Review: ‘The Bridge’ – ‘The Beast’

A review of tonight’s “The Bridge” coming up just as soon as I get the Saran wrap…

“I understand you.” -Sonya

Sonya isn’t the only person in this episode trying to understand the mind of a serial killer. We open with Fausto Galvan baffled by the very idea of serial murder, before deciding – more than a bit defensively – that he doesn’t qualify because he doesn’t enjoy the many deaths he has caused. A new character, teen shoplifter Gina Meadows, learns more about the dead girls of Juarez, and about how the locals have dubbed their killer or killers “The Beast.” When her father, the therapist who evaluated the late Agent Gedman, is murdered while she hides in a closet, it’s not hard to understand her equating this killer with the one she heard described in Juarez.

When I spoke with Meredith Stiehm before the season began, she said the goal was to use the serial killer case as a way into the world of El Paso and Juarez, in the same way “The Wire” used the Barksdale case as a commercial hook to bring viewers into the larger story of Baltimore. That’s a lofty ambition, and yet one I feel Stiehm and Elwood Reid may be able to pull off, given how well they’ve drawn these two communities and their characters so far.

The main difference so far is that I was genuinely invested in the Barksdale case and all the players involved as I would be in the rest of Baltimore, where I’m thus far viewing this serial killer as a kind of necessary evil. It’s not poorly done – as I said last week, they’ve found a way to give us an omnipotent serial killer without fetishizing or applauding him, which is no mean feat in this day and age – but it also has yet to transcend feeling like a means to an end.

This was another very strong Sonya episode, even as some of her behavior (mostly during her visit to the Ruiz home) was off-putting(*) to those around her. I like watching the effect her blunt, guile-less behavior has on others, whether the bomb she inadvertently dropped in the middle of the Ruiz marriage or the way she totally threw Frye off his game by asking about why he uses drugs.

(*) At press tour, Stiehm talked a bit about their reasons for not coming out and saying that Sonya has Asperger’s, and I also chatted a bit with the show’s consultant in this area, Alex Plank. Still digging out from press tour, but look for a story on this in the next week or two.

And for all the damage Sonya does to his life, Marco ends up feeling closer to her after he spends a night on her couch and learns more about the death of her sister. I love the way director Gwyneth Horder-Payton shot that scene, with Sonya’s face in profile lighting up the otherwise dark room, and Marco half in shadow, trying to make sense of his new partner and the many complicated, tragic things that drive her.

These two provide such a powerful center for the series that if they care about the serial killer case – and Sonya cares even more about it after she’s able to speak to the killer on the phone – then I suppose I can care about it, too.

Some other thoughts:

* At press tour, FX did a panel featuring some of the channel’s most frequent directors, including Horder-Payton, Michael Dinner from “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy” producer Paris Barclay, among others. They showed scenes of each director’s work beforehand, and the fight between Linder and Calaca was Horder-Payton’s sample. At one point on the panel, Barclay (who was just elected president of the Directors Guild) talked about how he could have identified who directed each clip without being told because he recognizes everyone’s visual signatures; of Horder-Payton’s scene, he said, “I know Gwyneth is tight and performance oriented and the action is always chilling and done in a way that you would never expect a female director to do.” And you can see that skill absolutely in place for that fight, and the tense aftermath as Marco shows up at the apartment at just the wrong moment.

* Kudos, by the way, to whomever it was who decided to have Linder ironing – and then fighting for his life – in just his tightie-whities. With Walter White, those things become comical; with Linder, they just become one more weird aspect of this intense physical performance Thomas M. Wright is giving. And kudos to some combination of the make-up department, the director of photography and Horder-Payton for that shot of Linder in extreme close-up in the desert, all wrinkles and blood vessels.

* Wondering if there will be an explanation for how Galvan found Linder in the desert, or if we’re just supposed to assume Galvan is as all-knowing as the serial killer he so disdains.

* I’ve realized that if a certain character or story on a show isn’t really grabbing me, I tend to pause the screener when they pop up and do something else for a few minutes, almost as if I’m subconsciously hoping the narrative will have moved on by the time I click play again. (In more traditional viewing, I might just change the channel for a minute.) With “The Bridge,” the character I’m always pausing is Charlotte Millwright, even in scenes where she’s interacting with Marco. I’m sure this will eventually become an important part of the overall story, but Charlotte as a character is unfortunately not connecting for me at all. Maybe the arrival of Brian Van Holt as one of her Tampa pals may make things more interesting; if all else fails, he can teach her how to play Penny Can.

* On the other hand, the scene where Marco’s wife and his son bond over Marco’s latest screw-up was very well done. Surprisingly touching, given how little we’ve seen of Gus and Alma so far.

* Nice to see Hank off on his own, doing more than just helping Sonya stay on course. Also, was glad to see, after Marco goes home with Sonya, Ted Levine bust out that befuddled expression he perfected on “Monk.”

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at