Rubicon may be the best TV show since La Femme Nikita (1997-2001). Both shows focused on counterterrorism. La Femme Nikita was paradoxical. Section One epitomized the self-contradiction in pure utilitarian ethics: saving humanity by inhuman means. The paradox was underscored by the hard-bitten atheism of Operations and Madeline. Their fanatical devotion to achieving the goal in a world without any ultimate significance.
Rubicon lacks that razor edge. Instead, Rubicon is reminiscent of those Cold War thrillers by John le Carré: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and Smiley’s People–with their attention to the cannibalistic world of spycraft.
Watching Rubicon is like reading a novel. Something you have to give your undivided attention. Not everybody likes reading novels.
It has a novelistic eye for the mundane details of life. Art frequently edits out the mundane details of life to highlight The Big Picture. But in Rubicon, the camera will sometimes pause to show the quirky little things that people do when they’re all alone in a room or elevator. A patient, appreciative eye for the small, quiet, private moments in life. The empty in-between moments in life.
Rubicon suffers somewhat from the liberal fixation with gov’t conspiracies. Yet the world of political intrigue is one-dimensional world that only fascinates and captivates the big gov’t liberal. And it also betrays the emotional quandary of the liberal. For the liberal, gov’t can never be too expansive or intrusive, yet liberals are also consumed with foreboding about a vast gov’t conspiracy. They create the phantom they fear.
Rubicon centers on counterintelligence. The protagonist, Will Travers, has the brilliant mind of a codebreaker. A man with a knack for divining subtle, elusive patterns. And he works with two other brilliant colleagues.
But brilliant men and women are apt to be somewhat unstable to begin with, and “connecting the dots” can push them over the edge. Instead of cracking the code, the code cracks the man. The obsessive, single-minded pursuit of the codebreaker can break the codebreaker rather than the code. He may go so far into the labyrinth that he can’t retrace his steps.
It generates a dilemma. If you’re sure that something contains a hidden clue, then you’re apt to find what you expect to find. The very process of looking for hidden patterns can project illusory patterns. You end up watching your own mind at play. You lose yourself in a maze of your own imagining. Is it detection, or reflection? A complex web of deception–or self-deception?
At the same time, the world really is chalk-full of patterns. Concentric or interconnected patterns. So it can be tricky to distinguish the intentional patterns from the coincidental patterns.
Yet this can also work in reverse. Due to tunnel vision, you can miss a “hidden” pattern that’s really there because you haa a preconception of what the pattern should look like. You're so busy looking that you overlook what's right there.
What if the pattern isn’t embedded in the details. What if everything is the pattern? You can miss the pattern that's been staring you in the face because you expect the pattern to be hidden rather than overt. You’re peeling away the actual pattern as you search for an underlying pattern beneath the presumptive layers of misdirection. But what if the entire phenomenon, through-and-through, exemplifies the pattern? Put another way, what if the pattern isn’t too small to make-out, but too large to make-out?
I’m reminded of debates over the “hiddenness” of God. Debates over specified complexity. Theistic proofs that try to isolate telltale clues left in the vapor trail of God’s passing. Pulling out a flashlight to glean trace evidence in the dark.
Yet this runs the risk of tunnel vision. Treating the world like a code to be decrypted, rather than seeing the pattern everywhere you look. But is it a question of where to find the pattern? Or is it a question of where, if anywhere, the pattern is not to be found? What if everything is equally patterned? There’s nothing to discover. It’s all there, all the time. We are squinting in broad daylight.