FX’s ‘Bridge’ opening takes a toll

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Demien Bichir and Diane Kruger
Immigration and border control are divisive political topics in our country these days, so it’s not surprising that an edgy and ambitious cable channel like FX eventually would turn its attention in that direction.
Still, watching the opening of tonight’s new crime drama The Bridge had me wondering if I ever before had seen a new series that seemed so determined to make me change the channel.
The 90-minute episode opens on the bridge that connects El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. Traffic is at a standstill while officers investigate a crime scene that includes the lifeless body of an American judge well-known for her anti-immigration leanings, her corpse stretching dead-center across the border.
Among the group is El Paso Police Detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), who is quickly alienating everyone around her with her rude, impersonal manner. When she’s approached by a south-of-the-border counterpart, Juarez Detective Marco Ruiz (former Academy Award nominee Demian Bichir, A Better Life), Sonya brusquely rebuffs him and, when an ambulance comes up to the roadblock bearing a heart attack patient and his hysterical wife (Annabeth Gish) trying desperately to get to the nearest American hospital, Sonya coldly tries to blow them off since she doesn’t want them driving through her immaculate crime scene.
My mounting skepticism that a woman as tactless and empathy-challenged as Sonya would ever be hired to work on such a volatile beat was only aggravated further when she visits the grieving spouse of the victim and so infuriates him with her blunt interrogation – “Any affairs? Did she ever do drugs?” – that the man angrily orders her from his home.
It’s only a few minutes later, when Sonya is conferring with her boss, Lt. Hank Wade (Ted Levine, Monk), that we get the full picture: Sonya has Asperger’s syndrome, but Hank values her sharp focus and keen attention to details so much that he is willing to cope with the occasional flack Sonya’s lack of empathy provokes in many people.
Once we get past our own awkward first meeting with Sonya, The Bridge – which was adapted from a Scandinavian series — soon kicks in with some very provocative storytelling, as Sonya and Marco team up (much against her will) to investigate what turns out to be TWO murders, one from each side of the border. Secondary story lines involve Gish’s now-widowed character as she struggles to find out more about her wealthy husband’s secret business dealings, and Matthew Lillard’s turn as a shady El Paso newspaper reporter who starts to realize some of his tabloid journalism has ticked off some very dangerous people.
By the end of tonight’s premiere you, like I, probably will be eager for this thriller to continue, but that’s assuming you make it past the first 15 minutes or so – and frankly, in these short-attention-span times of ours, I’m not sure that’s a safe bet for many viewers. It’s obviously somewhat easier to accept Sonya’s prickly behavior once we understand what lies at the root of it, and I’m glad to see a primetime series other than NBC’s Parenthood that is willing to incorporate autism into the core of its premise. It helps, too, that Bichir is such a laid-back, affable presence, a nice balance to Kruger’s determinedly un-cuddly performance (in one scene, when Sonya studies an exsanguinated body and says, “They drained the blood – that’s neat,” I wasn’t sure whether she meant “neat” in the sense of “tidy” or “cool”).
For now, at least, I’ll be traveling this bridge every week to see where it takes me.

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