what i watched last week

rubicon season (series?) finale

Rubicon’s finale ran under the radar, much as the show has done throughout its first season (no one is watching, and a second season is far from assured). Since it is AMC’s lead-in for Mad Men, and since Mad Men overflows with cultural cache, and since Mad Men also had its season finale last night … well, it’s easy to understand why people who never watched Rubicon in the first place (i.e. most people) ignored the finale.

This is too bad, sure, but really, those of us who became fondly attached to Rubicon long ago accepted that it was never going to be water-cooler material. As many pointed out at the beginning, Rubicon was something of an anti-24, superficially about terrorism and intrigue but without the constant edge-of-your-seat action/violence of 24. Rubicon was 24 for intellectuals, and by that I don’t just mean it was directed towards smart people. Rubicon was about intellectuals … the heroes weren’t emotionally distraught shoot-first-ask-later archetypes, but instead really smart, neurotic office workers who pored over endless piles of intelligence documents, looking for connections. Jack Bauer in 24 suffered for his country and his ideals because he was always having to do things he didn’t want to do, out of respect for his personal code. The workers of Rubicon suffer the way most of us do … working too late, getting wrapped up in the job. Rubicon showed us that the kind of personality good at filtering through intelligence data (super smart, socially inept, good at abstract thinking) was also the kind of personality that fed on itself in such a work environment. It’s not just that no one had a life outside of work … it’s that every slim chance that they might finally escape was overwhelmed by yet another stack of documents. One of the intelligence workers was an addict, but really, they all were, addicted to information, to making connections, to overloading their brains. (Interesting that as the season/series ended, the only one who opted to leave the company was the admitted addict.)

It is understandable that such a show would always walk a fine line between engrossing and boring, and for most of America, the boring side won out. I thought Rubicon did a good job of making us care about scenes where someone thought really hard and looked through lots of papers. But I’m not naïve … I know that Rubicon is not for everyone, that a lot of what made it intriguing guaranteed a small audience, and I know those who ignored Rubicon are just as “right” as those of us who stuck around.

Instant critical reaction to the finale seems a bit negative, and it is true that the ending seemed in some irritating way designed to be unsatisfying to everyone who watched it. I agree that the final episode drew too much attention to the things that never made sense, and that the use of Miranda Richardson’s character as something of a MacGuffin was poorly executed (for one thing, I’m not sure she was a MacGuffin … she may well have been crucial to the narrative). (Although perhaps she was a meta-commentary on the series: you have to follow every lead, but most of them will turn out to be useless.) But the part of the series that drew upon the paranoid movie thrillers of the 1970s? That part was well-served by the finale, and while that ensured that some people would find the ending inconclusive, pessimists like me found it quite appropriate. The final lines would be perfect for the show’s tombstone. Our hero has finally put all of the pieces together, and he tells his boss, the marvelously-named Truxton Spangler (played by the equally marvelous Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Michael Cristofer), the mastermind behind the nefarious plot, that he will expose them all by sending the information to the newspapers. “Do it,” says Spangler, before asking, “Do you really think anyone is going to give a shit?” Now THAT is meta. Grade for finale: A-. Grade for season: A-. My prediction is that the show won’t be given a second season … look at how often I used the past tense in the above. But I also predict it will develop a cult following over the years.