This post discusses plot points from the August 28 episode of The Bridge.
After last week’s episode of The Bridge, which was long on plot, but even longer on characterization, this week’s installment was apparently The One Where They Tie All The Things Together. To (traditionally) recap briefly, Jack Childress isn’t the killer. Instead, it’s a federal agent named David Tate who was partnered with the dead agent he decapitated, treated by the doctor whose throat he cut, seized Childress’ writings from his house, was cuckolded by Marco, and as a result, lost his wife after she, heading home from a liaison with our trusty hero, got clipped and killed by a drunk pal of Daniel Frye’s who was on his way home after a night of boozing and drugging at a strip joint. Tate can do all of this because he faked his own suicide and stole the identity of the man he killed in his own place, which has allowed him to romance Marco’s pregnant wife, with whom he is now driving off, presumably to do all sorts of nasty things to her.
I have to admit that while all of this is clever, it also left me more than a little cold. If Jack Childress actually were the killer, he and his bonkers ideas about El Paso Del Norte and the shared identity of Mexico and Juarez would be an interesting opportunity to explore the artificiality of the border and our attempts to keep people from crossing it, and the effects of apocalyptic rhetoric on people who live in marginal places. Instead, David Tate just turns out to be your average old genius revenge killer, taking out all the links in a chain that until now, only he was capable of seeing. It’s terribly mundane.
I think The Bridge might have been able to earn this revelation if it had spent a season or two on a more prosaic but infinitely more interesting project, sketching in the details of the societies and economies of both Juarez and El Paso. When the show gives us hints of that, as was the case in tonight’s glimpses of Graciela singing and drinking with a group of musicians on a streetcorner, or its quick sketch of Santi Jr. and his role in Juarez, it’s always the most interesting part of an episode of The Bridge. A show that was more willing to be slow, like The Wire, might have set an entire episode at the party Daniel sent Adriana to attend, an interesting freebie of a story that she’ll now turn into a blockbuster, and would have handled the characters such that it made sense that their presence their and all of their interactions during the evening felt like one of those magic paintings when it finally becomes clear. But The Bridge is so unfortunately tied to its central murder mystery that it can’t afford to linger too much.
That’s too bad, because its character moments continue to be tremendous. The relationship between Daniel and Adriana, in all its spiky tenderness, remains one of my favorite things on television this summer. “How are you feeling?” Adriana asks him when he returns to work.”Like a guy who just had a bigass seizure,” Daniel tells her tartly, but it’s clear his resistance to her, and urge to rib her, is fading away. “If I go, I will drink. A lot,” he tells Adriana with a bluntness that’s characteristic, but in this case, also raw and trusting. “So this is the new Daniel?” Adriana asks him. “I hate him,” Daniel tells her. “Have fun. Don’t let Santi Jr. seduce you. He’s turned a lot of gay girls straight. Wear a dress.” And while Daniel is ribbing her, there’s real pain, and well-handled history in the scene where Adriana’s mother tells her “Every night I pray that you find a boyfriend. God won’t forgive you if you don’t.” Some things don’t need to be spoken directly again to wound. When Adriana turns down Santi Jr., she’s true to herself and brave in resisting the pressure from her mother. But she also potentially leads to his death by giving David Tate a chance to corner him. That’s a plot mechanism that I find more compelling than the perfection of Tate’s scheme — it’s an illustration of the power of chance, rather than of fate.
And there’s a lovely surprise in the episode when, wounded by Tim’s frustrated outburst that “There’s got to be a limit to how much we indulge our village idiot savant here,” Sonya goes off by herself and finds comfort in an unexpected place. Marco’s son Gus, it turns out, has been harboring a bit of a crush on Sonya, and tried to show it with a box of chocolates. When Sonya tells him she doesn’t like chocolate, or secrets, Gus is embarrassed, telling her “I guess it was kind of crazy of me to think you might like me, too.” But his confession gives Sonya space to talk. “I’m. I’m not good with that,” she tells him. “People. Closeness…Um. I-I, it’s just-it’s hard for me. I just don’t know what people want. When to talk. When not to talk. Or when to walk away. I just don’t know.” And like his father, Gus responds with kindness and perception. “I think it’s hard for everyone. I’m the dummy who gave you the candy you didn’t want,” he reminds her, in a perfect illustration of why autism is a spectrum disorder. Even more so than the mystery of the serial killing, the biggest question hanging over this season is how Sonya survives in the department when Hank leaves. Gus’s kindness, and her response to it, is a sign that she may be able to stand on her own, as long as she has the Ruiz family to see her as Hank sees her, and to ask her the right questions.