Review: ‘The Bridge’ – ‘Maria of the Desert’

A review of tonight’s “The Bridge” coming up just as soon as I pay for your Ju Jitsu classes…

“Not for nothing, but this guy’s trying to make a point.” -Frye

“Maria of the Desert” seems to tell us that Steven Linder is not, as Sonya predicted last week, our killer, but rather a strange individual doing a good deed by transporting endangered women across the border to hide out at Bob’s ranch. It’s possible, I suppose, that Linder could have been placing calls to Frye and the FBI agents while he was on the road to and from the ranch, and that he’s the one who chopped off Agent Gedman’s head and cold-cocked Marco, but the odds feel awfully long.

If that’s the case, I’m both pleased and intrigued. Pleased, because I feel like there’s a lot more life in that character (and in Thomas M. Wright’s strange, Buffalo Bill soundalike performance) if he’s just a part of the world rather than the evil mastermind. And intrigued, because that means we’re four episodes in without a single viable suspect, which isn’t the way you would expect a story like this to be told.

And yet what I ultimately liked so much about “Maria of the Desert,” and have liked about this season to date, is the neat trick it’s accomplished with the killer. On the one hand, he’s an omniscient supervillain, able to foil expensive government surveillance systems, pull off elaborate and baroque murders, and turn hardened FBI agents into easy prey. In other words, he’s the sort of archetypal serial killer who has become way too played out in our popular culture. But on the other hand, he’s a phantom. We’ve seen glimpses of his boots and legs, but that’s it. The show is interested in the message the killer is trying to send, but it’s not reveling in the twisted and clever nature of the crimes themselves, which is no mean feat. Shows like “Criminal Minds” and “The Following” tend to fetishize their killers and revel in every nasty image; “The Bridge” gives us a similar killer but clearly takes no pleasure in what he does. He’s all-powerful (which is not my favorite thing), but less to give the show something to celebrate than to give the killer and the writers an opportunity to discuss life on that border.

There’s a bit less sociology this week, though, as Sonya, Marco and Hank try to find and rescue the captive woman on the video. But the search material is effective, and it still folds in characters like Frye (who gets to tell Marco about his recent trip down to Juarez) and Charlotte, while also giving us a better introduction to Juarez crime boss Fausto Galvan, whom we met briefly in the pilot when he was playing cards with Marco’s captain. (He’s the one who gives Marco a once-over and says it’s useful to have a dedicated employee like that.) Played by Ramon Franco, he looks wholly unremarkable – an old man in modest, rumpled clothes and a baseball cap – but his visit to see the tunnel mistress during her beauty salon visit makes clear just how dangerous he is, while his entry into the case adds another complication to Marco’s life. Looking forward to seeing what else he’ll be up to, especially since he has some pull over Eva’s pimp Hector.

“Maria of the Desert” also does well by Sonya, who’s the one to figure out the clue in the livestream. One of the issues I had with the first few episodes was that Sonya’s social deficits weren’t being balanced with the kind of investigative brilliance that would explain how she had gotten to this point in her career. But last week she was the one who recognized what seems to be Linder’s innocence in this affair, and here she solves the big puzzle by focusing on the computer screen long after Marco and the others have pleaded with her to look away. The scene in Hank’s truck where we get some more hints about her sister’s death was also a nice moment for Diane Kruger.

Both Sonya and the show as a whole are still a bit of a work in progress, but enough of the elements (most of the performances – especially Demián Bichir – the cross-border conflicts and sense of place) are clicking enough that I’m willing to be patient on the parts that aren’t entirely there yet. And with Linder apparently eliminated as a suspect, I’m really curious to see who’s introduced in his place – or if the show bothers at all, or simply uses “The Bridge Butcher” as a background figure whose true identity is ultimately less important than the questions he raises in El Paso and Juarez.

Some other thoughts:

* That’s David Meunier, Johnny Crowder from “Justified,” popping by another FX drama to play the doomed Agent Gedman.

* I was also pleased to see a few promising signs in the writing of mustachioed Detective Tim Cooper. In the first couple of episodes, he seemed just this side of a good ol’ boy caricature, but here he’s shown as tech-savvy (he can’t track the video signal, but understands exactly what the killer is doing to stay hidden) and also sensitive to the needs of Sonya and the victim when he insists on staying with the latter so the former can go help Marco and the feds.

* I love the show’s use of light to convey just how hot it is out in that desert, particularly in the scene where Linder nudges the snake to the side of the road.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at