Crossing Off The Rubicon

Rubicon – It’s a new TV show that just started on AMC. AMC is the channel that launched Mad Men. AMC is edgy.

Rubicon is about a secret government analyst type guy called Will Travers. Will Travers is a great name for a secret government analyst on a TV show. Will Travers is edgy. Will Travers is on the edge. We know he’s on the edge because he sometimes goes up onto the roof and stands on the edge. On the edge of the ledge.

One time, he goes up on the roof just after he’s been really edgy and unbeknown to him there are two guys in another building watching him through really powerful binoculars. Two guys. Watching the roof. In case Will Travers goes up there again. They don’t know why they’re watching him, but it’s important enough that it takes two of them. It’s because he’s edgy.

It’s a silly scene that makes no sense in any world. Even in the crazy crackpot world of super-genius but paranoid encryption analysts. Even in the world of Rubicon.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself, but beware, this scene comes with creepy music:

Rubicon began with a two-hour double episode. I just watched the whole thing. It wasn’t just incomprehensible. It was willfully meaningless. It’s like they were jumping up and down in every scene screaming, “we’re not going to tell you what this means, so there.”

Remember how paranoid Robert Redford was in 3 Days of the Condor? The set designer of Rubicon certainly does.

Remember how much fun the secret agent stuff was in The X-Files/Alias/La Femme Nikita? The writers of Rubicon do.

Remember that boring movie that Robert De Niro directed with Matt  Damon about the origins of the intelligence services in the US? You remember how antiseptic and dull it was because everyone had to suppress their emotions the whole time and be suspicious of everyone and never ever tell the truth? The creators of Rubicon may have seen The Good Shepherd, but they don’t remember it the way I do.

Rubicon wants you to think that it’s clever. It wants you to think that Will Travers is really clever. The way it tells you that Will Travers is really clever is by making him really good at crossword puzzles and… no actually, that’s it. He’s just really good at crosswords. Nothing else. In the entire double episode premier launch of Rubicon, Will Travers does absolutely nothing except solve a couple of crosswords. He’s really good at them. It is not compelling viewing.

Rubicon is rubbish. Will Travers looks like a cross between teacher Will Schuester from Glee and Art Garfunkel. It’s very disconcerting. But he sure knows how to wear a sweater. I wonder if that’s significant.

Schuester + Garfunkel = Will Travers

Will Travers is really good at wearing sweaters. He’s a mad man for a sweater. So far it’s mostly been V-necks and one rather unfortunate hoodie, but anything can happen with someone as edgy as Will Travers. Sweaters are important in Rubicon. We’re not supposed to trust people in suits. People in suits are bad. Will Travers doesn’t wear a suit. He wears sweaters. Sweaters are good.

But there is one sweater guy we’re not sure about. Will’s boss. He’s sinister. He seems like he’s Will’s friend because he wears a sweater. But he’s sinister, because it’s a round-neck sweater with nothing underneath. Ugh.

Searching for Debra Winger

I just watched two hours worth of TV and I don’t care about Will Travers or his writers’ room 9/11 back story. I don’t care about the mystery or how slowly they’re going to let it play out. I don’t care who is spying on who and who is on whose side. I don’t care who can be trusted and who is a duplicitous wretch.

In all my years of watching TV, I can’t remember another show that had so much regard for itself and so little for its audience. When every action is foreshadowing, when every object is a macguffin and when every comment is a clue, plot becomes meaningless.  Rubicon doesn’t have a story. It’s just all a set up for the DVD commentary.

Here’s another scene from the two-part opener. It lasts 45 seconds and features two characters that don’t appear in any other scenes talking obliquely about things which don’t make any sense… yet. If Rubicon weren’t such a tedious and unentertaining show, I would swear that this scene was put in for a joke. It’s pure parody. Either that or it’s an outtake from another unconnected show that a disgruntled editor left in as a prank. You decide:

Add this anywhere

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29 Responses to Crossing Off The Rubicon

  1. Andy says:

    Hey there guiltyfeat, excellent analysis of the show… I’m not much for dissecting shows but maybe they are watching for him to be on the roof so they know when he is out of his office/building/etc. He also doesn’t appear to be the only one going on to the roof… just a thought.

