of storytelling machinery into motion and gave us great characters whose fates we were invested in. Personally, I think we deserved something more concrete than the "Pffft" than we got.

I get the impression that we're just supposed to take the Kale Ingram view of things -- that in the shadowy world of intelligence, operations go wrong more often than they go right. The Kale philosophy is, take this one for the team and then come back and hit the bad guys another time, in another way, and you might just win.

I love me some Kale Ingram wisdom, but Will isn't that clinical, and Will is our entry point to the show. And we really don't know what he did next. That's especially annoying given 'Rubicon's' low ratings -- a second season is by no means a sure thing.

Will Truxton have to kill himself before his cabal colleagues have him killed? Will will continue working at API or in the intelligence field at all? Will he just have to live with what Truxton's gotten away with, as Kale is apparently willing to do? I have no idea. 'Rubicon' not only didn't resolve those questions, it didn't give me a sense of how the show would work next season, given all the possible changes at API. And if there is an ongoing arc next season, I'm not sure it would have a satisfying payoff.

See, that's the thing: I wanted a payoff. After moving the story into a very elaborate endgame, I expected more of a payoff. That's really the fun part of being told a story -- being told how the book or the chapter ends. This story, however, didn't end so much as trail off. I guess I should have been forewarned by the finale's title: 'You Never Can Win.'

You can probably tell that I was annoyed by this finale, and that's because I was so invested in the show. The storytellers, directors and actors did a terrific job of making me care about 'Rubicon.' And that investment extended to a core belief shared by Will and his colleagues -- that answers matter. Sure, quite often the API team was stymied in their search for answers and resolution, and they understand that that's part of the deal.

But the fact that they don't always get answers doesn't indicate that answers don't matter. In fact, it makes it more meaningful to them (and, by extension, us) when they do uncover the truth.

So the question is, do I want another season of 'Rubicon'? Overall, I enjoyed the first season so much that I think I do, but the risk of telling high-stakes skulduggery stories is that you run into the Mulder problem: Why wouldn't the most powerful people at the heart of the conspiracy simply have Will killed (i.e., finish the job Bloom attempted)? It starts to stretch credibility when the hero of a conspiracy story just lingers too long.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not doing what some 'Lost' fans did and deciding to retroactively dislike a show based on whether the finale worked for me or not. I don't think that's fair. I just think that the kinds of stories 'Rubicon' tells makes it dangerous to stretch things out, and if the show is going to attempt to tell some bigger stories, it should give them the kind of emphasis they deserve, not just let them fizzle.

In any event, executive producer Henry Bromell said in this interview that the show would have a more case-of-the-week approach in a hypothetical second season.

So how would that work? Will Tanya still be gone? Is Miles still going to seem as broken and afraid as he did in his finale scenes? Will Grant and his bouffant hairdo still be in charge of the team? What'll Will be up to and how does Kale fit in -- will he still be putting out fires and making both his bosses and his underlings kind of nervous? Will Truxton still be around and how could Will justify working for him? Or will Truxton's colleagues have taken care of him? Did Truxton's attempt to begin a war with Iran actually succeed? I mean, jeebus, I really would have liked an answer to that last question!

But we're supposed to presume things, I guess. We're supposed to presume that Truxton was taken out of the picture in some way, and that Will put the kibosh on an "Iran did it" report. I guess? But we have no proof that any of that actually happened. Will wanted proof that a particular story line was true; he wanted things to be air tight. I guess viewers aren't expected to want that too.

We did get a few resolutions. We found out that Will's artist neighbor was really an operative working for Katherine's husband. We found that Rhumor was working with David Hadas, and finally Katherine Rhumor was killed off (an event that could have happened a few episodes ago and it wouldn't have made much difference to the overall story). Eh. Those aren't dangling threads I cared about all that much, truth be told.

I know the kind of comments that will roll in after I post this piece: "Duh, you were supposed to assume that, since Truxton got the four-leaf clover, he'll be dead soon! Duh, Will's report will obviously prevent the Iran war! Don't you understand that [X, Y and Z] were obvious?"

This is just my two cents here. Maybe I'm just literal-minded. I want an answer to the question of "What happened to Truxton?" I want to know what Will did next and who ended up in charge of API if Truxton was gone.

