Review: ‘The Bridge’ – ‘Calaca’

A review of tonight’s “The Bridge” coming up just as soon as I give you my lenticular business card…

“No, no, no. It doesn’t work like that down here!” -Ruiz

After the pilot introduced the mystery and our major players, “Calaca” makes a concerted effort to show us the world these people inhabit, and to examine the issues that our killer claims are fueling his crimes.

The flow of humanity across the border, through both legal and illegal methods, is a major part of the killer’s plan and the series’ overall subject matter, and here we get to see two different illegal approaches, as Charlotte discovers the tunnel to Juarez that runs under her late husband’s ranch, while the killer preys on a group of illegals wandering through the desert and struggling against the elements. The illegals come through hidden inside a cattle truck, and are ultimately treated worse than cattle, as their coyote tries to abandon them (and suffers for that decision) and the killer views them not as people, but as props in the ongoing drama he’s presenting to the police and media of El Paso.

For now, I’m more interested in the world and the people than I am the killer, whether or not he turns out to be the creepy Steven Linder, who’s seen burning the clothes of Eva, the woman he smuggled across the border last week. That said, Meredith Stiehm, Elwood Reid and company are going to have to be very careful in how they marry the characters to the plot, and vice versa. At this stage of the season, Charlotte’s story feels incredibly tangential (one critic I spoke with compared her to the Miranda Richardson character from Rubicon, who kept feeling on the verge of mattering but never quite made it across), even if she’s showing us another method of getting over (or under) the border, and even if she in turn becomes a delivery system for us to meet the always interesting Lyle Lovett as Monty P. Flagman, whose wife’s recipe for three bean salad includes more cash than average. There’s also the matter of Eva’s friend (boyfriend? brother? pimp?) going on a murderous rampage in search of her. This is a violent setting, and there has to be a sense of danger to what’s happening, and yet the scene where he murders Linder’s nosy neighbor felt like perhaps too much – maybe not for “The Bridge” itself, but for a TV drama landscape where women are being brutalized every 5.9 seconds.

But I really liked our continued look at our two leads. Sonya goes to visit Marco’s police station and acts in her usual bulldozer fashion, to the point where even the easy-going Ruiz loses his temper with her. It’s possible any other El Paso cop could have ruffled that many feathers so quickly, but with Sonya, it’s a gift. There are still moments where I wonder exactly how a woman Sonya’s age, and in Sonya’s job, wouldn’t be familiar with certain basic social niceties  (surely she’s had a partner whose spouse called them during the shift before), even factoring in her Asperger’s. (If Hank understands her enough to do that shoulder bump whenever she’s getting too uncomfortable, you would assume he’d have explained some of this other basic stuff to her.) But the awkward chemistry between Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir continues to crackle. 

And then there’s Sonya’s love life – or, rather, her sex life. At first, I was thrown by the scene where she starts touching herself immediately after studying the gruesome case file, but her later scenes at the bar and at home with her confused one-night stand clarified things. It’s not that she was turned on by the photos and video, but that she completely compartmentalizes everything. To her, sex has nothing to do with these murders, just as it has nothing to do with either a glass of beer or a need for post-coital connection. (She, somewhat amusingly, becomes the stereotypical guy after they’re done.) That Sonya looks like Diane Kruger helps explain some of her ability to move through adult life – for a guy like the Jason Wiles character, that face no doubt overrides their awkward first encounter – but she doesn’t feel quite like any character I’ve seen before, even in our recent wave of Aspie crimefighters.

Some other thoughts:

* Women, of course, aren’t the only violence victims this week: the group of illegals are of mixed gender, the coyote takes a beating, and Ruiz impressively takes out the neighborhood pimp with one blow.

* I’m enjoying the developing side investigation by the two reporters. Emily Rios has turned into something of a magnet for quality drama of late (“Friday Night Lights,” “Men of a Certain Age,” “Breaking Bad” and now this), and I’m enjoying how Matthew Lillard has reinvented himself in middle age. This isn’t Shaggy; this is a believable alcoholic reporter who has burned every bridge but the rickety one he’s currently perched on.

* Getting back to the killer, he’s definitely thorough. Last week, he had the ability to turn over all power and surveillance on the bridge (which you would think would be its own massive issue, above and beyond the body he left behind), and here we find out that he’s been planning this for at least three years, given what the asthamtic actor tells the cops.

* The pilot was a 90-minute affair (60 or so without commercials), and this one ran nearly 75 minutes tonight (52 without ads). Next week’s episode is a standard hour length, and I assume that’ll be the case most of the time going forward. But we’ve also seen with “The Americans,” “Sons of Anarchy” and some other current shows that FX isn’t reluctant to let episodes end well past the hour mark. So what I’m saying is, you might want to pad your DVR recordings for a while, just in case.

Finally, I’m going to be taking a few days off next week in between Comic-Con and press tour, so odds are (barring a miraculous pocket of time within the Con) I’ll be skipping a review of episode 3 (which I liked). Then it’s a question of when FX gets me screeners of the next few episodes and what windows I have in my press tour schedule to watch and write about them. There may be a gap, but my guess it will only be due to lack of time, not lack of enthusiasm.

What did everybody else think?