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FX (ended 2014)

The Bridge S01E02: "Calaca"


Our first visit to The Bridge was a nice one. We got settled into the show's border-town setting, we met some people (one of whom was a total weirdo; hello, Sonya!), and there was a murderer to chase. But there was still a question of whether or not this show knew what it was, or more likely, whether the pilot had done a good job of conveying to us what it was. At times it did, and at times it didn't. Bringing in all the sensitive topics that come with a show set on the border between Mexico and the U.S.? Good! Disassociated plots that never folded into the main story? Questionable, but let's see where you're going with this, The Bridge

That left a lot riding on tonight's episode. Would "Calaca" accentuate the things that worked in the pilot (the scary reality of Juarez, the unusual team of Sonya and Marco) or would it spend more time with things that didn't (repeatedly reminding us that Sonya is awwwwkward, adding threads that didn't fit in with everything else)? Well, there was a little of both with maybe more stress on the latter. 

But that doesn't mean the show got worse because of that. It represents an evolution of the series, for me. After two episodes I'm convinced of what I suspected from the pilot: The Bridge isn't really about two detectives chasing a serial killer across the border, it's about the border itself and everything that goes on around it. And gosh, I hate to bring up the holiest of all holy television shows into the discussion, but it *gulp* might be headed in the same direction The Wire went with its depiction of Baltimore through the eyes of the Baltimore PD and the street thugs that kept 'em busy. (After that thought popped up in my head I read an interview where The Bridge creator Meredith Stiehl said The Wire was a model for her show, so I guess I wasn't far off.) But like The Wire, it's difficult to get into the show after only a few episodes because it's unlike the traditional television structure that's built on decades of reinforcing instant gratification. You know, things like closure, an obvious focus, and happy endings. Seriously, did anyone REALLY love The Wire after two episodes? But didn't everybody LOVE it after about four once that "Eureka!" moment hit? (Source: my own private polling among friends.)

Instead, the focus of The Bridge, when compared to other dramas on television today, is so broad that everything seems murky to the viewer. That's intentional because The Bridge wants to tell the story of a creaking political, cultural, and societal system that lords over those it affects (again, like B-more and The Wire). This is big-picture, satellite map television. That's why we saw a pack of illegal immigrants dumped out of a horse-toting semi and trek across the Texas desert with little context. That's why we discovered Carl the rancher's dirty little tunnel secret and learned of the wealthy white men who want to keep it that way. That's why we saw a scary Mexican hitman threatening a bum for info on who took Ava Guerra and eventually pound on the door of Mutton Chops, a star of his own tangent within The Bridge. That's why we saw Mutton Chops (real name Steven) stuff a woman in his trunk and carry her over the border in the first episode, and go about his evening shift at a shelter for troubled souls in this episode. These extra stories will all be told concurrently with what we believed the show was about: Odd Couple cops chasing a deranged killer. There's more to El Paso and Juarez than just Sonya and Marco and their biz, guys. And it's the killer's message (paraphrasing, "Ummm, there's messed-up stuff going on in Mexico while America looks the other way") that will tie it all together, and the hunt for the killer that will keep The Bridge clinging onto some semblance of normal television. (To set the record straight, I really enjoy these extra stories.) This could all change by Episode 3, but after two episodes, this is what I'm picking up.

If The Bridge is indeed trying to emulate The Wire, then good luck, The Bridge. There's a reason one of the greatest television shows of all time spawned few imitators (Treme, also from The Wire creator David Simon, is probably the closest in philosophy) while Celebrities Do Stuff disasters are remade weekly. The Wire created its own genre, a TV academic's dream that was full of names that were more popular among rap sheets than IMDB. That also meant pathetic ratings. It's very likely ratings will take a hit if The Bridge strives to become too intellectual and not enough *bang* *bang* *bang* *ENHANCE* *boom!* *yer under arrest* that we're used to. Sorry, that's just my pessimistic outlook on American audiences.

And that's my dissertation on The Bridge as the Tex-Mex version of The Wire, and why I feel a lot more comfortable with The Bridge now that I know what kind of show it's trying to be. I'll admit I wasn't too hot on it until the whole connection to The Wire hit me. Now it makes a lot more sense.

But let's discuss what actually happened, okay? Obviously we're starting with Sonya again, who at this point should be on everyone's nerves right about now. She's hitting me with equal parts fascination and annoyance with the overplay of her condition (the secret's out, it's Asperger's). And I still don't know what makes her a good cop other than the fact that she does very little else other than eat buttered noodles, masturbate, and pick up strangers at bars. Should we make a big deal about her having random sex with cowboys she picks up from the butcheriest of meat markets? She seems to be a selfish lover and a terrible cuddler, and her "game" is weak but she can get away with it because she's a German model who once played the hottest woman in the history of the world, so it stays in synch with her social foibles. But what was the whole point of watching her hand go south then bouncing on a bed screaming "faster, faster"? I'm not even going to pretend to know. Like I said, The Bridge is almost cinema verite in its in-the-moment storytelling and I'm still figuring out this show and its relationship with the viewer.

Marco's time in Episode 2 only reinforced what we already knew about him. He's a good guy! He busted up a prostitution operation (at least when he wants information), he was disgusted by the thought of a 16-year-old girl spreading her legs as a job, and he even turned down a freebie. He's still a family man, and those pipes apparently weren't double knotted because some soldiers broke free and got his wife pregnant... AGAIN. Aye, dios mio! It was only when Sonya asked too many questions in Juarez that Marco showed another side of himself, one that doesn't feel the need to be overly polite with Sonya all the time. 

As for the central murder mystery, we can add beads and elaborate middle-of-nowhere altars worshipping the patron saint of poison to our list of clues. How did he know the illegals would be crossing that path? I don't know, I'm still trying to figure out how he (it's a he, right?) caused a power outage on two sides of the border in the opening of the last episode. It's probably a futile exercise to try and get ahead of the investigation, especially this early into the series. 

And really, the murder investigation isn't as fascinating as the slice-of-border-life that The Bridge is trying to show us. It's just one of many stories that The Bridge is trying to tell. Whether or not all these stories add up to something "television-y" when everything is said and done is to be determined. But if it opens its audience's eyes up to the reality of something we've refused to look at, it has its own importance that crosses the border of pop culture and settles into global culture.




THE BORDER BETWEEN THE STORY AND THE NOTES

– How would you feel if the lady you just horizontal-Lambada'd starting thumbing through pictures of half corpses after you were through?

– One thing I really didn't like about the episode was the way the second half jumped from short scene to short scene, not letting any single moment sink in or breathe. Some of the scenes even seemed trivial, like the short check ins with the traveling pack of Mexicans in the desert. The whole second half felt very choppy to me.

– Daniel writes about the Puppy Palooza? Did he do that while the Greendale gang was in the study room playing Dungeons & Dragons? 

– The killer knew to give Daniel the latitude and longitude of the poison altar, but how did he know the Mexican immigrants would take the bait and be dead? Was he watching? Did he have a GoPro there recording everything and beaming the footage back to his laptop?

– Hey look it's Lyle Lovett as a lawyer from one of Carl's "business" partners! He adds a bit of a Lynch-ian (as in David) cred to this whole project, which is becoming increasingly weird.

– What are we all thinking about Diane Kruger's performance as Sonya? There were a few moments that made me want to check her SAG card. Specifically, when she was visiting the Juarez police department she came off as far more wooden than what I thought her character should be. We're going to discuss her performance and Sonya's character all season long, aren't we? 

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 10/1/2014

Season 2 : Episode 13

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