I could have lived with some vagueness. Not this much. The episode as a whole was, to me, hobbled by a certain tentativeness, an unwillingness to make specific choices. Maybe 'Rubicon' would have been better as a close-ended miniseries, one that didn't have to preserve any options or cater to the possibilities of a second season. Or maybe the 'Rubicon' powers that be and I just have a differing idea about what constitutes a satisfying ending.

I get that life itself is vague and hard to pin down sometimes. I understand that the world of intelligence is filled with grey areas and ambiguous options. But this 'Rubicon' isn't real life, it isn't a documentary. It's a fictional story. And I get an extra dose of gratification when the endings of stories are shaped and molded in ways that makes me glad that I paid attention all the way through.

All in all, I wanted more answers.

Maybe I should look in tomorrow's crossword puzzle.

FYI: My previous (and more enthusiastic) 'Rubicon' posts are here, here, here and here. Todd Van Der Werff has a good interview with Bromell here.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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dave

i got the impression that the artist neighbor was there working for david, not katherine's husband. is it actually clear whom she was working for. my inference was drawn from the fact that it seemed to be david who had set up the video shoot and was using katherine as part of his effort to communicate with will - katherine's husband presumably didn't care too much about will at this point.

i didn't have big issue with this ending assuming there's a second season - a big assumption. to me it's lack of closure fits with the next-to-last episode's plot of the failure to stop the harbor bombing. but that's just my opinion.

October 22 2010 at 3:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
petersig

I second The Hoobie's review of the Rubicon Finale. It works well in solving the conspiracy we thought we had been watching unfold, while setting up for a new season. An interview with Michael Cristofer on Movie|Line reveals that Broomall, in writing the finale, wrote and filmed four versions of some scenes. Even the actors didn't know exactly what the ending would be. In one of them, apparently, Truxton Spangler reveals it was all a plot to end dependence on foreign oil. May it will be on the DVD.

Was there a more definitive ending? Cristofer seemed to think so. This semi-definitive ending is a good one if there's a season 2, not so good for a series ending.

On one point you made here,

"But this is a fictional story, one that put a
lot of storytelling machinery into motion and
gave us great characters whose fates we were
invested in. Personally, I think we deserved
something more concrete than the "Pffft" than
we got."

I felt the ending had both real and reel truth.

In real life, the Downing Street Memo(s) [DSM] of July 2002 was clear that Bush, Cheney, et. al. planned on having intelligence that supported war with Iraq. The DSM didn't see the light until 2005, after war had started. Then the news pretty much went "pfft". Truxton Spangler knew whereof he spoke, when he said:
"If you really think anyone is gonna give a shit, go ahead. Knock em dead. . . . Do it! Do it!" (i.e. publish the conspiracy) when confronted with the evidence of cooking intelligence about an arranged event in order to get us into war with Iran. That is NOT the far fetched off-beat challenge you seem to say.

Later, the uproar over the outing by VP Dick Cheney of CIA agent/desk worker Valerie Plame revealed more about "cooked" intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that had led us into the war with Iraq.

Also, Cheney, as it turned out, had a separate, more unaccountable, intelligence branch of his own, run out of the Vice President's office by his Chief of Staff.

This is all public record. Now, no one gives a shit, as Spangler said. Even then, outside Official Washington, few cared. A show like RUBICON reminds us that we *do* care, but doesn't tell us what to do about it -- provides some alternate approaches.

Otherwise, though, much thanks for your many posts on the interest and craft of Rubicon, and pleas for AMC to renew Rubicon -- as well as listing the @SaveRubicon Twitter feed at the end of at least one post.

NOTES:

http://bit.ly/5GggBM Main page for Downing Street Memos, plus the version with rubrics.
http://bit.ly/daLNGq Annotated Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002.
http://bit.ly/b65eKC Brief objective description of Bush administration outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative/administrator.

October 20 2010 at 3:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rustberg

Maureen--
Thanks for such an excellent review of the final season episode of Rubicon. From the many amazing comments above, most of us agreed with you that it was a letdown. I think it was primarily a problem of structural pacing rather than any single plot device. This show has been one long slow burn-until Will shoots Donald Bloom, his assigned executioner. From that amazing moment, the pacing accelerated furiously to the news of the terrorist attack.I think we all expected (hoped) for that pacing to climax in the final episode. That was the payback we expected after an entire season of teasing. Instead, we got a final episode scaled back to a slower pace with a story that opened more threads instead of tying up the old ones. I think it was fascinating to have Will's responses to his mystery breakthroughs be such a mixture of genius and idiocy. But putting the brakes on the pace just refuted the whole promise of the season, hence the letdown.

