I was intrigued when I first read about The Bridge, adapted from a 2011 Scandinavian series of the same name. Although the drama would have been a very different one if located on the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, (which was first suggested) I was pleased it was half in El Paso, Texas, and then on the other side of the bridge and border Juárez, Mexico.
The show follows two detectives—Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) of the El Paso Police Department and Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir), a Mexican homicide detective from Juárez—as they search for the killer of a body spanning both sides the border on the bridge.
I was especially pleased to see that when events took place in Mexico, Spanish would be used with English subtitles—something the movie Traffic pulled off with great success. Something that implies everything isn’t all white USA, all the time.
The other detail that caught my attention, though never explicitly stated, was the knowledge that critics had almost universally accepted that the U.S. detective, Sonia Cross, has Asperger’s Disorder, a condition that interferes with social interaction and non-verbal communication.
In Law & Order: Criminal Intent actor Vincent D’Onofrio played a detective that many people believed had Asperger’s, though the show or major television critics never mentioned it. So the notion that The Bridge would deal with this a bit more directly piqued my interest.
Thanks to cable’s “On Demand,” I’ve been able to binge on the first season for the past two weeks and, at first, was pretty disappointed. The plot seemed clichéd, albeit with occasionally a bit more subtlety. We discover, for example, that Marco Ruiz, the Mexican detective, slept with one of the other major characters because she returns his forgotten wallet to Sonia instead of watching them writhe around in a bed. But high ranking Mexican police officials are portrayed as completely indifferent to the multitude of missing woman in Juárez, only interested in closing the book and getting rid of the U.S. detective.
How many television shows have that one good detective up against an uncaring bureaucracy? Women as bloody victims are, in and of itself, a major cliché. Even the oddly complicated shotgun partnership between Sonia and Marco learning to work together is something we’ve seen before. Many times.
Furthermore, at first, Sonia’s “Asperger” character was so over the top it defied belief—not that someone on the spectrum would behave as she did, but that she could have managed to become a detective. As a mitigating factor, the police chief was also her rabbi, so to speak. As time goes on, we realize that the gentle coaching he gives as supervisor and mentor is the result of some mutual history.
Perhaps, though, my biggest annoyance was what I was initially most interested in: the use of the Tex/Mex border town as the locale. Rather than allowing viewers the opportunity to actually experience and realize the changing demographics of our country, I wondered if the show permitted people to write off the socio-economics and changing demographics as limited to only where the rubber meets the road. That is, just the towns directly on each side of the line.
But I was caught up in my binge so I kept watching. And ended up very, very pleased that I did.
The second half of the season turned The Bridge around. The writers softened Sonia’s symptoms to a place where it was actually possible to imagine her as working her way up the ranks while still struggling to solve both the mystery at hand along with the mystery of human interactions. At the same time, Marco’s easygoing, but virtuous cop became more complex in the face of his imploding marriage and family. Despite a few missteps, Demián Bichir’s acting and compelling face has jumped from the screen and has been superb.
Even more importantly, for me anyway, I’ve come to see the real value in using the Tex/Mex border towns. Imagine if you will two giant funnels, each located in one country and tubed together with the other. Mexico’s funnel gives the viewer a realistic look at those who have gone through the torturous travel of crawling toward its skinny pipeline—defying dessert heat and unscrupulous bribed “transporters,” only to arrive in a town that cares nothing for their well-being. We all know the sentiments and attitudes that waft through our funnel, even though we try to block it as best we can. And woe to those who manage to squeeze through the tube. I find it passing strange that we diligently work to jail or deport people who risk everything imaginable and survive hell to simply better their lives and those of their children while, at the same time, we barely slap the wrists of those who have actually crippled our economy and the day-to-day lives of millions of our fellow citizens. Really, who are the “illegals” living here?
Bottom line: I’ve re-learned a lesson that I should have remembered. Sometimes it takes more than a show or two, or even a season or two, for an ambitious attempt at a series to find its legs. Art ain’t art with one stroke of a brush. (Unless you’re already really, really famous.)
I recently read that FX (the show’s network) has signed up for a second season of 13 episodes. If The Bridge continues its creative development and doesn’t regress into stereotypes or overly traditional plot lines, the view has the potential to be really special.
Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview – nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty. Stephen Jay Gould