[This is a review of The Bridge season 2, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last season, The Bridge featured a narrative as bifurcated as the body discovered on the El Paso-Juárez border that initiated its storyline. But to be honest, referring to the show's narrative as such may be simplifying things too much, since it doesn't address the myriad other strange and far more interesting things going on outside the seemingly politically motivated murders at the center of the story. Of course, those killings were later revealed to be a highly convoluted revenge scheme cooked up by a cuckolded former FBI agent seeking vengeance on Demian Bichir's philandering Detective Marco Ruiz. In other words, the series' narrative wasn't just bifurcated; it practically had a split personality.
The David Tate storyline may have been central to The Bridge early on, but its serial killer underpinnings felt too contrived, too familiar, and it was one the show quickly (and mercifully) outgrew, as the geographically unique setting of the series offered multitudes of intriguing, mysterious, and bizarre stories just waiting to be told around equally peculiar characters. It was no surprise, then, that Tate's arc was essentially wrapped early – though he's still lingering in the background, serving as a bridge (sorry) between Marco Ruiz and Mexican drug lord Fausto Galvan (Ramón Franco) – which left season 1 with enough time to set up the idea that the creepy Steve Linder (Thomas M. Wright), journalists Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard) and Adriana Mendez (Emily Rios), and the missing girls of Juárez would have an opportunity to become the focal point of a new, multi-faceted story that ostensibly transformed The Bridge into an ensemble.
The question is: Now that it has sloughed off its serial killer storyline and is clearly casting a much wider narrative net, what will this sometimes-beguilingly odd show claim to be about? After 'Yankee', the season 2 premiere, that question still lingers, but a distinct answer appears to be on the horizon.
When they adapted the Scandinavian murder drama Borgen for FX, Meredith Stiehm (Homeland) and Elwood Reid moved the story's initial setting from the U.S-Canada border to the much more interesting and incendiary location it's at now. And considering the tedium of AMC's now canceled Low Winter Sun – which frequently ferried Mark Strong to and from the aforementioned northern locales – the switch proved to be the right one. Besides being rife with political and social differences, the El Paso-Juárez border also offers audiences the chance to take part in a culturally diverse storyline, one where half the program's dialogue is actually in the language of the country being depicted (here's looking at you, Tyrant). And with the season 2 premiere, it seems that the balance between the two key locations is set to better define The Bridge moving forward.
Now that Stiehm has reportedly shifted her focus once again to Homeland, Reid has been handed the reins for season 2. In 'Yankee', he basically works to establish what the new status quo is, by continuously reminding viewers of what had transpired to bring Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and Marco Ruiz together in the first place, and the tragic events that has their relationship at a crossroads of sorts. There are noticeable improvements over season 1, but as a season premiere, the episode worked in so many different angles and new characters – most notably Franka Potente's tattooed, machete-wielding cartel accountant/efficiency expert – that even though it ran fifteen minutes longer, the episode itself was little more than a primer. That is, considering what appears to be the vast scope of season 2's overarching narrative, 'Yankee' was so focused on laying track, it came up somewhat short in terms of delivering an episode that felt singular and complete.
And that's a somewhat divisive topic in the realm of TV right now. Much of television today is so serialized that events often go several episodes before being afforded an opportunity to pay themselves off (if they ever do). So, in that regard, the scene where Lyle Lovett's cartel lawyer Monte P. Flagman walks into a veritable bloodbath that has something to do with realtor Chip Diaz – and apparently happens out of chronological order with the rest of the episode – will undoubtedly be explained in the episodes to come.
So, would 'Yankee' have been more compelling if it had delivered a more inclusive episode? Probably. Still, it's hard to belittle The Bridge for this approach when it is clearly taking the time to set up what appears to be so much more focused and compelling story than season 1.
This time around, the action is predominantly focused on the Juárez side of things, as the issues with the cartels and corruption in law enforcement find a way to snake their way into nearly every thread. Beyond almost being killed by one of his own men during a raid, Marco is struggling to come to terms with his culpability in regard to the death of his son Gus, as well as the dissolution of his marriage to Alma (who has distanced herself to such a degree that her lawyer signs their divorce papers in court). Both Sonya and Capt. Robles (Juan Carlos Cantu) look at his divorce as a good thing – which is probably true considering Marco's issues with fidelity – but while it affords the lothario the freedom to chase any woman he wants, it also pushes him further towards a rather dark place.
Meanwhile, Sonya strikes up a physical relationship with the brother of Jim Dobbs (Brad William Heneke) – her sister's killer. There's plenty to parse from Sonya's actions here, not the least of which is the way the depiction of her as-yet undiagnosed Asperger's seems to have been modified (as it was in later episodes from last season) to allow interaction that doesn't simply reduce her disorder to a mere plot device. Moreover, Sonya, like Marco is exploring unorthodox methods of dealing with the pain of a life-altering loss. Her reluctance to let go of any connection she has to her sister – even if that connection is the man who took her sister's life – is driving Sonya to make some interesting choices that have the potential to place the character on an intriguing arc.
An imperfect but still entertaining episode of television, 'Yankee' marks the return of an underrated series that can be deliriously (and wonderfully) weird at times, and yet still manages to depict its characters as complex individuals deserving of the audience's time. With any luck, season 2 will put The Bridge on more people's watch list.
The Bridge continues next Wednesday with 'Ghost of a Flea' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Byron Cohen/FX