Though not as universally revered as winter launch “The Americans,” FX’s freshman drama “The Bridge” has proven itself to offer a reliably-entertaining, uniquely-voiced take on the cop drama. Fueled by gritty visuals, a dark tone and a revelatory performance from star Diane Kruger opposite charismatic co-star Demian Bichir, “The Bridge” has earned a must-watch tag from a small, but passionate audience.
“The Bridge” is not, however, without its flaws.
Notably, the show’s decision to overload its narrative with side plots and characters has both compromised its focus and forced viewers to deal with some dramatic duds.
A groanworthy storyline centered on Annabeth Gish’s character’s descent (or ascent?) into the world of cross-border smuggling, for instance, has functioned like a vice tax viewers must pay to enjoy the show’s stronger elements.
And though other focuses, such as that involving Thomas Wright’s Good Samaritan character Steven Linder, have been more compelling, their resonance has been tempered by poor structural pacing. For all its success in eliciting magic from its individual scenes, the show routinely struggles to properly assemble its hourlong episodic puzzles.
Need proof? How about a recent episode, in which a storyline centered on Linder’s effort to retrieve a young girl from Fausto’s (Ramon Franco) domain ended abruptly with no sense of resolution and even less sense of consequence?
But regardless of its individual failings, “The Bridge” always manages to make its big moments work. The revelation that David Tate (Eric Lange) had orchestrated the show’s early murders suffered from a clear lapse in logic, but because Tate’s performance was so compelling and the series’ objective even more so, viewers were ultimately left with something satisfying.
And though its climax was essentially a carbon copy of the “what’s in the box?” scene from “Se7en,” the resulting emotional impact on Bichir’s Marco Ruiz made the cheese far easier to swallow.
When “The Bridge” wants to strike a chord with viewers, it does.
And it wanted to strike a chord with its season finale, which airs Wednesday evening.
That chord–the most paramount and obvious objective of the episode–is to bring Marco’s emotional potpourri of pain, revenge, sadness and helplessness to a crossroads. It is to introduce a faithful, organic shock into the life of a good-hearted man who has been on both the giving and receiving end of some significant transgressions.
Presented effectively by Bichir right up until the episode’s final shot, the narrative also benefits from Diane Kruger’s continuously phenomenal work (save for her accent woes) as Sonya Cross.
The distance and communicative struggles resulting from her tragic past and autism have long made connection, outside of father-figure Hank (Ted Levine). Long unaware of how to let people in and unconvinced she even wanted to forge meaningful connections, Sonya became a prisoner of humanity due to the circumstance of the murder on the bridge.
Her mandated partnership with Marco transformed from a business relationship into one of trust, doubt, dependence and frustration, and the result is that Sonya feels as objectively obligated to Marco’s emotional recovery as she does to the rules, laws and judgment she previously treated as the totality of social convention.
And insofar as Sonya is not suddenly free of her affliction–or an expert in socialization–Marco’s internal struggle is even more tragic. Sonya can recognize sadness, but she has always viewed it as a passive emotion. Seeing it manifest as job-compromising anger, recklessness and loss of focus is troubling, and it only compounds her concern for her partner, a man whom she otherwise trusts, respects and actually wants to weave into her life.
Sonya’s mental struggle amplifies the resonance of Marco’s internal battles, prompting viewers to express additional joy over Marco’s progressions and additional devastation over his regressions.
Save for the latest tedious turn in the Charlotte/Ray/Cesar storyline, the episode’s other focuses each bring something valuable to the table. Linder is not a major factor, but the resolution to his search for Eva enables Wright to showcase his subtle emotional palette. The strong, combined and individual, performances of Matthew Lillard (Frye) and Emily Rios (Adriana) make their scenes, however superfluous for this particular episode, watchable.
That superfluousness cannot, however, go unaddressed. Neither of Adriana’s two storylines is technically low-stakes–one, in fact, culminates in a very dramatic cliffhanger–but their noncommittal treatment by the overall episode suggests otherwise.
No matter how sincerely foreshadowed and well-acted the pivotal scene is, since Adriana’s piece of the overall narrative has always been a secondary focus, the reveal cannot possibly resonate to its fullest potential.
Despite resolving its initial case in less than a season, “The Bridge” has been protective of its slow build. Renewals are never guaranteed for freshman dramas–and this one’s did not even come until last week–but the show never functioned like a one-and-done series. Its priority for this season has, first and foremost, been about crafting a storytelling environment rather than revolving one.
Wednesday’s finale stays true to that philosophy; though it begins to foreshadow how the different plot threads could conceivably come together, it does not make too many sweeping declarations of that end. As far as the explicit narrative goes, it leaves several storylines in their isolated packages.
Theoretically, that is the right move. Patience is a necessity for any effective, and no one watching “The Bridge,” in particular, is seeking a rapid rush to the reveal of how the different storylines weave together. “The Bridge” is (thankfully) not “Touch.”
In practice, however, the strategy also yields a negative outcome. Insofar as there is a clear narrative hierarchy, the lack of cohesion between the main scenes (those involving Kruger and Bichir) and the auxiliary ones dampens the impact of those auxiliary developments.
Everything that happens to the lead characters, no matter how trivial in the grand scheme of things, feels important and meaningful. Unfortunately, everything that happens to the side characters, no matter how independently significant, feels like a small checkpoint on the overall journey.
No one is denying the lure of its two leads, but as “The Bridge” returns to the drawing board for season two, it needs to recognize the power of its supporting cast and assure that those talented performers are given an opportunity to derive real meaning, emotion and consequence from their scenes.