The Bridge "Take the Ride, Pay the Toll" Review: The End of a Nightmare
"Take the Ride, Pay the Toll" was a perfect example of how many new dramas are dressing themselves up as their successful predecessors and expecting to just earn a quick pass into the Great Drama Club. We're currently in an era where cable thinks that all it takes is a combination of grim subject matter, a tough guy screaming, and cool POV shots, and while I've mostly enjoyed the rickety first season of FX's The Bridge, it's one of the poster children for this current phenomenon. (I'd put Showtime's Ray Donovan and AMC's Low Winter Sun in there too, but in the interest of full disclosure: I only watched the first two episodes of each of those shows before deciding they weren't for me.)
On paper, this episode had it all. A ticking clock counting the seconds until a character's demise! A standoff with a lot of shouting and a smug psychopath! B-O-M-B-V-E-S-T! Cops scrambling! Three major characters getting shot! That's good, right? Yet the bridge standoff that dominated "Take the Ride, Pay the Toll" didn't feel like great drama to me. It didn't slap me around like it should have. In fact, at times it felt like a chore that I just wanted to be done with. Whereas previous episodes of The Bridge had that fun element of zaniness mixed with an accelerated pace and a handful of micro-developments, "Take the Ride, Pay the Toll" slowed down and dragged after a promising start.
David Tate's latest mega-elaborate torture plot had him revisiting the site of his family's hit-and-run death with Marco, which just so happened to be on THE bridge. With no regard to traffic or anyone looking to get into Mexico for a quick bum tickle, cheap tequila, or generic prescription pills, David blocked off the bridge and removed his jacket to reveal a vest made of Semtex. He then asked Marco to grab Daniel out of the trunk and shoot him in exchange for the location of Marco's drowning son, a ploy that was made somewhat obvious last week. It was pretty standard psycho-killer stuff, and a little less sophisticated than what I've come to expect from a killer who's displayed such creativity and showmanship in his previous outings. In fact, let's rank David Tate's torture tactics! With your host, David Tate!
Official Ranking of David Tate Torture / Murder Plans
5. The bomb vest on the bridge and the demand that Marco kill Daniel in exchange for his son's safety. Kinda trope-y, and it dragged on too long. Not to mention that it didn't exactly work out for anyone.
4. Daniel Frye trapped in a car with a bomb and the beheading of Gedman. I love a good beheading, and this was his first big plan that we got to see. Not a bad way to start a career as a professional jerk!
3. The barrel slowly filling with water with a duct-taped Gus inside. It was the green glowstick that really showed David's attention to detail; it provided just enough light for Gus to see what was going on. And the level of sustained horror for Gus was quite impressive! Chinese water torture... with a twist.
2. The throat-slicing of Santi Jr. at a gala held in honor of Santi Jr.'s dad. Ouch! That's gotta hurt Santi Sr. almost as much as it hurt Santi Jr.! And the way David did it by just excusing himself and heading toward the bathroom like it was nothing was impressive.
1. The locked cabin and the live grenade for Alma, with the two daughters inside. Still the most fun ordeal of all! Alma could have been in there for days.
But what really made the bomb vest plot the worst of the bunch was its repetition. There were no new details to divulge, there was no swinging pendulum of who was in control, there was no new character development. It was David Tate monologuing over and over again about the accident that killed his wife and son and how he wanted Marco to feel his pain. It was Marco repeatedly auditioning for the Yelling Hall of Fame by scream-asking about Gus's whereabouts shout-denying that he's the kind of man who could kill Daniel Frye as part of David's latest sick game. It was Sonya saying that some things didn't fit and that other things were part of David's plan. It was Daniel, shutting up for once, which seemed so out of character for him that I wasn't sure that was actually him. Aside from Daniel's sudden case of the mutes, these were all things we'd seen in the last few episodes. The Bridge didn't save anything new for us.
There were some little sparks, however. Like when Marco couldn't shoot Daniel (even though he got close like five times) and David shot Daniel anyway, sending him toppling over the side of the bridge and into the Mexi-sewage below. That river is NOT sanitary. If Daniel came out with only five syringes poking into him and just a little bit of some spring breaker's diarrhea leaking into his open would, he'd be lucky. There was also the moment when Sonya showed up after finding Gus, and she told Marco that Gus was alive so Marco wouldn't shoot David, but Marco didn't listen—so Sonya shot both Marco and David (just little baby non-fatal shots) and salvaged as much as she could from what was a really bad day for everyone.
But otherwise, the standoff was a lot of the same circular chatter about how David was pissed that his wife and son were dead and Marco's howling "Wheerrrrrre eeeessss myyyyyyy sonnnnnnn!" and "Ahhhhm nottt gunnnnaaa dooooooooooooo that!" (Marco's screams simultaneously hit my emotional core and my funny bone. I feel bad for the guy, but I laughed, too. When was the last time Marco said anything at a normal volume? Episode 7?)
