Visible in a nighttime aerial view, the bridge between the United States and Mexico shines brightly as cars idle in long lines, waiting to pass. Suddenly the lights cut out all at once, and static fills the border patrol security cameras. When the lights go back up with a snap without explanation moments later, there’s a dead body, BOOM! It’s lying across the line designating the divide between the two countries. “Shut the border,” one officer shouts to another. Holy cripes, I should say so!
Okay, so there are plenty of crime shows and serial killer mysteries out there. But to take the lights-out discover-dead-body trope and put it smack dab on an international border? That’s not only blowing up the drama to a bigger stage, it’s involving immigration issues and US-Mexican tensions right from the get go, importing the conflicts between two nation’s populations to (what seems at first) a single crime and the people tackling it.
Add to that fascinating spin (because my goodness, the US-Mexican differences/divide holds a wealth of stories yet to be properly mined in American media) intriguing characterizations, great twists on expected crime show tropes, and seriously excellent actors, and we’ve got a terrific start on a new show that I want everyone who loves good drama watching.
Detectives Sonya Cross and Marco Ruiz meet at the dividing line to examine the corpse. When Sonya throws her 104-pound-wet weight around (seriously, Diane Kruger, so tiny!), pointing out the corpse must be American (i.e., Caucasian). Marco backs off, letting her take charge. But when Sonya won’t let an ambulance holding a man having a heart-attack through, Marco intercedes to authorize its passage, making Sonya furious he “compromised the scene.”
Wow. Bunches of viewers are going to have problems with Sonya straight away. But after encountering so many idealized autism-spectrum characters, or watching a tic or two represent Asperger’s syndrome for characters on other shows, I’m really interested to see The Bridge feature so prominently a character who has serious difficulties in social situations and begin to hint at the well of passion she has for particular people or certain issues behind her seemingly cold veneer. She’s no super genius or silent shaman as other Asperger’s syndrome identified characters have been played; she’s a character with flaws and talents struggling to display her admirable competence even as she shies away from what seem like pointless interactions with others.
Plus Diane Kruger, with a solid background in her film roles, brings both seriousness and vulnerability to the character.So I really hope other viewers will give Sonya a chance — I’d love to hear your thoughts on her.
Faced with Sonya’s intense focus on the case and who owns it, Marco (played by the very excellent Demian Bichir, who was, incidentally, top notch in what could have been a throwaway supporting role The Heat) tells her “We’ve got our own dead,” mentioning the nine heads they found just that morning in Juarez’s City Hall; he won’t fight her for this case. But when Sonya directs the paramedics to lift the body, it comes apart directly in halves, one half on the American side, the other on the Mexican. This is clearly a crime that cannot be shunted to just one side or the other; it’s already divided and belongs to both countries.
Meanwhile in Juarez, a shady looking Caucasian man with mutton chops and stubble (this is one of the freakier facial hair looks I can think of) meets a Mexican woman out on the town complete with glittery gold outfit who asks if he’s “the one”. When he confirms, she panics, saying, “I don’t want to,” in Spanish. But he urges her in the trunk of his car anyway, taking away her sparkly shoes for some reason. Maybe because they’re bad for your calves when you’re lying curled up in a trunk to be kidnapped through customs? It would seem Creepy Mutton Chops could be our killer, but since the first episode is a bit early to pinpoint the murderer, this must just one of the more disturbing misdirects ever.
Having arrived at the El Paso hospital, the wealthy woman from the ambulance visits her husband before he goes through his procedure. He saw the other side, and has “got to get your life right.” “My life is just right,” she tells him, obviously moved that he’s made it. But he doesn’t love her and wants a divorce. Well, that’s cold.
Also back in El Paso, Sonya tells her superior Lieutenant Hank Wade (played by the terrific Ted Levine, best known from Monk) that the body was that of a Judge Gates. She asks for his help in keeping federal agents from taking her case as she arrives at the Gates household. “Remember eye contact, all right?” he tells her. It’s a lovely small and telling moment, how much Hank works to manage Sonya so she can get her job done.
