Relevance is a word that continuously cropped up in my mind through out my viewing of FX’s new serial police drama The Bridge. It’s hard not to draw parallels between this series and another similarly serialized drama: AMC’s The Killing. I mean that in both positive and negative connotations. The Killing is astounding when it comes to its moody atmosphere and well acted scenes, but it consistently trod on its own plotlines, spreading out a single murder investigation over two seasons and inserting numerous red herrings and B plots whose necessities often came into question. From what I can see in The Bridge’s pilot, it will need to overcome those very same obstacles if it hopes to ascend to a higher position of reverence.
We’re quickly introduced to three of our plotlines in the first 20 minutes. We have our main mystery – a killer leaves a body on the Bridge of the Americas, right on the border between the USA and Mexico – but we also are acquainted with a soon-to-be-widow and a shady looking guy who smuggles a young Mexican woman across the border in the trunk of his car. We don’t spend much time with either the widow, whose husband dies of a heart attack and has some secrets that are being exposed post-mortem, and the shady guy, but we’re definitely going to be spending more time with them in episodes to come. And that’s when I see that word in mind: relevance. How are these two characters, whose names I had to look up on Wikipedia – Charlotte and Steven – important to the murder mystery? After The Killing, I am especially wary of these sorts of stories. If they have any importance to the main storyline, it had better be revealed soon; otherwise I have no interest in these two characters.
Getting my annoyance of not knowing the purpose behind Charlotte and Steven – really they aren’t that bad, I’ve just been hurt before – the meat of The Bridge is the investigation of the body found in the opening moments of the pilot. We’re quickly introduced to Det. Sonya from El Paso and Det. Marco from Juárez. The first 10 or so minutes of the pilot are a little sluggish, going through the tired set up phase. I was even a little disappointed in the idea of placing a dead body across the border and having it be cut in off. This was similarly done in the Canadian film Bon Cop, Bad Cop. It’s very much the same: a severed body is found on the border between Ontario and Quebec, forcing an English cop to work with a French cop. Hilarious, right? It is a funny dynamic, but this isn’t being played for laughs here. I was about ready to write off The Bridge for reusing this plot, but then we got the first big twist – the body was actually two bodies. The other halves of the women are somewhere in El Paso and Juárez. That was good. I did not see that coming, but if you saw the original Danish series this is based on, you probably knew this would happen. Otherwise, I’d say the plot is thickening quite nicely
Now I’m plugged in to this murder mystery, though very wary of the possible slough of red herrings awaiting me further into the season. But just as The Killing excelled in its character work, so does The Bridge. Sonya, played by Diane Kruger, is a unique detective in that she doesn’t feel empathy very well, likely due something along the lines of Asperger syndrome. Watching her fumble her way around the feelings of the husband of one of the girls found on the bridge was brutally funny in a way. She really is trying her hardest, but just isn’t able to connect with this man when she’s so intent on doing her job and catching this killer. She does manage to redeem herself by apologizing for her behavior. She’s at least aware of how cold she is even if she doesn’t necessarily see it as being that big of a problem.
On the flipside, Marco is warm and cuddly, instantly finding himself chatting up a secretary at the El Paso police department, not in a flirty way, but in a friendly way. He’s the balance to the wacky team The Bridge is setting up. It’s such an obvious move to pair up an ice queen with her opposite, but Sonya’s quirk being medical puts a fun twist on the procedure. And Demián Bichir’s smile as Marco just makes you feel better about life. I will say that I’m a little disappointed he’s being made to be the one cop in Juárez who isn’t dirty, but I’m hoping that won’t turn out to be entirely true as his backstory is fleshed out more. At the very least, the corrupt nature of the Juárez police will cause some thrilling problems for our two heroes.
We don’t make much headway on the identity of our killer, though we do get to see a brilliant performed scene from Matthew Lillard, in which he is locked inside his car with a bomb. I had no idea the man could act that well. I’m curious to know what connection his character, Daniel, has with the killer aside from having his car used to dump the bodies on the bridge. We’re also made to think Steven might be our killer, but I can’t see the show exposing the killer to the audience this early in the season. No, whatever Steven’s deal is, I don’t think he’s the killer. I suppose you could count this as The Bridge’s first red herring.
So here’s where we’re at so far: I like the two lead characters, but the other two supporting characters need to be developed and brought into the main storyline sooner rather than later. The mystery is compelling enough that I’m willing to stick around for the time being and see where it goes, but if we start seeing a million false leads turning up, I might have to check out early. I’m interested in some of the racial issues the series will no doubt address, evidenced by Sonya’s brief rant about it being perfectly legal for immigrants to stand on the sidewalk and look for work. I’d hate for the show to become an outlet for social commentary, but completely ignoring these very real issues wouldn’t be right either. This is a promising start for The Bridge. The edges are a little rough, but with smoothing, we could have the crime drama The Killing was supposed to be.