TV Review: The Bridge

E: In a dark night made darker by a momentary electrical failure,  someone places a body in the center of the Bridge of the Americas.  Half of the body is in El Paso Texas, half in Juarez Mexico.  Two detectives meet – cordial, weary Marco Ruiz and frosty, awkward Sonya Cross.  After a few strange moments (including a fight over an ambulance Cross doesn’t want to contaminate her crime scene and Ruiz allows through so that the horse shopping American inside can reach a hospital before this heart attack kills him), Ruiz graciously allows Cross control of the case.  The deceased is quickly identified as an American judge, and Ruiz’s got too many bodies of his own, he says; Cross is desperate to solidify her authority before the FBI show up.  It all seems moderately straightforward until the American pathologists start moving the body back to the morgue, and find that it has actually been cut in half.

And when the coroner quickly determines that the torso and legs belong to two different women – the American judge and a young Latina – the story becomes more complicated still.  Pitiless Cross, whose carries out even the minutest action with a white knuckle intensity, wakes Ruiz up with a phone call in the middle of the night; can he identify the body for her? Could he be missing half a corpse?  His response horrifies; 250 young girls have been murdered in Juarez in the last year, many found in pieces.  He has an abundance of mutilated bodies that no one cares about, whose cases no one follows.

And because he’s a good man, a man weary of the corruption around him and the terrors he hasn’t been able to counteract, Ruiz crosses the bridge to help Cross find the killer.

Of course, that’s just the beginning of a new mystery series on FX, just the slightest outline of the beginning of this fascinating contemporary Noir mystery.  Taut, gritty and smart, The Bridge juggles a cast of seemingly unrelated strangers as if it were a Robert Altman movie: there’s a creepy bearded American who transports beautiful young Mexican girls across the border in his trunk and then ostensibly kills them; the horse breeder having a heart attack and his wife Charlotte, played by Annabeth Gish, burdened with secrets we don’t get to see; and Matthew Lillard’s slimy reporter and his wry, reasonable colleague, Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno.  The two leads are played by Inglourious Basterds‘ Diane Kruger and Mexican film star Demian Bichir , best known in America for his role on Weeds and for his Oscar nominated turn in the poignant, beautiful indie A Better Life. Ruiz has a house full of his own trouble – a pothead son, a boss in bed with the cartels, the weight of all those dead bodies – but his glides easily through permission to pursue the case and introductions to the El Paso police, his manners relaxed and easy even though his heart clearly is not. He brings us the second victim’s name: Christina Fuentez, whose remains had been frozen ostensibly since she was murdered a year and a half before.

Cross, for her part, wears her secrets less comfortably – a murdered sister, a borrowed truck and clothes .  Also, she’s very clearly on the Asberger’s side of the autism spectrum.  In the short hour and a half of the pilot, she misreads or ignores an almost impossible number of social cues. No one seems to understand or like her but her captain, who seems to care for her like a father and so of course is on the verge of retirement.  After begging and cajoling, he allows her to inform the judge’s husband of her death.  Remember to make eye contact, he pleads, to “employ empathy,”and we’re provided with a quick jump to Sonya, her eyes unnaturally wide, staring at the weeping man in an effort to make as much contact as possible.  The interview goes about as well as you’d expect.

Both the cinematography and the setting bring us a decided Noir aesthetic. The unfeeling sun and spare deserts of the Southwest give a bleached out look to the day; the nights are long and dark and, as they say, full of shadows.  The writing snaps not merely with wit but with character.  When Sonya and Marco catch up with the lower half of Judge Lorraine Gates, she whips out her little notebook but turns to him first. “Would you like to write up the scene?” she asks with the air of a small child offering to share a delightful treat.  When Ruiz initially told her that no one knows what they’re dealing with concerning the dead girls, she gives a wide eyed, guileless stare. “You should try harder,” she says.  And when she calls, waking him with her request for information on the second body, Sonya scoffs at Ruiz’s confusion. “Were you sleeping?” she asks, her voice incredulous with scorn. “I do that at night,” he deadpans.  In a strange and terrifying scene, Ruiz arrives at a cartel card game to get clearance to pursue the case; the players are surrounded by caged cats, among them a white tiger and a black jaguar.  Can he do it?  “In the end, it doesn’t matter,” shrugs the police chief.

The episode ends with a recorded message from someone who might be a prankster or an activist or a killer. “How long can El Paso look away?  This is only the beginning.”  I’m so thrilled that it is; this could be a really, really good one.  Yes, some of it is deeply ugly, but I can’t wait to see what crosses The Bridge next.

