The new FX drama The Bridge has something in common with a few other notable films and TV series dealing with disturbed killers such as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and, more specifically, AMC’s The Killing, in that they all originally hail from Scandinavia.
Originally known as Bron or Broen – depending on if you’re speaking Swedish or Danish – the series depicts an investigation sparked by a brutal murder where the victim’s body is positioned on a bridge at exactly the halfway point between Sweden and Denmark.
For its part, The Bridge is one of those rare instances where the U.S. version might actually have something significant over its predecessor in terms of the depth of story it has the opportunity to tell, thanks its change in geographic location. Whatever cultural divides may exist between the two Scandinavian countries, it seems a good bet the tension between El Paso, Texas and Juárez, Mexico is primed to be far more combustible as far as the sociopolitical aspects of the series’ storytelling are concerned.
As evidence that the series plans to use its locations to not only discuss the cultural differences between the two primary investigators – played by Diane Kruger (Inglorious Basterds) and Demián Bichir from The Heat and his Oscar-nominated performance in A Better Life – to examine the hot button issue of immigration reform, the victim placed on the titular bridge is a Texas judge (or half of her) who recently made a ruling against Mexican day workers’ ability to seek work from street corners in El Paso.
Additionally, as the investigation progresses, it seems the killer is not only feeding a sadistic need – a la some of the murderers from Dexter or season 3 of The Killing – but rather he (or she) is also intent on making a statement addressing the enormous disparity in the amount of crime seen in El Paso as opposed to Juårez. Late in the episode, a digitally distorted voice asks the detectives, “Why is one dead white woman more important than so many just across the bridge? How long can El Paso look away?”
While the murder of the judge and the placement of her body (and that of a missing Juárez girl) on the bridge sets the plot in motion and creates the framework of the series, it is the relationship between Kruger and Bichir that ultimately drives The Bridge. As much as the structure of the series is built around the literal and figurative separation of people and places, so, too, are the lives of its characters. Bichir brings a sort of everyman persona to his depiction of Juárez Detective Marco Ruiz. His embattled cop has to struggle with being as honest as he can be in a mostly corrupt environment, while balancing the needs of his family life and navigating the choppy waters of a newly formed (albeit, initially reluctant) partnership with El Paso Detective Sonya Cross (Kruger).
The Cross character will undoubtedly be the topic of many a water cooler conversation, as she joins the growing ranks of psychologically challenged protagonists such as Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison on Homeland, and, most recently, Danes’ real-life husband, Hugh Dancy, as the troubled Will Graham on Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. The character’s (seemingly) undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome builds a kind of wall that seems to place her at a disadvantage in some aspects, as Cross lacks the appropriate empathy needed to handle the recently bereaved (as evidenced by her inadvertently cold questioning of the decedent’s husband), and earlier when she attempts to prevent Annabeth Gish’s Charlotte from crossing the bridge in an ambulance, even though her husband is suffering a heart attack.
Concerns may surface as to how the character was able to rise to such a level within department and why it is that she’s allowed to take point on a very high-profile case, but there is the suggestion that inability to respond to social cues and lack of empathy aside, Cross is a skilled detective who has benefited greatly from her close professional relationship with Ted Levine’s Lt. Hank Wade.
Along with the detectives, The Bridge also introduces two El Paso reporters played by Matthew Lillard and Emily Rios, as well as a potential suspect in the form of Australian actor Thomas M. Wright – who weaves through the first hour with such intensity and menace, he seems as likely to be a mere distraction as the actual killer. Given the amount of characters introduced while the plot is laid out, the pilot does feel a little overstuffed and uneven at times. In fact, the transitions from investigative procedural elements with Cross and Ruiz to the technologically sophisticated attack on the bridge’s security system – and later, Lillard’s character – creates an inconsistency in the tone that leaves the pilot in an odd place heading into the second episode.
And while it lacks the immediate and mesmerizing impact of other FX dramas like, say, The Americans or Justified, The Bridge is also a completely different animal that is clearly far more serialized in its storytelling. This means the narrative will likely be something of a slow burn, and it will be interesting to see how the creators manage the pacing of the murder mystery with everything else on the series’ plate. In that regard, the show feels a little like Sundance’s Top of the Lake (which also features Thomas M. Wright) with the overall crime elements balanced against a larger story of characters and their relationship to a sometimes complex and difficult environment.
The Bridge continues next Wednesday with ‘Calaca’ @10pm on FX.