Rubicon, “Pilot”

I admittedly love conspiracy theories. I listen to Coast to Coast AM every night. I read conspiracy theory-tinged books. So it’s fairly obvious to say that I’m already hooked on Rubicon.

The AMC series doesn’t officially unspool until August 1, but the pilot episode that aired after Breaking Bad proved that AMC is most likely to go 3-for-3 in its drama series. The pilot features the right mix of intrigue, atmosphere and character development that suggests something very cool is coming down the pipe, if we’re patient.

What is really kind of wild about the Rubicon pilot is how little information we’re actually given. We know that Will Travers (James Badge Dale from The Pacific sporting a partially ridiculous hairdo) works for a government thinktank. We know his wife and child died in 9/11. We know that he and his co-workers are very, very good at find patterns, even in the most inane things such as the daily crossword. And we know that because of something is happening that is probably bad, Will’s boss tells him to quit his job — right before he’s supposedly killed. That is basically it. That’s all the information we get in 47 minutes.

But because the episode is so good at building up this dour, dry and bleak world — my god, does anyone in this office wear any colors but brown, gray and off-white? — and providing some nice character moments, I didn’t find myself looking at a clock or wondering why there wasn’t any information being given. For a pilot, this episode is sort of weird in that sense because it doesn’t really tell us anything, especially about what kind of series Rubicon could be. What will happen on a weekly basis? Will certain thinktank-y things pop up that create a procedural/standalone element each week that could ultimately connect to a larger picture? Or will episodes feature Will slowly figuring things out, looking breathless and peering over his shoulder through shadowed lighting? I don’t think there is any way that we can tell after this episode.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere here feels like a character itself. I mentioned the lighting and the intentionally bad color pallet, but the episode was slowly plotted like a Cold War spy thriller or something. I’ve read numerous comparisons to ’70s cinema, and I definitely saw that here and am certainly in for more shadows, creepy music, cold weather and mysterious looks into the distance. I liked that a number of scenes were given the opportunity to breathe and linger without much regard for moving on to a next sequence.

I don’t want to go down this route because it’s a comparison that I hate to read about, but in some ways, Rubicon feels like the best post-Lost replacement for the island drama. I don’t mean that they’re the same on really any level, but what almost all of the Lost rip-offs failed to capture were the small character beats that made the ABC drama such a superhit. Instead, they focused on stupid, long-reaching plots that made the characters feel like dialogue-giving machines without much personality. But here, there’s some stuff to chew on. Will’s a really compelling character and despite my sarcasm in the previous paragraph, Badge Dale plays him with a subtle psychosis of a man who hasn’t slept right in years. I’m kind of already intrigued by the relationship between him and the character played by Jessica Collins with the kid. I don’t really know why, but at least there was attention paid to the relationships between the people in this weird, conspiracy-filled world. And if the series continues down that road, I’ll be even happier.

Ah, but who am I kidding — I LOVE conspiracies! So it’s a bunch of powerful white men, obviously. Illuminati? Bilderberg? The Knights Templar? The remaining members of Atlantis? Aliens? Reptilians? This stuff is real people!

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