The Bridge Season 1, Episode 3 ‘Rio’
Written by Meredith Stiehm
Directed by Charlotte Sieling
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on FX
It is clear by now that The Bridge wants to be a series that deals with all aspects of life in El Paso and Juárez, a world defined by the precarious relationship of two neighboring countries, one characterized by extreme poverty, the other by prosperity, and the series uses the hunt for a serial killer as a way into this world. Before the show can explore its loftier goals, it first has to address the killer’s dozen (and counting) murders. “Rio” is the first episode in the series to give this manhunt a sense of urgency.
Without a doubt, the first two episodes of the The Bridge suffered from dangling plotlines, but where the show had previously been ambiguous about the connection between the murder investigation and the suspicious Steven Linder and widow Charlotte Millwright, “Rio” finally begins to pull the strands of the story together. Thanks to Hector Valdez’s vicious attack on a neighbor and the presence of burned women’s clothing near his RV, shady social worker Steven Linder is now Sonya and Ruiz’s prime suspect. The fact that Linder virtually screams guilty likely means that he is a red herring, but there is certainly more to come in the search for his estranged sister. Charlotte, on the other hand, comes to be involved because of her husband’s wealth. One of the four richest men in El Paso, Carl Millwright – or rather his remaining estate and inheritors – is responsible for one fourth of the killer’s $1 million ransom. Naturally, El Paso police don’t intend to see this paid, but the second visit with Marco Ruiz triggers definite further involvement on Charlotte’s part.
Beginning with the discovery of the poisoned immigrants, this episode devotes itself to illustrating the randomness of the danger that people face both in Juárez and at the hands of our mysterious garble-voiced killer. To this end, we follow reporter Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard) and his colleague, Adriana Mendez (Emily Rios), into the city to find information on the missing tenth immigrant. What follows is a seemingly petty argument between two men in the street that ends with a gunshot to the head and a visibly shaken Frye nearly caught in the crossfire. While this scene successfully breaks with the shows heretofore deliberate pace, it also comes across as a clichéd mockery of the real danger. Frye’s entire trip down south played out far too much like the stereotype that the show has so far avoided.
As for the killer, he continues to terrorize and kill in the name of a cause. Here we see him pick up the missing Mexican immigrant on the side of the road only to tie her down in the middle of the desert and let the drama unfold on a live video stream unless a ransom is paid. Returning to the theme of white judge versus Mexican prostitute, he wants $1 million in ransom, with payments equally divided between the four richest men in El Paso. His reason: dialectics. “Poles. Two sides. America, Mexico. Legal, illegal,” Sonya explains. Even the series’ characters exist in diametric opposites: Cross and Ruiz; Frye and Mendez; Charlotte (Annabeth Gish) and her husband’s employer, Cesar; and even Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright) and his pursuer, Hector Valdez (Arturo del Puerto).
Personifying this doubleness in “Rio” is Damián Bichir. From one moment to the next, he switches from sympathetically consoling Charlotte Millwright to aggressively interrogating Steven Linder. Bichir’s performance so far has been a balancing act and an enjoyable one to watch. But “Rio” gives us a completely different look at the man when he goes to Charlotte’s mansion-ranch for a signature and hooks up with the recent widow. With very little elaboration of their motivations, this scene just doesn’t sit right, and this points to one of my biggest problems with the series so far. As a remake of the original Swedish/Danish series Bron, The Bridge has maintained the central plot points and characterizations of the original series almost exactly. That in itself is not reprehensible, but I have found myself searching for the writing, character motivations, and acting to back up these events. Try as they might, elements of the show simply fall flat, especially Kruger’s portrayal of Asperger’s. I can only hope that the writers find their footing and the show improves as the series continues.
The Bridge is still working out its kinks three episodes in, but “Rio” certainly shows promise for what’s to come. As an examination of a precarious part of the world, The Bridge is very stimulating. As a serial killer drama, so far it needs some work. And that may bode well for the creators’ intentions for the show. After all, the most exciting thing about this remake is its dynamic, compelling setting and subsequent immigration debate.
– If you haven’t noticed yet, Marco’s wife, Alma, is played by none other than Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace). We can only hope to see a brilliant turn from her as the series continues.
– If the killer garbles his voice for all of his phone calls to the police/Daniel Frye, why hire the voice actor three years earlier to record the initial messages? Is he intentionally leaving leads for the police?
– Hats off to Matthew Lillard. He may be giving the single most energetic performance of the show so far.
– Sonya: “What are you doing here? I can’t have sex at work.”
– Katherine Springer