Summer 2013 Review: The Bridge

12 Jul

They're on THE BRIDGE

A body is found on a bridge which connects America and Mexico across the Rio Grande, between Juarez and El Paso.  A determined local young female American detective who presumably has a form of mild autism – probably Asburgers or I’m not sure if it’s just autism spectrum disorder now – (Diane Kruger, of Inglorious Bastards) is determined to make the case her own.  She works by the book, and due to her disorder, often rubs people the wrong way with a lack of empathy and social norms. She’s guided by her mentor, the only figure in the police station who seemingly she respects or respects her, Lieutenant Hank Wade, who oozes old-school Texas charm (Ted Levine, who has come a long way from Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs) and who appears to be somewhere between Fred Thompson in Law & Order and Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men.

Wade agrees to try to hold off the feds and other cops from her case, but she’s forced to work with a Mexican detective, Marco Ruiz (Academy Award nominee Demián Bichir), who, after turning the case over to her initially, shows renewed interest when it turns out one of the bodies was a young woman whose other remains (only the legs were found on the bridge) were found near his home.

They start investigating as a duo.  She’s the more classic single-minded cop, focused on doing things immediately, correctly, and following procedure – she wants to report the Ruiz for allowing an ambulance through part of the crime scene on the bridge where the bodies were found even though the man in the ambulance likely would have died if he hadn’t (he dies anyway, but that’s not the point).  He’s more laid back, but interested, an honest detective who from a city where everyone is corrupt either because they want in, or because everyone else is already doing it, so what’s the point in even bothering.  She constantly lambastes him for the shoddy procedure he and the entire Mexican law enforcement division shows, not understanding the challenges he faces and that he has to carefully save up his reserves of actually giving a shit for when it can do something.

Juarez is famous for both its overall murder rate, its drug violence, and its mysterious and prolific murders of women, largely young women who work in the factories and manufacturing centers that have come to dominate Juarez’s landscape (If you’re really interested, I recommend Roberto Belano’s excellent but crazy long novel 8666 about a fictional Juarez equivalent).

This presents an interesting angle to work with above and beyond the simple solving of a murder, such as the  cooperation and divide between Mexico and America, trying to find justice navigating the famously corrupt and troubled Juarez government.  The border is a contentious area, and it’s certainly remarkable the difference that the border makes; El Paso is extremely safe, while Juarez is crazily dangerous and Mexican authorities have struggled to get any handle on the crime problems, trying to figure out to supply effective law enforcement without being paid off or intimidated by the cartels.  Now, it was entirely unnecessary and weirdly on the nose then for a recorded message from the presumed killer to spell this out blatantly, telling our detectives that El Paso’s a pretty safe place, while Juarez is crazy dangerous, and hell, that ain’t fair, so he’s going to be terrorizing El Paso for a while.

There’s two other strands to the plot, outside of the primary buddy cop duo.  First, the man who was in the ambulance crossing the bridge at the beginning ends up dying at the hospital anyway.  His widow starts to find out some shady parts of his life she didn’t know about, leading to a scene at the end of the first episode when she opens the barn door that will seemingly lead to some sort of unsavory surprise.

Secondly, there’s an American in a trailer in the desert who has kidnapped a young girl from Mexico.  We don’t know if he’s related to the main murders or not, but he seems at the least like he’s up to no good, and one presumes he’ll be connected in to the main plot somehow or another if not as simply the killer.

The first episode of The Bridge was above average, but not great.  The police scenes seemed to only be a couple steps ahead of the standard police tropes, and sometimes got lazy and fell back into them for a minute or two.  At its less tropy, The Bridge felt dark but more importantly grittily real, highlighting the fascinating setting of the border through location shots not only of the border but of the police stations and deserts that suggested the surroundings.  At its lesser moments, the three most prominent cop characters settled into established roles, and Diane Kruger’s character in particular recalled, and not in a good way (I don’t think there is a good way), the main character from The Killing.

It’s a cop show.  That doesn’t mean it’s just a cop show, but when you choose to make a cop show, you’re going up in a sense against every cop show that’s ever been on TV.  It’s hard to be new.  When I see a crusty old sheriff, while I should be focusing on just this particular sheriff, my brain rushes to compare him to every similar sheriff character I know, and that makes it harder for any one cop show to separate itself.

There were glimpses of separation, of becoming more than a cop show set on the border, which is the bare minimum I like to see from a pilot that I’m going to consider continuing to watch, but I hope that this is a launching point rather than an exact model.

Will I watch it again?  Yeah, I’ll give it another shot.  The show is only outrunning tropes by a couple seconds at this point, but that’s enough to give it an effort to separate itself.  I’m wary, but there were enough good parts that I’ll hope for the best.

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