July 10, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “The Bridge”


THE BRIDGE:  Wednesday 10PM on FX

THE BRIDGE was simultaneously one of the best and most frustrating series of last season.  Loaded with atmosphere, superbly acted by an expansive cast headed by Demian Bichir and Diane Kruger, and with plenty of fascinating quirks in its characters and dialogue, it was also a structural and tonal mess at times, burdened by an overly gimmicky serial killer storyline that was borrowed in part from the Swedish series it had relocated to the Texas/Mexico border.

Season 2 announces itself as something different.  Co-creator Meredith Stiehm has departed (she’s returning to Homeland, where she was one of the most prominent writer/producers of that show’s great first season), leaving former partner Elwood Reid in sole charge, and the Northern European original has been largely abandoned.  This year will concentrate on the specifically Mexican and American stories of drug cartels and the real-life mass murders of the “lost women” of Juarez.  It will likely forsake some of the weirdness (like the signature murders of two women with the top half of one body on the Mexican side of the borderline and the bottom half of the other on the US side) that made Season 1 distinctive, but a more focused, grounded storyline will make that trade worthwhile.

The season premiere, written by Reid and directed by Keith Gordon (a longtime Dexter director who knows his way around bloodshed), betrayed perhaps a bit too much off-season binge-watching of Breaking Bad, especially in the pre-credits flashforward sequence of cartel lawyer Monte Flagman (Lyle Lovett) walking nonchalantly through a massacre scene.  Nevertheless, the hour moved in the right direction.  Two of Season 1’s more expendable characters, extreme oddball Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright) and suburbanite drug-trafficker Charlotte Millwright (Annabeth Gish), although still series regulars, were absent from the episode, which seemed to serve notice that the gritty violence of the cartels would be at the show’s new center.

Some weeks had gone by since last season’s finale, enough time for Juarez Detective Marco Ruiz’s (Bichir) divorce to become final.  Corruption is one of the major themes of The Bridge, and in the premiere, one of Marco’s own men tried to kill him during a raid on a drug house; meanwhile, Marco’s boss had no interest in dealing with a crusading new DA, and passed him off on Marco.  Back in Texas, reporters Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard), who is as he now puts it a “high-functioning alcoholic” currently limiting himself to 2 beers per day, and his former intern Adriana Mendez (Emily Rios), were on the trail of the $60M in cartel money found last season in a dead old lady’s house.  (Lillard and Rios are now series regulars, a very smart move.)  Also on that trail:   important new character Eleanor Nacht (Franka Potente), a cartel manager who travels with her own muscle and who was probably responsible for the episode’s pre-credits massacre.  A related thread from last season is the story of the girl Eva (Stephanie Sigman), rescued from the Juarez killers and their cop co-conspirators, and hiding out at Lt. Hank Wade’s (Ted Levine) ranch–but not forgotten by the cartel.

Although the show’s other protagonist, El Paso Detective Sonya Cross (Kruger), touched base with Marco and Hank during the course of the episode, much of her screen time was spent on her own story, as she met and quickly bedded the brother of her sister’s killer, now dying in prison.  It’s not clear whether this plotline will continue into the season, but the scenes between Sonya and the brother were sharply written accounts of two people scarred by their tragic past but unable to speak very much of it.  (Sonya is drawn as being somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum, and now Eleanor appears to have psychological issues herself, including a refusal to be touched–it’s too early to tell whether there are any parallels intended there.)

One of the qualities The Bridge does share with Breaking Bad is the willingness to take a break from its own tense plot to enjoy the individuality of even minor characters.  Tonight’s episode, apart from introducing us to Eleanor, gave us Daniel’s AA sponsor, an unfortunate Rush fan played (very well) by Brian Baumgartner of The Office, and also allowed Daniel to delightfully meet Adriana’s girlfriend, an encounter everyone except Adriana greatly appreciated.

The Bridge moved in starts and stops last season, slow-burning for several episodes only to spring what were sometimes crazy twists, especially as the season moved on.  Reid’s vision of the series, if it goes well, seems likely to elicit fewer gasps along the way, but also make more sense when all is said and done.

The Bridge has all the pieces necessary for a genuinely great television series–it just needs to fit them together better than it did last time.  The ratings last season were less than stellar, but for the most part (Sons of Anarchy excepted), FX’s ratings in general these days aren’t much higher, so maintaining last year’s numbers with some stability should be enough to keep the series moving forward.  It’s certainly a show that’s earned the chance to prove it can realize its potential.

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."