The Bridge: Season 1
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This gripping crime thriller set on the U.S.-Mexico border has emerged as one of TV's most acclaimed new shows. When a murder victim is discovered on the bridge connecting El Paso and Juarez, detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) must work with her Mexican counterpart, Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), to catch a serial killer terrorizing both sides of the border. But their investigation will uncover shocking secrets and relentless danger that neither of them could possibly have imagined.
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I think if we throw out faithfulness to the original and just judge each series on their own merits that the Bridge is superior. The Scandinavian original is solid, but in comparison it comes off a bit drab and boring. (To its credit, tho, it did make me read up on the Oresund bridge.) The Brit/French version, apart from the performance by Elise, didn't reach me. But I could not get enough of the aerials of the Bridge of the Americas and the desert borderlands, and the graphic scenes from Juarez, the next move by Charlotte, etc.
The pilot episode throws you right into the series, as the lights on the bridge between the two cities and countries suddenly go out. When power is restored a few moments later, a woman’s body has appeared in the middle of the bridge, half in each country. The lead Mexican investigator, Marco Ruiz (Demian Bechir), doesn’t connect at all with his quirky US counterpart, Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger). Forced together as partners, they develop a grudging respect for each other.
Sonya has Asperger’s Syndrome (now part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder). It’s almost impossible for her to make social connections with other people and she tends to take conversations literally, unable to detect normal inflections such as sarcasm. She’s also deeply wounded by the prior murder of her older sister and trusts no one other than her boss, Lt. Hank Wade (Ted Levine). Marco’s an honest cop (a dangerous liability in Juarez) on his second marriage. He has prior family connections to crime boss and drug kingpin Fausto Galvan (Ramon Franco) but refuses to succumb to the corruption endemic to the Juarez police force.
As the Byzantine plot unfolds, the dead woman on the bridge turns out to be a US Judge. Or rather, the top half is the judge. The lower half (neatly bisected) is from a young Mexican woman originally found dead in a house full of bodies including that of Galvan’s dead brother. She’s thought to be one of the growing numbers of victims of “the Beast” – a serial killer preying on young women south of the border. On the US side, the judge’s killer taunts the police with messages about the disparity in resources devoted to solving the murder of the judge in contrast to the disinterest in the murders of so many Mexicans. But is this a political case, or is it a vendetta directed at law enforcement on both sides of the border? This is the dark heart of the mystery that plays out over most of the season.
The cast is uniformly excellent, from the top leads to relatively minor supporting players. Particularly praiseworthy are Bechir (a major star in Mexico heretofore unknown to me) whose acting chops simply dominate every scene in which he appears, along with Levine, who makes Lt. Wade the kind of supportive, dedicated boss we all wish we worked for. Levine is a consummate actor incapable of giving a bad performance over his long career. Also noteworthy are Matthew Lillard as a local reporter whose addictions and self-loathing leave him barely scraping by, Emily Rios as the junior colleague who still believes in him, and Tom Wright as a local eccentric who is a leading suspect, to name just a few of the standouts. Kruger does a decent job portraying Cross, but it’s somewhat of a one-note performance until the last few episodes when, rather inexplicably, her personality seems to change abruptly.
The writers, directors, set decorators, et al, do a superb job of capturing the muted colors, dust, and dirt of the border area, as well as giving an honest and sympathetic portrait of the enormous disparity in the standard of living south and north of the border, and how it is that the vast majority of Juarez citizens are simply decent men and women struggling to make a living and raise their families amidst the drug-related violence and disregard for human life the narco “terrorists” inflict.
The biggest problem with the Bridge is that there are so many major plot threads that it is hard to keep track of them all, and sometimes it feels like credible development of story lines takes a backseat to pulling them together as a whole. Indeed, the lengthy subplot involving Charlotte Millwright (Annabeth Gish) and a cross-border smuggler’s tunnel feels tacked on and dispensable. This is also true of the last few episodes of Season One: they’re pretty much a postscript teaser for the second season that a tougher production staff might have done better to cut altogether.
Despite these shortcomings, Season One of the Bridge is great television, better by far than the vast majority of what the major networks produce.