'The Bridge': Crossing and Recrossing Borders

In The Bridge, the detectives find two half bodies laid out as if one, on the US-Mexican border, symbolic in a way that is both crass and inexplicable.

The Bridge

Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Demián Bichir, Diane Kruger, Ted Levine, Annabeth Gish, Matthew Lillard, Emily Rios, Catalina Sandino Moreno
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: FX
Creator: Elwood Reid, Meredith Stiehm
Air Date: 2013-07-10

"We have lots of bodies," says Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir), "We have lots of parts." A detective with the Chihuahua State Police, he's on the phone with Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), who's calling from the El Paso PD's homicide division. Marco rubs his face wearily, his voice low so as not to disturb his wife Alma (Catalina Sandino Moreno), asleep on the bed beside him. It's the start of The Bridge, the new FX series premiering 10 July, and Sonya has called Marco in the middle of the night because she's just discovered something about a body the two of them were standing over just a few hours before. Namely, it's not just one body, as they both assumed, but instead, it's two halves put together, laid out on the US-Mexico border.

As the two cops contemplate this symbolism in their separate spaces, a symbolism both crass and inexplicable, Sonya wants an answer to her first question: does Marco have an upper half of a body that might match the legs she has? In Ciudad Juárez, they do have - quite famously -- lots of bodies and parts, as this is the area where hundreds of women have been killed and gone missing since 1993. He promised to look into it in the morning. Sonya is unmoved: "Who can I call to look into it now?" When Marco agrees to look into it now, Alma wakes. "I can't tell if she's crazy or if it's just because she's a gringa," he sighs. His wife looks up at him from the bed, the digital clock blinking, 3:24am. "Maybe both," she says.

This notion of "both" shapes much of the action in The Bridge. This despite and because of its setting on the border and its arrangements of characters into a series of pairs, from the two detectives to a couple of reporters, the diligent Adriana (Emily Rios) and the egoistical Daniel (Matthew Lillard), to the affectionate father-daughter-like rapport between Sonya and her crusty-avuncular lieutenant, Hank (Ted Levine) and the tension-filled relationship between Marco and his boss, who tells him point blank to ignore a murder case owing to cartel pressures. Even as all of these seeming oppositions are set up, the show insists on the blurring of lines, the bridges as well as the borders.

This process of blurring is at once implicit and plain. As Marco and Sonya are joined in a partnership neither quite wants, his assessment of her behavior seems based on their interactions thus far: Sonya's stiff and chilly, determined and detail-oriented, traits associated with her as-yet unspecified Asperger’s syndrome -- about which the show's hints are hardly subtle, as in, after one particularly awkward interview with a victim's husband, she apologizes, "I'm sorry if I didn't exercise empathy."

As Sonya is self-aware, so too is Marco. He begins the series -- which is based on the Scandinavian Bron/Broen, where the initial body is left on a bridge between Denmark and Sweden -- feeling unmanned in a number of ways, and speaking directly to his frustrations. Up against all manner of restrictions on his investigations in Juárez (about which he complains, vaguely, to his boss), he appears to be as cold in his own way as Sonya is in hers: when she wonders out loud about evidence that's been left unprocessed ("Your name's on the report"), he sighs at her naiveté and also at his forced impotence, "My name is on a lot of reports."

This impotence is visible and somewhat performative in other scenes too, as when he stands at a distance, in door to his teenage son Gus' (Carlos Pratts) bedroom. Sniffing the air, Marco worries out loud, not that Gus is smoking dope, but that he's getting into a relationship with a local dealer. Less metaphorically, Marco submits to both gentle and cruel teasing by his colleagues concerning his recent vasectomy. But when he explains to Sonya that he's unable to sit down in her office because of lingering pain, he has to acknowledge, as she observes, that has just spent a couple of hours driving from Juárez to El Paso to deliver information on the torso and legs left on the bridge.

Here and elsewhere, self-awareness serves a purpose, for both Sonya and Marco. As they evaluate one another and the evidence accumulating before them, they're both looking as well to subvert systems. She sees flaws in social niceties, even as she tries to "Remember eye contact" as a way to put interview subjects at a false sort of ease; sometimes, Marco advises her, telling a lie to make someone feel better is okay, at which point she looks extra flummoxed. Marco sees flaws too, in so-called regulations that appear engineered to be corrupted; (as he puts it to Sonya, "From the bowl to the mouth, soup falls," an explanation she's not even close to accepting. "You should try harder," she asserts. He sighs, again, "Of course, I should."

Both Marco and you know that Sonya's right but also wrong, in her assumption that it's his effort alone that's at issue. Her doggedness can be off-putting, even annoying, but already Marco is observing her with a mix of admiration and wonder. If he's jaded by his experience, he might see in her perpetual artlessness a sort of art. As their investigation leads to more bodies and a more complicated case -- as it must in a TV series -- it's clear that, like most TV detectives, both Marco and Sonya are seeking a kind of truth, straight-ahead and identifiable. But as they both live in worlds where no such categorical truth exists, they might make sense too of the multiplicity, the blurring, and the both-ness of their findings.

This blurring has to do with border politics, of course. Hank raises the specter of current contexts (referring both to "anti-immigration legislation" and "the Dream Act"), but more immediately, the multiple crossings, by various drivers, from Juarez to El Paso and back again, are marked only occasionally by the usual border check (where, no surprise, some people get through and some people are targeted, depending on who pays what to whom). Whether it's a truck moving Mexicans or a smuggler moving drugs, the police transporting files or an ambulance carrying a wealthy heart attack victim, such crossing is both incessant and occasional, with each instance potentially prosaic and also tragic, inflected by race and gender, class and generation. In The Bridge, all bodies are at risk.


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