As the FX network’s new drama ‘The Bridge’ premiered last week, I had to ask myself whether I really needed another dark and murder-y mystery series in my life right now, no matter how good it should turn out to be. Don’t I already have enough of those to occupy my time? By the end of the 90-minute pilot episode, however, I was sold. Damn, this show is really, really good – so good that I need to make room for it.
FX held the details of this show particularly close to the vest prior to its premiere. Most of the advertising consisted of short, enigmatic commercials that showed no actors and told nothing of the plot, but just conveyed a mood of ominous dread. They were effective, but now that ‘The Bridge’ is out there in the world, we finally know what it’s about.
The series is a murder mystery that takes place on the U.S./Mexico border – specifically, at the bridge that crosses from El Paso, TX to Juarez, Chihuahua. The latter, of course, is notorious as one of the most dangerous cities with one of the highest murder rates in the world. At the start of the ‘Pilot’ episode, someone manages to cut the power to all lights and security cameras on the bridge for a minute. By the time the lights come back on, a dead body is found lying precisely across the border line, one half in American territory and the other in Mexican territory. Further, attempts to remove it show that the body has been severed in half in alignment with the border. This isn’t just a murder; it’s a political statement.
The body belongs to a Texas judge who was outspoken in her anti-immigration, anti-Mexican views. Well, the top half of the body belongs to that judge, anyway. It turns out that the bottom half comes from a completely different person, a young Mexican girl who’d gone missing over a year earlier. (An autopsy reveals that the legs had been frozen.)
First on the scene is El Paso homicide detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger from ‘Inglourious Basterds‘). Immediately, it’s clear that something is off about her. She has basically no social skills, obsesses over procedure to a pedantic degree, and lacks any ability to empathize. At this point, it’s unclear whether she’s autistic, or was traumatized into this condition by the death of a sister whose run-down jeep she still drives and whose ugly jacket she compulsively wears all the time.
Cross wants this case. She doesn’t want to cede control to a federal task force on the way, and she doesn’t want to share it with Mexican authorities, represented by Chihuahua State Police officer Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir, the surprise Oscar nominee a couple years ago for a movie called ‘A Better Life‘ that nobody saw). At first, Ruiz is happy to hand over the case to the crazy white lady so that he can go back home to bed. Later, circumstances will force them to collaborate.
Thus far, the most likely suspect for the murder is a creepy coyote who sneaks illegals across the border. However, he doesn’t seem like someone who’d want to make a public political statement, nor does he appear to have the know-how to disable the border’s security system. No doubt, the answer will be much more complex.
Bichir is simply awesome in this. I totally get his Oscar nomination now. A little like the Benicio Del Toro character in ‘Traffic’, Ruiz is a veteran cop who forces himself to put on airs of benign, bemused indifference because it’s the only way he can cope with the frustration he feels about the apathy and corruption so rampant in law enforcement on his side of the border. Ruiz is a very likable guy who makes it a point to ingratiate himself to pretty much everyone he meets, not because he wants the attention or friendship, but because he’s clever enough to know that will get him the best results.
For her part, Kruger has a very difficult job in creating a character so defined by personality quirks without coming across too forced or gimmicky. Det. Cross needs to be unique and idiosyncratic, but still believable as someone who could exist and function in the real world. So far, the actress seems to be pulling it off. (The opposite end of this spectrum is a show like TNT’s ‘Perception‘, which is handicapped by a lead character blatantly calculated for maximum adorable quirkiness.)
Ted Levine from ‘Monk’ and ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ plays Cross’ lieutenant and father figure, who struggles to keep her out of trouble. Annabeth Gish has a storyline as a wealthy, recently-widowed white woman beginning to discover that her late husband hid some dark secrets. Also surprisingly good is Matthew Lillard, of all people, as a jerkwad reporter whose car was stolen and used to dump the body on the bridge. In fact, Lillard has the episode’s best scene, in an incredibly suspenseful sequence where he discovers that his car has been rigged with a bomb.
I’m hooked. The pilot episode is pretty great. The mystery is compelling, and the characters are fascinating. I’m on board for more. FX has developed yet another terrific new series.