This is such an intelligently written series and the characters of Ingram and Spengler are unique and tantalizing. It's such a drag that the direction, cutting, and pacing hover closer to the world of soap opera than dramatic art.

October 20 2010 at 3:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The Hoobie

I was surprised to find that so many critics were really disappointed in this episode. I guess I must have gone into the finale with different/lower/fewer expectations. I don't think it was the strongest episode of the season, but I was still fine with it.

I'm glad they *didn't* try to tie up all (or even many) of the plot threads---I actually can't fathom how they COULD have shown many satisfactory endings to these intricate plots in 45-odd minutes. And wrapping everything up that way would have been contrary to the things about the show I love---its ambiguity, its thoughtful pace, its minor-chord mood.

It also would have deprived us of the show's greatest strength---its fantastic character beats. My heart *ached* along with Miles and Will in this episode, I was thrilled to see Grant be such a mensch while staying true to his bureaucratic soul, and Kale and Spangler had great moments and observations, as always.

I don't know if there would have been time for those moments in the busy-er episode other people seem to have craved. This was an episode that showed people regrouping and matters pending. I'm fine with that, and I think there was good tension in that as well.

Along with the reviewer at Movieline (http://www.movieline.com/2010/10/5-reasons-amc-has-to-renew-rubicon.php), whose review I heartily second, I'm hoping that this episode was a table-setter for a season 2. All the negatives that Mo seemed to see in this episode, I see as great possibilities for season 2. Even the regroupings at API: Will Spangler "let" Tanya leave? How will Miles handle his new knowledge? What will Grant be like as a boss?!

Another reason that I'm looking forward to a season 2 and still DEARLY want one is to see what Henry Bromell and his fantastic cast and writers can do with a full season that they control from start to finish. I also wonder if this episode might have been better received if we all KNEW that there will be a season 2.

If you're with me and still want a season 2, follow me @SaveRubicon on Twitter.

October 19 2010 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ben Phelps

Mo, just curious -- why the "review" designation for this one, but "recap" for most other shows?

October 19 2010 at 12:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MICHAEL AH

Totally aggravated with this last show. Loved it 'till then. Most likely will not follow it if there is another season. Screw me once, my bad...Screw me twice..not going to happen.

October 18 2010 at 6:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to MICHAEL AH's comment
GerryofNorVA

Yep, I agree, this show had the look and feel of a short-season mini-series. It's too slow-paced and drawn out to continue as a multi-season effort. These producers have to understand that we've been burned by the X-Files, LOST, and FlashForward and we're not going to tolerate these shenanigans any longer.

October 19 2010 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom Burka

I agree. The "payoff" was so anemic that it hardly mattered. I knew Rubicon was tanking when they mistakenly posted the same plot summary for episodes 10 and 11 and episode 11, when I watched it, actually matched the description of the prior episode -- the plot moved so slowly that virtually nothing had happened.

I was also disappointed (and unsatisfied by) the final pieces of the puzzle which supposedly wrapped it all up for Will and gave him the "evidence" he needed to write his report. I didn't buy it either as exercise in puzzle solving or as a satisfactory and believable piece of evidence that tied Spengler to his crimes. (The crosswords in the first couple episodes were more enjoyable as a plot device, as a mystery, as a piece of investigative work.)

This just went nowhere, and the plot, instead of advancing, actually went backward.

What's amazing is that, acc. to Michael Cristofer, they wrote four or more drafts of the final episode with a different outcome for Spengler in each one -- and this is what they opted for?

They should cancel it. They're going to lose viewers for a second season (I for one will not watch it) and pick up no new ones. You have to earn a second season and they didn't.

Great acting, interesting characters. Too bad.

October 20 2010 at 8:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
michael

One of the major themes of Rubicon was the life of the intelligence analyst was full of uncertainty. Is this the guy? Is the guy a bad guy? If we think this is the guy and we think he is a bad guy and we know he will be at point A at this date do we bomb point A killing him and innocent bystanders. Then once you decide, you rarely know what happened or if you were right.

