Like many crime shows, The Bridge’s cast of characters is familiar. There are serial killers, drug dealers, corrupt officials, drunk journalists (particularly appreciated), gruff police chiefs, and the quintessential mismatched pair of detectives responsible for tracking down the forces of evil. It benefits from intriguing writing and strong performances from the cast. But just these accolades would do little to distinguish the show from other smart, well-acted dramas currently airing.
The selling point, in this case, is location, location, location. Set on the parched, desolate, depressing border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, one of the The Bridge’s best recurring characters is its titular installation — the physical bridge between two nations plagued by a complex, nuanced set of problems unique to the area in focus. FX’s version is closely based on a Danish show Bron, which takes place on the border between Sweden and Denmark.
The Bridge does not shy away from the quagmire that is border relations between the U.S. and Mexico — it’s location, in fact, is so perfect audiences should be glad the original concept, based on the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario was scrapped for the Bridge of the Americas in the south. In the show’s opening, an unknown person carefully places a body right across the border, forcing Det. Marco Ruiz (played by a haggardly suave Demián Birchir) into a crime-fighting partnership with the El Paso Police Department’s autistic-savant Det. Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger). As the show continues (as of press time, the show has aired eight episodes), the killer’s trail of violence ropes in a varied cast of characters on both sides of the border: A rich widow dangerously connected to the border; a closeted lesbian reporter living in Juarez but working with a drunk-but-dedicated old hand at the El Paso Times; several dangerous cartel leaders; corrupt officials; runaway teenagers; and the troubled families of the two leads. The central narrative, however, continues to revolve around Sonya and Marco’s efforts to stop a serial killer taking lives with impunity on both sides of the border, ostensibly with the aim of exposing inequalities between the two sister cities.
While initial comparisons between Kruger’s Sonya Cross and Homeland’s Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) may seem apt (particularly in their similarly odd scenes of casual sex with strangers), Sonya’s mental hurdles manifest themselves differently from those of her fellow blonde investigative genius — the show’s creators have confirmed that she suffers from Asperger syndrome, though her condition is never explicitly discussed on the show. While some initial responses to the series claimed that Kruger’s performance was distractingly awkward, her portrayal of something that has become a subtly expanding character trope is handled capably, without treating it as comic relief or something that affects Sonya’s competence as a law enforcement officer. While Sonya’s character and past are significant, it is Demián Birchir’s Marco Ruiz that pulls the two halves of the show together. Marco is seemingly incorruptible and his easy-going manner and street-smart investigation help balance out Sonya’s rigid incongruities — something reflected in Birchir and Kruger’s entertaining chemistry on-screen. But he remains a deeply flawed character, whose troubled personal life and past begin to bleed into the case as the plot escalates.
And escalate it does. The Bridge is fast-paced and gritty, with few lulls in the action and plenty of twists along the way. On one hand, the writers deserve praise for landing a few delightful red herrings and flourishing Checkhov’s gun at the audience, but the show’s consistent twists and turns sometimes make for sloppy situations. Yes, not every police show can have the realism and consistency of The Wire, but The Bridge’s main flaw thus far has come from some poorly designed situations (i.e. playing fast and loose with police protocol). Still, given a not unreasonable amount of suspension of disbelief, the show is quick, entertaining, and intense. Also, even well past the season’s middle mark, it’s got quite a few storylines left open.
The Bridge airs at 10 p.m. on Wednesday nights on FX. Beginning next week, stay tuned for weekly episode recaps at independent.com/tv/.