'Maria of the Desert' marks the first shift in terms of episodic delivery for The Bridge that demonstrates just how well the series can function outside its established comfort zone and whether or not the more deliberate, character-driven elements of the series can take a take a step back and just let the plot take the reins for a while.
In essence, the search for Maria – the missing immigrant who has become the latest potential victim of the politically motivated serial killer and, subsequently, reluctant Internet star – is actually a chance for the series to exhale and move outside of what has become its heavily serialized nature. By pacing the episode with an element of genuine suspense, 'Maria of the Desert' also shows that The Bridge can carry high-stakes storytelling as well as it has the slow-burn development of its narrative thus far.
And while the episode moves at a much quicker pace than previous installments, it's thankfully not a jarring transition. In fact, the deep serialization of the series actually serves the gear-shifting quite well, as last week's 'Rio' (anyone else get Duran Duran stuck in their head reading that title?) did a great job of establishing the framework of this installment by taking care of any necessary exposition regarding Maria, the killer and Sonya/Marco's awareness of the situation.
That being said, the portrayal of Maria (duct taped to some rebar and forced to wait for the "desert to take her") was somewhat slight – though the deliberate detachment of her depiction not only heightened the sense of her exposure, it also created a dire sense of futility on behalf of law enforcement. At any rate, here's hoping that Maria will factor more into the ongoing investigation from this point forward, as now the FBI are fully entrenched following the death and decapitation of Agent Ralph Gedman (the always welcome David Meunier in an appearance that's tragically brief).
The lightning fast addition and subtraction of Meunier points to just how focused and quickly paced the episode is. In fact, when little character moments pop up – like the dialogue between Sonya and Hank about her late sister – they sometimes feel shoehorned in and a little awkward. Now, granted, The Bridge has a built-in justification for anything involving Sonya that comes across as awkward, so the idea of a conversation about painful memories and dead siblings while en route to a manhunt isn't any more surprising than, say, informing a one-night stand that round two is out of the question while she's at work. Besides, information on Sonya has been sparse up to this point in the season, so the question really becomes: If not now, then when? Furthermore, Sonya's condition has made her something of an outsider within her own department, so it seems unlikely that anyone besides Hank would have (or care about) details on her personal life, much less intimate particulars like how she has managed to process the death of her sister and what sounds like a history of attempting to pay visit to her killer.
For as little as we know about Sonya (despite her unconventional actions), the extracurricular activities of Marco Ruiz (that's including his very personal encounter with Charlotte Millwright and the frighteningly businesslike meeting he reluctantly takes with Fausto Galván (Ramón Franco) regarding Maria's ransom) speak volumes about the layers of complication hiding beneath what at first glance appears to be an uncomplicated family man.
Marco's down-to-earth everyman vibe acts as a veil to conceal a man who is at odds with the world around him and his own urges. On the surface, his infidelity and familiarity with the Mexican cartel puts him in recognizable anti-hero territory, but Bichir's warm and generous performance so far suggests there's more to him than an angry or difficult man who is just looking to make a meaningful connection in his life – if anything, every connection Marco makes is potentially meaningful.
But the unveiling of these heretofore hidden or private characteristics also works to reinforce the series' recurring theme of twinning, or the comparison of two objects/people/places that are not far removed from one another. Marco is a complex man who displays passion outwardly, but maintains boundaries in his work/life balance – as demonstrated by the terse admonishment of Frye for bringing up his wife and family back in Juárez – which is in stark contrast to the completely unfiltered boldness of Sonya Cross.
These elements point to how the show is outwardly about a demented serial killer, but as the series progresses, is also successfully proving to be about so much more.
The Bridge continues next Wednesday with 'The Beast' @10pm on FX.