This show wanted the viewer to experience what real intelligence analysts experiences every day. I can not think of a better ending. This is not Covert Affairs.

October 18 2010 at 3:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Benjy

I've loved Rubicon since Day 1. The show has never skipped a beat for me. Of course, I also love all of those moody character driven 1970s conspiracy movies where the hero doesn't always necessarily come out on top at the end.

Thoughts about last night --

* As Spangler indicated, there is a much bigger motivation as to why seven lifelong friends band together to control world events and make profit from them. That alone is reason enough for a second season. I seriously hope the writers have already thought through the nature of this motivation from day one and can provide us with a real humdinger for season two.

* Spangler gets the death clover: Will he or won't he now shoot himself in the head? If he does, then Kael becomes the new head of API. I don't know what scares me more: Spangler as the head of API or Ingram as the head of API. Maybe the cabal will try to recruit Ingram since they still need API's intelligence. Maybe that was even Kael's plan all along.

* I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at an early meeting of the cabal ("So, if you happen to get a four leaf clover accompanied by some flowers, you'll know that we've disowned you and you have 24 hours to commit suicide."). What kind of messed up friends come up with stuff like this?

* I never saw the Andy thing coming at all! Hopefully, we haven't seen the last of Andy.

* Clay Davis from "The Wire" strikes again! RIP, Katherine!

* I'm pissed about one thing: Katherine lost her life to get Will the DVD, he knew what it was she was trying to pass to him, and we're left wondering if he did or didn't take it???? Even if Will was in shock over her death, he still should have taken the damn DVD when he fled the scene. If Rhumor and Hadas were both on the disc, it could have provided Will with the so-called "motive" he so desperately needed. Hopefully, we haven't seen the last of this DVD!

* Grant(from the very start of the series) was an asshole. He always felt he should be the team leader, and he's too willing to never question whatever blind alley his superiors lead him down. It will be interesting to see how Will navigates around the challenge of Grant next season.

* It will also be interesting to see how ever-sensitive Miles will deal with the knowledge that the information he's been providing has been put to use to influence world eventsin a sinister manner. Will he join Will's crusade to bring down the cabal? At least Will is not alone in his knowledge anymore.

Overall, a solid episode. I really hope that, unlike what Spangler says, somebody actually does "give a s**t" about Will's report. I don't know what this will mean for the cabal though. Maybe there's something higher than the cabal?

AMC... we need a second season! Please fast track that! If Showtime can keep "Brotherhood" on for three seasons, you should be able to keep "Rubicon" on for at least that long too.

October 18 2010 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim

I don't think I've ever been satisfied with a season (or series) finale unless it's a show I don't like.

I like the characters and care enough to come back every week. I was left wanting more, which is all I ask from a finale.

Everyone who received a 4-leaf clover either killed himself or was taken out. I think Truxton had more on his mind than being found out by Will, which explains his ambivalence. In fact, given the fact that he had just been ousted from the group, Truxton may have been amused to find out their plans might be exposed.

What remains to be seen is if Truxton decides to off himself (I doubt it) or can find a way to stay alive to maybe pop up somewhere else down the line.

I was disappointed that Will didn't get to see Kathryn's dvd. It seemed like a lot of setup only to have Will run away from the scene with Kathryn holding the dvd in her hand and then no further mention of it.

I hope they don't turn Rubicon into a mystery of the week. I enjoy longer, more complicated plot lines. There are lots of areas to explore. And there will be another season... right AMC?

October 18 2010 at 1:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chrissy

I think I disagree with this:

"In fact, it makes it more meaningful to them (and, by extension, us) when they do uncover the truth. "

We saw the futility of answers in this episode - they got answers but Kateb still bombed the tanker, war was still provoked (I'm also not with you on assuming that either Truxton dies or Will succeeds in getting the story told). If there's a point, it's that the machine keeps rolling. Will's search and Kathryn's death were for nothing, as he feared.

I wouldn't say I was satisfied, but I thought the story ended respectably and well within the parameters that were set out. It's just not a story that's going to have a satisfying ending, because the ending is: they got away with it. Perhaps, down the line, Kale or Will or Miles is able to achieve some small victory. Let's say Atlas McDowell is even brought down. Another group would just take their place, another cabal of powerful men who can look at AM's mistakes and not make them. There isn't an end, as long as greed exists.

October 18 2010 at 12:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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