And oh god, does Sonya make eye contact; she is laser-beam trained on that poor bereaved husband as she gives him the news. Still, as she puts Mr. Gates through the paces to give herself evidence he wasn’t the killer, she tries to gesture at the appropriate words and reactions, such as repeatedly and awkwardly offering him glasses of water.
But when she learns Judge Gates made rulings that offended the local Latino community and reacts incredulously at the biased decisions, she both loses the slim affinity she has with the husband and gives us a clue as to what this particular body has to do with border-crossing tensions. “I’m sorry if I didn’t exercise sympathy,” she tells Mr. Gates stiffly, the epitome of awkward and odd as he dismisses her.
Marco arrives home in Juarez to lecture his son that the pot he’s smoking inevitably connects him to unsavory and controlling crime bosses of Juarez. His son, Gus, seems less than impressed, speaking deliberately in English to his father. In bed with his wife, Marco covers for his son, claiming he was asleep.
Hank meets Sonya at the mortuary, where she’s excited to learn the autopsy results, but less thrilled at telling him she failed to go easy on the judge’s husband. “Morning, Sonya,” Denise the cheerful mortician greets Detective Cross, quickly followed by an “O-kay,” she Sonya, all business, wants only to know the cause of death.
“It’s a perfect bisection,” Sonya croons, thrilled at this creepy turn, while Denise tells her excitedly to “check out the other half.” See, if Sonya could just muster the bothers to tell Denise good morning, these two could totally be coffee buddies. But then the two countries/two body sections formulation gets complicated more: we’re not dealing with one dead body, but two: the top half belonged to Judge Gates, while the bottom “brown legs” belonged to a young Mexican woman. “Son of a bitch,” says Hank, who capably fills in the Joe Normal reactions with folksy charm.
Creepy Mutton Chops guy makes it through the border with a woman in his trunk by telling the patrol “I was there for the senioritas.” Ew. At the hospital, Charlotte the wealthy woman asks the doctor “How is he?” only to get a head-shake in reply. She leans against a glass door, sobbing. Uh, at least this way you won’t have to get divorced? *bright-sides*
Marco is awoken in the middle of the night by a cellphone call from Sonya. “The one in charge, I remember,” he says ironically before she explains they now have two women and wants to know if he has another body-half matching the legs. “We have lots of bodies, we have lots of parts,” he tells her wearily, promising to look into it in the morning. “Who can I call to look into it now?” she snaps. He agrees to help, telling his wife, “I can’t tell if she’s crazy or if it’s just because she’s a gringa.” His wife, no fool she, thinks it’s both.
While Marco puzzles over past crime evidence with his colleague, he also has to endure some ribbing because of the vasectomy he just had. I had no idea people who work in crime records had so many castrated tomcats one-liners in store for such situations. Boom, they find the match to the legs, Christina Fuentes.
Ever since Charlotte, the wealthy not-divorcee offered Sonya money to let the ambulance through, we’ve had the specter of corruption haunting this investigation. Poor Marco shows just how much he has to deal with bribery and sleaze when he’s forced to track down his Captain at a wealthy drug-lord’s mansion in order to ask if he can be on the case. “You’re making a dangerous enemy,” Marco observes to a cigar-smoke blowing jerk leaning too close to one of the many cages of wild cats on the property. Right on, I’m so on board with the idea Marco’s a caged tiger, vasectomy or no.
One of my favorite aspects of the pilot was the gradual build-up to reveal what’s clearly a father-daughter relationship between Hank and Sonya. The clues start smallish — at first Hank’s reluctant to give Sonya the case even if she wants it; it’s the sort of case that “leaves a scratch on your soul, gives you bad dreams.” “I don’t dream,” Sonya tells him, something that clearly disturbs him but not her. Later, entirely unselfconscious, she pulls her shirt off in front of him to change, while poor Hank internally flails and asks her to use the ladies’ next time.
Now that Marco knows about Christina Fuentes and has the go-ahead from his Captain, he’s much more keen to get on the case. While giving Sonya the start of his information (such as Fuentes being found in a death house, where multiple bodies are dumped), he brushes off her disinterest in his involvement and tells her “better if I come to you,” going so far as to hang up on Sonya when she protests.
