Last night saw the debut of FX’s new crime drama, The Bridge, i.e., our best hope of entertainment survival from now until the premiere of Breaking Bad (besides Orange is the New Black, which debutes on Netflix today). Early reviews of The Bridge were almost universally positive, and we finally got our first taste, in the hour-and-a-half premiere.
So, what did you think?
There’s certainly a lot going on in the series and a number of subplots have already been opened up, but it took until near the end for the new series to really heat up. Let’s briefly take stock of what we saw:
— Diane Kruger plays the lead detective (Sonya Cross) on the American side of the border, and it’s clear early on that she has Asperger’s, although it is never once mentioned during the episode. It was kind of a relief that they allowed us to figure that out, rather than drop a hot steaming load of exposition on our chest and then explain that the Asperger’s makes her a better detective. In the buddy cop dynamic, the Asperger’s is certainly a novel way of making her the “by the book” detective.
— Demien Bichir (Marco Ruiz) plays the lead detective on the Mexican side of the border, in the state of Chihuahua. He is fantastic, cranky in an easy-going way, and a cop that has discovered that picking his battles when necessary, and looking the other way when not, is the best way to survive as an “honest” police man in Mexico, where law enforcement is essentially controlled by a drug cartel, and where 250 women — all fitting a similar description — can disappear in a relatively short period of time, and no serial killer investigation is opened. There’s an interesting chemistry between Ruiz and Cross: I like that Ruiz isn’t the hot head. He has a decent sense of humor, too. He’s not ponderous and glum.
— The central case is focused on the death of two people: An American judge, and one of the lost women of Mexico whose body parts were among 25 dismembered people in a death house, their two halves showing up simultaneously on the Mexican-American border. It’s a strong hook in that it gives us a strong contrast in the way U.S. law enforcement treat the murder of a dead, white judge and the way in which Mexican law enforcement treat the murder of just one of hundreds of young women who are killed in Mexico each year.
— The press angle centers on a once great but seemingly washed up prick of a reporter, Daniel Frye, played by Matthew Lillard. He was great in another one of Lillard’s late second-career roles as a character actor (see also: The Descendants). The bomb threat brought some “action” to an otherwise slower moving plot. The bomb, however, turned out to be a cell phone message from the serial killer informing them that the crime wave is “only the beginning.”
— I don’t think that Steven Linder (played by Tom Wright), who gave safe passage to that Mexican woman across the border and then locked her up in the middle of nowhere, is the actual serial killer. I think he’s one of those anti-immigration border nuts, who has decided to be some sort of vigilante. I mean, it’s unlikely that he’s the serial killer because it’s unlikely he could’ve arranged the bodies on the border, abducted a woman, and set the bomb up in Frye’s car. Besides, the serial killer clearly has some medical expertise, and Linder doesn’t fit the profile.
— Annabeth Gish’s Charlotte Millwright, the wealthy widow whose husband died of a heart attack? I don’t know what the hell is going on there, nor how Ruiz and Cross’s investigation will tie into whatever it is that’s behind her dead husband’s locked door. That’s a huge wild card, but I really want to know what’s behind that door. If I had to guess, it’s Mexican slave labor or prostitutes, or something like what we saw in season two of The Wire.
— I bet that, by midway through the season, Ruiz’s captain will have regretted letting Ruiz work on the case.
— Overall, I thought it was an engaging pilot. I’m not so sure about Diane Kruger’s character, but Bichir is already killing it, and I think Lillard is going to bring a little levity. There is a lot going on, and I think that’s what makes it so much better than The Killing: It’s more than just a serial killer investigation. There are social and political issues. While there may be several red herrings involved, I think the red herrings will at least inform the issues. They won’t be complete dead ends because they will open up wounds in Mexican-American relations. I don’t expect Breaking Bad or Justified from the series (like the more recent spate of serial killer and anti-hero dramas, it doesn’t have much of a sense of humor), but I think it’ll be a strong series to help get us through the summer.