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.