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'The Bridge' lacks understanding of the border relationship

by Andrés Rodríguez // July 11, 2013 // Perspectives

'The Bridge' lacks understanding of the border relationship

The international bridge at Stanton Street in El Paso, Texas. May 10, 2013. (Anthony Martinez/Newspaper Tree)

Editor’s Note: Newspaper Tree is exploring different views from the El Paso-Juárez community on the FX television show "The Bridge. This is a part of that series.

FX’s new murder-mystery series, “The Bridge,” is filled with seeming opposites—it’s set on the U.S.-México border after all—and it mostly succeeds in setting these up, if a bit superfluously.

“The Bridge,” a remake of a Scandinavian television series, begins with the discovery of a women’s corpse right smack the middle of the Bridge of the Americas in El Paso-Juárez. The body, we later learn, belongs to two women—the top half to an El Paso judge, the bottom to a young, Juárez maquiladora worker.

From there the pilot, directed by Gerardo Naranjo (“Miss Bala”), churns slowly as Diane Kruger, a U.S. police detective, and Demián Bichir, of the Chihuahua state police, begin to work together to solve the crime. Side stories also surface, including that of a young girl kidnapped and smuggled into the U.S., the death of an affluent rancher, and an El Paso Times reporter used as a pawn in the criminal’s game.

It’s gruesome stuff, and although it’s based loosely on the femicides and drug wars in Juárez, the series does not appear to aim at documenting these issues. They are making the story dramatically accessible. The border, the murders and the contrasts found throughout are thus hammered as metaphors that come in twos—El Paso/Juárez, safe/unsafe, White/ Hispanic, English/ Spanish, good cop/bad cop.

The two border cities, beautifully shot, are presented as independent of one another, exemplified best by Kruger’s character, Sonya Cross. She knows virtually nothing about Juárez and we never quite get the sense that there’s much cooperation between both of the cities until they begin work on the case. Sonya questions why Juárez has so many more murders than El Paso, and Marco Ruiz (Bichir) explains that it’s complicated.

Kruger’s Sonya can come off as annoying and cold. Future episodes reveal she has Asperger’s, but there’s something to her frigid nature that makes her relationship with Marco work well. Bichir (“A Better Life”) plays the Mexican detective with subtlety. He’s a family man, friendly, and knows the game. Supporting characters played by Annabeth Gish, Ted Levine and Thomas M. Wright, are also well cast.

“The Bridge” clears away from being a white savior type of drama so often found in U.S.-Mexico representations, but it still doesn’t quite have a good grasp of the border relationship. Yes, past years might have hurt El Paso-Juárez relations, but we aren’t at that point of complete disconnect.

They don’t necessarily take sides, but, as Bichir has said, depictions of El Paso do favor those of Juárez. Although El Paso’s integrity is called into question by the alleged serial killer near the end when he asks “How long can El Paso look away?” in regards to the femicides.

Producers have admitted to catering to the Hispanic audience for ratings with the use of Spanish, and for the most part the switching back and forth between languages works. To be certain this isn’t a fully bilingual drama, English reigns over Spanish at least in the pilot, but it’s refreshing to hear full conversations in Spanish in quality cable drama.

Executive producer, Elwood Reid, has expressed his hope for this to be a “The Sopranos” or “Mad Men” for Spanish speakers, and although there are instances that show potential, it just doesn’t quite live up to that yet, in Spanish, English, or both.

Andrés Rodríguez is a ‘Newspaper Tree’ Intern and a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso, majoring in Spanish and English and American literature. He is part of the editorial staff at Student Publications, where he edits the bilingual student magazine, ‘Minero Magazine.’ Andrés is a native El Pasoan, raised in Ciudad Juárez. His interests include cultural exchanges in the border region, education and film.

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