When Rubicon debuted, it clearly wanted to be a 24-style conspiracy thriller with ’70s leanings, but the pilot didn’t seem too interested in focusing on the characters as much as the multi-layered plotline. Once Henry Bromell came on and figured out what the series should be by episode four, Rubicon became a totally different and ultimately better series, one that focused on the impacts of these conspiracies and global calamities on people instead of the calamities themselves. Many people started calling it “the anti-24.”
And in the most recent episodes, Bromell and his writing staff figured out how to tell that original story through the prism of the new Rubicon, particularly last week’s episode where Truxton’s cabal saw their Kateb-powered plan come to fruition and Will saw the last few months of work crumble around him. The series proved it could execute the conspiracy stuff without losing its new character-centric edge.
Unfortunately, the season (and perhaps series) finale feels more like a return to the Rubicon of the pilot than the Rubicon we’ve seen in the previous 8-9 episodes, leading to a fairly disappointing conclusion to what was one hell of a run of excellent television. If the previous batch of episodes had been the anti-24, “You Can Never Win” is the series’ attempt to be 24 for reasons that don’t really make sense to me. Bromell and company have been able to execute elements of the conspiracy story they didn’t originally create with their own style in recent episodes, but here, it suddenly feels like Jason Horowich was back or the writers felt like they had to conclude this story in the way it started instead of sticking to their guns.
There are a number of moments here that were groan-inducing, but the most obvious one has to be Andy’s position as some sort of bodyguard for both Katherine and apparently, Will. I think I’ve said it since her great introduction that I would hate to find out that she were some sort of mole because it would negate the interesting relationship that she and Will shared across those handful of episodes. Well, even though she didn’t turn out to be a mole for Truxton, she is still some sort of gun-toting operative and it felt wholly awkward and uncomfortable watching Katherine show up at her place while she loaded a gun. I don’t want to say that it completely negates and ruins episodes like “Look to the Ant,” but it comes close to that. This is particularly frustrating because after it’s revealed Andy is not who we thought she was, she doesn’t have much to do but order Katherine around and eventually disappear into the shadows when things go south. So not only is the shocking reveal not consistent with how Rubicon has liked to do things, but this particular reveal is worthless because there are no other impacts of it. Will doesn’t find out, so who cares?
Speaking of who cares, let’s take a moment to grieve for the series’ worst character Katherine Rhumor, who unfortunately met her demise in another sequence that felt partially out-of-place. Katherine has been a pointless and worthless character all season and here, she finds that the “TRUTH” is on her DVD, but of course, she turns it off before the returning-from-the-dead David explains the whole conspiracy to Will. She tries to take said DVD to Will but gets stuck with a needle by Clay Davis and amid the goofy insanity, Will doesn’t notice the DVD at his feet. You know, the DVD THAT HAS ALL THE ANSWERS.
There are multiple problems with this sequence and outcome. First of all, while I suspected Katherine would meet her demise because there is no real reason to keep her around in the future, shame on the series for trying to keep some air of intrigue as to what was on the DVD and as to who killed her. In every interview he’s done, Bromell has been saying the possible second season would be much more procedural without the conspiracy elements, so why not make more of an effort to give out some information? I understand the desire it not letting the audience know everything the supposedly smart characters do not, but there doesn’t seem to be a reason to add more mystery instead of taking a little bit away. And to have Will not pick up the DVD? That’s such a cheap, lame trick that I couldn’t even believe it while I was watching.
As for Katherine, her death here serves as a sign that her character was worthless and Bromell had no direction for her. At best, she’s served as a vessel for information given to Will and here, she can’t even fulfill that task and now she’s dead. She’s been the worst part of the series all season, so I guess it’s fitting she’s the worst part of the finale as well.
To avoid sounding like I totally hated this episode (I kind of liked it!) let’s burn through my other problems with “You Can Never Win” in bullet form:
- The cabal’s vote to knock off Truxton? I’m not sure even 24 would try something that ridiculous in set design. Good lord, subtly was out the window on that one.
- Bringing Will and Maggie back together again felt like another attempt to tie in the good Rubicon with the bad one, and it’s just unfortunate.
- How dare you give me a Rubicon finale and not jam-pack it with Kale Ingram.
- Oh, and when your conclusive “evidence” moment involves a tertiary character pulling stuff up on a computer when the whole series has a more analog approach and feel, it’s just so disappointing. Don’t do that again.
Okay, glad I got that all off my chest.
Like I said, there were a few things I liked about this episode because thankfully, there were a few moments when it focused on the people and I remembered how great Rubicon could be. Though I don’t like them as some sort of romantic pairing, Will’s speech to Maggie was a good one because it crystallized how awful it’s been to be him in recent months and how he can really never go back. With Truxton trying to push him out by giving Grant the Team Leader position, I suspect that if there is a season two, Will won’t be at API.
Moreover, watching Miles slowly unravel after Will tells and proves to him that Truxton is involved in the Kateb plot is absolutely the strongest part of this episode. Dallas Roberts has slowly made Miles more controlled over the season as opposed to the super-twitchy goofball he was in the pilot, but here, all that came crashing down and he couldn’t even keep from holding back tears. While Miles is certainly the most trustworthy, he’s also the most compassionate and it will be intriguing to see how he handles the truth in the future (again, if there is one).
And of course, the final sequence, with Will and Truxton on the roof, though partially cliché, is fully enjoyable. Thankfully, we know there won’t be any shootouts or any fist-fights, and instead, Will presents his case to Truxton and Mr. Spangler doesn’t deny any of it. Where the scene really succeeds is how it doesn’t let Truxton transform into some cackling uber-villain, but instead he’s clearly out of sorts in his own right with all the awful things he’s done. Of course, this moment of self-analysis is brought on by the fact that he’s been given the directive to off himself, but all season Truxton has been a complicated individual, one who is completely believable when he says he cared about David. As someone who’s been playing both sides for years, he knows that even if Will does publish his work, it probably won’t even matter (though that also feels like Truxton trying to pass the buck in the midst of killing himself).
In the end, Will’s left on the roof with his thoughts and the knowledge that he can’t, in fact win. I think he’s always known that, but this is such a personal fight that he can’t give up. What happens now is anyone’s guess, but let’s hope that if Rubicon does return for a second go-around, it leaves the messes of its first season behind and focuses on the things it can do right. Unfortunately, if this is the end, this is a fairly bad way to go out for a series that’s been so great.