    • guiltyfeat says:

      Hey Andy, thanks for dropping by. It still seems an awfully elaborate set up to gather very little useful intel.

      • Andy says:

        could be just a scare tactic from Kale… Will knows he’s being watched and Kale seems to be doing his best to keep him paranoid(the bugs throughout the build, in his apartment, etc.)

  2. Lewis says:

    Fine analysis. You’ve sucked the very breath out of my lungs, which saves me some time here. I’d like to add that, four episodes in, the intelligence has yet to be intelligent. The only way to label this show cerebral is to say that it has been lobotomized in utero. Coupled with dull characters and mostly incomprehensible motivations, there’s really nothing here to see. I feel I owe AMC the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not sure I can force myself to sit through another episode. I really do love slow and deliberate in my spy entertainment, but a John le Carré miniseries this isn’t.

    • guiltyfeat says:

      Would you believe I’m six episodes in? I got such a huge response to this post that I had to stick with the show just so I could do a follow up later in the season. Actually the best parts of Rubicon are the things that have nothing to do with the conspiracy. Leave out Will Travers and Mrs. Rhumour and you’ve got some creepy stuff about the intelligence community privately contracting out its spywork. But the overriding premise and execution of the whole show is grossly misconceived.

      • rick says:

        Like everybody else, I think Mad Men and ESPECIALLY Breaking Bad are totally brilliant, so obviously Rubicon is gonna be too, right? Let me tell you, I normally like this kind of stuff so when ***I*** am bored with it, and agree with you about how just plain nutty the whole thing is, then it really has narrative structural problems. And it does.

        So why am I still watching? Because for reasons that are totally beyond me, my wife thinks it’s great and she’s really into it. I am stunned. This is a woman who thinks Covert Affairs is high drama, seriously. I watch CA with her so we’ve got something to share, and we’ve both got our little spy dramas to watch that we’re sharing with the other. I’m ready to drop mine and move on, but now she’s hooked on BOTH of them. Huh.

        The only thing I can figure is that she is pulled in by the women who are all wandering around wondering what the hell the men have done or might do or will do or are doing. I dunno.

        I guess I’ll keep watching as long as she does, watching her as much as the show. Which, bad as it is, is still light years ahead of the pile of crap they have dared to call…Nikita.

        Now THERE was a spy show. At least halfway thru Season 3.

        • guiltyfeat says:

          Hey Rick, thanks for stopping by. Me and the wife are both enjoying Covert Affairs. It’s light, it’s escapist and Piper’s teeth are mesmerizing. Rubicon, on the other hand, is like watching yourself grow old… in slow motion.

      • Lewis says:

        Well, you convinced me to give it a few more episodes. It took a while for my early impressions to change, but I’m glad I hung in there. I was actually only three episodes in when I commented in September. The first time I had the sense that Rubicon had done something right was the Spangler/Travers trip to D.C. (and the assassination decision being made back at API) in episode four. I am now on eleven.

        I’ll get my critical thoughts out of the way first. It shouldn’t take four episodes to see characters give a shit about their profession. Mad Men won us over immediately by making advertising irresistibly interesting in the pilot. Intelligence and analysis can be just as intriguing, but this is a hard sell when the players on screen are bored with their jobs week after week. Fortunately that didn’t last long.

        Worse still, Will Travers’ repetitive behavior was one of the most infuriating things for me–the roof, the tail scenes, the motorcycle, the bugs, the conspiracy investigation. I also didn’t really buy his character. Something about a tightly wound, obsessed genius who drinks beer and takes everything in stride seems a little off. Katherine Rhumor’s storyline was also very dull and repetitive. Now that I’m further along, it seems likely that the writers needed to stretch out her personal investigation to match Will’s. Fair enough.

        I think we were completely clear of the clunky start somewhere around episode six. Since then, every character has emerged into someone distinct, watchable, and sympathetic. The intelligence/conspiracy side finally, thankfully, began touching on current events. (The privatization of intelligence is, as you said, a highly worthy topic of exploration.) It seems likely that the two will converge, which should be fun.

