Recap and review of The Bridge – Season 1 Episode 2 – Calaca:
The Bridge follows up on last week’s stellar premiere with one of the more complicated second episodes I’ve seen a new series present, right out the gate. Granted, this is all a byproduct of the fact that The Bridge is a much more complex show, beneath the surface, than it initially might appear. It would be easy to distill it down to its most sensationalist basics, with a bisected body dropped directly at the border between Juarez and El Paso, and investigated by two cops with a host of personal issues to confront:
“Calaca” immediately gets to the root of last week’s mysteries by revealing that the late husband of Charlotte (Annabeth Gish) was concealing an underground railroad of sorts between Texas and Mexico, in which he transported illegals with the help of his right-hand man, Cesar. It’s an intriguing, though unsurprising, development. If nothing else, the storyline introduces us to one of the most amusing characters of the series so far, besides Matthew Lillard’s Daniel Frye: lawyer Monty P. Flagman (Lyle Lovett), who looks and sounds like he stepped right off the set of Dallas. He’s a cynical sort with humor and witticisms to spare, and I’ll be interested to see how he factors into the larger story arc, since it’s still not immediately apparent what Charlotte has to do with anything (which is not to say she isn’t intriguing in her own right). However, storylines such as these serve to further illustrate the scope of the series, which is more about the border itself than about any singular group of people with which it’s associated. Take, for example, last week’s super-creepy stranger, who abducted a woman last week and locked her in his trailer. His name is Steven (Thomas M. Wright), and though we have no real way of knowing that he isn’t the killer, he seems way too obvious a choice to actually be the evildoer, even if he is stuffing Mexican women in trunks and transporting them across the border. He seems like a solid enough suspect, but I feel as though Steven’s storyline presents a more obvious potential suspect in the form of a brutish cartel member who goes around strangling witnesses in his search for the girl who disappeared in the pilot. In the contrasting scenes between this cartel member and Steven, the series builds the world which these characters inhabit — a world represented in the politics of the border, and of the bridge itself.
There’s Marco, for example, who learns he has another child on the way, despite having gotten a vasectomy. It’s a minor development, but representative of the virility and power he still wields, even while his boss attempts to do his best to keep Marco’s investigation from ever really taking off. In many ways, Marco’s boss is emblematic of the kind of cop the killer is trying to remove from society — a fat-cat who takes bribes, destroys evidence, and doesn’t particularly seem to care about the victims, given the number of case files that dance across his desk. However, Marco is the antithesis of this model — a good man who tries his best, even in the face of scarce evidence and untenable circumstances. He may be a family man, but he’s forthrightly dedicated to catching the killer — far more than any of his colleagues, save for Sonya Cross, who obsesses about the case, even after a one night stand with a random stranger. Sonya continues to be the most fascinating character on the show, beholden to her lack of social graces, yet compelled by her own intellectual and physical interests. She picks up a stranger at a bar for a quickie, and then immediately goes back to looking at crime scene photos from the case. Sure, the killer’s threatening recording ends up leaking to the press as a result of her investigation, but she does make some progress. It turns out the Mexican half of the body uncovered last week, Cristina Flores, was dumped in the same house as the brother of a cartel leader.
But the central intrigue of the border itself is best represented in the band of immigrants that attempt a perilous crossing in this episode, as a group of nine follow a young woman’s directions across the treacherous terrain. However, things quickly sour once she tries to stop the party from drinking what she perceives to be poisoned water. It’s a fascinating subplot that factors into the killer’s broader arc, presenting us with a crime scene on which to end the episode, as the killer continues his/her reign of terror. There’s a statement being made, and even though the characters have plenty to go on, in their own right, it’s hard to know for sure. This kind of complexity makes for compelling television, even if it can occasionally be difficult to follow. That said, the show continues to offer excellent work from Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir. In addition, the writing exhibits a strong ear for dialogue, as these characters never sound forced or overly scripted. There’s a reason this is the sort of show that’s difficult to recap: there isn’t really any way to do it justice in a write-up.
There’s a measure of irreducible complexity to the proceedings that are best experienced. But beyond that, it’s hard to know, at this early stage, what relation one scene has to another. And in that sense, The Bridge is one of the most compelling shows on TV, since there’s an understanding, on the surface, that each of these scenes will pay off somewhere down the line. However, the payoff is not immediately apparent, and the show does tremendous work in stringing that eventual payoff along. The killer could realistically be anyone, but even then, I get the sense that the identity of the killer doesn’t matter nearly as much as the implications of what the killer’s actions could mean for border politics. And that’s enough to put “Calaca” into the win territory, as the show continues to tell stories that aren’t easily reduced to the margins of televised storytelling. There is depth to what The Bridge is doing, even if what it’s doing — presenting a gritty police procedural informed by international politics — isn’t necessarily novel.