October 3, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “The Bridge”


The line can be thin between an ambitious, wide-ranging drama series and a mess, and honestly, you could argue THE BRIDGE both ways.  It was resistant to being pigeonholed to a fault, and it seemed to resist, too, the central storyline it had undertaken from the Swedish/Danish series it was adapting.  At various times it was and then wasn’t (and then was again) a serious investigation of the differences in lives and justice systems on either side of the US/Mexico border, a serial murder thriller, a wildly convoluted revenge plot, a mismatched police partner procedural, and simply an opportunity to present an assortment of weird characters (Lyle Lovett and three-bean salad, a female druglord who used oral sex as intimidation) and plotlines, only some of which went anywhere.  It revealed the identity of its mystery villain two-thirds of the way through its season, and more or less resolved his entire story with two episodes left to go.  Was its structure wildly original or completely disorganized?  A toss-up.  But for all its odd unevenness, much of The Bridge, especially its acting and physical setting, was superb.

The show’s season finale, written by series co-developer Elwood Reid and Consulting Producer Dario Scardapane, and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, did nothing to resolve its issues.  In what felt as much like a Season 2 premiere as a finale, Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) decided to work together again to find Eva (Stephanie Sigman), who had been victimized in Juarez after eccentric Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright) had rescued her from there earlier in the series and fallen for her.  She’d been imprisoned by crooked Juarez police and subjected to gang rape and more, but miraculously wasn’t killed when one of the junior cops couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger.  (For this mercy, he was himself murdered later on.)  Sonya and Marco rescued her and brought her, via Sonya’s mentor Hank Wade (Ted Levine), back to Linder.  Even though Eva was (for now, at least) safe, Marco and Sonya determined to press on with an investigation into the much larger question of who’s been murdering hundreds of young women in Juarez over the years.

In the almost random way that storylines connect on The Bridge, Eva had started out as the girlfriend of gangster Hector, who worked for druglord Fausto (Ramon Franco).  Fausto linked with Marco because their fathers had been in business together long ago, and Marco has since kept as far out of Fausto’s orbit as he could; Fausto also linked with the show’s other more-or-less central character Charlotte Millwright (Annabeth Gish), the increasingly ruthless widow who partnered with him to use the secret US/Mexico tunnel that ran under her land for his drugs (although a mysterious agent played by Timothy Bottoms may put the kibosh to that arrangement).

None of this had much to do with the show’s main plot, about the insanely vengeful ex-FBI agent David Tate (Eric Lange), who faked his death and then murdered many innocent people to take his revenge on, among others, Marco, for the death of his own wife and son some years earlier (Marco had been sleeping with the wife).  In the course of his wildly elaborate revenge (which apart from the murders included first having an affair with Marco’s wife and then putting her in a closed room with her daughters and a grenade with the pin pulled, hoping that she’d let go and blow them all up), he killed Marco’s son, and Marco’s wife left with the girls.  Marco seemed to have started to recover from all that–until the last scene of the finale, that is, when he asked for Fausto’s help in arranging for Marco to kill Tate, now in police custody.

These stories all had different tones and emphases.  The Tate story started as a hunt for a brilliant master criminal, then the episodes once Tate was revealed as the killer were gimmicky B-movie thriller material, while the Charlotte plot could have been an outtake from Traffic, and sequences of Marco and Sonya getting to know each other, as well as the reporters Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard) and Adriana Perez (Emily Rios), were wonderfully drawn character studies.  (Neither of those pairs became romantically involved, which was refreshing.)

I haven’t seen the Swedish/Danish Bron, so I can’t say if that’s as jumbled a collection of stories and characters, although the central David Tate plot seems fairly close to the original.  (The second season of The Bridge appears as though it will go in a very different direction from Bron‘s Season 2.)  Watching The Bridge, it felt as though Reid and co-developer Meredith Stiehm were least interested in the Tate story, which while sometimes taut was contrived and, in the end, horrifying but also silly.  It was the pieces of The Bridge about life on the border and its characters that seemed to really capture the writers’ imagination, maybe more than they expected when they decided to adapt Bron.

Assuming that the series doesn’t make too much of Marco’s desire to kill David Tate, Season 2 of The Bridge could be considerably more coherent, as the story of the Juarez murders could link far more closely with Charlotte’s tunnel and Linder’s rescues of women from Juarez.  Certainly the show has enough excellent pieces to justify a renewal despite ratings that were merely OK (in the 0.7-ish range).

Chief among those are the performances.  Bichir has created one of the most fully rounded characters on television, morally lax at times (despite his more or less happy marriage, he slept not only with Tate’s wife but with Charlotte) yet with a strong code, and he’s brilliant with Kruger.  She has a very tough role–Sonya has difficulty interacting with others and dealing with anything that transgresses her rigid rules, perhaps a form of Asperger’s–and underplays it effectively.  (There was a nice callback to the first episode in the finale, as Sonya showed that she’s changed a bit by reluctantly agreeing to take Eva across the border illegally in an ambulance.)  Levine, Lillard, Rios, Gish and Franco are also standouts, as is Alejandro Pino as Cesar, Charlotte’s extremely stalwart employee.  It’s not quite clear what Wright is doing as Linder (he spent a long time as a red herring in the serial killing investigation), but he seems to have made the very strange choice of talking like Ted Levine in Silence of the Lambs.  The series is also beautifully and atmospherically shot by its set of directors, making memorable use of locations and music.

Even when The Bridge is tossing on its own tides of narrative and tone, it’s worth watching.  If it can settle down a bit more consistently, it has the potential to be one of the best shows around.  It’s good that its creators will have that chance.

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."