12 comments on “TV Review: The Bridge

  1. C says:

    So… you’re saying you thought it was good? You recommend it?

  2. thepresidentrix says:

    This sounds really good. I’ve been into taut, high-concept crime dramas lately – especially BBC ones – and I’d definitely give this one a look if it became available to me. (I just finished The Fall, with Gillian Anderson, which was well-done, rather scary, and either had an unsatisfactory ending or just a really unusual one, depending on how you happen to look at it…)

    Speaking of, have any of the QS watched Hannibal? The Silence of the Lambs scared me out of my mind the first time I saw it (probably in my early twenties, so I don’t have ‘being a child’ as an excuse), and when I heard vague rumors of a Hannibal series, I was sure it would be completely unwatchable for me, whether or not it was well-made. But I blundered onto a review of the show, at which point I learned it was Bryan Fuller’s latest project (!!!). And also that it airs on NBC, of all networks (!!!). (I had assumed it must be a high-end cable thingummy). I don’t remember how exactly I talked myself into trying out an episode, but by the time one episode was over, I was already thinking, ‘Good lord, I have a new favorite show!’

    In fact, I said as much, with trepidation, on the phone with my sister the next day (by which time I had consumed every episode available to me), expecting her to be completely grossed out. Only to find out she’s also hooked on Hannibal, LOL.

    I suppose it’s a surprising thing to say, especially since I speak as one whose personal aesthetic is much more ‘Pushing Daisies,’ but I think Hannibal is probably the best thing Fuller’s ever done. It’s evocative, distinct, terrifyingly gorgeous – even in its sometimes shocking violence – and the characterizations are both restrained and powerfully affecting. Plus, there’s Fuller’s Whedonesque tendency to cast old favorites from his previous works. I’ve read that he wants to get Lee Pace for next season (in fact, possibly I read that Lee Pace had already agreed to be on the show next season, but at the very least, they were in talks), Gina Torres already has an important recurring role on the show, and the lead actress from Wonderfalls is one of the members of the core cast. Also, Eddie Izzard, although I don’t recall him being a Fuller regular…

    • thepresidentrix says:

      Also, completely forgot: I thought of you, E, while watching The Fall, because the actress who plays Kalinda on The Good Wife has a smallish but important role in it. I still haven’t started on The Good Wife, though I plan to one day, because I struggle to give long-running and intricate shows the attention they deserve. (I don’t always get to *just* watch TV, so lighter or thoroughly-narrated fare gets watched, since I can do chores at the same time, but I have a kind of to-do list of more intellectually demanding series that I really want to watch – and in a dedicated fashion – when I get the chance).

      • E says:

        Ha – you already had me at Gillian Anderson. But I’ve never seen Archie Panjabi be anyone other than Kalinda, and the lure of that is just beyond.

        • thepresidentrix says:

          The Fall’s only five episodes long, so it’s not a huge investment of time, and I thought it was really worth it – especially in terms of atmosphere, Gillian Anderson’s natural laconic intensity, and the very puzzling characterization of the villain. (He’s revealed to the audience from the very first, and the episodes juxtapose his activity with the investigators’, cutting back and forth, often fairly rapidly). I could definitely see some police-drama fans not enjoying what is probably a high degree of realism about the investigation, which has as much to do with department politics and managing media perception as it does with finding ‘clues!’ and making deductions (actually, they make few to no intuitive leaps at all). The ensemble is also, while not extensive enough to get lost in, kind of disparate, in that a bunch of the policemen are depicted just working on cases which don’t have anything to do with the main mystery; their work gets screen time, but aside from helping to define the environs – police work in Belfast, specifically – it just is what it is, and is presented without further explanation for its inclusion. But that’s probably not the kind of thing that would put the QS, in particular, off.

          I will say, though: Consider avoiding watching the first episode in the dark and/or alone. I made the mistake of starting the series when I was alone late at night and needed to leave off after just the first episode, and while it wasn’t the single worst thing I’ve ever decided to watch before bedtime, it genuinely unnerved me. I think the first two episodes are the scariest.

          • E says:

            C and I were just talking about another short foreign mystery series – Top of the Lake, have you heard of it? Jane Campion directing Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter? I think both of these will go on top of my rental list.

            What you say about meeting the villain immediately – and the creepiness – remind me of Luthor, which absolutely scared me to pieces. Shudder.