God, this is a good misdirect — Creepy Mutton Chops lets out Sparkly girl in a deserted landscape with a single trailer. “You can scream if you want to; there’s no one around for miles,” he says oh so helpfully. Ugh, when he undressed her I thought we were going straight down sexual assault lane, but instead he yells at her to sleep, padlocks her inside, and takes off for points unknown in his car.
Marco shows at El Paso’s CAP (Crimes Against Persons) with the Fuentes file and a bagful of delicious pastries only to be met by an unappreciative Sonya, who tells him “email would have been quicker.” Sonya. PASTRIES. He traipses after her to her dismay (‘because you’ve got my file”) and tells her he wants on that task force that’s going to be formed, especially since “Christina Fuentes was found six blocks away from my house.”
Oh, Marco, you charmer! In moments, he has Kitty the receptionist giving him a longer pass (than the day one Sonya dictated) and getting off her diet (I don’t blame her, because PASTRIES). When he explains he’ll be assisting Detective Cross, she snorts and says “Sonya’s an interesting gal.” Yeah, he’s noticed that. He’ll see her later, to which the very shrewd Kitty replies, “I hope so.” Too bad there’s already a Mrs. Ruiz!
While Marco paces around — yeah, you’re not going to want to be sitting on that vasectomy injury, are you? — Sonya waves off his help (she can read Spanish herself) and gets irritated at him for hovering. Learning of his procedure, she’s more awkward than usual in the face of talk of romantic relationships and children, instead turning the spotlight on him for not properly investigating the Christina Fuentes case. “So you have a serial killer?” she asks when he tells her Fuentes was one of 250 beautiful girls with dark hair who went missing last year. No one knows, he explains: there are just too many, and the chiefs discourage them from investigating.
When Marco meets Hank, Sonya immediately turns tattle-tale, explaining Marco didn’t investigate Fuentes at all. Sonya, you don’t need to work so hard, you’re clearly Hank’s favored child. Hey, the actual bottom half of Judge Gates was just found — Marco and Sonya go off to investigate with “a bit of advice, buckle up, amigo” from Hank, since Sonya drives like a crazy ape on meth.
Sonya, who mentioned earlier that her mother was on drugs (now I feel bad about the meth joke; addicted apes aren’t funny to anyone), now yells at Marco when he tries to remove the cassette tape from her truck to stop the godawful music. The truck was her sister’s before she died. It goes without saying that Sonya’s left that, and other elements in her life, almost exactly as she inherited them from her sister (“You like horses?” he asks her, to which she replies, “No,” even though there’s a horse pendant hanging from the rear-view and a horse depicted on the back of the jacket she always wears).
Sonya bluntly asks if Marco took money from Charlotte on the bridge to let the ambulance pass, and announces all Mexican police are known to be corrupt and take bribes. Marco gently complicates her understanding, explaining how when you’re threatened with death and violence, dealing with bribes becomes an alternative. “Take our silver or take our lead,” he translates a saying from Juarez. Uncomfortable with this more complex take on the stereotype, Sonya takes aim at him for shoddy investigations that go nowhere: “So you just let those girls die.” He does the best he can. “You should try harder,” she answers quickly, completely unsympathetic.
After her husband’s death, Charlotte heads back to their MASSIVE ranch, where she goes through her husband’s belongings only to discover he kept two cell phones. The unfamiliar one rings; a woman speaks, and bum bum bum infidelity most likely confirmed! She heads to see Caesar, her husband’s right-hand guy, and wants to know about the phone and a key she found in Carl’s wallet. “It’s better I show you,” he says. “Come.” They drive to a part of the ranch she’s never seen, make their way through a rickety old building, and find the door matching the key locked with a padlock.
“Ma’am, you may not want to look,” the adult braces wearing deputy (oh god, I had to pause the DVR to laugh) at the scene of the Gates legs tells Sonya. She doesn’t hesitate to claim prior ownership of the case. “He’s neat,” she comments about the way the killer drained the blood. Maybe they’re dealing with a doctor, Marco offers. The ID is missing from Judge Gates’s wallet: Marco immediately suggests it’s a trophy. I like you and your competent deductions, Marco. Also, your pastry-delivering ways.
