‘Rubicon’ 1.03 Recap: Church and State

With the third episode of AMC’s new mystery thriller ‘Rubicon’ (or the second, depending on how you count last week’s two-part premiere), the show’s structure is starting to come into focus. In some respects, the series almost works like a typical procedural. In each episode, the analysis team at the innocuously-named American Policy Institute will be assigned a new case to investigate, while protagonist Will Travers continues to also piece together connections to the larger overarching conspiracy storyline. (Think of the way that ‘Monk’ solved a new murder each week while the search for his wife’s killer simmered in the background.) At least, that’s how it looks so far. However, ‘Rubicon’ is already much more complex and elaborate than any average procedural. In this show, the case-of-the-week largely takes a backseat to developments in the labyrinthine conspiracy.

In ‘Keep the Ends Out,’ the team has to dig through data on a German banker who allegedly has ties to the Russian mob. This assignment is pretty unusual in itself. Their specialty is usually the Middle East; this just isn’t their area. Unfortunately, attempts to pawn off the job to other agencies fall on deaf ears. Miles (the bearded guy) becomes especially frustrated, because all signs point to the banker being far too perfect a person. He has a nearly-spotless record, a reputation as a generous philanthropist, and seemingly no skeletons in his closet that anyone can find. Also, his perfect family reminds Miles of how his own private life is falling apart. He rarely sees his children, and his wife makes excuses to avoid scheduling time to be together.

Will, meanwhile, discovers that he’s being followed on the street by a threatening but not particularly stealthy man. After a few days of this, he tries to confront the man only to get beaten up. Of course, he assumes that this is tied to David’s death and the crossword puzzle case somehow. However, he learns the next day that the man was actually an FBI agent investigating him for security clearance. The agent was perhaps a little rusty at his field work, but advises Will never to attempt to confront a stalker. This seems like a lesson that will probably come in handy later.

Will also has to bring David’s widow (his mother-in-law) to the office to collect David’s possessions. She’d never been there before, and explains that David had a strict “church and state” policy of keeping his personal and professional lives separated. She hoped that she’d feel his presence where he worked, but says that the place doesn’t feel like him at all. She also asks Will to meet with her son Evan, who’s been requesting to see him.

Evan, it turns out, is a troubled young man with a history of some undefined mental illness. He wasn’t all that close to his father, and seems to have some jealousy issues about Will. What he wants is the motorcycle that David gave Will. He claims that his father promised it to him. Will is reluctant, because it’s the only item David left him, but also doesn’t want to ruffle feathers with the man’s son.

That night, Will becomes obsessed with the motorcycle. He has an instinct that David must have hid something there for him to find. He spends the night disassembling the thing in his living room, until he eventually finds a numerical code and a pistol hidden in the seat.

He brings the code to David’s friend Ed, the retired (read: burned out) former analyst. After giving it some thought, Ed realizes that the code is tied to historical baseball statistics. The first word he deciphers is “Travers,” which must have been David’s way of letting Will know when he’d cracked the code.

When Evan asks him about the motorcycle again, Will winds up bringing him into the apartment so that they can reassemble the bike together. This leads to some unexpected bonding.

During all this, we’re slowly revealed small tidbits of information about the characters’ personal lives. In additional to Miles’ marital troubles, Maggie – the mousy girl who’s been secretly reporting on everyone in the office to their boss Kale Ingram (Arliss Howard) – has a really bad day when her ex-husband shows up unexpectedly and wants to spend time with their daughter. That daughter has also been pestering her with really random questions she can’t answer, such as whether bears poop when they hibernate. She asks this question of Will, completely without context, and Will of course instantaneously has the answer.

There’s also a running joke in which Grant (the pudgy guy obsessed with pastries) mentions that he was named for Ulysses S. Grant. This spawns a debate in the office about whether Grant was one of the Worst 5 American Presidents, or only one of the Worst 10 Presidents. He is not amused.

There isn’t much going on this week regarding Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson), whose wealthy husband Tom mysteriously killed himself in the pilot episode. She tries to get answers from her husband’s best friend James (David Rasche, who I’ll always remember as ‘Sledge Hammer!’). He isn’t much help to her, but we know from the previous episode that he’s an active part of the 4-leaf clover conspiracy. This week, he steals a photo from the Rhumor house.

As the episode wraps up, we learn that Will is being spied on by another pair of men who are not part of the FBI (and are much more stealthy than the FBI agent). They’ve been following his every move and know all about Ed.

‘Rubicon’ moves at a slow pace and doesn’t have a lot of action, but I’m certainly intrigued by the plot and like the way that it’s developing so far. The show reminds me a lot of ‘Damages,’ in all the right ways.

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