October 2, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Bridge”


The second season of FX’s THE BRIDGE faced quite a few challenges, some of them traceable to Season 1, and others self-created.  The original version of The Bridge was closely tied to the Swedish/Danish series on which it had been based.  It featured an extremely gimmicky serial killer plot that clashed violently with the overall gritty, realistic feel of the narrative, which had been relocated to the El Paso/Juarez border.  Season 2 vowed to throw all that out, and concentrate instead on the actual crises that beset the US/Mexico border, especially the actions and implications of the drug cartels.  Behind the scenes, there was also a major change, as series co-creator Meredith Stiehm departed the show (she returned to being a senior writer/producer on Homeland, where she’s credited with some of its best early episodes), leaving her onetime partner Elwood Reid in sole charge.

Reid delivered on some of his promises.  Season 2 did center on the cartels, personified by Fausto Galvan (the marvelous Ramon Franco), and the bankers, led by Sebastian Cerisola (Bruno Bichir), and US government officials, such as CIA agent Alex Buckley (Ian Hart) who empower them.  A great deal of the plotting, though, was surprisingly conventional and superficial–it’s not a positive mark that this summer’s Dallas, albeit in a far dumber way, told much the same basic story.  The one exception was too glaringly so:  the introduction of Eleanor Nacht (Franka Potente), a Mennonite Mexican victim of child molestation who had become a ruthless killer for the cartel (still wearing her Mennonite outfits), who obsessively protected a ledger that turned out to look like something the murderer in Se7en would have had on his shelves, and who overall seemed like a character left on Season 1’s cutting room floor.  Potente is a gripping actress, and her scenes were often powerful, but they didn’t fit the new vision of the show.

There were other problems.  Some of last season’s characters, like Charlotte Millwright (Annabeth Gish) and Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright) were kept around for no apparent reason other than the fact that their contracts had been renewed, and valuable screen time was spent on their stories, which added little to this season’s bigger picture.  Perhaps most serious of all was the comparative lack of personality allotted to the show’s protagonists, Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), tremendously rich characters in Season 1 who were little more then procedural leads this time around.  It was a waste of two actors who’ve proven how capable they are of conveying complexity, and it’s hard not to associate this shortcoming with Stiehm’s absence, since her Homeland episodes were the ones most notable for the way they delineated the Claire Danes and Damian Lewis characters.  Sonya annoyed some viewers last year with her semi-Aspergian tics, but this season most of her symptoms simply vanished and she was just another grim TV cop, and Marco was given hardly any personal story at all, besides his determination to capture his boyhood friend Fausto.

Tonight’s season finale, written by Reid and directed by John Dahl, summed up the season too well.  There were tense, exciting sequences, especially when Fausto was leading Marco and Sebastian’s dope-addict daughter (his captive) through the mountains.  But the cynical twist of having the CIA assassinate Buckley to make him the fall guy for their involvement with the drug trade came from a dozen other movies and TV shows, and the final sequence of Eleanor tying her molesting father by his neck to the tree where he’d originally assaulted her (until Sonya showed up and shot him) belonged in a more overblown tale.

As imperfect as The Bridge was this season, it would be a shame if this turned out to be the series’ ending, because it’s a genuinely ambitious show that wants to deal with real social issues in a dramatic way, and it’s also the mainstream TV series most committed to being bilingual in a multicultural society.  The ratings, though, went from mediocre in Season 1 to flat-out bad this year, and creatively, the show changed but didn’t necessarily improve.  Nevertheless, FX recently renewed Tyrant, an even more problematic series with ratings not much higher than The Bridge‘s, so all hope isn’t lost.  If the series does manage to come back, however, it’s going to need yet another makeover.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."