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Rubicon Recap: Tumbleweed Connection

Maggie: “What’s the matter? Did something happen?”
Will: “ ... No.”

Oh, Rubicon! You tease! After last week’s standalone story that dealt exclusively with purple ties and Chinese takeout, “Connect the Dots” brings us back to the overarching conspiracy plot. I mean, I guess. Certainly more things quote-unquote “happened” this week: Ed left his apartment! Spangler had a party! Will got a haircut! But whether any of these events was compelling is another story. (There is, after all a difference between wheel-spinning and forward progress.) Plus there was all sorts of meta-commentary, like the breathless dialogue quoted above which makes us think either the producers of Rubicon are master poker players lulling us into a sense of intentional boredom before unleashing a tsunami of drama in the last half of the season, or the writers are tapping out morse-code messages from a sinking ship. (Most likely the latter.)

But recap we must! So this week, Will is accosted by an out-of-the-house (but still in his bathrobe?) Ed and the two of them discuss Donald Bloom, an ex-CIA black ops guy who may (or MAY NOT!) be in New York. Ed tells Will to “connect the dots,” which seems like good advice for brilliant intelligence analysts and/or truculent 8-year-olds. Meanwhile, Kreepy Kale invites Will to Mrs. Spangler’s annual charity ball (sounds like a blast!), informs us that he has the “immune system of a hydra,” and then cautions Will to “never forget the stakes.” Which is excellent advice except we have no idea what the stakes are! (Maybe he meant steaks — too many leafy greens in your diet without protein is a recipe for gastro-intestinal trouble!)

So then Tanya — who is being super-secretive about her alcohol issues by wearing sunglasses in the office and keeping minis of Popov in her desk drawer (she does know she works with spies, right?) — talks back to Will, echoing the audience in our extreme frustration with watching three characters debate a meaningless cipher named “George Beck” or whatever all day. She thinks they’re following the wrong guy; Will agrees but hangs her out to dry in front of Suit and John Ritter Jr. But all this does is toughen her argument! So later she delivers her ideas to Spangler who dismissively agrees, and then later we find out she was right. So, uh, the characters were spending all their time on the wrong guy? And we, the audience, were too? Seems like an excellent use of script pages, guys! Really. Anyway, Tanya celebrates her potentially world-saving breakthrough with a relaxing glass of vodka on ice which honestly sounds great. We’ve had one at our side ever since we invented the “George Beck Drinking Game” back in episode two. (Someone mentions George Beck? Drink! Someone doesn’t mention George Beck? Drink! Miles runs his fingers nervously through his hair and/or beard? Chug. We’re drunk already!)

Anyway, Ed performs the role of “crazy, obsessive person” by tracking down Donald Bloom by tearing pages out of phone books. (Phone books! Next week: Ed spies on Kale using only opera glasses and a wax cylinder!) Will then follows Donald Bloom and discovers a bland-looking white guy (total surprise casting!) who carries an old-fashioned umbrella over his arm on a sunny day, the sort of sartorial choice that screams “I’m prepared!” or “I’m a former CIA black ops bad guy!” (Maybe these are the same thing?) Will follows Bloom to Bloomingdale's, where he pulls the old “lose the non-professional guy who is tailing me on the escalators” trick. Classic CIA black ops move. But it doesn’t work! Instead, Will is able to see Bloom sit down to a nice lunch with Kale, who, of course, sees Will because in addition to the immune system, Kale also has the multiple heads of a Hydra (?). Bloom and Kale have a nice talk about the good old days in Beirut when they were killing people. Memories!

Will is freaked out by all of this, enough to have a totally inappropriate conversation with Maggie (quoted above) conducted with about three inches of personal space between them. This does not “raise the stakes” — it just makes us think of breath mints. Will also tells Ed to “stand down” from his increasingly paranoiac (and thus most likely accurate) game of connect the dots (Houston/Nigeria/Beirut = oil! The crossword puzzle go code!). The problem here is that we don’t buy the whole “maybe Ed is crazy” plot because we know very well something bad is going on behind the scenes. So there’s no tension. At least when Will feeds him some false intel to protect him, Ed actually breaks down over the loss of David, his “best friend.” Genuine emotion! Always welcome.

So Will attends Mrs. Spangler’s charity event where he (finally!) crosses paths with Miranda Richardson whose name is, we kid you not, KATHERINE RHUMOR (this show, ladies and gentlemen!). Of course, after five hours of excruciating build-up, this long-awaited interaction is rewarding and revealing about how both characters enjoy a chilled glass of vodka or six. Hey, they should call Tanya and form a club! Will is then brought upstairs where Spangler and David Rasche and, apparently, G. Gordon Liddy are having Society of Evil meeting in a dark, smoky room. Seriously. They say ominous things and then Will leaves. And here we have the main problem of Rubicon. It’s not the pace (slow) or the characters (icy): It’s the conspiracy. Thirty years of post-Watergate pop culture has established the stereotypical government secret as being masterminded by boring, well-fed white men who conspire over drinks in smoky, wood-paneled rooms. Rubicon expects us to accept this stereotype not as fear but as fact. Wouldn’t a more interesting story be one in which Will seems as paranoid as he does righteous and crusading? I mean, after walking into Spangler’s upstairs hideaway, why wouldn’t Will be freaking out? The only people missing from the scene were Dr. Claw, Brainiac, and maybe someone with an old-fashioned umbrella.

So: non-surprise alert! Kale and Spangler are up to no good — the latter especially because he shreds important documents, pays State Senator Clay Davis to watch Will (and his vodka buddy, Katherine), and doesn’t take his wife’s charity initiatives seriously. Maybe we liked this show better when nothing happened?

What we know:
• Kale Ingram is ex-CIA and actually expects to be taken seriously as a human being on planet Earth despite saying things like “music, merriment … what more could one ask for?” And “so much darkness, so many shadows.”

• Katherine’s husband left her stock in a ratty clothing company called MRQ Alternatives where he also had an office and a locked file cabinet where he kept newspaper clippings about dead CCNY professors. Dun-DUN!

• Will and Not-Hal, the computer tech, have known each other for five years. They also share an awkward moment of what passes for banter on this show which is sort of cute, like robots attempting to hug.

What we don't know:
• George Beck, photos, Al Qaeda. What does the Super Team’s boring plot have to do with the overall conspiracy?

• Whatever happened to Will the neurotic, antisocial genius? And who replaced him with a painfully earnest crusader with personal-space issues?

• Spangler takes Clay Davis off of Will and puts him onto Katherine Rhumor (!!) full time. What a crappy assignment! Maybe next week she’ll track down her dead husband’s old Netflix account. (“But David hated romantic comedies!”)

Photo: AMC