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Review: The Bridge

Last week, FX, which tries to be the edgier, more adventurous side of Fox, debuted The Bridge, an adaptation of the Swedish/Danish series of the same name, starring Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir. With its multinational roots and equally multinational cast, The Bridge takes on one of the toughest issues the US is facing today: the immigration debate, and the complex issues that swirl around it.

This could be cast as just a simple procedural, a matter of a series of murders and who committed them, but it’s so much more than that. So don’t be turned off by the murder mystery framing, because The Bridge isn’t simply blood and guts.

Last week’s pilot opened with a bleakly symbolic scene: the body of an anti-immigrant judge laid out precisely on the Bridge of the Americas, half her body in Mexico and half in the US. Almost immediately, the case becomes more complicated than that, as it transpires that two bodies were laid out on the bridge that night, the judge’s upper body and the legs of one of the hundreds of missing women of Juarez.

This sparks a jurisdictional scuffle over who gets the case, plunging Kruger and Bichir together as rival officers from across the border who are pulled together as working partners. Almost immediately, The Bridge becomes a sociopolitical commentary, from Detective Ruiz’ initially laconic and jaded response to the body (“I got nine heads in the parking lot of city hall”) to Detective Cross’ defense of immigrants in a heated conversation with the judge’s widower.

Aesthetically, The Bridge is taking on a spare, simple, very elegant presentation that works well for the subject matter, allowing the story to drive itself without making undue use of special effects and music. Some of the cinematography is particularly evocative and brilliant—we see Sonya Cross taking down notes on a death scene under the hum of two buzzing pylons, for example, and we look out at the sweep of El Paso in long shots that linger on the wealth and power of the United States to contrast it with the sometimes desperate conditions in Juarez.

Detective Ruiz reveals the futility of trying to stay current with the mysterious deaths of hundreds of women in Juarez, all young and dark-haired, all disappeared without a trace in a city filled with brutal murders. Sonya fails to understand the sheer absurdity of the policing challenges that lie before him, refusing to believe that he wouldn’t investigate a case, interview family members, reach out in an attempt to find solutions to a brutal murder. In turn, Ruiz struggles with his own feelings of guilt as an underfunded investigator in a department stretched thin and beset by cartel members who create bleak choices; plato or plumbo, he tries to explain to Sonya, telling her that rumours of corrupt police officers fail to take into account the fact that many are given the choice of accepting bribes or taking bullets.

A mysterious voice message associated with a car bomb scolds Ruiz and Cross, pointing out that hundreds of women are dying across the border while a huge fuss is being made over one white woman’s body. The commentary is a sharp reflection of larger social issues and tensions along the US-Mexico border, where white victims of violent crime receive preferential treatment and others are vanished into the background—a similar comment is made, albeit less blatantly, when Detective Ruiz clears an ambulance to cross the border from Mexico into the US because it carries white US citizens, and he knows that gringos don’t want treatment in a Mexican hospital.

As Ruiz points out, many of these same women are victims of a system that creates an environment of exploitation at the border, coming to Juarez to work at the maquiladoras and in other jobs that allow them to earn money to send back to their families. Living in crowded housing with their fellow women, without the social support network of their communities, real-live women in Juarez are vanishing by the hundreds every year while the US ignores its own role in these issues. And in The Bridge viewers are called up short by the harsh reminder of the differential approach when it comes to valuing women’s lives and pursuing crimes to court.

This series has the potential to become not just a fascinating mystery, of which there are plenty on television, but a tense political drama that may be coming along at precisely the right time. The United States is confronting its complex relationship with immigration and its own role in the exploitation of border workers and residents like the women who rely on coyotes to transport them across the border to El Norte in search of a better life, and sometimes don’t make it, or end up in circumstances far different than those they imagined. It’s also dealing with resentment, bigotry, and hatred cultivated by extremist groups in an attempt to push immigrants out or severely restrict them, creating an environment both hostile and dangerous.

If The Bridge is well-executed, it will avoid trying to stretch this single case into an entire season (or even longer), because this would push the boundaries of believability and patience. Instead, it could become a longer collaborative commentary on violence at the border, complicity, and immigration policy. So long as it manages to avoid the very easy and very dangerous path of stereotyping Juarez, however; the city must be equally fleshed out and complex as El Paso in this depiction, with nuanced discussions of politics and culture, to avoid casting Juarez and Mexico at large as one-note violence-ridden places run by cartels and corrupt police officers.

Should the creators manage to give Juarez some depth and complexity while retaining the complex political commentary in the show, the underlying criminal drama, and the fascinating interpersonal relationships, FX could have a winner.

Photo by espenseorvik, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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s.e. smith

s.e. smith is the Editor in Chief at Global Comment, with publication credits including Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Bitch Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Rewire.