TV We Love…Rubicon

I will confess to just one thing: no, not the ongoing spate of confusing and disturbingly sexual cat murders in my area. I’ll never confess to them. No, it’s that I have an unfortunate and profound weakness for a bit of espionage.  Throw in a bit of political manoeuvring and the hint of a vast and malevolent conspiracy and I’m undoubtedly a goner.

For example, not long before Christmas, and entirely against my better judgement, I stayed up until three in the morning because I was engrossed in a six hour miniseries about the history of the CIA starring Chris O’Donnell. Yes, that Chris O’Donnell. Batman Forever Chris O’Donnell.

There’s no hope for me.

So you wouldn’t need to be George Smiley to deduce that Rubicon, a dark tale of spies and conspiracy, is right up my alley.  Its makers AMC, the people behind Mad Men and Breaking Bad, intended it to be a clever new take on the seventies conspiracy thriller, in much the same way Deadwood rejuvenated the Western, Game of Thrones reinvigorated fantasy and Secret Diary of a Call Girl revivified the ‘prostitutes who love their work’ genre.

I may even have chortled with anticipation before I watched the first episode,  so sure was I that I would clasp Rubicon to my manly bosom, but in reality I nearly turned it off and turned my back on it twenty minutes in because of the following:

“He goes around looking like his favourite cat just died,” says a colleague of the main character.

“His cat?” fires back another co-worker. “Try wife and kid. Try 9/11.”

Desperate stuff. Apart from being as on the nose as the greatest punch ever thrown, it’s ridiculously unnecessary. If a character’s wife and kid are dead, they already have my sympathy. The fact they died in 9/11 doesn’t get them any more sympathy. In fact it gets you less, because It’s a blatantly desperate move by the writers to over-egg the sympathypudding.

In the first couple of episodes it’s easy to see why Rubicon only got a single season. Though it’s generally well made, it’s very slow moving and the clunky dialogue above wasn’t the only moment that provoked the deep guttural groan of the profoundly unimpressed. But if you stick with it, things turn around. The main character, Will Travers, is portrayed with charming agitation by James Badge Dale and as we learn more about him and his fellow intelligence analysts they turn into deep, well rounded characters.

This is particularly true of Travers’ ambiguous boss, Kale Ingram, a magnificent fusion of enigma and menace stuffed into an immaculate, fitted black rollneck sweater. Even if he does turn out to be evil, it seems fairly obvious he doesn’t have a large white cat.

Also the conspiracy that unfolds is rather a doozy, and the gradual revelation consists of seemingly obscure pattern after pattern falling into sense in a way which is profoundly satisfying.

Now to get past the first couple of episodes, you really do have to be in the market for this sort of thing already. So If you were a big fan of the recent film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy I reckon you’ll get a lot of out it. And if you’re already a fan, we are both absolutely correct: Rubicon’s fantastic and all those people who told me they didn’t like don’t know a damn thing about anything. 


The series finished last year. However, it is available on DVD boxset from Amazon.


About Ian Dunn
I love avocados, WH Auden and dinosaurs but I don't like effort.

4 Responses to TV We Love…Rubicon

  1. Hilary says:

    Isn’t Rubicon a drink? A delicious, mango-flavoured drink?

  2. Ian Dunn says:

    A delicious spy flavoured mango drink! Mmmmm.
    Also Rubicon is currently being repeated on BBC 2 late at night, Monday to thursday. But it’s not on the iplayer for some reason. BOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

    • Ian Dunn says:

      Should have mentioned that in the article. D’oh!

      • Hilary Wardle says:

        Yeah. That might be the kind of information to PASS ON TO AN EDITOR. Or something. *deducts 15 writerpoints from Dunny*

        You’re now back to Junior Sub-Underling level.

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