Last weekend, AMC aired the pilot for its new drama Rubicon, which premieres on August 1. It was sort of sneaked onto the schedule tacked on to the end of the Breaking Bad finale, and I managed to record seemingly the only repeat airing, the next morning (you can watch the whole thing on the AMC site, however). I understand the motivation to build word-of-mouth for the new show, and AMC's other dramas (Breaking Bad and Mad Men) have certainly benefited from stellar reviews and dedicated cult followings.
Unlike those other two shows, though, Rubicon doesn't tell a full story or give a complete sense of itself in the pilot. Most people were either hooked or not by Mad Men and Breaking Bad from the start (I love Mad Men but never got into Breaking Bad, which I found rather off-putting and gave up on after three episodes), but you'd be hard-pressed to form a definitive judgment of Rubicon based on this first episode. It's definitely the first act of a longer story, pretty much all set-up and no pay-off, and it ends just when things seem like they might be getting going. A lot of shows feature conspiracies simmering in the background that are closing in on the main characters as they do something else, but Rubicon is nothing but conspiracy. That's the whole concept of the show: A big-ass conspiracy is controlling everything.
The main character, played by James Badge Dale, is a low-level functionary in the conspiracy machine who's about to find out the true extent of the organization he works for. Or at least that's about as much as I could get from the pilot, which is deliberately inscrutable and full of oblique references that are left unexplained. It's the kind of thing that's hard to judge on its own, which is why it's strange that it's airing by itself so far in advance of the show's premiere. But the shooting style, emulating '70s thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View, is stylish enough, and the ominous score keeps you on edge. The whole show coasts on atmosphere, but it's the right kind of atmosphere that makes me at least want to see where it will end up.