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Rubicon Recap: Tortured Logic

Over the past few weeks we’ve used this space to harp on Rubicon for all sorts of things: its glacial pace, its lack of wit or spark, its Boyz II Men references. But we take no pleasure in pointing out flaws — all this time we’ve truly believed that there was a good show lurking in there somewhere, phantom twin style, just waiting to burst out and dazzle us. After all the behind-the-scenes strife and growing pains that are normal for nearly every ambitious show, we’ve held out hope that sweet release is just around the corner, that one day Katherine Rhumor might actually set foot outside her townhouse. But then came this week’s defiantly frustrating episode replete with its Milk-Was-a-Bad-Choice title: “Caught In the Suck.” Look, you said it, Rubicon. Not us.

We open on Roger and Ed playing chess in the park. Ed certainly gets around for an agoraphobic crazy person who never takes off his bathrobe! Anyway, Will is bad at chess thus continuing his free fall from “brilliant thinker” to “brain-dead boob.” Will also confronts Ed about his revelation from the end of last week: “You knew Hadas was onto something” which is the way we always refer to our dead fathers-in-law/best friends — by using their last names. Anyway, Ed makes some metaphorical observations about chess then says not to trust Kale Ingram. Okay!

Meanwhile, everyone at the API has to stand awkwardly in a hallway waiting to pee into cups. (Note: Is this the worst workplace in the world? Even roustabouts aren’t treated this shabbily!) Tanya is nervous which makes sense since she’s had DRUG PROBLEM tattooed on her face since episode three. “Good luck!” Will tells her as she goes off to urinate. Um, thanks? Anyway, while Will is micturating to his heart’s content, Maggie is going through his coat pockets in search of candy wrappers — which either means she’s an untrustworthy hoarder or that she has a crush on him. Probably both! When he returns they banter about the general indignity of public urination (THIS SHOW!) and then suddenly Will gets mushy and asks if he can still have that birthday lunch that Maggie promised him seven episodes, one train crash and roughly three dozen bugged owls ago.

But! Not even Will’s choice in Japanese sweets is safe: Maggie reports her (delicious!) discovery to a frosty Kale, who immediately does something fussy and show-offy with his new sunglasses. But he also knows (a) that Will is hanging out with notorious Japanese candy lover Ed and that (b) Maggie likes Will too much and thus has cooties become compromised.

But who cares about any of this because Tanya, like Diana Ross before her, is coming out! In the (super grungy) bathroom that she usually reserves for barfing, our favorite alky analyst is putting on various layers of leotard and popping pills like Brett Favre circa the time he was addicted to pills. This is totally unprofessional and obvious, but hey! If Will can sneak into his unsupervised bosses office and rifle around his file cabinets during an FBI lockdown then certainly Tanya can dress up like Pat Benatar without anyone noticing, right? Wrong! She is immediately stopped by some CIA goons who scoop her and Miles up like groundballs and fly them to a black ops offsite that’s definitely either Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Tierra del Fuego, or a soundstage near the South Street Seaport.

Now clearly the most interesting thing that could happen here is for the pills Tanya took to kick in and we get to see her TRIPPING BALLZ while trying to navigate the crypto-political weirdness she’s been drawn into. But instead? She’s just sleepy! (What were those pills? And can we get a few before next week’s episode?) But not sleepy for long because it turns out that the CIA have kidnapped a new random Al Qaeda dude who says that Kateb may not have been killed in the API-ordered airstrike the other week and instead Tanaz Urdu George Beck ... zzzzz. Right. So Tanya (who needs a cigarette) and Miles (who almost had a seizure from needing one so badly last week and now seems totally serene and nicotine-free) are there to watch a nude man with a bag over his head be chained up in a crucified position while loud music plays and dogs bark at him and dudes administer electric shocks.

Wait, what? What show is this again? We’re waving a white flag on this one, gang. A show about tortured outsiders looking at conspiratorial puzzles was what we signed up for, not a show about watching boring people stare at torture. Sloppily throwing Abu Ghraib imagery on the screen isn’t going to move the needle for us one way or another because, as we’ve said repeatedly, there are no stakes here: we don’t care about these people (we don’t even know what drugs Tanya is taking or why!) and we don’t know what sort of terrorist plot is (maybe) being hatched. Miles can yell at us all he wants about “spooks” and subway attacks but it means nothing without an investment in actual human beings. This whole plot felt cheap and sensationalist. We miss the crossword puzzles: the thrill of discovery, the slow-burning menace.

But, hey, look! Jazz! Roger is still sitting in the park in his bathrobe, scatting and grooving to a horn player. Kale arrives to show off his sunglasses and to hand Roger a list of things we already know about that aren’t helpful in any way at all including Atlas McDowell and Mr. Roy. Meanwhile, Will confronts Maggie about spying. (And he does it in his BUGGED OFFICE!) She apologizes. It was “a condition of being hired.” We guess unlimited salad and bread sticks is off for another season?

