Monday, September 23, 2013

The Bridge Episde 4 Review: Maria of the Desert

Because this episode had a clearly delineated storyline with a beginning, middle, and highly cathartic end, “Maria of the Desert” felt very much like a procedural. Someone could have tuned in and, without being clued in on the back story, enjoyed the plot as a stand-alone episode. A girl’s slow death from heat exhaustion being broadcast out over the internet while a team of cops tries to save her is good enough fodder for anyone to enjoy.

At the same time, this episode is a great case study for how serialized TV in this Golden Age has evolved past the procedural. In an episode of “Monk”, “Murder She Wrote”, “Columbo”, or ten million other shows of that ilk. We know the killer will be caught by the end of the episode using the hero’s super-abilities.

In contrast, we had no idea in this episode if Sonia’s super-Asperger crime fighting skills will beat the clock and save the girl because we have no pre-established conventions to lean on. A serialized show like “The Bridge” establishes a universe whose rules we uncover as we go and that makes the suspense truly genuine. Add a couple moderately eye-popping twists on top of that and you’ve got the kind of kinetic episode that moves this show closer to must-see territory (although for the record, I don’t think any show is must see in this Golden Age).

A pretty pervasive complaint is that the killer is omniscient and, therefore, kind of boring. I’m in agreement there, but the show is about Sonia, Marco, and their respective universes. The killer doesn’t need any characterization for the show to feel rich, or even for the murder mystery to feel daunting enough. Far more interesting are the two baddies south of the border that we’re introduced to in this episode and I thought it was very notable that neither one looks particularly menacing. Fausto Galvan, the big drug lord, looks like a tourist or retiree with his polo shirt and golf hat. The other unholy influence on Juarez, Graciela, looks like a sweet old church lady.

This speaks to the show’s larger strength of developing its characters at an optimal pace. Marco, in particular, has a lot of solid character moments here. We knew about his marital indiscretion and some of us might be quick to judge him but the show aims to narrow the differences between a “good family man” verses a man who made an error in judgment. Scene by scene, little moments are sprinkled in that ask us to consider Ruiz as a man of good character: He treats Sonia with sensitivity, he’s determined to cut through the red tape if it means helping someone, he bought the underappreciated secretary flowers, and he clearly resists bad influences.

In contrast, peripheral characters like Charlotte’s ranch hand Cesar or her stepdaughter are fine with minimal development. They’re only important in how they relate to Charlotte and while her connection to the main plot (outside of sexing up Ruiz) is still somewhat distant, it’s narrowing and where these storylines intersect is something I'll stay tuned for.

Some other notes:
  • I kind of enjoyed the scene of Galvan spraying nail polish remover into that guy’s face, but there were so many things logistically wrong with that scene: If I may nitpick a little. 1. How did he know that guy wasn’t just getting up to go to the bathroom? 2. Why would that guy attack Galvan? Even if he had a motive, he had to be aware of the repercussion. 3. Why was Galvan unscrewing the bottle before the guy got up? 4. It was an unlabeled bottle so how did he know it wasn’t just water? Can you imagine how dumb it would have looked for him to splash water on a guy while trying to be menacing? He might as well have bought a super soaker.
  • Linder seems a bit cartoonish with his mutton chips and overdone accent, but I can see the point in making him weird-looking to illustrate the notion that this is a weird world we’re being taken into.
  • The interference conflict with the FBI wasn’t particularly interesting. Delving into inter-bureau politics is something procedurals often think we find interesting and that’s usually not the case.
  • Why didn’t the philanthropists give the money to save the girl? I think the episode would have been better served with a scene or two of the philanthropists deciding whether or not to give the ransom. Especially considering the Millwood widow is one of the show’s main characters. All she does is wander into the station and give Marco’s wallet.
  • The big “tunnel” is extremely underwhelming on screen. It looks like a tunnel borrowed from a cheap-B movie set in a mine. Would it be too big a production cost to show where the tunnel opens up on the Millwood property? -Anyone mildly familiar with religious cults would find the god ranch Linder sends Eva too seems equally as scary as the world she came from.
  • I kind of like that Frye is unapologetically a jerk. If he were just a little less of a jerk (or rather less self-aware of what he is) or more of one, he’d be a dislikeable character.