FX debuts its latest high profile drama, a topical (and frank) examination of border relations masked as a crime thriller. After just one episode, it’s clear that The Bridge isn’t pulling any punches, nor is the show afraid to do so through the lens of some unconventional characters.
Let’s bitch it out…
Two things immediately become clear after watching the pilot: 1) Detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) is not your traditional (female) protagonist and 2) The Bridge is inherently more interested in the relationship between El Paso and Juarez than solving a murder case.
I’m certain that a great deal of digital ink will be spilled analyzing Kruger’s performance, as well as the depiction of Sonya as a woman suffering from an unnamed mental illness (I can guarantee some of it will be on the blog). From the advance reviews I read, every single one made mention of Sonya’s (perceived) Aspberger’s. Several wondered how she would have climbed so high in the police department, others questioned whether audiences would identify with a character who lacks empathy and an understanding of social niceties. Still others praised the show for being unafraid to complicate Sonya, while others questioned why we need yet another strong willed female lead with mental health issues (a la Carrie Mathison from Homeland, where series creator Meredith Steihm cut her teeth on series bests The Weekend and The Clearing).
I’ll admit that I found Sonya’s non-traditional approach amusing, abrasive and engaging (at various points). I agree with other critics who feel that Kruger is walking a delicate tightrope, but I think that she’s pulling it off thus far. Whether the series “needed” this character is immaterial; Sonya is clearly the grounding agent around whom the series is organized and she isn’t always happy, pleasant and simple. That’s a good thing. The Bridge is as interested in exploring who Sonya is as it is in exploring the uneasy relationship between the United States and Mexico.
Which brings us to the other focus point: the Bridge of the Americas, which in the opening scene acts as the crime scene that initiates the plot. From the most perfunctory of readings, the pilot is concerned with the murders of El Paso Judge Gates, the top half of the “body” left on the bridge and Cristina Fuentes, the Hispanic girl from Juarez who comprises the bottom half. At this point we’ve got any number of unsolved mysteries, but like the best dramas, The Bridge is less interested in the whodunnit. The series’ true interest rests in the exploration of the political, social and economic imperatives that facilitated the murders. This is brought into sharper focus in the episode’s final moments when the killer explicitly questions why the murder of a white woman is more important than the hundreds of girls (aged 15-20) who go missing south of the border each year. That’s a pretty relevant question, and it’s clearly one that will loom over the investigation and the series in the weeks to come.
This is powerful stuff, if only because this is a real topic of discussion – one that many people are probably reticent to engage with. I imagine that Judge Gates’ perspective about putting up the wall to ensure the division (between the “us” and the “them”) resonates with more than a few people. The Bridge (even with its very title) infers that this perspective overlooks the fact that borders have always been porous and there will always be individuals looking to profit from moving materials – and yes, people – across them.
While I’m saddened to hear that the series rejected the original pitch to situate the series on the Niagara border between Canada and the US, after watching the pilot it’s clear that there are many more issues that can be explored using the Texas/Mexico border. As it stands, in this episode alone we’ve already witnessed two instances of human trafficking: one explicit example in the creepy / greasy man (Thomas M. Wright) who transports a young woman from a nightclub to his sex dungeon camper on the other side and another likely example in the locked basement room in the house that Charlotte (Annabeth Gish) has never visited before.
The result is a topical, engaging socio-political series that feels like it has a great deal more to explore. Anchored by a strong, unconventional performance by Kruger, it’s a rare summer television treat: it’s smart, bold and, above all, it’s entertaining.
- There’s an interesting issue bubbling under the surface that runs tandem to the exploration of the US/Mexico relationship, which is how multiple agencies do and do not work together. In addition to Sonya and Marco’s respective antagonistic police forces, the County tries to take ownership of Judge Gates’ abandoned car (and legs), while Tim Cooper (Johnny Dowers) mentions battling Homeland security to access footage of the border crossing. I’m willing to bet that the oversight resulting from the lack of communication between multiple agencies will end up playing a role in the murders or the motivation
- Despite my praise for Kruger, I was actually far more taken with Demián Bichir’s Marco Ruiz. Obviously he’s an easier character to relate to, but that does a disservice to this breakout performance. Bichir, an Oscar nominated actor for 2011’s A Better Life, makes Marco easy to like. He’s laid back, charming and humourous (flirting with the El Paso sign-in woman), but it’s clear that he takes his responsibilities seriously. I particularly liked the brief scene with his son where he derided him not for smoking up, but for taking drugs from the wrong person. This single conversation embodies the complicated world Marco inhabits: crime and corruption is ever present, so it becomes a matter of choice to minimize the damage and stay as far as possible from trouble
- This makes more sense when Marco elaborates to Sonya why he hasn’t pursued the missing girls’ cases. When even your Captain (Juan Carlos Cantu) is in the pocket of the Cartel, you need to tread carefully. Sonya’s approach to the world is much more black and white, but Marco can’t afford the luxury of this perspective. The truth is that the world they work in is much more fluid than that. In order to function as a team and solve the case, they’ll need elements of each of their perspectives
- I always have difficulty distancing Matthew Lillard from his “silly” persona back when he was in a slew of teen films. He doesn’t really have enough screentime here to address that, but I like that Daniel Frye is a complete mess, although not a terrible guy. Unless you’re a coworker at the paper, that is. Then he’s a complete as*hole
- Wright’s character, who is apparently named Steven Linder, is a complete question mark. Is he exactly what he appears to be: a human trafficker and potential serial killer? Or is he a red herring? (This is a trope we’ve come to expect from American adaptations of Danish crime shows)
- While I consider Annabeth Gish an amazing actress, thus far Charlotte is a disappointing character. Granted no one really stands out aside from Kruger, Bichir and Ted Levine as Sonya’s protective boss Hank Wade, but Charlotte is a non-entity whenever she’s on screen. Hopefully more screen time will help to flesh her out – it’s still early days
- Finally, one incentive for travelling to Mexico and selling out is that you’ll get to party with white tigers and panthers. Where do I sign up for this skeeze-fest?
- Sonya (to Judge Gates’ husband, understating the obvious): “I’m sorry if I didn’t exercise empathy”
- Marco (when greeted with a “buenos días” from Cooper): “Howdy partner” See – he’s funny!
Your turn: what did you think of the pilot? Which mystery is most enticing? Do you have an issue with Kruger or the character of Sonya? Are you as smitten with Bichir as me? How is Frye involved in the murders? And who is the killer, who has such capacity for using technology to performing his crimes? Speculate away below
The Bridge airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST on FX