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Sunday, 7 of March of 2021

Rubicon – “You Can Never Win”

We were unable to stay ahead of the narrative.”

Not exactly a great title for what could potentially be your last episode, Rubicon (and I didn’t think being meta was something you were interested in). But, boy, what a great finale in either case.

As we move into a discussion of the finale, and the season as a whole, let’s remember that Rubicon let its characters fail. And now that they failed on a personal level, we expect them to fail and struggle on a personal level, but that they failed to do their jobs because they couldn’t find that one pattern, that one detail that would make the necessary links is all to ballsy of a show on the edge of cancellation. But as this episode demonstrates, despite the big explosion happening last week, the fallout is even more exciting and surprising.

Like all season finales, “You Can Never Win” re-jiggers things with plenty of fresh options available for the next season, but Rubicon manages to do the re-jiggering in ways that also provide closure (to a degree) to the stories being told here. If last week was largely about tying up the “Slow Version of 24” plot, “You Can Never Win” ties off the “Will Travers Investigates!” story with some very nicely constructed character beats¬† to fill it out. If anything, the finale is the most representative episode of what the show became as it went along this season.

I’ll get to the genuinely surprising twist in a moment, but I really want to relish the fall out at API. Truxton’s decision to promote Grant is not at all surprising — it’s been hinted at for a couple of weeks now — worked well, especially in a crisis mode: of course you would demote the team leader who didn’t pick up on a major terrorist attack in time (if not outright fire him), so for all Grant knows, that’s exactly what happened. Tanya’s immediate response “I quit!” was both funny, but also a nice beat for her as it brings her arc of dealing with the stress of API to a nice close. Grant, who reached out to her from the group, wouldn’t be a reason she left (though she may shiver at the thought of working for Grant).

Miles’ arc, sadly, is left a little out in the cold here. He knocks back and forth between Will’s world and the team’s world, unable to steady himself anywhere. If anything, Miles is more at a loss than anyone (save for Truxton) as his world is slipping through his fingers. Losing his family was bad enough, but to have the one thing that grounded him suddenly get called into question (and now he has to work for Grant?!) is more than the poor guy can bear, especially with his strong moral compass.

But what about the rest? What to talk about first? That David and Tom knew one another? We could’ve suspected that, and probably should have, but it made for a nice twist. A nicer twist, however, was Andy. I suspected that Andy, potentially, could be on Kale’s payroll (he likes for pretty girls to watch over Will, after all). But to discover that she’s actually working for Tom and/or David to keep Katherine safe? That was a genuinely wonderful surprise in the finale. It does, still, call into question, how she handled interacting with Will (finding his gun, etc.), but I genuinely think that she had no idea who Will was, and thus her curiosity was personal, not professional.

I can’t help but wonder why she walked away from Katherine in Central Park, leaving Will to fend for himself there. Did seeing Will startle her that much, or did she decide that her job, whatever it may be, was over and didn’t want to face Will yet? What could it be?

Speaking of pretty girls to watch over Will, poor Maggie. She finally tells Will that she’s there for him. For anything.¬†Anything. And Will, so battered down between the intelligence failure (though knowing that there was little he could do to stop it may’ve eased that blow) and Katherine’s death, looks like he’s about to take Maggie up on that offer. And let’s give some serious kudos to James Badge Dale as his face, with sucked in lips and misty eyes, is really selling the fact this is a tired, worn out man (as Todd VanDerWerff noted, it seems like this season took about 10 months for everything to occur). That he closes his eyes and lays his head on her chest to sleep is incredibly warm and touching (does Rubicon have shippers? It must), but probably not what Maggie wanted, but she’ll settle for it. It concludes her chaste chase after Will, even if said chase was largely orchestrated by Kale.

Kale, who gets very little to do in this episode, sadly. But his job is largely done so far as everything is concerned. Will has the data he needs, his teams are working at capacity. What can he do? In a very strong episode, Kale’s lack of a real presence was a sad omission, especially for the show’s breakout character.

But what of those last big fireworks on the roof? Will lays out all there for Truxton, explaining all his research, letting Truxton know that hell hath no fury like a Travers scorn, and that he will be going public with all of this. Truxton, knowing that he’s the walking dead (ha ha ha ha) after getting a four leaf clover with a nice flower arrangement, still critiques Will’s approach. I love the assertion that Will has done impeccable research, but that his analysis is lacking. A jab not only at Will’s personal project but also at Will’s professional standing: “Great research on Kateb. Why didn’t you put it together sooner?”

I’d agree with Jaime Weinman that the confrontation comes off a little clunky (he called them rooftop Mad Libs), and that does dampen the spirit of the confrontation. However, it’s the closing bit that brings Rubicon to a cohesive close. Like with all 1970s American paranoia thrillers, the hero manages to figure everything out, connect the dots, and is ready to reveal it all. As Truxton kindly points out, “Who gives a shit?” And he’s right. Terrific, Will. You’re going to expose this massive decades-running global conspiracy and do you think it’ll work? Do you think it’ll get anywhere but Congressional hearings, a trial that will take years to occur? And then what? All this work and you will still lose, Will. You’ve won and you’ve still lost because the system is just too big to help you.

It’s a theme that pounded home again and again in those thrillers, and true to its roots, Rubicon makes sure that this is crystal clear. Now, of course, Truxton could be wrong, but he’s a dead man so what does he care? The other Clovers have circled the wagons and are no doubt shredding documents as Will and Truxton speak. Will has nothing to gain from going public except more grief, more sleepless nights.

And that’s where Rubicon has excelled. The scope of everything always seemed so large even when it wasn’t. As if to drive this home, the show deploys excellent use of wide shots in the episode, pairing them scene to scene. One occurs in Truxton’s office, between he and Grant. It’s a crowded, claustrophobic one even as it tries to make the room bigger. You almost can’t breathe, and Truxton, always stuck in that room with its useless window, also can’t breathe. And then we do a classic 70s wide angle shot as Will looks at Katherine wandering by the fountain. Danger could be anywhere, and is. You just can’t see it because the people are too tiny, too far away. And that’s how the system works in these types of stories: it swallows you whole, consumes your life and just because you see and understand this tiny little speck (Truxton’s office), doesn’t mean you can actually undo the whole system. You can’t see everything, you can’t know everything. Intelligence, after all, is mostly failures.

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