This post discusses the July 24 episode of The Bridge.
Our artful killer’s spectacles continue in this week’s episode of The Bridge, as did Sonya and Marco’s back-and-forth. But one of the things I appreciated about this hour of the show was that it spent a bit more time with three of the more promising supporting characters of the show, and tapped rich and unexpected veins as a result.
When the show premiered, Slate’s June Thomas asked “Could The Bridge do for Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, what The Wire did for Baltimore?” It may have been the wrong question. The first city to start to emerge from stereotype or misconception is not Juárez, but in this episode, El Paso. We’ve already seen the city’s police department and its newspaper. And now, at Karl’s funeral, we’re getting acquainted with a class of people who never really showed up on The Wire: the city’s social and financial elite.
It’s an awkward, but revealing, encounter. “So, Charlotte, honey, will you be moving back to Orlando?” one of the visitors to the ranch wants to know, her voice sticky-sweet, her implications poisonously clear: Charlotte is an arriviste who might do better for herself if she returned to hostessing in Tampa, and stopped trying to reach beyond her station. But Charlotte isn’t going to be swayed, and insists that she’s staying. “I would love to get more involved in civic activies. The Texas Art Walk,” Charlotte tells them, bluffing forward. “You’re interested in art?” her visitors want to know, feigning politeness. “Sure,” she tells them.
But she can’t cross swords quite as effectively with another visitor, a woman in pants and a head wrap who casts an assessing eye on her prize horse. “My husband, he’s not who I thought he was. But I have to figure out my life now. This can’t be part of it,” Charlotte tells her, plainly afraid. “You’re scared. This is your ranch, now, your land. So we’ll be partners,” the woman proposes. “Sorry, I’m not like you,” Charlotte insists, almost more to herself than to the woman who wants to be her partner. “But you are,” the woman explains to her. “You’re poor, and you did shit things to pull yourself up, and you’re not going back.” Her visitor isn’t the only person who’s pulling her into immigration reform. After the killer takes the surviving migrant and ransoms her, saying he’ll let her die of dehydration and sunburn unless her freedom is purchased by El Paso’s wealthiest residents, Charlotte, who is named in the demand, is drawn into the case. Once again, the question is about Karl’s views, rather than Charlotte’s feelings. “Did he have any feelings about immigration?” Marco wants to know when he visits for information and ends up providing comfort instead. “I think he thought it was okay,” Charlotte tells him. But what she decides she feels may be critical, not just for the woman struggling in the desert, but for the people counting on Charlotte for safe passage, and for the place Charlotte eventually builds for herself in El Paso, now that Karl isn’t there to provide her with one.
What it takes to pull yourself up is also the subject of the first truly revealing conversation between Daniel, who’s taking hits of coke before meetings with his boss and Hank, and finds himself shipped off to Juárez with Adriana, where the polarity in their relationship is reversed. Where Daniel could browbeat Adriana in El Paso, in Juárez, he’s anxious and off-guard. “You’ve never been to Juarez?” wants to know, given Daniel’s newly-skittish demeanor. “The fun parts, the clubs and the farmacias,” Daniel protests. “I’m sorry to show you how people actually live,” she tells him sourly. But when, in short order, he gets another call from the killer, and witnesses an up-close shooting, Adriana takes care of him, out of obligation if not affection, and dragging him home to the physical safety but emotionally unsteady terrain of her relatives’ house.
The sequence there is one of the best The Bridge has done so far. “Can you guys stop throwing your pussies at my coworker?” Adriana grouses at her cousins. Her aunt, in turn, tells her to “Stop working so hard so you’ll find a good husband!” And after witnessing their dynamic, as they’re bedding down in the living room, Daniel’s reportorial instincts come out, and he asks Adriana an impolite question that elicits a very revealing answer.“I’m sorry about being a girl today,” he explains. “I’m sorry about calling you a girl and then you are a girl. How did you get the job with the Times?…I went to fancy schools and my family is super-connected.” Adriana’s clipped, at first. “I went to UT,” she tells him, as if that explains everything. But he crashes forward. “But how?” Daniel wants to know, digging into the heart of it. “Look at your sister. She’s 18 and she has like 3 kids.” “She’s 20,” Adriana corrects him, but she’s conceded the point, and Daniel drives it home. “How did you not get stuck here, pregnant, and watching novelas for the rest of your life?” Daniel demands of her. “There are ways not to get pregnant,” Adriana says. “I didn’t mess around with boys.” Daniel’s “Like, strategically?” is both a great reporter’s question and a terrific character moment. “I don’t like them. And that saved me, in a way,” Adriana explains, finally giving him the explanation he wanted. “Don’t think we’re friends or anything now just because I told you some shit.”
I wrote last week that murder has made migrants of all the characters, whether Marco’s venturing to El Paso to work with Sonya, Sonya’s missing the life-or-death etiquette of Ciudad Juárez, or Adriana and Daniel are venturing beyond their geographical and professional comfort zones. But Charlotte’s a migrant to, from Florida to Texas and from a blue-collar life to blue-blood neighbors. And Adriana’s sexuality, which placed her outside of the expectations of her family and her faith, became her unexpected passport to another life. The Bridge is at its best in the crossings, and the nuances of what we expect and what we actually find on the other side.