"‘The Bridge’ Recap: Maria Of The Desert"
This post discusses the events of the July 31 episode of The Bridge.
This was a rather frenetic episode of The Bridge, but it was also an hour of television that highlighted something else the show’s done quite well in the midst of laying the groundwork for its dark serial killer drama: develop quite a good sense of humor, and an ability to pack a lot of character detail into a moment. We met Detective Cooper (Johnny Dowers) when he was commenting on Sonya’s weirdness, and it might have been easy to stick with the perception of him as a mustachioed redneck who isn’t a particularly creative thinker. But the show let us see his affection for his probiotic yogurt, and this week, it turns out he’s a tech nerd, telling us that the killer’s “Video stream’s been routed through a bunch of proxies.” It’s nice that The Bridge cares enough both about its minor characters and its setting to tweak us about the perceptions we bring into the show, and to prove to us that it’s more thoughtful than we might be.
The same is true for The Bridge‘s development of Daniel’s substance use, which it introduced with a brief bump before he was summoned into a meeting with Hank and his editor, and expands here. When Marco and Sonya go looking for him, they find him at a woman’s apartment, where the woman in question explains “He’s here. Drank all my vodka, won’t stop talking, and can’t even get it up.” The sequence works in a character moment for Sonya, who wants to know “Where are your pants?” The girlfriend’s classic response? “Bastard said they made me look fat.” And before Daniel barfs all over a police department conference room, he greets Marco and Sonya with a cheerful, fuzzy “Hey, Officer Friendly and Officer Frosty!” In a couple of moments, The Bridge captures both the charm and the grotesquerie of addiction.
But on to the episode itself, which is an interesting study in how each character is getting hooked in to the case, and to the larger issue of immigration. For Charlotte, being interested is a means of self-defense, particularly after Rio, her prize horse, ends up dead. “She wants that tunnel opened,” Cesar tells Charlotte. “And what if I don’t?” Charlotte takes the issue head-on. “It won’t be a horse next time,” Cesar tells her plainly. “Okay, open it,” Charlotte tells him with a survivalist pragmatism of the sort that must have helped propel her from Tampa to El Paso. Getting involved in border crossings is clearly having an impact on her in other areas. When her stepdaughter litters the pool area with her cigarette butts, tweaking Charlotte by telling her “Let the Mexican pick them up,” Charlotte snaps back “Her name is Tina, and she has other work to do.” Her defense of Tina doesn’t quite go as well as she’d hoped. “That’s right. Tina found this in the guest bedroom,” Kate tells Charlotte, tossing her Marco’s wallet.
But Charlotte’s clearly becoming something more than the woman who was shocked on the bridge the night we met her, frightened by the murder, confused that the ambulance couldn’t just glide through to safety. “What am I supposed to do, Cesar, go shopping?” she asks the man who’s forced her into a less comfortable world than her routine of buying horses and keeping Karl happy. “This is illegal.” Losing Karl and being blackmailed into being part of a scheme to bring undocumented immigrants into the United States has been a terrible shock for Charlotte, but it’s exciting to see her wake up to her capacity, to reject being anesthetized by her privilege while other people deal with difficult ideas all around her.
Daniel, by contrast, is drawn to the killer’s worldview in part out of sheer cantankerousness. When the police want to know if he can tell them anything about his calls with the killer, Daniel snarks at them:“He’s what I would call a doer. He doesn’t talk so much. I’m guessing he’s got some mommy issues, or maybe a Mexican girl broke his heart. Or maybe he gets a big fat chubby from killing people and messing with cops.” But as a journalist, he also recognizes the accuracy of the killer’s analysis of the racial politics of immigration. “Did you get the money yet?” he demands to know. “Because I’m betting if it was a pretty little coed with blonde hair and perfect teeth and big tits that the money would come raining in by now.” When Marco suggests that Daniel “Try not to be an asshole,” it’s a nice little lesson about how the messenger can overwhelm the message.
And as much as Daniel may bluster about his sympathy for the killer, he knows the difference between the cops he’s tweaking, and the man who’s feeding him material. When he texts “In alley,” to his source, and gets back the single word “Dumpster,” there’s a lovely moment when Daniel opens the receptacle. He opens the lid an inch or two, hesitates out of anxiety about what he’ll find, and then finishes the process, kneeling to the inevitability of his own curiosity. It’s journalism in a gesture.
As Daniel and Marco spend more time together, it’s intriguing to see how Marco handles Daniel, who is a difficult partner to have, but in a very different way from Sonya. While Marco, though he’s angry at the complaint she files, quickly learned to do the same thing Hank did with her, explaining his actions and gestures and couching them in a rational language that makes them more legible to Sonya, he’s blunter with Daniel. “What is up with her?” Daniel wants to know of Sonya. “Nothing,” Marco tells him, putting up a united front with Sonya despite the relative newness of their partnership. “A little shortbus don’t you think?” Daniel pushes, being both a journalist and a pest. “No, I don’t,” Marco tells him shortly. It’s a pattern that persists through their interactions. “So I guess nine bodies in Juarez is a slow day,” Daniel asks. “It’s getting better,” Marco tells him. And finally, he informs Daniel “You don’t know me that well to talk about my family. Just sit there. Be quiet.” Oddly, Daniel obeys. He’s like a kid who needs some discipline from somebody, and turns out to be willing to take it from a Mexican cop, if not from anyone else.
The episode also brings out the ways in which Marco’s willing to operate differently from his American counterparts. He’s willing to take money from the woman who operates the tunnel onto Karl and Charlotte’s ranch, telling his American colleagues that the finances come from, “A donor who wishes to remain anonymous,” then when he’s pressed, to lie and characterize the giver as “a prominent Mexican citizen..El Rey Storage. The man who owns it wants to help.” Marco has a sense that there are hidden networks operating here that his American counterparts can’t sense, and his ability to see that, as well as the stated rationale he gives his American counterparts–“I brought the money. The girl’s Mexican. I’m going.”–make him feel justified in subverting them or working around them.
But there’s something even more intriguing about the moment when Marco finds himself attacked by the killer in the dark. “I’m family,” he tells the man. “Please don’t do anything.” Is he actually related to Maria? Or does he mean something else?
He isn’t the only person with secrets. After giving us the impression that Steven had killed Eva, the young woman he packed into the trunk of his car, it turns out that something rather stranger is taking place. In keeping with his claim to Marco that he’s someone who helps people, Steven’s delivering Eva to Bob, where she’ll be safe from a man who appears to have her terrified. “Here at the ranch, you can put your past behind you, find your grace,” Bob promises Eva. And Steven tries to reassure her, saying “Bob here is like a right hand of god. He will protect you from people who will seek to do you harm.” Eva wants to know what she owes him, and Steven asks just for a kiss, which she brushes against his cheek. “I will remember that. Take care, Eva,” Steven tells her solemnly, with no hint that the kiss should have been deeper, that any debt remains. It’s a profoundly disconcerting sequence. But is it enough to prove that Steven’s not the killer? And if he is, how do the disparate parts of his mission fit together?