Sunday, August 01, 2010

AMC's "Rubicon" is a subtle series on intelligence work

The new series “Rubicon” on AMC seems like a more low-keyed, somewhat meandering treatment, of the spy genre: how ordinary people can get mixed up in things of existential importance, but we don’t know what they are. The series so far is directed by Allen Coulter and created and written by Jason Horwitch.

Will Travers, a thirtyish yuppie played by James Badge Dale, “inherits” the job of boss at this little spy agency (API) in Manhattan after the mysterious death of the former boss in a commuter train wreck. Up to now, Will has been the super paean, who cracks (malicious) code for a living (although he looks capable of being combative). There are bizarre clues including parking space numbers and disappearing bodies, as well as steganography embedded in crossword puzzles published simultaneously in many newspapers (that doesn’t sound too remarkable for the real world).

The first two episodes are titled “Gone in the Teeth” and “The First Day of School”. Now, the first episode has a “reading of the will” scene that could come right out of John Knowles (fortunately, no orphaned children are “inherited”, a favorite plot idea in Hollywood).

People who work in intelligence can’t talk about what they do (much less blog or tweet about it), so you wonder what the point of all the spying will be. It can become perfunctory, with one trip or incident after another, unless there is some clear peril or menace building that they know about but that their friends suspect. Presumably, it’s all about cybersecurity, meeting those kinds of threats that could take down the electricity grid for six months (I’m guessing, but not kidding). Maybe the series will throw in something about EMP later. It could get into the subject of “cyber fingerprinting”, an intelligence heuristic that looks for patterns in anonymous attacks to identify culprits (Webroot has been writing about this on Twitter).

I have to wonder about the train wreck – could it allude to the Metro wreck in Washington DC in June of 2009, where research has shown that Metro was negligent in addressing defects in automated braking and train detection systems. But that hardly calls for a place in the Spy Museum. (Maybe it’s more like the tragedy in California where a train engineer was on his cell phone texting.) But all of this series gets the “made in NY” stamp.

The programs re-air Aug. 2. AMC has ordered 12 episodes.

Still, this series lacks the clear premise of a series like “Flash Forward” that got canceled.

Here is AMC’s own description. The tagline is "Not every conspiracy is a theory."

AMC on cable stands for American Movie Channel, apparently no connection to AMC Theaters. This seems to be all right with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Quote from a subsequent episode: "The best part of the job: you can't take your work home with you."

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