‘Rubicon’ – ‘Connect the Dots’: Don’t forget your umbrella

A review of tonight’s “Rubicon” coming up just as soon as I begin to lose my hair in Finland…

“I would hate to see you involved in any mayhem.” -Kale

Last week’s “The Outsider” was the show’s strongest episode to date, and perhaps not coincidentally the first episode of the series to largely ignore the crossword conspiracy storyline. But before anyone starts clamoring for “Rubicon” to ditch the larger arc and go purely procedural – “On the next ‘Rubicon,’ Spangler tells Will what kind of pocket square to buy! And Miles and Grant spend an hour cross-referencing weather and traffic reports!” – we now get “Connect the Dots,” which is hip-deep in the conspiracy and just as compelling as “The Outsider” was.

It helps that Katherine Rhumor finally shares a scene with another regular character, even if her conversation with Will at the party is unfortunately brief, and even if I was gripped with the need to take a break from the show when she first turned up. We learned at the end of the pilot that Spangler has ties to her late husband and to her buddy James Wheeler, and when Spangler later meets with Donald Bloom and the mysterious Mr. Roy at the abandoned gymnasium, he tells Roy to put his focus entirely on Katherine. So there is a point to her stories, and it feels like we’re getting to it.

And after Spangler turned into a more formidable character with the tie speech in “The Outsider,” we begin to see just how central he is to the entire conspiracy. He’s the one who put Mr. Roy on Will’s tail, he’s the one who stole the Houston white paper from the library (and is shredding it after Kale leaves his office), Bloom reports directly to him, etc.  I was particularly glad on the Mr. Roy front, since I was beginning to feel like there might be a few too many factions involved, when for now it seems that Spangler and his pals are orchestrating whatever it is that Bloom is up to.

Kale’s loyalties, on the other hand, seem very much in doubt. He clearly told Spangler what David had told him about the crossword, and he does meet with Bloom to discuss this mysterious operation (and was there in Beirut with him for the previous mission involving the crossword puzzle go code), but he does want to protect Will, and he does observe Spangler, et. al without their knowledge. Is it possible he didn’t realize what would happen to David when he reported to Spangler? I like the grey area Kale occupies – sometimes he’s in shadow, and sometimes he turns on the light – and am glad Arliss Howard is becoming more prominent as we go.

I had a hard time buying that civilian data analyst Will Travers would be able to successfully tail a trained operative like Bloom, but the implausibility was worth it for Will’s reaction to seeing Bloom eating with Kale, and then his panicked conversation with Maggie. James Badge Dale is always at his most interesting when he’s playing a character on the edge (see also the “Pacific” episode where Leckie ends up in the mental hospital). We got a lot of that here, including Will’s attempt to pull Ed (Roger Robinson is also great at playing crazy) back from that edge by lying to him about Bloom (which has the unplanned side benefit of making Spangler think Will has called off the hunt), and then Will at episode’s end making his own Ed-style conspiracy collage.

I’m assuming the Yuri/George stuff will ultimately tie back into the conspiracy. After all, as has been pointed out, Will’s team specializes in the Middle East, and it’s unusual to see them tasked with such an important job out of their area. In the meantime, though, it’s functioning as an excuse to get to know the team better, and to see Will adjust into his new role as the boss. Here, he does a very good job with Tanya, pushing her into a position of more responsibility, but also acknowledging her personal problems even after she does so well with Spangler.

If “Rubicon” wants to have a long-term future (and the ratings haven’t been great so far, so we’ll have to see how patient AMC is willing to be), it’s going to need to find a balance between big stories like the crossword conspiracy and smaller ones like Will learning how to be a boss. This episode was a strong example of that.

What did everybody else think?

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