'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.