The show’s greatest virtue may be that, unlike too many serious dramas of the last decade, it’s never a slog. It perks along at a steady pace, though there are a couple of subplots, including one featuring Miranda Richardson as the widow of a secretive rich man, that never quite come together. Still, the specificity of the characters and the able deployment of spy-show tropes — conversations in garages, tantalizing codes and scenes of characters tacking handwritten clues on walls — make it enjoyable to follow the characters as they fall down various rabbit holes.
“Rubicon” — like secret-agent shows as diverse as “Strike Back,” “London Spy,” “The Americans,” “Berlin Station” and “The Night Manager” — keeps a laser focus on the human beings at its core, people who are smart enough to know they’re not omniscient and who are queasy about the sometimes hasty life-or-death assessments they must provide. A sense of bittersweet loss pervades the show, and not just because Travers’s wife and child were killed on Sept. 11. Once inside the fold of API, these people can’t share their professional challenges with anyone else; they have only one another to commiserate with.
Complicated friendships and tasteful ambiguity, however, don’t always pay the bills. Ratings (remember them?) mattered more when “Rubicon” debuted, and it didn’t attract a big audience. Unlike “Homeland,” which came along a year later, it had no big-name stars. “Rubicon” also endured a showrunner change, when its creator, Jason Horwitch, left, and Henry Bromell (“Northern Exposure,” “Homicide”) took over.
As much as I might want the API gang to return, that’s unlikely. Bromell, who moved on to “Homeland” and wrote its best episode (“Q&A”) before dying in 2013, is not around to lead a revival. Speaking of loss, the cast member Christopher Evan Welch, who infused his prickly character, Grant Test, with intelligent sweetness and humane depth (and who was also brilliant in a key “Silicon Valley” role), died far too young the same year.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that the sole season of “Rubicon” will stand alone. Though if Truxton Spangler somehow engineered API’s return to the small screen, I wouldn’t be surprised.