            • thepresidentrix says:

              I’ve seen the first episode of Top of the Lake! I mean to watch the rest, but I guess structurally it didn’t demand my sustained attention the way The Fall did.

              Top of the Lake is an even more unconventional format. There is a mystery unfolding, but it’s situated in a community that’s kind of slow-paced and peculiar at the same time. A lot of the characters seem to know each other from the past, but we don’t immediately know how, and a bunch of them seem unsavory/up to no good, but when they’re engaged in dialogue they seem like the sort of people who should no better…? It wasn’t boring, but it was desultory, and depending on how it unfolds I could see it turning out to be either really gripping or just too confusing for this Pooh Bear’s brain to handle.

      • E says:

        BTW, I totally get what you mean about light v. heavy TV. The darker shows tend to wait longer on my dvr while stuff like Bones gets watched right away.

        The Good Wife isn’t just heavy – there’s a lot of humor to it, sometimes wry and subtle, other times broad – but intricate is an apt descriptor. Not that you can’t figure out the premise immediately, but the nuances are what make it great, and so of course it does require attention. (Of course, if you watch without an eye for the legal stuff, that does free up a lot of brain space. I can’t really imagine you doing that, though, and I quite like the odd angles we get to see. Obviously.)

    • E says:

      You know, I heard really impressive things about Hannibal and was planning on checking it out, but didn’t keep track of when it was going to start and so missed it. I’ll have to seek it out on dvd when it comes out. I’m glad to have your recommendation – and gosh, I didn’t know half of those people were on it.

      • thepresidentrix says:

        Hannibal is one of those series where I think, ‘NBC, you need to put every episode up on your website right now, and leave it up until the next season airs.’ Because what they need is for people to *see* it. They need to make it so available that even people with reluctance/ignorance equal to mine get around to giving it a try. Because once you’re in it, you are in it.

        Btw, most of the people I mentioned are guest stars or supporting cast (and I completely forgot Molly Shannon, a grown-up Anna Schlumsky, and Ellen Muth, the lead from Dead Like Me, though Muth is practically unrecognizable in her first episode), but the main triad of lead actors is pretty incredible together. Hugh Dancy (serviceable though maybe just a bit dull in every previous role I’ve seen him in, and a total revelation here) is an instructor at the FBI academy with an ’empathy disorder’ that makes him exceptionally good at profiling but also deals him psychic wounds in the process. Lawrence Fishburne is the not-uncaring but driven lead investigator who can’t resist what Will (Dancy’s character) does for his success rate at putting psychos behind bars and isn’t about to let the kid wander off to lead his own safe, quiet life; Jack’s putting on blinders while Will spirals, because he doesn’t want to have to see the truth. Aaand, in an unfortunately misguided effort to help, Jack sends Will to Hannibal Lecter (played with eerie and decadent charisma by Mads Mikkelsen) as his new therapist. In Will’s troubled imagination, Hannibal sees the unprecedented possibility for a kindred spirit, and he begins manipulating the young man, trying subtly to push Will into becoming gradually and irretrievably more like himself. I joked with my sister on the phone that it’s sort of Phantom of the Opera, except Christine Daae is a dude: Will is the vulnerable ingenue whose talent others can’t help but want to manipulate, possess and control. Perhaps refreshingly, though, Fuller has distinct plans for every season of the show – if he gets as many seasons as he wants – so the theme or formula of the drama changes as the characters change. By the end of season one, we’re already in a new paradigm. (Oh, and Caroline Dhavernas’ character should probably be counted as equally important to those three, but although she gets excellent scenes, the first season’s constellation of relationships sort of can’t help but make her a bit redundant. She’s protective of Will, which is not unimportant in the scheme of things, but she tends to end up occupying the role of Second Opinion or Devil’s Advocate. I think that’s temporary, though, and her character will be much more central as time goes on).

        ALSO: Gillian Anderson is in it. She plays Hannibal’s therapist, and it is a strange and highly mysterious dynamic. I can’t believe: all this typing, and I forgot until now that Gillian Anderson is also in it.

        • E says:

          Ugh, how did I not respond to this? I know I started to. Phooey!

          Well, what I thought I said was that I was really interested in Hannibal, but missed it when it started. Seems like something I’m going to need to rent; I’ve heard nothing but raves about it. And Gillian Anderson makes it a must see. Have you read the books? I haven’t – I love mystery tv and films, but I don’t tend to read a lot of mystery novels, especially the gorier ones.

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