Saturday, August 31, 2013

Is "The Bridge" tumbling down?

Demian Bichir and Diane Kruger in "The Bridge" episode "Vendetta." (Credit: Byron Cohen/FX Network)

A few weeks ago, TV critic Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a post about "The Bridge" in which she said the FX drama had earned her trust. The episode that sealed it, "The Beast," featured a seemingly disconnected storyline about a young white girl being stupid in Juarez, just sort of wandering about and going up alone to a stranger's apartment. But by the end of the episode, she was connected to the main story in a big way, when her therapist father was murdered by the cross-border serial killer known as "The Beast" -- a name appearing for the first time in that episode.

Like Rosenberg, I've been watching from week to week confident that whatever random stuff gets brought up in the beginning of an episode will pay off by the end. But as "The Bridge" builds more and more connections, my long-term trust is starting to wane.

There are an insane amount of threads weaving through "The Bridge." There's the main serial killer mystery, the journalists writing about it, the drug/human trafficking/gun tunnel, the creepy smuggler, the Mexican drug lords, the weirdness going on with Marco's son, the thing with Marco's wife, and a number of smaller subplots that no doubt will end up important to everything. Each of these threads shares at least one character with another, in a very "Lost"-ian way. The problem is that the tapestry is getting so thick that every connection is starting to feel like a convenience -- less part of a master plan and more like, "You know what would be cool..." (Example: The creepy smuggler's newest assignment, the daughter of his Mexican connection who also happens to be the girlfriend of the drug lord who just beat the crap out of him.)

Part of my feeling stems from the revelation in the most recent episode, "Vendetta," that the whole serial killer thing is not about making a political and social statement, as the show up till now has been built around (and which set it apart from other serial killer dramas), but about an old colleague exacting revenge on Marco for a) having an affair with his wife and b) being the reason his wife was crossing the bridge when she and her daughter were killed in a car accident.

There are at least two possible ways this can play out:

1) The colleague, a former FBI agent named David Tate, is responsible for some, but not all, of the murders. In which case, shame on "The Bridge" for creating such a big red herring.

2) Tate is the serial killer. In which case, the killings are a bit of an overreaction.

Let's think about all the things Tate had to go through to get his revenge. He faked his suicide, killed a guy to steal his identity, buried him on the land of a crazy person whose writings he then stole to fan this goose chase, set up shop at the school where Marco's wife works and got started on a long con to woo her. He decapitated his former partner, killed his therapist (the father of the girl in "The Beast") and slit the throat of the guy driving the car that hit his wife and daughter (the guy who was partying with reporter Daniel Frye before the accident). He also for some reason killed a judge and poisoned a bunch of migrants.

To be fair, all this points to motives other than getting back at Marco for sleeping with his wife. But I'm not confident it will all make sense, at least not in a satisfying way. Even if Tate brings social issues into it -- the hypocrisy of his old partner using underage Mexican prostitutes, for example -- the statement is still all about him. Making it personal shrinks the world. And it undercuts what the show has so far been about -- shining a light on the cross-border divide.

Another effect the revenge revelation had on me was that, fairly or not, I blame Marco for the murders. He's not carrying them out, obviously, but he's part of the reason for it. (Can't you keep it in your pants, man?) After one early episode, two fellow watchers used the word "disappointed" to describe how they felt about seeing seemingly upstanding Marco cheat on his wife. Well, I too now feel that disappointment. And I don't like it.

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