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Monday, October 06, 2014

The Bridge -- Season Two (Review)

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The Bridge
2014 FX Networks
Season Two
Score: 8/10


I think The Wire is the most overrated TV show of all time. It starts off at a crawl, it goes through vastly uninteresting stretches, it gets extremely preachy (outright telling you what to think about the drug trade in Season 3, and the school system in Season 4), and features, at times, some pretty terrible acting (I'm looking at you, principal). With that said, The Wire is still a pretty great show, and it does a wonderful job of creating a fully realized world and characters who feel important and vital to the fabric of the series...even when they don't factor into the major story-lines of The Wire's five seasons. The Bridge isn't there yet. It isn't a pretty great show, but it is a pretty good show, with some incredible moments. While The Bridge attempts to emulate The Wire's world-building, filling out its Mexican-US Border drug-corruption tale with a lovable cast of weirdos, it could take some lessons from The Wire's brilliant sense of continuity.
The Bad: Characters on The Bridge pop-up and disappear. Several characters vanish completely, their existence serving little purpose, and they are never followed up upon or mentioned again. As I wrote a moment ago, the continuity just isn't solid. This extends to the series' plotting, as well. While the first season of The Bridge found a solid-core in a serial-killer story, the serial-killer ended up being that season's main-detriment. Freeing the series from this sillier element allows The Bridge to look into the more interesting details of its world, but it also makes the show a bit aimless. While the plot comes together in the last episodes, there are stretches of the second season where the Bridge just doesn't feel like it is going anywhere. Series lead, Detective Sonia Cross, portrayed by Diane Kruger, is also mishandled just a bit. She goes through a clear arc in the first season, overcoming several of the detrimental aspects of her (unstated) Asperger Syndrome to tell a much needed lie at a key moment near the finale. Her arc in this second season, though, is a bit muddled. She does grow a bit, but she also seems to regress at points just to fuel the plot. In particular, her distrust of others at certain moments stretches credibility. Finally, Sonia makes a key choice in the finale's final moments that should seem bigger than it does, and this is because the season did not quite focus enough on the particular factors leading to it.
The Good: For a show that intentionally moves like the Rio Grande on a hot day, The Bridge is imminently watchable. Characters have hushed conversations, the ambient soundtrack lightly drones, and it's impossible to look away. Something is incredibly endearing about these characters and this world they inhabit, even though that world is not as fully realized as it could be. Detective Cross and her sometimes partner, Mexican detective, Marco Ruiz, are very engaging screen presences. Marco, played by Demian Bichir, is allowed a clear arc this season. Detective Ruiz, despite his failings as a man, comes to realize he may be the only one who can stand up for his city. Bichir makes the most of Marco's transformation, starting off in a place of grief, growing more resolute by the episode. The Bridge's greatest strength, as in season one, are the oddball side characters. Franka Potente puts in a marvelous performance as ex-Mennonite, now cartel minion, Eleanor Nacht. Potente's quiet, yet terrifying screen presence places every scene she's in on tilt. Lyle Lovett returns as Monte P. Flagman, situation fixer, and western wardrobe connoisseur. Ramón Franco does standout work as Fausto Galvan, an everyman drug-lord in a blue gardener's cap. As many colorful characters as The Bridge has at its disposal, the stars of season two are undoubtedly Emily Rios and Matthew Lillard, as dogged El Paso newspaper reporters, Adriana Mendez and Daniel Frye, respectively. Any time the season threatens to lose focus, one scene with this duo can put it back on track. Lillard in particular gives the performance of his career, as an addict who can't give up booze, or a good story, and in that order. As the two close in on the truth of the situation, and the US government's involvement grows murkier and murkier, the season really takes off. In the finale, as a rogue CIA agent threatens Mendez, Lillard does a bit of acting with his eyes that's moving enough to earn him some awards on its own. These raised stakes come as a consequence of great plotting in the final batch of episodes, particularly after a bloodbath at the end of episode nine. This redeems much of the plot rambling and slowness of the earlier portions of the season, not enough to place the show into the pantheon of "classic," but enough to at least qualify it as a cult one. The continuation of season one's absolutely jet black humor also helps with the cult designation. Whether it's Lovett rolling up his jeans so he won't get blood on them, then stiffing the children's charity at the boot cleaner's, or one particular character projectile vomiting at the worst possible moment, The Bridge can find humor in the darkest of situations.
So in the end, quirky, memorable characters and some excellent, deep plotting late in the season outweigh The Bridge's early inconsistencies. Greatness frustratingly eludes The Bridge, yet, in what might be its final season, it remains one of television's better options, and certainly, one of its most unique.

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