Review: ‘The Bridge’ – ‘ID’

A review of tonight’s “The Bridge” coming up just as soon as I eat my freedom fries…

“I took away any hope she had of getting answers.” -Hank

Coincidence can be a storyteller’s best friend, or it can be a lazy crutch. “ID” is loaded with coincidences and parallels, to the point where the entire hour could collapse under the weight of all these improbable links between characters. Instead, they’re used to generate some of the best character moments – and perhaps the best overall hour – of this young series.

Take all the intersections between Sonya and Gina. Sonya was roughly Gina’s age when her sister was murdered by Jim Dobbs, Gina’s mother is a negligent drug addict just like Sonya’s, Gina’s father was the psychiatrist Hank went to after shooting Dobbs in the head, and the pencil sketch of The Bridge Butcher’s eyes evokes all the crayon drawings Sonya keeps from the brain-damaged Dobbs.

That is a lot, right there. And yet it works. The episode mostly avoids beat us over the head with the parallels, and instead uses them to illustrate things about the regular characters and their relationships with one another.

I don’t have a problem with Hank having worked the murder of Sonya’s sister, for instance, because it only deepens and helps explain their connection: he’s mentored and protected her all these years because he feels guilty that his impulse for speedy vigilante justice deprived Sonya – a woman who eats, breathes and sleeps solid answers rather than abstract ones – of an explanation for this savage act of violence.

And the episode doesn’t really start pushing the Sonya/Gina parallels until the scene at the lunch counter, which comes after a long stretch of the episode in which Sonya has tried and failed spectacularly to make an emotional connection with this girl, even though the tools to make it happen were in front of her the whole time. Sonya doesn’t see it – sees Gina, in a way, as a walking, talking surveillance camera that for some reason won’t play back the appropriate footage – until it’s much too late, and she’s kneeling over a blood-soaked Gina as the light goes out of her eyes. And in that moment, we’re reminded that just because Sonya has difficulty understanding or displaying emotions doesn’t mean that she lacks them, and the rawness of Diane Kruger’s performance is something to see.(*) And the final scene not only enhanced last week’s conversation with Marco(**) about the drawings – we understand that these are not old drawings, but ones she gets whenever she visits Dobbs – but was another terrific scene for Kruger. Sonya wants so badly to understand what happened, and to feel connected to her sister, and holding the hand of this childlike giant while he makes crayon drawings is the closest she can come. Outstanding.

(*) Given what happened to “The Americans” this year, I fear the Emmy drama fields are going to be too crowded for her performance, or this show, to get much awards traction, but the transition from the Sonya of the episode’s first half to the second would make an excellent submission episode should she manage to get nominated.

(**) Marco and Sonya just discussed her sister’s murder – including Sonya mentioning Dobbs by name – so why is he so surprised to realize whom Hank is talking about here?

“ID” also provides a lot of backstory for Marco, as it becomes clear that not only did he step out on Gus’s mom, but that he’s done it before with Alma. (When he told Gus that the one-nighter with Charlotte was “different” from the previous time, all I could do was shake my head at a character who is otherwise so charming thanks to Demián Bichir’s performance.) Frye and Adriana’s parallel investigation uncovers some signs that Marco could be corrupt, but we learn from his later scene with Fausto Galvan that this is not the case – and that Marco and Galvan’s fathers were partners in some criminal enterprise that Marco wanted no part of.

There’s definitely a sense of both El Paso and Juarez being very small towns (when in fact neither are), where everyone somehow gets mixed up in each other’s business and each other’s history. But these particular characters are compelling enough that I’m on board with it for the time being.

Some other thoughts:

* I’ve seen a few people speculate that Tim Cooper (aka Mullet Cop) is The Bridge Butcher, because he’s been shown to be tech-savvy, and now there are suggestions the Butcher could be in law-enforcement. But I went back and checked the scene in episode 4 where the Butcher is making arrangements for the ransom drop, and Cooper’s in the room with Hank, Sonya, Marco, Frye and the FBI agents. And unlike the audio messages from the pilot, this doesn’t seem like the kind of thing our man could or would outsource. At close to the midpoint of the season, anyway, I’m fine with the idea the Butcher is someone we haven’t met. He matters as a driver of the plot, but revealing that he’s been someone under our heroes’ noses all along could come across as cheesey.

* I don’t know how much of a viewership overlap there is between this show and “Cougar Town,” but Brian Van Holt’s Ray comes across so much like a slightly smarter Bobby Cobb that it’s a bit distracting. And clearly, Monty P. Flagman and his employer were right not to trust this guy, who’s about to get them mixed up with the ATF.

* He may turn out to be a quintessential Less Is More character, but for now I can’t get enough of Fausto Galvan. Such a perfect economy of movement, speech and emotion; this guy just does what he does matter-of-factly, whether he’s escorting Calaca’s corpse through Charlotte’s tunnel, inviting his men to select a knife, or tossing a brick of cash onto the fire.  Galvan knows the effect he has on people, but he doesn’t seem the least bit vain about it.

* Frye begins sobering up (to the strains of the ’70s hit “Brand New Key” by Melanie), no doubt freaked out by all the violence he’s witnessed – and perhaps by the realization of how big this story can be for him if he gets his act together. But even sober, the contrast between Frye and Adriana is striking. He’s ready to vomit every second they’re in the morgue, while for her, dead bodies are a sad but understood fact of life.

* Hands up, anyone who was not expecting Alma’s co-worker to make a move on her by the end of that scene.

* That was Brad William Henke (Coover from “Justified” season 2, among other roles) as Jim Dobbs, and Don Swayze (who still looks an awful lot like his late brother Patrick) as Ray’s snitching buddy Tim.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at