I’m Not Sure Rubicon is Worth Crossing


When AMC debuts a new original series, most people sit up and take notice. Mad Men and Breaking Bad currently storm the Emmys every year and they really just might be the two best shows on television right now. So when they tell me to jump at their newest venture, Rubicon, I say, “how high?”

I’ve just finished watching the first two episodes of the conspiracy theory drama, and I have a few initial first impressions, none of them particularly great. Maybe it’s just hard to stand up to the channel’s other two powerhouses, but I’m worried this might not be in the same league.

Will Travers is just your average superintelligent codebreaker working for the government, and you can tell how high his IQ is by how unruly his hair is kept. He works in an office with a series of other government nobodies, receiving various pieces of data collected by spy agencies, and turning it into reports no one reads.
But one day, genius that he is, Travers inexplicably notices a pattern in his daily crossword puzzle. It may sound like the path to crazy, but after he tells his boss about his find, the man is immediately killed in a train crash amidst suspicious circumstances.


Only a spy would wear a hat that goofy. 

What follows is Travers launching his own investigation into what the hell is going on, all the while hiding this project from his bosses, who he suspects are behind it all in the first place. It’s a spy thriller, minus the thriller, as the only person to get shot so far is some old millionaire who blew his own brains out. From what we know so far, he appears to have been part of a secret cabal of rich people and government officials, conspiring to do something dastardly that if I had to guess will probably make them ever richer and more powerful than they already are. But it seems that Travers is a long way from discovering that they even exist, much less what they’re up to.

Breaking Bad works because it features an incredibly original concept (a dying chemistry teacher selling meth to provide for his family) and a pair of powerful, memorable performances from its two leads. Rubicon so far has a relatively mundane concept, the government and assorted rich people are up to something sinister, and one guy knows it and must piece together clues. As for a standout lead, The Pacific’s James Badge Dale is certainly an adequate actor, but it seems unclear how his character is supposed to be written.

In the pilot episode, Dale’s Will Travers seems to be wracked with lingering issues from his family’s death in 9/11. He also seems to be suffering from some sort of personality disorder presumably brought on by his extreme intelligence which effects how he relates to others. But by episode two, most of those quirks have already gone away. Sure, Travers may have his off moments, but the vast majority of the time now he just seems like an average guy, reasonably paranoid about all the shadowy figures following him around.


You can tell Traver’s mood by how messy his hair is. 

Mad Men works as a show because it’s incredibly well written, and has a visual style unlike anything else on TV. Rubicon is not poorly scripted per se, but for a show about geniuses cracking secret government codes, I haven’t seen anything particularly brilliant in these first two installments. As for the style? I mean, what style? Yes, I’m sure the drab and dull offices of government codebreakers in real life aren’t exactly stylish, but everything in the show is just various shades of brown, and the characters aren’t any more colorful. There’s the prick analyst, who you constantly want to punch in the face. There’s the crazy analyst, who is crazy. And the two women featured certainly aren’t January Jones or Christina Hendricks, and I mean that both in looks and in character arcs, at least not yet for the latter.

I don’t know, I have to have faith in AMC for their perfect batting record with original series so far, but I remember that both Mad Men and Breaking Bad made a distinct impression on me, even only one or two episodes in when they premiered. Here’s to hoping Rubicon can pick up the pace, and deliver a show worthy of its channel.


What’s a seven letter word for “underwhelming?” R-U-B-I…

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  1. “He works in an office with a series of other government nobodies, receiving various pieces of data collected by spy agencies, and turning it into reports no one reads.”

    This pretty much sums up what I did when I worked in Army Intelligence.

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