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FX (ended 2014)

The Bridge S01E04: "Maria of the Desert"

Hola, compadres. "Maria of the Desert" marked another wacky week for FX's The Bridge, which has established itself as something of an anti-show. So far, the series has broken a lot of the rules of traditional television, what with its dangling stories and broad message (though that's narrowed considerably in the last two episodes); that's what makes it a perfect fit for FX's maverick brand. 

But I still think The Bridge is struggling to find itself and clearly present an identity. Maybe it needs to pretend it's a recent college grad and set out on a solo backpacking trip through Europe to try to find itself. The Bridge is almost an art film, it's almost a gritty police murder drama, it's almost social commentary, but it's not quite any of those things on the whole, and the result is a project that is obviously trying to be all of those things without mastering any of them. 

Yet "Maria of the Desert" frequently hit that sweet spot where the show's disparate elements come together, and it was one of the better episodes of the series' young run. Maybe it's just because a guy got his head cut off, maybe it's because another dude got nail polish remover thrown in his face. Probably it's because things feel a bit more comfortable now that we've been hanging out in this world for four weeks now. But stuff happened during the hour, and if The Bridge continues to put out more episodes like this one, it'll be in pretty good shape.


"Maria of the Desert" could've easily been called the second half of a two-parter as it wrapped up the mess made by the killer last week. Poor Maria was slow-roasting in the sun and her cooking was being broadcast on the internet for all the world to see (I'm still confused about why a website would show that, and I'd like to know how the killer surmounted the technical puzzle of live-streaming from the middle of the desert; I barely get cell reception in my house). But the killer screwed up, allowing a shift in the sun to reveal the shadow of a pumpjack. Apparently there aren't as many pumpjacks in Texas as I thought, and finding Maria was a matter of canvasing a handful of oil sites. Though I wouldn't be surprised if the killer planned that ahead of time, given that his message is to point out the police will put a lot more effort into solving a crime against a white woman than they would put into a crime against a brown woman. He never intended to kill Maria, she just became an unfortunate piece of his theory, and given the way the sun works (it moves across the sky), it wouldn't be hard to position his victim and the camera so that the giveaway clue was timed to later in the afternoon. 

And the killer was right. The Feds who took over the investigation sucked. They couldn't get the cash he requested, they sat on their thumbs, and they didn't even know what they were doing because the FBI put their C-team on the case. Frye said it best, if it had been a big-tittied blonde lying out there in the heat, SWAT teams, helicopters, spaceships, and Superman would have been right on the scene. And once the Feds arrived at the drop, Gedman (played by David Meunier, Justified's Johnny Crowder) got his head cut off! Oops. That's not in the handbook. Hopefully this won't be another show where the Feds are cursed with The Following levels of incompetence, because me and my zero hours of FBI agent training could have gotten the same results as Gedman did. (Has any of The Bridge's police work been that impressive so far?) That's the curse of serial-killer shows; the killer has to stay one step ahead of the authorities  in order to build him up as a potent adversary. The nasty side effect of that? The cops look stupid and frequently end up dead. Maybe it's just me, but that's why I'm typically not a fan of the genre.

Let's circle back to the money and the new character we met tonight, Fausto Galvan. Holy smokes is that guy even acting? Because he's frickin' scary. It's like he's actually doing drug deals and buying off cops because no one told him this is a show. He will be in my nightmares. It's been years since I smuggled mass amounts of drugs across a border for millions of dollars, so I'm not totally following the logic behind his strategy of paying Maria's ransom. But if I had to guess and potentially make a fool of myself, I'd say he's buying goodwill with Marco. One of the best aspects of The Bridge's cop side, and what differentiates it from other cop shows, is the way it portrays the two police departments. Sorry to drop the truth on you, but sometimes the Mexican policia work in conjunction with the bad guys. Maybe it's a straight bribe, maybe it's a situation like the one we saw with Marco, where he wasn't going to let this woman die because U.S. red tape kept the authorized cash from coming in and Galvan offered him a tempting alternative. He'll probably owe Galvan something down the line, but Maria gets to go home (well, back to Mexico) instead of turning into Maria Jerky, and that was Marco's priority because he's a good cop (lousy husband, though).  

