This post discusses plot points from the September 11 episode of The Bridge.
Last week’s episode of The Bridge had me hollering, throwing things, and writing cranky manifestos about how masterminds are ruining television. I’m coming to the conclusion that, form-wise (the racism of Dads has a pride of place all its own, don’t worry), there’s probably nothing I hate more as a critic than a show that tries to distract me with pyrotechnics and nonsense when it has solid–or in the case of the The Bridge really excellent bones on which it could build simpler stories and more human interactions between its characters. Which is why I was almost irritated when The Bridge pulled me back into the show with something it does better than many of its competitors, thanks to its stellar acting corps: a series of simple, emotionally open conversations among the characters that were wonderful illustrations of why we should be invested in them.
Best in class was the next step forward in Daniel and Adriana’s friendship, and a sterling demonstration of why this pair ought to be at the center of the show, and why Matthew Lillard really ought to be in Emmy contention for his performance as Daniel Frye. It makes sense that the two of them would come back around to Adriana’s odd interaction with Santi Sol Jr. shortly before David Tate murdered him. And they do in circumstances that are ripe for confessionalism: Daniel’s fallen off the wagon and fallen hard. Adriana, who’s more effective with a thimblefull of words per sentence than most characters are with a whole dictionary, is irritated with him. “So be a good journalist,” she tells Daniel as he monologues about the afflicted and the comfortable. “Quit this shit. You were doing well.” But she’s the one not quite being a good journalist, not yet–she’s missed that there might be reasons for Daniel’s drive to oblivion beyond his lack of willpower. And like the good journalism teacher that he actually is, underneath the snark, Daniel encourages her to dig deeper.
“I helped kill David Tate’s wife and kid.,” Daniel tells her. “Six years ago. I was hanging out with Santi Sol Jr. and we needed more coke, so he went back across the bridge to get some more. He clipped that woman’s car…This is the part where I become a shitty human being. Instead of testifying, instead of comforting the afflicted, I just let Santi Jr.’s father buy me off. He just came to me one day and said Daniel, I have a big cock, I have a newspaper in Houston, I want you to work for me…I said yes. I said yes, I didn’t even hesitate, I said yes in two minutes flat.”
It’s a terrific speech, not just for Lillard’s performance as Daniel, but for what it reveals about the world of the show, something that’s been choked out of The Bridge by its serial killer plot. Suddenly, we have an illustration of how rich Santi Sol Sr. is that isn’t just an excuse for a party that brings some of the characters together. He owns a newspaper in Houston (a detail that seems like a clear nod to Carlos Slim Helú, formerly the world’s richest man and part-owner of the New York Times), and he cares enough about his son to reach out to people who could hurt his family personally. We’ve met minor lords of Juarez like Graciela and Fausto Galvan this season. But how much more interesting is Santi Sol Sr., who’s spent the entire season off-screen? I’d be fascinated to see an arc where Daniel sobers up, and he and Adriana decide to report the hell out of Sol-related corruption stories, finding themselves pulled into Sonya and Marco’s orbits once again as they investigate a new case that actually leads somewhere in Mexican and American institutions, instead of to a former FBI agent who’s gone mad.
But first Daniel has to get sober, a process that requires Adriana to admit that she’s invested in him. Daniel’s resistant to the idea of change, but when Adriana offers him a concrete option, a 7AM meeting, he confesses to her “You might be my only real friend.” “That’s pathetic,” Adriana tells him, and it’s exactly what he needs, a combination of honesty and a spur to get moving. And once they’re there, Emily Rios and Lillard work together in terrific tandem to give subtle shape to the partnership between their characters. Daniel starts out all bravado and bluster, declaring, “hank you for telling me that deeply depressing story, Sean. You actually make me feel really good about myself, so that was awesome. I had last my drink about 90 minutes ago and it was delicious.” But when Adriana slaps his leg, he switches course, as if he needed to get the performance out before he could plumb anything close to real. “Okay. Ah. Um. I don’t know you guys do what you do. it just seems kind of impossible to me. I tried. I try so hard and I get so far and I shit the bed and I get hammered, and life is so much better when you’re hammered. But I have cool people in my life who think I can change. I see a lot of cool people. Thank you. Who let me believe in myself. So thanks for that. Oh. God. So, whatever. I don’t have a watch or anything. But it is 8:22. And from this point on I’m going to give it a shot. I don’t know how it’s going to go. But shit, I’ll give it a shot.” At this point, theirs is one of the better friendships between a man and a woman on television (I’m excluding mentorship situations like Carrie and Saul): they’ll never get together because Adriana is gay, but week after week, The Bridge is giving us reasons to want to see them in the same room without the tired old driver of a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship. If only David Tate and his injectables could just stay out of it.
I still don’t want Tate to stick around and turn The Bridge into The Killing, but Tate served a valuable purpose this week in fleshing out two of the main characters whose survival I do hope for, Gus and Marco. In his blunt conversations with the son and the father, it was fascinating to see the power of Gus’s sensitivity and Marco’s utter carelessness, and to understand more of what Marco meant to Tate. “How old are you?” David wants to know of the terrified boy in his back seat. And there’s some real regret there when, on finding out that Gus is 19, Tate muses “Caleb would have been 17. You could have been friends. Caleb and Gus. Everything could have been different.” It’s heartbreaking to see Gus beg less on his own behalf than on his father’s, telling Tate “He’s a good person,” and insisting that even if Marco’s a rotten father at present, “he wants to be” better. Nothing Gus does will be effective here, we know, Tate’s too far gone for that, and developed an appetite for destruction that rivals Daniel’s taste for the bottle. But Gus’s sweet, stubborn faith in humanity is still touching.
And in keeping with the episode’s theme of friendship, there’s something stark and incredibly sad in the revelation of what a bad friend and lover Marco really is, something that cuts deeper than any of the horrors David Tate has subjected both Marco and us to. “Have you thought about me much, since my suicide?” Tate wants to know, and Marco has nothing to offer him but an honest “Not much.” When Tate explains “You knew I was crumbling, right? After she died? Shrink had me hooked on pills, the FBI fired me,” Marco can only tell him “I heard.” “But not one phone call,” Tate muses. “We were out of touch,” Marco justifies, and David tells him, “Funny how that happens.” It’s a brutal conversation, and it would have been brutal even without all the killings that preceded it. If only The Bridge had trusted us to get there without the body count.