This post discusses plot points from the September 4 episode of The Bridge.
Andy Greenwald, a television critic at Grantland, has suggested that there’s another show operating within The Bridge, one he refers to as The Weird Bridge, that’s full of oral sex and odd asides and has a more leisurely pace than the insistent forward motion of a murder mystery. This week’s episode, “The Beetle” has those moments, whether it’s Pastor Bob telling Linder “My first kill, I couldn’t get enough cheeseburgers,” everything involving Charlotte and Cesar (whose wife I’d really like to meet), or Sonya’s protest to Gus that she can’t be a MILF because “I don’t have children!” And it’s got a gorgeous, devastating opening sequence shot by Keith Gordon that takes us back into David Tate’s mind as he watches his wife pulled from the wrecked car in which she died, sees her necklace break and the beads scatter on the Bridge of the Americas.
It’s also got a lot that feels generic and inorganic, whether it’s Tate’s handing Alma a grenade–and Marco doing the obvious and sensible thing, taking it from her hands, and chucking it far away in the five seconds that give him a fair amount of time to get her clear–or Tate appearing out of the blue to crash into Sonya and Gus’s car with no apparent explanation for how they found him. More than any other promising new show this year, The Bridge has been hurt by its mastermind and by its central murder mystery, which has deprived promising other parts of the show with oxygen. Unlike The Wire, which built towards its climaxes with little acts, with incremental decisions (incremental even when they involved murder), and with accidents, The Bridge has had to deal with the unified acts of a single man, divorced from history, culture, and custom in a way that’s detracted from the show’s ability to explore its surroundings and to ground its investigation in the actual particularities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, which is a real shame.
Where the episode is strong is in its exploration of how Sonya’s autism functions in a moment of crisis–and how David Tate’s intense emotional openness makes him a better killer.
Sonya’s confusion isn’t entirely her fault. When Marco says things about Tate’s wife like “She told me she loved me and she wanted to be with me but it was nothing to me,” and then insists that “She believed what she wanted to believe” without admitting to misleading her, it is confusing.
“Sonya, not everything’s black and white,” Marco snaps at her, but what he’s missing is that he, and other men like him, rely on that gray area to get away with behavior they couldn’t rationalize to themselves if they look at it with the same cold clarity that Sonya brings to the situation. Her inability to understand Marco’s realizations, even more than David Tate’s reign of terror, is what really makes the consequences of Marco’s infidelity, his perpetual sloppiness clear. Marco doesn’t just cheat on his wives. He seems to have a perpetual drive to let down anyone who might believe in him, whether it’s Gus or Sonya.
And in contrast to Sonya’s wounded rationality, David Tate, it turns out, has drawn in Marco’s family by giving them attention Marco habitually spent elsewhere. “I was mad at the world. I’d see happy families on the street and wish bad things on them,” Tate tells Alma at the picnic table. “I still have that anger. Work on it every day.” What’s striking about this is that it’s the truth, it’s not a deception. And it’s far more frightening than the diagrams of the electrical system of the Bridge of the Americas, because we can see how we might fall for that, how we might be convinced by a sensitive, wounded man who isn’t afraid to admit to the depths of his rage and grief. “He made me closer to my dad,” Gus admits to Sonya. “When we were chatting…He gave good advice. When I told him how I was feeling about my father.” The need of a neglected child, and a man’s willingness to exploit that, is far more frightening than a grenade in a dark house.