Rubicon, a new show on AMC has a cool title (a metaphor for a point of no return) and a cool tag line: “Not every conspiracy is a theory.” So I decided to see what they mean by that.
Things start off simply. A quote appears: “An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.” We’re asked to guess who said it, Ted Kacyzinski or Woodrow Wilson. Naturally the answer is the less obvious, and by extension, the more eerie, Wilson.
Next we see some kids running happily through the show. They’re shot from above, lending a starkness that says their happiness will be short-lived. A woman, we assume their mother (Miranda Richardson), joins in their game, while inside the stately manse, a man (their father? grandfather?) reads his morning newspaper. A four-leaf clover is pressed into the paper, giving him pause. He proceeds upstairs and blows his brains out.
The opening credits speak to anyone who is a fan of Dan Brown and the like. Numbers, symbols, words, and images are circled or connected, hinting at sinister hidden messages all around us. One of the images is of a freeway off/on-ramp “clover,” and immediately in the next scene people are sorting out a crossword clue about a four-leaf clover. So we’ve got a theme that is none too subtle.
Our protagonist is Will Travers (James Badge Dale), a moody academic. He is apathetic when a female co-worker reminds him it’s his birthday and offers to buy lunch. Will attends a staff meeting, which serves as an introduction to the other characters. Tanya, the most junior staff member, is chastised by Grant for forgetting the doughnuts. Grant is a jerk. Miles is a bearded version of Will. David, their boss (Peter Gerety), looks the part of esteemed university professor, complete with elbow patches. He gives each member of the team a cryptic assignment, starting with observing missile silos. It’s not entirely clear what this workplace is, or what the characters do. But that’s okay, because the real story seems to be Will’s obsession with a particular set of crossword puzzles.
Will brings the puzzles to David, for the elder gentleman’s expertise. There seems to be a pattern in the puzzles hinting at a mysterious fourth branch of government, the branches being symbolized by—you guessed it—clover leaves. It seems like a huge stretch to the viewer, but we have to buy that these guys are smart enough to see meaning where we laypeople would not. David gives him the brush off, only to pounce on the puzzles himself once Will is out the door. He in turn shows them to his boss, Kale (Arliss Howard).
A big reveal comes at lunchtime when Tanya asks Miles why Will walks around looking like his cat died. Miles replies, sanctimoniously, “Try wife and child. Try 9-11.” It’s a little ham-handed but adds an important layer to Will’s character. Another detail, this one handled with welcome subtlety is the revelation that David is Will’s father-in-law. “They’re gone,” he says. “It’s just something both of us have to accept.”
[SPOILER ALERT] David, we find is carrying the burden of knowing whatever Big Event is about to happen that will set off the storyline for the series. He warns Will to leave town, and then is killed in a train accident. Will, like any good conspiracy theorist, doesn’t accept that it was an accident. He reluctantly takes David’s job when it is rather insistently offered.
He enlists the help of a colleague, introducing us to another key character, Ed. Ed has that whole wise old hermit thing going on, so we figure he’s going to know some things.
So will the show be about solving David’s murder? Or about the crossword puzzle plot? Or both? And what of the man who killed himself in the opening? The pilot, though it has an arc, doesn’t really have an ending; and that’s a good thing. We’re in for some mellow-drama, to be sure, but it’s got the necessary hook.