‘Rubicon’ 1.04 Recap: “I Just Want to Feel Good About Killing These People”

You’d think that a show as intricately scripted as ‘Rubicon’, with such a surprisingly short first season (I believe there are only two episodes left), wouldn’t have much time to spare on storylines that don’t seem directly connected to the main conspiracy plot. Yet this week’s episode is almost entirely focused on such side stories, and has very little to reveal about the main conspiracy narrative at all. Despite this, it’s perhaps the most fascinating and dramatically compelling episode so far.

‘The Outsider’ is split between two main story threads. In the first, Will must travel to Washington D.C. with his superior Truxton Spangler. He spends most of the time meeting with people whose names he will never learn, and whose positions of authority are unclear. All he really needs to know is that they’re more powerful and more important than he is. Will isn’t even really sure what his purpose there is. Spangler inevitably does all the talking.

In broad strokes, their mission is to convey the American Policy Institute’s importance to the country’s intelligence network, in order to ensure continued funding. Spangler also indicates that there’s been a Congresswoman blowing a lot of hot air about greater transparency in the intelligence field, and he’d like to keep her nose out of their business.

Back at the office, the other analysts are having a difficult time without Will. Grant, Miles and Tanya are assigned a particularly troubling case. With only limited data available, they must assess and advise whether the military should launch a tactical air strike that could potentially take out an Al Qaeda big-wig. The problem is that the strike is certain to have significant collateral damage to innocent civilians (including children) in the neighborhood around the target building. They can’t even really be sure that the terrorist will actually be in the building at the designated time. They must weigh these factors to determine whether the man is an important enough target, and whether his death will be significant enough, to risk the operation.

This decision weighs very heavily on all three of them. They lock themselves in a room and debate in ’12 Angry Men’ fashion (minus about 9) for the next two days. This is an incredible moral dilemma that they take very seriously, even when their superiors – including Kale Ingram (Arliss Howard) – seem very dispassionate about the outcome. Their job is to look at the data objectively and make a purely logical yes/no decision. Either it happens or it doesn’t. Personal feelings or morality should have no part in it.

This ties back in with Will and Spangler. In a meeting with military brass, they must justify why the API is needed at all. After all, the military already receives the exact same intelligence data. Why do they need someone else to look at it?

Spangler explains that the API’s position as a disinterested third party is its greatest asset. To demonstrate, he forms an analogy regarding one man’s tie. If the man dresses for work in the morning, and his wife tells him that the tie looks good on him, how much can he trust that opinion? The wife may have ulterior motives. Perhaps she bought him that tie. Perhaps she just wants him to feel positive about it so that he’ll have a good day.

Now, consider that a total stranger (he indicates Will) tells him that the tie looks good on him. The stranger has no motives for this, and no investment in the outcome. His opinion is impartial and objective. “He doesn’t care about you,” Spangler says. “You can trust him.”

It’s a powerful, sobering moment, all the more so when we see just what an emotional toll the air strike decision has taken on Tanya, Grant and Miles. Ultimately, they vote to go through with the attack. They’re informed the next day in very clinical terms that the mission was carried out, but that no one can even tell for at least a few days whether the target was in the building.

The conspiracy plot is brought in only in small doses. While in D.C., Will manages to sneak off to a secret rendezvous with a friend who brings him classified files about the seven names on the list that David had hidden in the motorcycle seat. At least six were former CIA agents. All but two are either dead or incapacitated. Of those, only one seems significant, and he may be in New York.

Meanwhile, Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson) investigates her dead husband Tom’s mysterious townhouse and learns that he’d been having secret meetings with James (David Rasche) there. James, of course, had told Katherine that he knew nothing about the townhouse. She also receives a box from the police with her husband’s belongings (including his blood-stained clothes – who would possibly want those back?), and listens to a cryptic message that James left on his cell phone, which suggest that he knew much more about whatever Tom was involved with than he’s letting on.

With only two episodes left to air, I’m not certain whether this season will have an actual ending to this plot, or whether the producers expect to pick it up in a second season. I guess we’ll know more after the next episode.

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