And how many of us now owe Linder, Mr. Mushmouth Mutton Chops, an apology for all the bad thoughts we had about him? Or do we have a red herring playing possum in our midst? The Bridge's treatment of Linder has been somewhat mind-boggling so far, but I think I've been pretty clear in my belief that he's not the killer, and instead a peripheral character that tells more of the overall story of the border towns. Tonight our worst fears were combed out of his sideburns when we saw what he actually did with Ava Guerra—who, in case you forgot, went looking for him in a Juarez back alley in the series premiere. Linder delivered Ava to a ranch so she could get away from her old life and some bad dude named Hector. Maybe Hector was Eva's abusive boyfriend, maybe Hector was her pimp, maybe Ava flushed Hector's Chihuahua down the toilet. I don't know. But for whatever reason, Ava was running away from Hector, and Linder helped her escape him and the lack of any legal support from her native Mexico. He gave her a better life. So, point for Linder. 

However, I don't think we should be naming a street after him or letting our daughters date him just yet. The Bridge could be setting up some sort of reverse red herring situation, like an anti-The Killing. And more often than not, weirdos with aluminum trailers in the middle of the desert have more issues than just needing some elbow room. 

And it's not like we could not suspect him as the killer, because the show purposely gave us only a few dots to connect. The killer kidnapped Mexican women. We saw Linder stuff a Mexican woman in his trunk and drive her to his creepy trailer. What else were we supposed to conclude? But was it fair for the show to do that? The non-direct methods it used to make Linder seem mysterious—and possibly guilty—weren't totally effective. It didn't feel like a revelation when Linder took Ava to the ranch. Instead, it made everything leading up that moment feel like an unnecessary wrinkle. The Bridge has an unusual obsession with not giving us straight answers and leading us down the wrong path, and I'm not finding it fun. We're still developing a relationship with the show, and all we have to go on is what it gives us. If it's playing tricks on us this early with little payoff, why should we trust it going forward? This is a thought frozen in this current time (and it could change depending on what happens in the next few episodes), but if we're done wondering whether Linder is the killer or not, what was he point of that chicanery? It all seems slightly pretentious and convoluted. Anyway, end rant/concern. I think we're done with the "is he/isn't he?" part of Linder. I don't want anyone thinking I don't like Linder or that I'm not interested in his story. Quite the opposite, I find him fascinating and the best character on the show. I just want The Bridge to clear up his involvement in the main murder mystery because it's not working for me. 

But that's all water under The Bridge (sorry, couldn't resist) for now, and the series is still figuring itself out. Around here at TV.com we like to a little thing called the Four-Episode Test, where we judge a show after four episodes. While "Maria of the Desert" didn't earn the show an A grade, it certainly helped it comfortably pass. I'm in.



THE BORDER BETWEEN THE STORY AND THE NOTES

– Carl's daughter, you are a real grumpy bitch! Now that the dust has settled on all the extra plots, she's probably the most useless part of the series. Watching a spoiled brat sit around at daddy's house, whining like Billy Madison, is not particularly compelling. Hurry up and find out about the tunnel and demand your cut of the profits from Charlotte, would ya? 

– Charlotte, what are you doing showing up to the police station with Marco's wallet? Are you that dense? You have a phone, right? Call the station. Now everyone knows you boned him. And Marco, how in the world did you not realize you forgot your wallet? You should have searched every inch of that guest bedroom to make sure you didn't leave any adulterous evidence behind. For all the things this show does well, there are some real idiotic things, too. 

– If you were Maria, would you be psyched or upset that people left you alone with Cooper and his weird mustache?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 10/1/2014

Season 2 : Episode 13

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