        I’m not sure about you, but I feel like I might have to eat at least some of my words. After episode eleven, this might just be a show worthy of AMC.

  3. D Kyle says:

    I’ve watched three episodes and I’m hooked.

    It has a different pace that I’m enjoying. It reminds me of a John le Carré novel. Maybe its because I caught “Three Days of the Condor” last month on Bravo and I’m tired of the frenetic pace of most of todays shows that must rap up everything at the end of each show.

    • Martin says:

      This show is nothing like a le Carre novel. In Rubicon top secret agencies send ONE man to follow Will, and they are so crap they follow him down a dark alley, where they are obvious to him. Now think about Jim Prideaux’s trip to Czechoslovakia and the way he worked out he was being followed by looking at people’s shoes, because he was being followed by a TEAM of people. Also, Will is not that smart. Think about the baseball code, it was obviously dates.

  4. Elden Boulier says:

    Stumbled on your web blog via msn the other day and absolutely adore it. Keep up the truly amazing work.

  5. Gary Dichtenberg says:

    You’re dead right re your review of Rubicon. I was put off by the absurd suicide in the first scene. Reminded me of the terrific opening scene in Damian, where the US ambassador to the UK locks himself in his office and shoots himself in the head. Very graphic, but meaningful as he was compelled by evil forces. Rubicon felt too much like actual office work -yeck. Maybe analysts are not that interesting — edgy yes, interesting not so.

  6. marquis fleur says:

    Mad Men and Breaking Bad are both brilliant, inspired shows. When AMC rolled out this new series, Rubicon, I practically made an event of it, turning off the telephone, kicking the cats out of the room, installing myself comfortably before the TV, ready to savour every morsel of what I was sure to be another AMC hit.

    In fact, I had so much good will built up from the previous AMC oeuvres that Rubicon could have been simply mediocre, and I still would have fallen for it. However, the first scene robbed me of my eager smile – a millionaire, with his beautiful family gleefully gallivanting about in the snow, remarks a 4-leaf clover in his morning newspaper and, without hesitation, blows his brains out for his entire family to hear and discover.


    Secret code embedded in crosswords from random international newspapers, which Will immediately discovers? The “lost his wife and daughter waiting on top of the WTC to celebrate said daughter’s birthday at 9 AM in the morning on a work day” back story? Wiping out two entire commuter trains just to off David? Will wandering aimlessly about David’s dark office, serendipitously answering call from close friend E.B., who was unaware of David’s death even after the funeral, then Will immediately discovering the secret chessboard hidden in the globe as the evil sweater-boss looks on?

    Absurd. Dreadfully absurd.

    This show is unmitigated, self-absorbed, meaningless tripe, and lacks any redeeming quality whatsoever, from the pitiful acting and the painfully melodramatic, overly eerie music to the ridiculous premise of the series itself.

    My one-word feedback to AMC on their latest effort? Fail.

    My feedback to you on your review of Rubicon? Spot on.

    • guiltyfeat says:

      Hi there. Thanks for the feedback. It’s most appreciated. I’m willing to accept that most shows require the suspension of disbelief, but this one is just plain silly. Glad we agree.

  7. huey freeman says:

    you must have either not been paying attention or just wrote off the series once you started watching it. The reason he is “Edgy” is because he lost his family and is still going through that loss, with the death of his boss and close friend it takes another person he loves away from him….how is that so hard to understand?. also the people spying on him and not knowing why? those are spooks and it actually happens in this day and age, you are only given the target and no information on why he is important. If you need your hand held by the show to get your information then hey enjoy covert affairs.

    • guiltyfeat says:

      Hey there, Huey. Thanks for stopping by.

      First of all, I’m glad you enjoyed the show. I didn’t. We can still be friends, right?

      To answer your question, I didn’t find any of it hard to understand. I just found it boring and rote. His wife and child died during 9/11? Yawn. Isn’t that Gary Sinise’s deal on CSI: New York? It’s straight out of the “101 Excuses for TV Angst” handbook. But it’s worse than that. 9/11 was 9 years ago. He’s supposed to be in his early 30s now. He was supposed to be meeting his wife for his kid’s birthday so the kid must have been at least 2, right. We’re supposed to believe that this Ivy League, world-class genius with obvious social issues was happily married with a kid by the time he turned, what, 20? 21? 22? It just doesn’t add up. It’s just lazy back story.

