After two-plus seasons of murder mystery disappointment from AMC’s The Killing*, other networks have perked up and realized “hey, it shouldn’t be too hard to do this better.” Sundance/BBC succeeded with Top of the Lake and HBO is planning the Matthew McConaughey- and Woody Harrelson-starring True Detective, but it’s FX who has ultimately done more to rehabilitate the serialized murder show with its soft-spoken, yet exciting The Bridge.
On The Bridge, which airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m., a body has been found on the Bridge of the Americas, which connects El Paso, Texas, with Juarez, Mexico. In a grisly, very television-y twist: the body is actually comprised of two halves: one half is an American immigration judge and the other, a young Hispanic female. An American detective (Inglourious Basterds‘ Diane Kruger) and a Mexican detective (recent Oscar nominee Demian Bichir) must navigate the intricacies of border politics to find the killer.
Right off the bat, you could be forgiven for pointing out the problematic areas of the plot. “Two detectives from the opposite sides of the tracks must team together: I bet one even likes to play everything by the book and the other’s a wild card.” Well yeah, Kruger’s Sonya Cross has Aspberger’s (it’s not mentioned on the show but they also don’t attempt to hide it) and is all-business. Bichir’s Marco Ruiz is the stereotypical last good cop in town.
Thankfully, Cross and Ruiz as written, and portrayed by Kruger and Bichir, are fully fleshed out and have a believable non-chemistry, using the various cliches of their odd-pairing relationship to the show’s benefit. The rest of the cast is filled out with character actors with either the most effective or most ridiculous Texas personalities ever committed to film. Having never been to Texas, I don’t know if the marbly, incomprehensible drawl from characters like Lieutenant Hank Wade (Ted Levine a.k.a Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs) or loner and presumed killer Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright) is accurate, but I’ll just take the show’s word for it.
The narrative hook of a murderer seemingly seeking political justice could be tired in a different context but somehow it makes the show seem far fresher, and more relevant. After The Wire effectively rendered any shows that “had something to say,” politically-speaking, irrelevant in its wake, The Bridge is carefully sticking its two cents back in and doing a pretty decent job. If David Simon worked for the El Paso Times instead of the Baltimore Sun and had a secret love for B-movies, he could have very well come up with the plot.
But the writers know that with the high-minded concept or hook of the show already taken care of, they can invest more time in the details of its characters like how a post-vasectomy Ruiz gimps around like a wounded lion but still seems just as dangerous or how Cross’ boss Hank knows how to bump her shoulder with his when she gets over-stimulated or confused.
After all, audiences will forgive a contrived premise**, but they still want the show to make sense within its own logic… Oh, and be entertaining, naturally. Through five episodes, The Bridge has easily achieved both.
Select episodes of Season 1 are available to watch on the show’s official page by clicking here.
* – Apparently, season three has been pretty good, but I wouldn’t know because I’m not a masochist.
** – The killer’s ability to artfully arrange two bodies on the highly guarded American-Mexican border falls somewhere between Dexter and that farm where all your old pets went to on the scale of believability.