FX’s “The Bridge”
After such a long hiatus from blogging, it seems appropriate to start back up at my roots: television. Long gone are the days when summer TV is an endless string of reality flops and cancelled show burn-offs. No, now instead of revisiting an old favorite, or checking out a new series, we also have to contend with good (even great) shows premiering in the former off season.
Obviously from the title, I think The Bridge is definitely a contender; hell, it would be a great show in the fall or the spring as well. The premise, atmosphere, and character work in the pilot make it a must-see. Based on a joint Danish/Swedish television series by the same name, it starts with the discovery of a body on the bridge between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. Found smack dab in the middle of the border, pop culture has taught us to expect that the U.S. homicide detective Sonya North (Diane Kruger) and her Mexican counterpart Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir) will both demand to solve the case. Instead, Ruiz quickly passes on the case as he has enough unsolved murders in Juarez. (Now for a few plot spoilers from the pilot)
It seems like Detective North suffers from an extreme form of Will Graham-like lack of empathy and all of her co-workers think she’s a freak. The producers are comfortable with labeling it Asperger’s (something made clear in episodes to come). It becomes clear that her Lieutenant (Ted Levine) most likely casts a protective shield around her position and his decision to retire may endanger her job. We hear bits and pieces about her sister, who seems to have died tragically; a further characterization/plot point to be explored throughout the season. Ruiz seems amused by North’s quirks, as he is soon forced back out of bed to continue the investigation. Half of the body belongs to a different victim, this one from Juarez instead of the US. Whereas North seems socially unstable, Ruiz is on his second wife and is shown to be a concerned father. (But father no more since the whole department knows he recently got a vasectomy = more small character, humanizing moments.) The second victim is one of the many “missing girls of Juarez,” and his proximity to the case pulls Ruiz into the investigation.
Our potential perpetrator, whose POV we also follow throughout the pilot (à la The Fall), is suitably creepy and cryptic in his motivation. Played by Thomas M. Wright (he’s great in Top of the Lake), he affects a voice similar to the one made famous by his co-star Ted Levine (aka Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs). Towards the end of the episode, Matthew Lillard enters the scene as a scummy, universally hated journalist because his car was identified on the bridge the night the body was dumped. Before North and Ruiz can question him, he gets trapped in his wired-with-a-bomb car. There’s great acting from Matthew Lillard in his brief introduction, and luckily his car didn’t explode, so we will see more of him.
Rounding out our new cast of characters is Annabeth Gish, in the most unconnected story to the main plot (so far). Her husband suffers a heart attack in Juarez and get momentarily stopped in the ambulance (on the way back to the US) by the crime scene on the border bridge. Later, just after telling his wife that he wants a divorce, he dies at the hospital. Gish returns to their ranch despondent and finds a key that unlocks a very creepy looking underground area in a part of the ranch she had never seen. So, where could that be leading? Hmm.
While a lot of pilots tend to throw information at you to establish plot, The Bridge struck a fantastic balance between establishing plot and presenting character motivation with a natural flow. An air of mystery surrounds the situation without leaving the audience completely in the dark. With this momentum, it is sure to be one of the highlights of the summer.