The second-season finale of The Bridge, which aired last night on FX, reminded me of the first-season finale of HBO’s True Detective. After weeks of discursive philosophical meandering and interesting narrative exploration, both shows wound up in overfamiliar locations. The specific setting of The Bridge’s big climax (the shade of an old oak tree) was largely irrelevant, because, despite endless references to maps and GPS coordinates—including a last-second super-zoom-out that let us see the setting from a great distance—we never really learned the show’s geography. But the real disappointment was the predictability of the payoff: After weeks of teasing, and too much time spent on daddy and mommy issues, the mysterious human resident of the wooden cage turned out to be Eleanor Nacht’s aged father, and his crime was serious television’s go-to heinous offense: incest. Eh.
There was no shortage of action: Mexican cop Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) saved the junkie daughter of businessman Sebastian Cerisola (Bruno Bichir) from Cerisola’s former partner, cartel boss Fausto Galván (Ramón Franco), and took Galván into police custody. The obnoxious Alex Buckley was killed after every cop, DEA agent, FBI man, and reporter in Texas figured out that he was the CIA agent helping the cartel get its drugs across the border. Lovelorn weirdo Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright) somehow survived being shot at close range by a corrupt Mexican policeman. Reporters Adriana Mendez (Emily Rios) and Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard) appeared to snag the scoop of the century, though it wasn’t quite clear how being allowed to spend time with Buckley’s body was going to turn a lot of wild claims into a confirmable story, especially after Frye had alienated every editor in Texas with his drinking and drugging ways. Sometimes, detectives Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and Hank Wade (Ted Levine) operated with the full support and backup of the El Paso Police Department, and sometimes they seemed to be lone individuals outnumbered and outgunned by narco-traffickers, rogue cops, and corrupt government agents—and over the course of the last few episodes, I never really understood why they were doing anything they did.
There’s a lot more that I’m confused about: Why did Sonya Cross sleep with the brother of the guy who killed her sister, and then why did he just disappear? Why didn’t we hear anything about Mendez’s sister who went missing at the end of last season, thus becoming one of the many lost women of Juarez, even though Mendez was even more central to the plot this time around? And why didn’t we learn what was in Eleanor Nacht’s ledger once Cross cracked the code?
I could go on, but I won’t, because in spite of all my carping, The Bridge is a show that I absolutely adore, and Season 2 was far superior to the freshman outing, which stuck to the outline of the Scandinavian original in ways that made no sense on the Texas-Mexico border. Sure, I have some complaints—see the previous three paragraphs—but I am awestruck by the show’s ambition, and nothing else on television affects me quite so viscerally. I’m not talking about a reaction to the violence and gore, of which there is an amount commensurate in style and quantity to what happens on our drug-infested southern border. I mean something akin to the way that poetry can bring on tears more quickly and more effectively than any other art form. I’m pretty certain that I have never personally experienced anything—not one single thing—that happened to any of The Bridge’s characters over the last 13 weeks. And yet, at times, their fear, their confusion, their bizarre self-confidence, and their doomed striving felt absolutely immediate and real to me.
Perhaps I’m projecting that literary connection because I know that showrunner Elwood Reid is a novelist who, despite having done a lot of writing for television, identifies most with the bookish part of his résumé. In a fascinating interview with Alan Sepinwall, Reid described his storytelling style as an attempt “to show the ripples when you throw a rock into a story pond. I wanted to write about those ripples, versus just the rock going into the water, which I think a lot of television does.” Whatever the show’s flaws, I felt those ripples.