Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Crossing (Out) the Rubicon

Rubicon was an odd little show. For the bulk of the series, virtually nothing happened - at least, "nothing" by the standards of modern film and television storytelling. The atmosphere was moody and unsettling, the pace glacial, the characters restrained, even ordinary, the plot Byzantine. There's little humour.

I loved it. Of course it couldn't last.

Rubicon was about a small group of intelligence analysts fighting the war on terror. They worked for the American Policy Institute (API), a nondescript little agency in a nondescript brick building hidden away in the labyrinthine urban maze of New York City. Protagonist Will Travers was a cool, distant hero-in-mourning, still suppressing all emotion since the loss of his family on 9/11. As the show opens, Will loses his mentor to a shadowy cabal of mysterious manipulators, including Inspector Sledge Hammer - or should I say, David Rasche, in a more serious role than his most famous. Determined to find out why his friend was killed, Will starts looking behind the scenes at API and slowly uncovers a grand conspiracy that threatens the security - and perhaps even the very existence - of the United States. Like its historical namesake, this was a series about an existential threat to democracy, a country's leadership prepared to cross the Rubicon in the pursuit of wealth and power.

Unlike most other espionage shows, there was very little violence in Rubicon; only three people died onscreen, over the course of the show's single thirteen-episode season. Suspense built slowly as Will and his team slowly unravelled the threads of conspiracy, culminating in a final trio of episodes that rewarded the faithful few who stuck around to watch the entire series.

Rubicon was, in other words, smart television. Or at the very least, it aimed higher than most TV dares these days. But viewership wasn't high enough to justify a second season, and so the series ended just as it began - with ambiguity, uncertainty, and a sense of building unease. There was enough resolution to satisfy those who followed the show, but it's still disappointing that we won't see Will and the others take the next steps toward (or rather, away from, given the show's premise) the Rubicon.


Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

It's always sad when a good show goes down early like that, but which is the crueler fate: being cancelled outright, or having a new producer re-tool the show with an action-oriented edge and episode titles like "Have Gun, Will Travers"?

Earl J. Woods said...

Oh, Stephen.

How I wish I'd said that.