July 18, 2013

THE SKED’s Pilot + 1 Review: “The Bridge”


THE BRIDGE:  Wednesday 10PM on FX

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on THE BRIDGE:  In the exact center of the bridge connecting El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, a killer has placed two half-bodies of murdered women, carefully joined together.  One is an anti-immigrant conservative American judge; the other is a teenage Mexican prostitute.  The crimes require a joint investigation, and El Paso detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) is reluctantly teamed with her Juarez counterpart Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir).  She seemingly suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome or something like it, unable to read social signs or interact on an emotional level with most other people; Ruiz is a tolerant, wry student of human nature.  By the end of the pilot, we have our first suspect, although the police don’t know him yet:  jumpy oddball Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright), who’s kidnapped another young Mexican prostitute and taken her to his trailer over the border.  There’s also a message from the killer that seemingly links the murders to a political statement about justice on both sides of the border–a message connected to a bomb that was planted in the car of alcoholic reporter Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard).  And in a storyline that so far seems tangential, the recently widowed Charlotte Milright (Annabeth Gish), whose rich husband died the same night as the bridge killings, discovers that he was keeping secrets in a cabin on the far end of their property.

Episode 2:  The trick for The Bridge, in a nutshell, is not to become The Killing.  That show, confined to the investigation of a single crime for an entire season (or even two) is so consumed with its own red herrings and atmosphere that one barely needs to pay attention until the last 2 or 3 episodes–up till then, it just goes around in useless circles.  So far, The Bridge is proceeding in an altogether smarter, more engrossing way.  The second episode, written by series co-creator Elwood Reid and directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, is mostly concerned with expanding and deepening the show’s world and characters, not so much just yet in solving the crimes.

It may turn out that the killer’s seeming concern for immigrants is itself a red herring, but he certainly seems to be making some kind of point.  In tonight’s episode, he murdered an entire group of illegals who were attempting to make their way to the US border, leaving poisoned water for them at a shrine.  (He’s also leaving mysterious beads at his killing scenes.)  That shrine may connect to the story of the widow, who found out that her husband’s cabin hid the entrance to a tunnel running under the border, with a similar shrine along the way.  Her husband was running the tunnel for whoever it is lawyer Monty Flagman (Lyle Lovett) is representing–someone who very much wants that tunnel to stay open, which Charlotte is resisting, despite Flagman’s mix of bribery and insinuated threat.   Again, the killer made his presence known via message to Frye–and we discovered that the voice recording with the bomb was actually made to specific order by an actor 3 years ago, so it’s not his (or for that matter, possibly her) voice.

The part of the story that may turn out to be annoying in a Killing way, depending on how it plays out, is the Steven Linder plotline.  Although we saw him burn the possessions of the girl he kidnapped in the pilot, it still seems unlikely that he’s going to turn out to be the killer.  (He appears to be some kind of social worker who deals with illegal immigrants, which does tie him even more closely to the crimes.)  Now we also have a violent young man connected in some so-far unexplained way to the kidnap victim, who crossed the border to find her and strangled Linder’s neighbor to death.  If all of this is an elaborate red herring, it may feel like a waste of time, but if it isn’t and the show revealed the killer to us in the pilot so obviously, it could seem like a cheat.

At this point, though, Reid and his creative partner Meredith Stiehm have earned our trust.  The Bridge is gripping and dotted with strong characters, including Ted Levine as Sonya’s sympathetic Lieutenant and Emily Rios as the other half of the show’s second uneasy partnership, a young reporter Frye is forced to work with on the bridge killings story.  Most of all, of course, there’s Sonya and Ruiz, and Kruger and Bichir in the roles.  This episode showed what passes for Sonya’s personal life (picking up a man in a bar and having sex as dissociated from emotion as she can make it), and Ruiz learned that his recent vasectomy had been slightly too late.  Both characters are types, in their way–Sonya is easily comparable to the Sherlock Holmes of Elementary and many other eccentric detectives, and the way Ruiz’s rumpled ordinary-guy charm conceals a sharp, decisive mind goes all the way back to Columbo–but they’re being played with superb subtlety here.  The way Kruger bares Sonya’s underlying insecurity and her need for control when she realizes she’s unwittingly allowed the killer’s manifesto to go public, and the range of emotions Bichir shows in the moments after his wife reveals that she’s pregnant again, are tremendous.

The Bridge had a good but not sensational start in the ratings (0.9 in 18-49s, not what the premiere of The Americans had done), and with its complex plot, it may not be a show people can easily join mid-stream.  Still, if it can maintain at its current level, that will be a solid success (The Americans slipped quite a bit in its second week), and based on Bridge‘s quality so far, a deserved one.


PILOT + 1:  Still Not To Be Missed

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."