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Rubicon Recap: Booty Call

Look, we won’t sugarcoat it. It’s been a rough start for the twitchy few of us watching Rubicon: meandering subplots, stakes cheaper than at Sizzler (sorry) or at a vampire hunter convention (sorrier), and Miranda Richardson playing a woman named Katherine Rhumor who is doggedly investigating her husband’s suicide by mooning around a townhouse and ordering shrimp with broccoli. But, perhaps unfairly, we’ve also paid short shrift to the rough start Rubicon had behind the scenes with creator Jason Horwich making way for a new show-runner just as it entered production. Just as an old sea captain we used to know always said: A ship without a steady hand at the rudder will inevitably focus an hour on a man taking a motorcycle apart in his apartment. (Look it up.) Anyway, “Look to the Ant” was definitely the work of the new creative team and even written by a member of the always entertaining Whedon clan (Joss's younger brother, Zack). So is the staff transfusion a success? Too soon to say for sure but, hey, Doctor: We have a pulse!

This week focuses on One Crazy Night in the life of our favorite clandestine government analysts but, really, the focus is on getting to know these chilly, miserable white people a little bit better. (And who wouldn’t want to do that?) Some of these changes in perspective are welcome while others are a little radical. Take, for example, Kale. (And you should! It’s basically a superfood!) When last we saw our favorite (?) diminutive creepy boss, he was standing in his dark office staring into traffic, delivering ham-fisted dialogue a villainous Klingon would be ashamed of. But this week he’s a different man! (Sure, he begins by breaking into Will’s apartment and sees his mess of Post-It notes, but you can hardly blame him. The man’s ex-CIA! He breaks into co-workers’ apartments as a hobby.) But soon enough he’s inviting Will over to dinner at Studio 54 his swinging Chelsea brownstone and introducing him to his FAB-U-LOUS rent-boy boyfriend Walter. (Though he does dis Walter’s chosen soundtrack, Hot Chip, declaring that it sounds like a “pinball machine.” Always with the timely, relevant references, Rubicon! To our ears it sounded like nothing less than the confounded din of a dratted

So, anyway, Kale says he wants to help Will and steers him away from Donald Bloom and towards his fellow victim in a late-night car accident (?), Mr. Roy (a.k.a. State Senator Clay Davis). Kale also helpfully informs Will that his apartment is bugged so maybe he should stop taking apart motorcycles so loudly late at night, huh? The racket is like that of a musket going off in a crowded saloon!

WHAT ELSE? Well, back on the George Beck beat (drink!), Miles volunteers to stay late to watch a super-exciting satellite video-feed of George Beck’s (drink!) son’s wedding. He volunteers because he’s an up-front and honest man who’s leveled with his trusted co-workers about how his wife has left him due to his insane job obligations he says his wife’s got “a thing.” Tanya doesn’t volunteer to stay with him which sucks because she has all the best vodka. Anyway, Miles starts watching the spy wedding feed when — zoinks! — he realizes he doesn’t speak Urdu! So he meets a cute-with-a-Legend-of-Zelda-tattoo-having analyst who is interested in understanding NASCAR. Together, through the power of simultaneous Urdu-translation of a suspected terrorist’s wedding seen via spy-plane, they almost kiss. Romance! Just like they do it in the movies! (In all seriousness, this was a cute stab at allowing shades of emotion other than “gun metal gray” into the Rubicon world. It’s just a delicate line between “this is the guy who is about to nuke the United States” and re-creating a lost scene from Love, Actually, you know?)

But the real intrigue this week is between Will and Maggie. Now, Will and Maggie have been very confusing for awhile. They are flirty — but frosty? In the pilot, he comes to her in the middle of the night, which suggests a history. But then maybe she also just has the hots for him? (Or, you know, what passes for hot on Rubicon. Sort of a tepid bathwater temperature.) So here, finally, we get some insight into the show’s non-alcoholic female character. No, not what Maggie actually does at API (Secretary? Hostess? Maid?) but what she is: horny! Awesome. That is something human beings are! So when she packs her daughter off to a sleepover at her ex’s place (parting with a loving threat to call the cops — she must have gotten child custody lessons from someone else on AMC) she turns off the scary movies and booty-calls Will. Unfortunately, Will is kind of having a moment: He’s just discovered that his apartment is bugged, as is his cellphone. So he’s rude and dismissive and runs off into the night (taking his gun, leaving the cannoli). And now, finally, things get interesting: Will is hunted and freaked out. And when you are feeling hunted and freaked out, Manhattan is a tough place to be: People are everywhere, walking, talking, watching. He runs into an Internet café in Chinatown (as you do) and prints out some info on Mr. Roy while generally alarming the staff. Then he confronts the (faceless white) guy who’s been following him, threatens him at gunpoint, and snaps his photo. Nice! All of this has real edge and bite: Will is actually afraid of something and maybe some of it is in his head! Unfortunately, it seems that James Badge Dale is a lot better at solving crossword puzzles on camera than he is at "pulling a Miles" but, you know, baby steps.

Anyway, back in Human Being Town, Maggie has settled for a secondary booty call by inviting Bargain Jason Bateman over for a night of Scrabble, cheap tempranillo, and intense, my-kid-is-at-a-sleepover sex. But you are no surrogate for Will, Bargain Jason Bateman! (You are also prone to unwanted neck kisses and saying lame post-coital things like “That was nice.” We foresee a Crap Email from a Dude in Maggie’s future!) And that’s when, of course, Will shows up all hot and frazzled. Where were you an hour ago, Maggie’s unsatisfied face screams! (Or what passes for screams on this show: murmurs?) Frustration! Mania! And it was a weeknight!

All in all, a marked improvement from the numbing stasis of the last few weeks. We’re guardedly optimistic. Oh, and yeah, Katherine Rhumor talked to a widow and found another four-leaf clover. So she’s got that going for her.

What We Know:
• Kale knows about the bugs in Will’s apartment and maybe even put them there. Also, he likes boys but not disco. The seventies must have been very difficult for him.

• Maggie is a real person with real desires! Also, she tells people she works at UNICEF but is clearly taking language lessons so she can get a better gig at the API.

• Mr. Roy, like everyone, is ex-CIA. He also works for a company that keeps cropping up in the boring Katherine Rhumor plot.

What We Don't Know:
• Can Kale be trusted? We’re not sure, but we're leaning toward believing him. After all, he does know his way around a white bean salad.

• Is George Beck (drink!) a terrorist? Or just a guy that really, really loves his wife and shares that fact with people in super inappropriate speeches at his son’s wedding? Dude, it’s his day, not yours!

• Why does Will have a statue of an owl on his desk? And is that owl hungover?

Photo: AMC