A familiar hunt for a serial killer dominates ‘Maria Of The Desert’, but – as usual in this series – it’s the unconventional approach that makes the episode work.
Let’s bitch it out…After last week‘s abduction of the lone survivor from the poisoned group of Mexican immigrants, The Bridge dedicates an episode to her recovery. This is one of the most traditional hours that the FX drama has produced yet as we’re firmly working within entrenched genre conventions, namely serial killers 101. There’s a woman staked to the ground in the desert, a video feed broadcasting her that has gone viral and a compromised ransom demand. It’s all very Criminal Minds.
None of these elements are new to us: they’re familiar tropes in a vocabulary we’ve built up over the last few decades since Hannibal Lecter showed up, but The Bridge – and this episode – is less formulaic than a description would have you believe. Many of the traditional elements are present to ensure there’s enough plot to satisfy the procedural viewers, but the conventions are tied into a world populated by innovative characters and an unconventional plot structure.
So for every “persistent watching of the torture feed to discover where the girl is being held”, there’s a moment when Marco (Demián Bichir) hops in the back of a SUV containing none other than Fausto Galvan (Ramon Franco), the top-ranked cartel member. The Bridge is offering up both the safety bred into familiarity, but it’s still challenging the familiar in other ways.
Take, for example, the introduction of Galvan a few scenes earlier: we get a seemingly exposition-laden rooftop conversation entirely in Spanish, in between two characters we’ve never met discussing how the bridge closure is affecting business. In any other show, this would have been in a completely different manner. There would have been a great deal of hand-holding to ease us into new characters, including an explicit reveal of exactly who they are and why we should care. Instead Galvan and his henchman are just tossed into the mix and, if we’ve been paying attention, we’ll derive their identities, relevance and function later in the episode. It’s a very adult approach that infers a confidence in the audience’s ability to not only pay attention, but actively keep up with the narrative developments.
The same logic applies to the climax. In many ways this is nothing more than a hostage pay-off that’s doomed from the beginning. It’s clear from the start that Marco and Sonya (Diane Kruger) are correct in their insistence that the mastermind behind the murders is uninterested in the ransom money. So we know that the sh*t is going to hit the fan, and we have a pretty good idea that FBI agent Gedman (David Meunier) is going to bite it. And so he does, but not in the usual sense. Instead of simply having a point of view shot of Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard) staring down at the decapitated body in the dumpster, the visual confirmation of the FBI man’s death is his head in a bag. That’s our prompt to make the connection to Frye’s discovery. Without it, we can still deduce that Gedman is dead, but if we have been paying attention, the experience is enriched without writer Chris Gerolmo having to hit us over the head with it like a mallet.
It’s a compliment to the show that it can walk us through these familiar plots without making it feel like a waste of time. I don’t think ‘Maria Of The Desert’ is a slam dunk episode because it is so familiar, but if the show continues to tweak narrative formulas in new ways, it will remain at the very least a very satisfying viewing experience.
- Amidst the serial killer stuff, ‘Maria Of The Desert’ does manage to include a few nice emotional beats. I’m thinking specifically of when Tim (Johnny Dowers) agrees to look after Maria after her discovery and Hank (Ted Levine) advising Sonya on emotionally acknowledging her sister’s passing.
- At some point the details of the dead sis will be revealed. Anyone wonder if Sonya holds herself responsible?
- The claws come out when step-daughter Mandy (Suzanne Quast) decides to stick around casa-del-Charlotte (Annabeth Gish) in anticipation of the reading of the will. The discovery of Marco’s wallet in the guest bedroom does not bode well for the tension-filled relationship between these two
- Speaking of Charlotte, no way did I expect her tunnel to be used so quickly for such an important development. Allowing Galvan to cross the border undetected? I figured we were in for several weeks of hand-wringing and keeping an eye out for police as immigrants emerge. Who knew that tunnel would be called into action so soon?
- I’m warming to Lillard’s performance as Frye. I do find it more palatable when he’s in close proximity to co-worker Adriana (Emily Rios) – if only so that she can mock him – but I’m more intrigued why he’s been selected out of all of the other journalists. He is both sharper and sleazier than anyone is giving him credit for – he’s got a good sense of the situation, even though he’s often trying to profit personally from it (Seriously, you get out of the SWAT van because the killer directs you to an alley? That’s not smart, guy)
- We get our first hint Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright) isn’t the crazed psycho-deviant we thought he was. Turns out that Eva is both alive and well and headed off to a whack-a-doodle desert church run by Bub (John Gries). We also learn that Linder helped Eva to avoid Hector – the man who killed Linder’s neighbour back in 1×02 ‘Calaca’ – so he’s clearly helping battered women lead creepy religious lives on the US side of the border. Side Note: The kiss is still creepy, though, amirite?
- Finally, the big question: does Marco know who the killer is or did he just determine that the killer is a member of the cartel? Marco’s life-sparing line “I’m family” reinforces that he himself has cartel ties (something some of you suspected from his conversation with his son, Gus, in the pilot). So it seems likely that the killer is, too. What this means moving forward is less clear, however
- Frye (looking at Marco and Sonya): “Officer friendly. And Officer frosty.”
Your turn: are you okay with the procedural cliches? Is Marco slightly redeemed or still a jerk for sleeping with Charlotte? What’s the deal with Sonya’s sister? And why is Frye being used as the killer’s mouthpiece? Sound off below
The Bridge airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST on FX