      As for the people spying on him, watch the scene again. Two of your professional ‘spooks’ are occupying an entire abandoned floor of a New York tower block with their binoculars trained on the roof of the building Will Travers works in. They are doing this so they will know when he comes up to the roof. Surely this can’t be the most useful intel they can be gathering on the man? It just doesn’t feel like a smart use of limited ‘spook’ resources. Your claim that “it actually happens in this day and age” just doesn’t ring true for me. Training your binoculars on a rooftop and confirming that a man who sometimes comes up to the rooftop has in this instance done exactly what he sometimes does actually only happens in TV shows that are trying too hard to establish a conspiracy. I found it unconvincing and silly.

      I didn’t need my hand held by this show to get my information. I just thought it was dull, derivative and daft.

      I hope you’ll come back after the next episode and tell me why I’m wrong.

      • bob says:

        But it’s worse than that. 9/11 was 9 years ago. He’s supposed to be in his early 30s now.

        Do they say what year it is? How do we know this show isn’t taking place in 2002? (Although I’m sure the date can be found on one of the newspapers somewhere to confirm this).

        One thing that confused me though, was when they said Will has never been late for anything ever again since his family died on 9/11, and then in the next episode he is late for his meeting with his boss. That detail sort of bothered me, but other than that, I absolutely loved this show, so far. I don’t know if the future episodes will continue to be as good as the first two, but I’m more than willing to give it a chance.

        The story intrigued me, the music was great, and the setting was really good. Then again, I’m a sucker for conspiracy theories.

        In a world where Heroes, and many other non-reality TV shows are being canceled (not saying the last season wasn’t crap), only to be replaced by more and more reality shows, its refreshing to have a network making a TV show with an actual story, and played by actors.

        • guiltyfeat says:

          Thanks for stopping by, Bob. I hear what you’re saying. I just thought Rubicon took itself way too seriously and didn’t offer the audience enough justify it.

  8. Benjamin says:

    I remember seeing Piper Perabo in a Canadian movie a while back. I also though she had lovely big teeth.

  9. Paul Roese says:

    don’t own a TV. are the shows on Hulu? i wonder if “spy shows” are the next big thing even if 24 is gone. anyone else tired of police procedurals or vampire shows? i wish they would bring back Firefly, Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, Caprica and the like.

    • guiltyfeat says:

      Hey Paul. I’m no help to you, I’m afraid. I also don’t have a telly. I don’t even have access to Hulu from this country!

    • Jehuda Saar says:

      I think Caprica is coming back, unless I missed the cancellation announcement. Firefly was indeed wonderful but slim chance there. However speaking of spy shows, looks as though Nikita was revived and will be back in the fall.

  10. Jehuda Saar says:

    My issue with Rubicon was something else entirely. How would a super intelligence analyst back in 1983 miss the connection between what they refer to as a “Go” order and events taking place within days of one of the most devastating events that befell the US military in Lebanon ? THAT was some weak writing right there.
    Covert Affairs to me is what would happen if Oxygen or some other women-centric TV channel decided to produce a spy show (“not that there is anything wrong with that” he hastens to add). I fail to see the bite, the teeth…or the gums. I guess we’ll just agree to disagree.

    • guiltyfeat says:

      The bigger teeth aren’t metaphorical. They’re right inside Piper Perabo’s mouth. She’s got huge teeth!

      With Rubicon, I was also concerned that a “secret” code requires the insertion of crossword clues into seven international newspapers. That must involve at least seven crossword compilers. Doesn’t feel so secret now. Also we never see who the code is for. Only that an encryption genius solved it. Where are the every day hitmen and hitwomen scouring the crossword puzzles of the international press on the off chance that they will contain a “go” order? It’s just too silly.

  11. Jehuda Saar says:

    We’ll just have to disagree on that one. I really liked the pilot and I’ll admit that episode 2 was much weaker, but my interest was piqued enough to stick along. Unlike “Covert Affairs” over on USA which is plain bad.

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