Speaking of lunch, the League of Evil White Men are gathering for a plate of Ham with a side of SUBTERFUGE. They swill Evil red wine and say Evil things like “is there a play for us in the Somalian pirate situation?” and “I concur.” The takeaway, we assume, is that these are the guys who basically profit off of everything that happens in the world. You know what’s lazier than a cliché? Whatever this scene is. We learn that Spangler ordered the raid on Katherine Rhumor’s house proving he is terrible at being a criminal mastermind. He also says “the incursion was necessary” while twiddling his mustache and staring imperiously through his monocle. Seemingly chastened (we say seemingly because we still have no idea who he is or why we should care if he’s chastened or not) James Wheeler steers Spangler away from Katherine Rhumor saying she’s “not a problem we need to worry about.” We wish!

Of course, he is lying because thoughts of her keep him from enjoying his mid-afternoon hummer from a member of his staff at whatever Important Job he does when he’s not blowing up San Francisco. He’s also being spied on by terrible spies who actually raise their binoculars to their face AFTER being made. A changed (?) man, James forswears his afternoon delight (but still pays for it, the mensch), leaves an apologetic voice mail for Katherine (She’s out? NOW she goes out?), removes the portentous photo of the group of boys from its frame, writes something on it, and generally makes us think he’s going to shoot himself.

There is more torture. It doesn’t really work. Miles thinks that Tanaz is a double-agent. Tanya tells Miles she’s going to be fired. This is actually a good scene, but it stops short of, y’know, telling us what Tanya’s problems actually are. Ed shows up at Will’s apartment in the middle of the night with some Certified Crazy Person documents. He then wanders back out into the night in his bathrobe in search of Earl Grey tea. Will and Kale flirt. (“I want answers!” “Dig into Ed’s research until you find them!” Girls, girls — you’re both pretty!) Will fires Maggie or something. Cisco sponsors an international video conference call in a very subtle and not-at-all paid-for way.

Ultimately, Ed’s crazy papers were just a visually interesting way to tell us that all Evil can be traced to an address on Gansevoort Street. (We agree! Have you ever seen the meatpacking district on a Saturday night?) Proving once and for all that spying is super, super easy, Will goes to the building and is helpfully informed by a plot device receptionist that Atlas McDowell and Mr. Roy’s security firm are one and the same and that Mr. Spangler doesn’t come into the office much but Mr. Roy tends to handle all of Mr.Spangler’s business for him. So secretive! It’s just dazzling all the hoops Will had to go through here to figure out that Truxton Spangler is a shady guy.

Boom: Tanya gets back and Spangler sends her to rehab. Katherine Rhumor receives the photo from James; he’s drawn a four-leaf clover on the back of it. Will tells Kale that the Atlas McDowell is “an octopus” and that he’s got it all under control because he’s got their “phone directory.” Good job. A+ on the detective exam. And, back home, Will takes a bug out from his thermostat and smashes it with the ass-end of a screwdriver.

• What show is Alan Sepinwall watching? In a piece last week he argued that Rubicon has become one of his favorite programs for all of the reasons why it has become one of our least favorite: the bizarre nudging of the API into the heart of the global intelligence community, the standalone episode that did nothing but increase our appreciation for purple ties, the insane performance of Arliss Howard. We agree with him that the show looks great — director of photography Michael Slovis deserves a lot of credit. We even agree that the show might not, as he puts it, “stick its landing.” In fact, that doesn’t matter to us at all! The problem isn’t the destination — it’s the journey. The dull, pleasureless journey. Like an all-night CIA flight to Torturetown. (Sorry. Didn’t stick the metaphor landing.)

• A pretty young woman like Maggie — who lives in a super fancy apartment — had zero other job options in New York City apart from becoming Kale Ingram’s secretary/snoop. And what’s the deal with her shady ex, anyway? Maybe Kale blackmailed her into the job? Or, worse: made her a white bean salad?

• Tanaz was probably a double-agent and the CIA got screwed.

What we don't know:
• Was Tanya trying to get fired? Unless she had the most misleading job interview ever, it seems like weekly drug tests and polygraphs and the occasional surprise night flight to this guy’s house might be the sort of thing you’re warned about upfront. So maybe cut it out with the mystery pills, huh? (Or at least share with the rest of the class.)

• What show is Alan Sepinwall watching? In a piece last week he argued that Rubicon has become one of his favorite programs for all of the reasons why it has become one of our least favorite: the bizarre nudging of the API into the heart of the global intelligence community, the standalone episode that did nothing but increase our appreciation for purple ties, the insane performance of Arliss Howard. We agree with him that the show looks great — director of photography Michael Slovis deserves a lot of credit. We even agree that the show might not, as he puts it, “stick its landing.” In fact, that doesn’t matter to us at all! The problem isn’t the destination — it’s the journey. The dull, pleasureless journey. Like an all-night CIA flight to Torturetown. (Sorry. Didn’t stick the metaphor landing.)

• How did we ever survive without the magic of CISCO telecommunications in our lives! If you’re going to be a v-neck wearing Luddite who still has a Discman, why not choose CISCO for all your Black Ops Off-Site conference call needs? CISCO: it’s what’s for dinner! (Except when Kale is cooking.)

Photo: AMC