‘Rubicon’ – ‘Caught in the Suck’: Cruel to be kind, in the right measure

On Friday, I wrote a kind of mid-season review about how “Rubicon” has managed to overcome the usual pitfalls of shows built around elaborate mystery plots. Many of those observations will be familiar to those of you who’ve been reading these weekly episode reviews, but I wanted to put them all together in a form where people who had perhaps dismissed the show after an episode or two could read them.

Because of the time I spent on that, this week’s episode analysis will be a little shorter than usual. Spoilers for tonight’s episode coming up just as soon as I become a pajama disaster…

“Believe it or not, I’m Will Travers’ guardian angel.” -Kale

What is Kale Ingram up to, exactly? Ed tells Will to absolutely not trust him and seems terrified when Kale turns up at the park where he hangs out. He rats out Maggie to Will, and though he offers explanations both pragmatic (Maggie was on the verge of becoming useless, if not counter-productive, as an asset) and sympathetic (better to nip this in the bud in time for Will to perhaps get over it one day), there’s also a sense from Arliss Howard’s performance that Kale takes some pleasure in playing puppet master. And though he keeps claiming to be helping Will, he’s barely been more than a sounding board. (Like I wrote on Friday, a lot of their conversations play out like Jack trying to get Juliet or Ben to explain what The Others were up to at the start of “Lost” season three.)

Kale’s ambiguous role is useful for storytelling purposes – if he sits Will down and explains everything (assuming he even knows), then we hit a narrative dead end – but also because Arliss Howard is so much fun to watch. Howard’s been a Hey, It’s That Guy! going back more than 20 years (probably to “Full Metal Jacket”), but this is the first time I’ve gotten to watch him in such a prominent role for such an extended period, and it’s a pleasure. I love the complete ease with himself that he gives Kale and the way that works perfectly alongside James Badge Dale’s twitchier performance. These two are ostensibly on the same side of this investigation, but they’re approaching it very differently. For Will, this is personal – these people murdered his father-in-law and mentor – while for Kale this is more about philosophy and patriotism. He’ll work this, but he won’t make himself crazy over it.

With Kale’s prodding – and an assist from Ed that, predictably, makes him cuckoo-bananas again – Will gets further into the story, in that he finds out how far Atlas McDowell’s reach extends, but he still has no idea what they’re actually doing, and we have only slightly more. It’s fair to assume at this point that Spangler, James Wheeler and company are the Atlas McDowell decision-makers, but when they gather to talk about “our interests,” it’s unclear whether they’re just in this to profit off other nations’ misery, or if Spangler’s patriotic zeal is genuine, and he’s using the company as kind of a shadow government. But after expressing remorse about the Somalia situation, and being too defensive about what Katherine Rhumor knows, it looks like Wheeler might be the next “suicide” on the Atlas board, and he knows it.

I’m still not sure whether the Yuri/George/Tanaz storyline has anything to do with the conspiracy, or if it’s just there to make the characters and the world of API more interesting, but Miles and Tanya’s field trip was a fine sequel to the B-plot from “The Outsider,” where they and Grant had to decide whether the government could/should assassinate Kateb. Stuck together in their undisclosed location and forced to spend day after day watching a man be tortured – which Miles, at least, believes to be completely useless – forces the two to finally open up to each other. For the second week in a row, Miles admits that his family is gone (and this time to someone he deals with on an ongoing basis), while the impending results of her drug test force Tanya to admit her problem.

Towards the episode’s end, Spangler takes on a paternal manner as he prepares Tanya for rehab and assures her, “You are going to be working here a long, long time.” Given the effect we’ve seen this place have on the people who work there – and given how frequently this episode deals with atrocities committed in the name of some greater good – maybe Tanya would have been better off just getting fired over this. And you can see that she’s not entirely sure this is a good outcome for her.

What did everybody else think?

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