[This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Bridge!]
From the get-go, FX’s The Bridge has exhibited a personality similar to that of Diane Kruger’s Detective Sonya Cross: it was more than a little different. The show was as blunt and occasionally socially inelegant as the comely El Paso detective we first met adhering to the rules and procedures of managing a crime scene with such precision and meticulousness that it felt inconceivable. And yet that moment now serves as an indication of where the series has always been headed in terms of joining together the intricate process and method of creating a crime drama with its own special blend of quirkiness and blatant nonconformity.
During the season’s eighth episode, ‘Vendetta,’ The Bridge really let its freak flag fly with an outlandish and incredibly elaborate move that saw the series shift its focus from a frightening, pervasive and heretofore unknown killer, who had reached such legendary status he/she/them had simply become known as “The Beast,” to an insular tale of revenge that was so precise and meticulous in its planning and execution it could only be described as absurd. And the icing on the cake is: the killer is actually Kenneth Hasting, the unassuming – and until recently – unrequited suitor to Marco Ruiz’ newly estranged wife, Alma.
But the craziness didn’t end there. First and foremost, Kenneth Hasting is not Kenneth Hasting at all; he’s actually former FBI Agent David Tate, who was thought to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound six years prior, after his wife and child were killed in an auto accident caused by Daniel Frye’s former line-snorting buddy, Santi Jr. But the whole incident never would have happened had Tate’s wife not been traveling to see her lover, who just so happened to be – you guessed it! – the morally upright and generally charismatic Det. Marco Ruiz. The man who never met a bribe he was interested in taking, is also the man who never met a woman he wasn’t interested in taking to bed.
It was all admittedly far fetched, somewhat clumsy and a little silly, and yet, even with everything that transpired in ‘Vendetta,’ The Bridge still managed to demonstrate how its characters and their relationship to the much larger and more compelling world on the El Paso-Juárez border matter more than what any killer has done, or will do in the weeks ahead. And if you haven’t already tuned out, but are on the fence, this is a great reason to stick with the show. Had this been any other series, the events of the seventh and eighth episodes would have represented the end of the season. Instead, we’re still five episodes from the finale, a fact that demonstrates just how the series’ creators are playing with the audiences’ expectations and, more specifically, their sense of pacing, rhythm and structure, as it pertains to the manner in which a typical television series would normally play out.
As it has from the beginning, the show feels deliberately unbalanced; Meredith Stiehm and Elwood Reid have completely upset the flow of things by leaving so much room on the other end of their “big reveal.” Perhaps this is suggesting something even bigger looming on the horizon, but I hope that’s not the case. Instead, I sincerely hope that The Bridge is just planning to let this bizarre, credulity straining series of events play out through the characters’ development, as they come to terms with their own connection to the crimes.
As bizarre as things have gotten, the revenge aspect brings with it an examination of consequence that is inescapable for many of these characters, simply because their immoral actions have resulted in something far more aggressive – i.e., David Tate/Kenneth Hasting is very much the putrid fruit of their indecent labors. Yet somehow, The Bridge has figured out how to take the absurdity of the world that has been created – make no mistake, this is without a doubt some sort of heightened reality we’re dealing with – and use it to draw the main characters closer to the narrative.
It’s a convoluted narrative to be sure, and one that I can’t help but think is deliberately that way. The show’s apparent lack of subtlety is actually concealing a deeper, more layered storyline about the way people are desperately trying to communicate and have their voices heard amongst the relentless din of an increasingly self-involved and commotion-filled world. And with every voice clamoring for recognition, the only recourse some feel they have is to make ridiculously large, shocking statements to draw attention to the true meaning and intent of the message. For David Tate, the over the top theatricality of his crimes has paved the way for a more important conversation to take place.
This is why the shift from broad political statement to personal vendetta actually works: It is the killer’s method of garnering attention so that he can tell the world what’s really on his mind, and know that he actually has an audience. In many ways, the killers’ methods for attracting attention are intriguingly similar to that of the business of television: Start off big, with a compelling or captivating enough hook and the eyes and ears of your audience will be made ready.
Similarly, by turning up the volume on one aspect of the story, The Bridge is allowing the smaller, more intimate and, strangely enough, meaningful voices of its peripheral characters a well-deserved opportunity to be heard. Were it not for the outlandish theatricality of Tate’s crimes, the audience may be less inclined to take a breather by spending time with Marco’s lonely son, Gus; getting to know the fiercely intelligent and ambitious Adriana Mendez; or enjoying the sordid goings-on between Charlotte and Ray (and now, Timmy and the ATF) at the Millwright ranch. And there certainly wouldn’t be any room for the entrancing, buttoned-up, mutton-chopped weirdness of Steven Linder and the “monkey” on his back.
It still stands to reason that, with five episodes left, The Bridge could completely foul things up, fail to deliver on all its weirdness and wind up having nothing remotely worthwhile to say – especially now that it ventured so far into outlandishness. But even if the series ultimately comes up short on its delivery of the serial killer plot, there are still plenty of intriguing and interesting characters and storylines lining its periphery. And that’s the perfect place for a series as slightly off center as this to hide what really matters.
The Bridge airs on Wednesday nights @10pm on FX