by Josie Kafka
Marco Ruiz: “Howdy, pardner.”
The Bridge, a remix of a Scandinavian TV series, examines the aftereffects of an astonishing gambit: someone shuts off the lights on the Bridge of the Americas, which connects El Paso and Juarez, and drops a body right across the border. We quickly discover that there’s even more to it than that. What appeared to be one bisected body is actually pieces of two different women: an upper-middle-class (white) anti-immigration judge from El Paso, and a young factory worker from Juarez.*
The concept of a border is fascinating, no matter what kind of border it is: on a map, as a conceptual division, as a categorical limitation. But a border is more than just a line separating two places: the border is itself a place, and nowhere is that more true than in the case of the American/Mexican border.
In the pilot episode, sadly, The Bridge focuses mostly on El Paso, but it seems soon the show will start to examine both Juarez and the idea of the expanded border as the Chihuahua State Police and the El Paso Police combine forces to solve a murder that—on its face—has political motivations.
The show is off to a good start with the basics. Language is constantly at stake, with characters altering their language for given situations and offering translation; Mexican characters speak to other Mexican characters in Spanish (except in one important scene between the male lead and his son) which is a blessed bit of reality on American TV, which usually follows the dictates of Billie's Rule Number Nine. And if you know even a bit of Spanish, you’ll see the many jokes embedded in the conversation up top, which shows how language can be used as a tool of divisiveness as well as communication.
A show can’t thrive on an idea, though. Characters make it happen, and The Bridge seems to be batting about .750 in that regard. Diane Kruger’s El Paso detective clearly has Asperger’s, even though no one comes out and says it for reasons that I don’t understand, since the show does everything but put a big neon “Aspie” light on top of her head like a halo.
I’m not a huge fan of the current trend of using Asperger’s as a substitution for creating an actual character: people with Asperger’s aren’t all alike, and aren’t going to “learn to be human” (as one reviewer put it in a shockingly offensive statement) just by interacting with people more. That’s just not how neurological difference works. But I do understand the reason Asperger’s has been so popular on TV of late: it creates so many opportunities for conflicts and misunderstandings, especially since no one in TVLand seems to be able to know how to relate to an Aspie, the same way that no one in TVLand understands the rules for zombies or the significance of a meet-cute.
So far, the real standout is Demian Bichir’s Marco Ruiz, the Chihuahua State Police detective who pairs with Kruger. Bichir, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work in A Better Life, is incredibly charismatic, and I love the way that the writers let the actor create a character with just a few key scenes, including one great bit involving pan dulce. I hope the showrunners—including Homeland’s Meredith Stiehm—allow Diane Kruger the same opportunity to do more with less.
I assume they will. Although I didn’t love the pilot, it is clear that the masterminds behind The Bridge know what they are doing. In addition to the basics of the murder investigation, they have introduced so-far unconnected plot threads involving Annabeth Gish as the widow of a horse rancher, Matthew Lillard as a good-for-nothing reporter, and some random guy with a trailer doing stuff I don’t understand. These threads will come together soon, and Stiehm promised that the murder would be solved at the end of the first season.
While that promise will be welcomed by those of us who were burned by the last Scandinavian import we all watched, I think it’s beside the point. The Bridge has the potential to explore some fascinating issues in terms of how place can affect identity, the politics of language, and the very idea of borders themselves—not to mention the skyrocketing murder rates in border towns like Juarez and Tijuana, and what (if anything) police in El Paso and San Diego should be doing about it.
Three out of four horses.
*It occurred to me as I was writing this review that the place-names might be really confusing for our international readers. El Paso is in Texas (the US); Juarez is in the state of Chihuahua (Mexico). They're not really two cities; they are one big city that straddles a national border.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)