Many years ago, when your humble correspondent was a much younger man, he spent many hours complaining about major issues of the day such as “why was fan-favorite Jon Polito written off of Homicide: Life on the Street” and “no one actually thinks Veronica’s Closet is a good idea, right?” Until one day his recapping professor at Television University pulled his student aside with some sage advice: “You recap the show you’re watching,” the old salt muttered, “not the show you wish you were watching.” And then he wandered off to watch reruns of Hooperman. But his were wise words and ones we may have forgotten as we’ve struggled with the frustrating growing pains of Rubicon, an extremely frustrating show. It’s no secret that the version of the show that hooked many of us — the slow-burning, icy thrill of the pilot which promised a show about smart people uncovering dastardly smart things — vanished the instant creator Jason Horwich went overboard. But with the small but noticeable improvements over the past two weeks, it’s probably time to make peace with the show that we have, not the one we wish we had.
In the past couple of weeks, Rubicon has strained to make us care about the cast of generally unpleasant, unhappy people that we’ve been saddled with from the get-go. And you know what? It’s kind of working! Spangler’s hamminess has now — like chunks of Boar’s Head into a Denver omelette — been folded into his character, making his behavior amusing and ridiculous rather than just the latter. The various members of the Super Team have been parceled out pieces of personality so that time spent with them is actually enjoyable, rather than a chore. The only person who hasn’t benefited from these changes is Will, which is bizarre since he’s kind of the main character. Since the pilot — when he was presented as an emotionally stunted, genius-level thinker — he’s regressed into a paranoid loon with no clear motivation: Is he upset he’s being spied on? Is he still angry about his dead father-in-law? Has he never forgiven Spangler for making him buy a briefcase? We may never know, but overall Rubicon has developed a pulse. As for the other thing that’s changed since the pilot — the disconcerting switch from a small-bore, puzzle-based conspiracy to three nerds in a room heading off a global terrorist attack — well, we’re less sold on that.
But to the plot! Building on the momentum from last week, “In Whom We Trust” wisely chooses to begin with characters getting ready for sleep. Kale in bed is much the same as Kale at work: serene, kind of smarmy, and with a white guy next to him at all times. (Hey-o!) But while Walter sleeps adorably, Kale wanders all over his real-estate-porn townhouse (there’s even a flat-screen above the tub — is that safe?) scanning for bugs. And wouldn’t you know it, he finds one. Not on the gorgeous granite counter-tops or the to-die-for his-‘n’-his sinks, but in Walter’s bedside lamp. Hmmm.
The next morning, Will wakes up at Andy’s palatial apartment no less nervous. He wants to know who she was talking to in the bathroom and then she, in turn, won’t let him pee in peace. (What is with this show and public urination? Is a trip to Brussels in the cards for next season?) Will is freaked and unpleasant (note to spies: Sometimes your professional paranoia can seem a teensy bit like controlling jealousy!) and mutters, “I have to get back to my life.” “But your apartment has the bugs and everything. That’s not fun,” replies Andy (a.k.a. the audience). But because she behaves like anyone would after you’ve spent two nights spooning with a gun-toting loon, she gives him keys to her place. Modern love!
And then we cut to Katherin Rhumor. (C’mon, Rubicon! We’re trying to be positive over here!) Katherine, since we last saw her doing nothing in a large home, has found the time to move into a new large home. This one is much trendier, so she’s got that going for her. We join her as she reclines on her couch Googling “Truxton Spangler” in what appears to be a Snuggie. But then, the doorbell! Katherine is terrified, as well she should be. The main plot lurks just outside your door, Katherine! Resist it! Stay inside where there’s wine! But, no: She answers the bell and plays hard to get with Will (who seems a whole lot calmer and cheerier than he did just a scene earlier in Andy’s bathroom). Will is asking about Atlas McDowell. Katherine replies that her husband was “on many boards.” And that his apartment “smelled of rich mahogany.” But, whatever, they bond and they next thing you know they’re meeting on a park bench in Brooklyn comparing notes on Professor Bradley, four-leaf clovers, and vodka. “What’s going on, Will?” Katherine asks. “I don’t know,” Will replies. Sigh.
