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'Rubicon:' Taking a timeout from the central conspiracy

August 16, 2010 | 11:50 am

Rubicon1Recognizing that by episode four the show's viewers could use a break from the mounting minutia involved in the basic plot -- the revelatory crossword puzzle, David Hadas' phobia about the number 13, the competing teams following Will Travers -- "Rubicon" opened things up a bit Sunday night.

Will and his uber boss, Truxton Spangler, took the train to Washington for a round of meetings justifying the existence of their intelligence analysis organization, API, at a time when agency budgets everywhere are being slashed. This required Will to spend two uncomfortable days hanging with Spangler, a veteran of the intelligence service's more cut-and-dried days, who seems to admire Will though he can't abide his canvas messenger bag, barely lets him speak in the meetings and didn't care for Will's take on Friedman's latest op-ed column on Sudan.

Spangler also has a clumsy interpersonal style; Will can't agree or connect with much that he says. And Spangler's effectiveness is suspect: He is cut short by a Gen. James Jones-type in one meeting, and in another he gives a big showy speech to a dismissive official -- was it a member of a Senate committee?  It was hard to tell. He compared  the intelligence community's need for the independent API to the welcome perspective an outsider would bring to the senator's choice of a tie, rather than his wife's obviously biased advice. I thought it was labored and condescending, and doubted it would convince anyone across the conference table, but Spangler and Will celebrated afterward, so they must have thought they scored. 

Their subsequent hotel room dinner also included the odd moment when Will asked where Spangler's college-aged son was in school and Spangler simply did not answer. Spangler also revealed what he considered the appeal of the spy life:  "The solitude, the separation -- it's a gift. That's what they don't see." It both explains Spangler's odd ways and sets him apart from Will. Lonely Will, we think, is a guy who could do with a little less solitude and separation, as his plaintive wave to his across-the-airshaft neighbor later suggested.

While Will was on what Grant referred to as the "teacher's pet tour" -- get over it, Grant --  Miles, Tanya and Grant were given a new, deadline-driven assignment: If a top Al Qaeda figure, described as a virtual rock star of Islamic extremism, was going to be in certain building in Jakarta at a certain time according to a trusted field operative, should a U.S. Predator aircraft bomb that building, even if intelligence photos show that there are civilians, specifically children and old people, who would die in the strike? Ingram gives them two days and says it must be a unanimous recommendation: "There are no split decisions when it comes to irreversibles."

The team's deliberations provided a fascinating look at both the process and the human dimension involved in decisions like that, even if the characterizations -- Tanya the female equals lone holdout who can't make the cold, hard decision to send in the bombs  -- were somewhat unimaginative. The consistent eye-rolling and denigrating of Tanya's comments opinions continued, with Miles at one point saying "She doesn't belong here" and leaving the room. Miles is the only likable character of the three; he's smart, intuitive, expresses himself well, and has a nervous, messy humanity. Tanya seems like a college senior speaking up in seminar. (And if the scenes of her retching and popping pills in the ladies room are supposed to ID her as a potential loose cannon -- wouldn't that stuff have shown up in her pre-employment security check?)

Miranda Richardson's Katharine prowled the episode's sidelines, lost in the storyline about her husband's suicide and the mysterious Upper East Side townhouse he left her. Is there no one else in this woman's life? In the pilot she was playing with children when she heard the gunshot that killed her husband. We haven't seen or heard them since. It's a big old house out there on Long Island -- no servants? In one scene, the Nassau County police return the bloody bathrobe her husband was found in, his wedding ring and his cellphone (pocket of his bathrobe?). There is a message on it from her, and one from her husband's friend Wheeler -- "Tom, it's James. If you keep this up you know what's going to happen." She also finds a Chinese takeout menu in the townhouse and goes there to ask (and pay for) information about when they delivered there and whose charge card was used. Surprise: James Wheeler again.

Oh: Will did pursue some background checks on figures in his investigation into David Hadas' death on his trip. It being Washington, he arranged to have a friend with access to classified information bring him a file in a dimly lit, deserted underground garage -- apparently the milieu of choice for secret government information exchanges in that city.

-- Kelly Scott

Above: Will (James Badge Dale, far left) and Spangler (Michael Cristofer, far right) in a meeting in Washington concerning the future of their intelligence organization. Credit:  AMC