In a flash, darkness. A person drives a black sedan to the middle of the bridge connecting El Paso, Texas to Ciudad Juárez. Dropping the body of an El Paso judge between the two cities, a brutal political statement.
Two cities at opposite ends in opposite countries. Mirroring one another, with one a much darker reflection. Juarez is no longer the mostdangerous city in the world anymore, a moniker lost in 2011 - a year that still featured 2,086 murders. There are far fewer murders in its counterpart across the way, 5 a year in the world of The Bridge. This bisected and mirrored motif is found everywhere within The Bridge. From the larger geographic region of the border, to the two detectives, and simple framing that cut the frame in half. All of which underscore the false separation, this is about America not just the division between North and Sout. The slogan of “every body is connected” is correct. Constantly returning to the border in scene transitions, showing both sides packed with cars, like blood going thru the heart. El Paso and Juarez aren’t dark mirrors to one another they are part of the same organ.
Pushing this great socio-economic message forward is the body on the bridge. Dropped in the middle of the Bridge both sides try to claim jurisdiction. From the El Paso side there is Det. Sonya Cross played by Diane Kruger and from the Chihuahua State Police, Det Marco Ruiz played by Demian Bichir(A Better Life). It isn’t until they move the body do they discover something far more sinister. Half of the body is the anti-immigration El Paso judge, the lower half is just part of one of the many dead girls of Juarez. Cross attacks the case with her typical seriousness while Ruiz must first deal with the stagnant corruption in his police force.
Sonya Cross and Marco Ruiz, unsurprisingly, mirror each other but are tied together by a need to bring justice. It is heavily implied and stated in some press materials from FX that Cross has Aspergers, or at the very least is somewhere on the spectrum. This leads to Kruger giving a very affected performance. An excellent one as she shows little tics that aren’t overblown but definitely lead to some cringe worthy social moments. So far Kruger hasn’t played these moments up, her character is used to these things happening at this point. These tics are what what set her apart from some of her less stoically serious partners in the El Paso PD. It is also these tics that appear to have stunted her rise up the ranks, not that she complains about being a homicide detective. Part of that has to do with having a protector, Lieutenant Hank Wade played by a cowboy hat Ted Levine. Wade has been working on smoothing Cross’s rough exterior for years along and any problems that occur when she isn’t exactly the most empathetic person in the room. There is a great moment where the camera tightens in on Cross’ face as she hears Wade talk about retirement, her eyes filled with that sudden since that she is an island and her Friday was leaving her.
In contrast Marco Ruiz is a warm pragmatic detective who keeps his head down and tries to work within the corruption of his force. Officers are told not to investigate the all the bodies that turn up everyday. Police officials in attempts to save their own skin make good with the Cartels. Officers in need of money end up working security for these men. They are given a choice take our money or our lead. Ruiz for his part hasn’t chosen either. He isn’t a white knight trying to clean up the streets a block at a time. He does what he can even if it doesn't amount to much in the grand scheme of things. This vain attempt gives Ruiz a worldwearyness about this case even though he jumps at the chance to get on the presumed taskforce set up to figure out what all of this means.
The buddy cop dynamic is one of the oldest tropes in the book. Right now Cross and Ruiz they aren’t really buddies. Instead they are more like Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in the upcoming 2 Guns, people who are working towards the same goal in the same area but not together (that makes more sense if you watch the trailer).
Their inital investigation turns up that the car used to make the drop belongs to Daniel Frye(Matthew Lillard) a burned out journalist who seems to have fallen into a web of conspiracy and bombs. Finding himself trapped in his car with a bomb he spends what could be his last few moments talking to Cross over the phone as she frantically tries to get information out of him. Here her lack of empathy actually kind of becomes empathy as she talks Frye down in his final minutes, while badgering him about the bridge. All of which was heightened and made greater thanks to the editing of that scene. It’s one of the better bomb scenes in recent memory.
I’m pretty sure by the halfway point I’m not going to care all that much about the case itself. Right now it seems to be functioning much like the mystery of Dred (Goddamn) Thompson did in Justified. An excuse to give everyone a unified task to follow through while going into a broader discussion of the socio-economic status of Harlan County as a whole. This is the type of thing the voice from the message wants. What is the difference in cost between gringa women and chava women.
The pilot episode is 90 minutes long and deliberately paced. It takes its time with everything, making things a bit tedious to watch. In that delbertness we are introduced to other characters in this hopefully great tapestry of America. At one end you have Thomas M. Wright(Top of the Lake) as a quiet coyote (human smuggler) living on the fringes of society. A man of contradictory actions, he puts a women in his trunk and then brings her to the middle of the desert but also bandages her up. Thomas Wright is also giving off serious Jame Gumb vibes, which is funny when Ted Levine’s line delivery comes across as an alternate version of the cinematic killer. On the complete opposite end of the economic spectrum you have Charlotte Millwright(Annabeth Gish), a wealthy rancher whose husband dies after being stopped on the bridge back to El Paso. These do not add up to much in the pilot but are being positioned as sections in the grander story this show is trying to tell.
Running this story is writer Meredith Stiehm and novelist/producer of Cold Case Elwood Reid. Fans of Homeland should recognize Stiehm’s name, she wrote “The Weekend” (S1Ep07) which is widely considered one of if not the best episode of that series. Even without this cast and setting her attachment makes this at least worth a check in. Stiehm has said in interviews that this case will be wrapped up by the end of this season. Pushing the show past comparisons to it’s european import cousin The Killing on AMC as well as the hope that The Bridge will grown beyond being a murder mystery show and something more like The Wire.
The Bits At The End
Can we just take a step back and look at the cast? You have Diane Kruger,Demián Bichir,Thomas M. Wright,Ted Levine and Matthew Lillard. That’s kind of an awesome cast. Also man good on FX development this year with The Bridge and The Americans.
Who else wants the Jame Gumbs to fight?
Michael Mazzacane can be found around the Internet but mainly on Twitter @MaZZM and at mazzz.net . Pay attention to Screened for coverage of Beware the Batman and The Newsroom both of which primer this weekend! All he’s got this week is LOVE RYAN DAVIS