After sparring about whether they’re going to Juarez to investigate more together, Sonya takes over writing up the scene, intently absorbed in her little notebook as she hovers over the pool of blood next to the lifeless legs.
Back at Creepy Mutton Guy’s trailer, he takes off his shirt to reveal a massive scar on one arm. He has the ID of the woman he picked up — Eva Guerra (nice, the Spanish word for “war”), an immediate link to the killer’s probable habit of hoarding those of his victim’s.
We switch to El Paso CAP, where we meet the 70s-era mustachioed cop no one wants to stand next to at cocktail parties on account of his misogynistic jokes, Tim Cooper. He makes nasty remarks about Judge Gates, calls Sonya “a bona fide whack job” and greets Marco sardonically with a “Buenos Dias!” “Howdy, pardner,” Marco returns with a thick Texas accent quick as you like, and I like you more every moment, Marco.
Hank takes Sonya aside to tell her she just might not want to file reports on Marco because he let the ambulance through. Hank would have done the same, and besides, it’s not the best start to a partnership, ratting out your partner out to his boss. While in the middle of managing Sonya’s day-to-day behaviors, he lets slip he’s going to be retiring soon. And oh, this is one of the best moments Levine and Kruger share in this episode: “What about me?” she asks, looking utterly lost. She widens her eyes already swimming with tears, and he assures her she’ll be all right, giving her an affectionate shoulder-bump that’s clearly their little gesture. Hang on, it’s just raining a little on my face.
Turns out Tim is good for something besides offensive remarks; he’s looked at the security footage and run the plates of the car that left the body at the border. It belongs to Daniel Frye, “dickwad reporter, El Paso Times.” Hey, if Tim thinks Daniel is a dickwad, we know we’re dealing with some serious douchebaggery.
Let’s stop by the El Paso Times offices so we can observe that Frye (hey there, Matthew Lillard! Sorry I always think of you as “that Scream guy”):
(a) drinks at the office
(b) insults a bright-eyed cub reporter about her social justice piece
(c) ignores everything his editor asks of him.
All this confirmation that he’s a jerkwad makes for a nice set-up to what follows: Frye heads to get his car in the garage and finds it locks on him. Unable to get out, he soon realizes there’s a pipe bomb in the back seat of his car, set to go off in 19 minutes, 45 seconds.
Sonya rushes to the scene, now managed by the bomb squad; when they wont’ let her through, she follows Marco’s advice to call Frye again. Frye takes turns yelling at the bomb squad to hurry the hell up (which, be fair, you would too) and refusing to answer Sonya’s questions about what his car was doing at the bridge that night when she phones (which, to be fair, YOU WOULD TOO, if you were about to get blown to smithereens).
Ugh, the bomb’s wired to the windows and will trip off at any motion. When the bomb squad puts in a scope and accidentally triggers the timer to jump from 3 minutes to 2, they walk away hurriedly, leaving Frye with no other human connection but Sonya. “You must talk to me while there’s still time,” she says calmly, and he actually leaves off panicking to breathe in and out while she stays on the line. “I screwed over so many people,” he sobs when she asks who would have done this to him.
What’s lovely about this moment is seeing the inept Sonya provide a kind of lifeline to the misanthropic Daniel Frye. “Don’t look at the timer,” she says as the timer gets closer to the explosion point, assuring him “the body will feel no pain.” He focuses on her voice, breathing out. When the timer reaches zero, they all hit the ground outside. But the car locks open, and the bomb switches off its countdown to display a “new message”.
Outside, a bomb squad member hands Sonya the phone, explaining the message was written into the bomb. Sonya plays a voice intoning:
There are five murders a year in El Paso. In Juarez, thousands. Why? Why is one dead white woman more important than so many dead just across the bridge? How long can El Paso look away? We’ve got some interesting times ahead. This is only the beginning.
It’s a very solid beginning indeed, showing a lot of promise for a season full of intense relationships and politically infused mystery and peril. I really hope you’ll try the show and continue watching me as I recap the rest of The Bridge. I’ll have the recap up for 1.02 – Calaca up tomorrow; join me again then!