It wouldn't have felt so tension-free if The Bridge had done a better job of elevating these characters in previous episodes. Instead, Marco became a character who we didn't really like as his weaknesses were exposed. What little we did know about him was that he was a committed adultery on a wife who loved him, he wasn't a good dad (even though he wanted to be), and he'd been involved in some shady dealings as a police officer, all of which overpowered the decent human being we knew was in there somewhere. It's not that I don't care about Marco (I want to like the guy), it's more that after 10 episodes, I don't love him, and that's where this episode struggled—there wasn't enough potency to the supposedly high stakes. The fact that Marco's son was taken from him didn't change the fact that Marco isn't a guy who you'd go out of your way to root for.
I liked the attempt to push Sonya and Marco's relationship somewhere new when Sonya lied to Marco about Gus being alive and Sonya defended her decision with "I only did what you taught me friends would do for each other." Even if Marco's lessons were about small-time things like loaning someone twenty bucks for flowers or keeping misplaced wallets hush-hush from untrusting wives, it showed that Sonya was listening and that she was making an effort to change her ways. Contrast that with how Marco has been developed (or lacked development) and it's easy to see why Sonya is such a popular character among all of you. I wish earlier episodes had spent more time on the education of Sonya Cross, because this scene would have resonated more and upped Marco's stance with us. Instead, Sonya's attempts at normal socialization were rebuffed by Marco, and he told her they weren't friends and that they were over. That made me a lot sadder than when Gus died, and it's because Sonya had been trying so hard to help Marco and Marco was too blind with "Wheeerrrrrreee eeeees myyyyyy sonnnnn" rage to see it.
At the end of the David Tate nightmare, no one came out a winner. Marco was the biggest loser, which is exactly what David wanted, but that didn't necessarily make David a winner because he'd planned to have Marco shoot him (how that completes his plan, I don't know). Sonya got screwed, too. She was minutes away from being the hero (though the way she tracked Gus by chasing pipes throughout a house didn't make a ton of sense), and instead she ended up partnerless and friendless. Daniel sustained a laundry list of injuries, including brain and spine trauma, but at least he survived. And the poor drivers who were just trying to make quick cocaine runs were stuck on that bridge all night long! David Tate buzzkilled a lot of people's nights.
There was only one non-cop scene in this episode, which happened to be the pre-credits opening, and that's too bad because it was probably the best scene of the night. Ray dragged his dead friend Tim through the tunnel, probably to drop him off in Mexico as if he was an unwanted pee-stained couch, but then found a bunch of tunnel people dead. Spooky! Then Ray shot a Mexican guy down there—the guy may or may not have been the shooter who killed the other people—and framed Tim for doing it (convenient!). Then he made off with a mysterious package with a scorpion logo on it. Was it drugs? Money? Information? Live scorpions? What were those people doing down there? Why was that one gun gold-plated? Why didn't Ray wear gloves? I don't know, but the whole thing had me clamoring for more. And I never got more because the rest of the episode was spent telling us that David was still mad about his dead family.
I'm about to walk down to FX Headquarters in La-La Land and punch a hole through the office wall of whoever is in charge of deciding how much screen time Stephen Linder gets in each episode of The Bridge. That's two weeks in a row that our favorite weirdo who never lets a shirt button go undone has been absent, as the series changed its focus from statement on society to slasher spree. He has to be back next week though, right?
The biggest question going forward is "Where does The Bridge go now?" There are two episodes left and only Ray and Charlotte's story has any hint of momentum. But it's so self-encapsulated that none of the other plots can smoothly intertwine with it. So what's left? I don't think Marco and Sonya having a long conversation about friendship and making up is enough to send Season 1 out with a bang. A trial or continued investigation into the David Tate case would be a snoozer. Linder is literally in the middle of nowhere, picking daisies or something for his crush. And Galvan must be on vacation, because he hasn't shown his scary face in a long time. I don't know what The Bridge will do for its final two hours, and it's not one of those "OMG where will this go?" good feelings; it's a bad feeling that the end of Season 1 won't do much at all.
THE BORDER BETWEEN THE STORY AND THE NOTES
– One more thing on David's plan: Say Marco did shoot Daniel, how was David going to hold up his end of the bargain and save Gus? Did he ever plan to save Gus? Did he have another remote control on him to turn the faucet off to stop filling the barrel? Or was he just going to give away the location of the barrel and leave it up to the cops to get there in time?
– No Cesar again this week either. Cesar where are you? How was the movie? What did you see?
– Has the ATF realized that Tim is missing? Or was Tim right and they're so disorganized that they have nothing going on. Those gun bugs were planted a long time ago, but the ATF hasn't done squat (at least that we know of).
– FX still has not renewed The Bridge for Season 2. Earlier this year, the network re-upped on The Americans after three episodes, even when it wasn't blowing up the ratings. I have to think that the chances we'll see more of The Bridge in 2014 aren't looking good. It might depend on how FX's pilots look, but The Strain needs a spot in the lineup, and it could be a great summer series.
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