music friday, robin's birthday edition
what i watched last week

the bridge, season one finale

I gave the pilot for The Bridge an A-, noting the fine cast (Demián Bichir is a favorite, and Diane Kruger was interesting), and describing the possibilities that might make The Bridge a classic: “the buddy picture, the procedural, the autistic heroine, the border between Mexico and the USA”.

None of these were particularly groundbreaking on their own, but the combination was intriguing, and I looked forward to watching the show progress. How did they do?

The “buddy picture” retained interest, which makes sense … we got to know the characters better as the series continued. Both characters exposed sides that weren’t expected. Kruger had the harder job, given the awkward nature of her character. Bichir was able to ride the goodwill that accompanies his screen presence, and rewarded our attention.

My reference to the “autistic” heroine demonstrated my own ignorance … Kruger’s Sonya Cross had Asperger syndrome, not autism. In my defense, I’ll note that the show took its time explaining exactly what her condition was … she was clearly “different”, but they purposely let a specific diagnosis emerge only gradually, if at all. Some critics felt this was a bad move … one commented that without an explanation for Cross’ behavior, the audience might just think Kruger was doing a poor job of acting. (This wasn’t the case … she’s one of the best thing about the series.) There’s a leap of faith involved in accepting Sonya’s presence in the police department … she’s not just a cranky genius like House, who purposely acted out, she’s someone who really lacks social skills. She most resembled Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison on Homeland, minus the manic element.

The procedural aspect was the least interesting, to me. I don’t generally watch that type of show, and wasn’t going to be too concerned one way or the other, unless it crapped out like The Killing. I’ll leave it to others to decide how effective The Bridge is in that regard.

I was most interested in the depiction of life on the border, and for most of the season, I felt this was the strongest part of the show. Both sides of the border were corrupt … perhaps it’s better to say, they were connected in their corruption. Having said that, as the overall plot arc grew, it became clear that Juárez was supposed to be worse than El Paso. It’s not the ugliness that was bothersome, but rather the way Juárez seemed to be the home of most of that ugliness.

Robert Andrew Powell wrote a piece for Grantland, “Burning The Bridge”, that addressed what he saw as the show’s problematic representation of Juárez:

I didn't think it could be done to a town with a reputation as bad as Juárez's, but the writers of The Bridge have delivered a cheap shot. They've revealed themselves as out-of-touch Americans, the latest to marginalize Mexico for personal gain. Their show is offensive and perplexing. Authenticity is the stated aim. The model, supposedly, is The Wire. Yet they don't care to get the city right? Obviously they don't spend time here. But why not? Are they scared?

In particular, Powell cited the study of two anthropologists, a Juárez newspaper publisher, and the city’s U.S. consul general, all contesting the “myth” of Juárez as a place where women are constantly in danger. All agree that Juárez has endemic problems that often end in violence. All also agree that women are not specially endangered. As Powell writes, “Focusing only on dead girls is like focusing on only murdered left-handers, or baseball fans. You can do it, and the victims deserve justice, but it's a bit odd to single out only one group when more than 97 percent of all murders in Juarez go unsolved.”

Powell isn’t going to be happy with Season Two, since all indications are that the “lost women” of Juárez will be the key plot arc next year.

As a basic dramatic move, the sensationalized portrayal of the border works. To say that The Bridge has problems isn’t to say it’s worthless. If for no other reason, it deserves credit for showing Matthew Lillard, who was seemingly born to play Shaggy in Scooby-Doo, shining as a reporter with substance abuse issues. There is a lot to like about The Bridge. But I’m no longer certain I’m seeing a realistic depiction of the border. Gritty, yes. Well-made, yes. Realistic?

Grade for Season One: B+.

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