The Bridge – It’s not heroin, but I might be hooked
The edgy, basic-cable network FX has stacked up quite a batting average in recent years with hits like ‘Louie’, ‘Justified’, ‘American Horror Story’, and ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’. And it looks like the network’s Wednesday night drama, ‘The Bridge’, is shaping up to be another home run.
Serial murder, cartel dealings, and a talented cast drive the show, while the modern-day racial tension and injustice of sister cities that meet at a highly contested Mexican/American border adds a compelling relevance. The Bridge had a strong and mesmerizing beginning, despite a somewhat off-putting initial performance by female lead Diane Kruger (The Host, Inglorious Bastards), as El Paso police detective Sonya Cross. It’s not that Kruger was bad, or even unbelievable as the socially inept detective; I don’t know, maybe it’s that the actress wasn’t sure how to play a character that apparently suffers from Aspergers, a condition that falls on the higher-functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. Or perhaps it’s that she played the part too well. Either way, the German-born actress was a little hard to watch in the early parts of that first episode, but as things progressed, so did Kruger’s performance and the natural feel and flow of the show. Now, when she’s on screen, it’s hard to look away.
The gritty appeal of the The Bridge owes its thanks to a few others as well; Sonya Cross isn’t carrying this thing all by herself.
The always dependable and sometimes creepy Ted Levine (Monk, Silence of the Lambs) plays lieutenant Hank Wade, a nearing retirement, “elder-of-the-tribe” type leader, and something of a father figure to Sonya. And, praise be, Levine still has that awesomely macabre and morbidly charming voice that has earned him a place in my heart and my nightmares.
The big surprise of the series is easily Matthew Lillard (The Descendants, Scream). Making a strong comeback in recent years, Lillard makes weekly appearances on the show as Daniel Frye, a nearly morally bankrupt journalist who tries to hide from his misdeeds and guilt in the bottom of a bottle of this, or a nickel-bag of that. Once or twice, I thought I saw his performance slipping, but that could have just been my imagination, because at one point in episode ten (“Old Friends”), I caught myself holding back a tear or two as a “rock-bottom” Frye testified and exercised a few demons at an emotional AA meeting. The scene was perfectly jarring. Well done Lillard.
The series favorite has to be the talented Damian Bircher, (Savages, Che) who plays the male lead, Marco Ruiz, a conflicted and sometimes questionable homicide detective for the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Ruiz is a great character with a touch of that old Mexican cowboy swagger. He’s easy to like and easy to cheer for despite a tendency to look the other way, and an all too familiar weakness for women.
Makers of the show have made some unusual choices, but in a modern, entertainment-driven world where just about everything that can be done has already been done to death, can anyone blame them? For example, who gives up the “big reveal” two weeks before the end of the season? Major portions of the mystery and intrigue that propelled the show were apparently resolved in last week’s episode titled “Take the Ride, Pay the Toll” (which seems a play on the Hunter S. Thompson quote, “Buy the ticket, take the ride”).
To date, this episode has cut the deepest for me. It was as powerful and climactic as a successful and popular season finale. The hour kept a good emotional pace and focused on the endgame of the serial killer that Cross and Ruiz have been hunting all season. It culminated in the standoff/hostage scene on the Bridge of the Americas. The outcome of the climax appeared not to go along with the killer’s master plan, but the smile on his face as he was being handcuffed seemed to suggest that either his plan was exactly a success, or possibly that its final stages were yet to be revealed.
The shooting of Daniel Frye and the tortured drowning of Ruiz’s son, Gus, (Carlos Pratts), in that 11th episode were hugely upsetting, but I think ultimately necessary to give the show credibility. It’s unfortunate that this is the case, but if no one died … who would tune in?