But let’s get back to the good stuff, shall we? Tanya has returned from her (brief?) time in rehab but isn’t yet allowed to rejoin the (not) cool kids at the lunch table. Instead she’s stuck in the basement collating papers with a sassy Italian-American woman who kvells over Tanya’s “two PhDs” and says “believe it or not, I’m the pride of my family.” Hey guys, Jersey Shore called. They want their stereotype back. Luckily, we don’t dwell on her too long: We instead travel with Tanya to a work-mandated therapy session where she finally spills the beans about her love of pills, marijuana, cocaine, alcohol … wait a second, she’s not a character, she’s a Queens of the Stone Age song!
Apart from some hyperactive editing, this scene worked for us: Lauren Hodges is an interesting actress with an unconventional approach to what could have been a conventional “losing it” moment. Her twitching here was earned. Similarly, our affection for Miles and Grant has grown of late. While we still think it is fundamentally ludicrous that the uncoding of a potentially catastrophic attack on the United States has been left to these four emotionally damaged people stuck in a conference room near the South Street Seaport, we’re happy to watch them stress about it. (Or at least some of them stress about it: Will keeps frittering off to Brooklyn to play footsie with Katherine Rhumor. Dude: Kateb is planning on blowing up the city! Priorities!) And when Grant makes his way down to Tanya’s rehab dungeon to cheer her up (and avoid his wife) we smiled because for the first time all season we were watching human beings interact the way they do in real life: haltingly, strangely, kindly.
Anyway, Katherine and Will’s secret outer-borough nooners are quickly broken up by Donald Bloom who, since we last saw him, has been taking classes at the Paula Deen Acting Academy. He has his stock villain meter set to “stun” what with the whole faux-friendliness and stuttering, Walken-esque line readings. The short version: stay away from Will or we’ll kill him. And you. And your parents. And your little dog, too. Katherine flees. Will gives Bloom the stink eye. And later back at the office (here’s hoping Will invested in an unlimited Metrocard!), Will receives a note from Katherine that in neat script asks him to stay the hell away from her, but, hey!, she’s included a copy of the infamous photo of the League of Extraordinarily White Gentlemen as boys.
Not all is well as we put episode ten to bed: Kateb is cleaning house (George, Tanaz, and Yuri are now dead!) and plotting something big. Spangler meets Mr. Roy and Donald Bloom on the Staten Island ferry. And Andy walks in on Will in her bathroom rifling through her cell phone. Dude! Not cool!
What we know:
” Maggie has been demoted to a less glamorous secretary job at the API and her shady ex-husband leaves her daughter locked in a hotel room for three hours. This prompts Kale to forcibly evict the guy … from the East Coast! Sure, Kale is a badass and all and the ex is really creepy but are we ever going to learn what, exactly, his problem is? Other than calling Kale “old”?
” Yuri, George and Tanaz were, like we feared, red herrings. Incredibly boring, confusing red herrings.
” Will is a super-considerate boyfriend. After breaking a bottle of pickles in his own place he decides to let himself into Andy’s apartment for some pasta. But really he just wants to read her text messages. His cover story? Taking a newspaper into the bathroom with him! C’mon, guy. Take care of your business in your own bathroom.
What we don’t know:
” Who was Andy whispering to in the bathroom? (So much bathroom talk!) Could it really have been her “sister in Minnesota”? And can we trust her at all? As clever commenter AWOLCREATIVE put it last week: “This is a world where women always are as they appear and are never the inquisitive sort with mysterious motives that push a B-plot along.”
” What’s the deal with the API’s musty library? Judging by their antiquated filing system they have a grand total of THREE papers about Pakistan on file. In 2010. In the midst of the “global war on terror.” Right.
” Is Kale’s boyfriend Walter secretly Brick Tamland? Because after his reaction to Kale’s present at the end of the episode, we’re thinking “yes.”