The Bridge is a gasping, dry, police procedural, focusing on the border towns of El Paso (US) and Juarez (Mexico). Artistically, it has the suspenseful pacing of Hollywood hyperlink cinema with constantly unfurling interwoven stories and layers of and layers of plot. It masterfully knits together a huge cast of characters into a network of arcs and subplots that marries cops and criminals, predators and prey, assassins and corpses. The traditional battle between good and evil is played out within each character, and the stench of death hangs in the backdrop of every scene to remind them that each day could be their last.
Where The Bridge does well with modern-day realism are the female characters who are just as ruthless, calculating, and driven as the males. Franke Potente is chillingly delightful as a murderous Mennonite accountant with a horrific past and a secret that will send chills down your spine. Good job writers who managed to build a credible American gangster character around her unmistakable German accent and unconventional looks. And it’s nice to see storylines involving American police fighting just as hard to save Mexican girls as white American ones.
It also does well with portrayals of LGBT and autistic characters. A lesbian character is not over-sexualized, but is shown in a loving relationship despite unsupportive families. An autistic character struggles with social situations in a way that is realistically off-kilter but not funny, and her flair for detail makes her an exceptional detective. Far from being emotionless or cold, she makes very few but very deep attachments.
And The Bridge stays away from the very tired cliche of mixed-gendered partners who carry a torch for one another. Instead, it does a good job of showing true friendship between men and women, and the different ways that people can love each other non-romantically.
But where it ultimately falls down is that it is, at its heart, another portrayal of a Latin American country filled with drugs, crime, and corruption (a la Narcos, Sicario, Traffic, etc.) The Bridge apparently can’t resist the allure of racial and ethnic stereotypes on both sides, even if they are better-written and articulated than usual. While Mexican girls are at the forefront of many storylines, they are largely painted as helpless and hopeless victims who are overlooked and forgotten, even by close relatives (the sister of an investigative journalist goes missing and she doesn’t ask a single question). The American authorities are far less corrupt than the Mexican ones, and are predictably the heroes of every plotline. One character is so extreme in the ‘white savior’ stereotype (his mission in life is rescuing Mexican girls from prostitution) that it reminds me of a great line from the show Rosewood: “your savior complex has a savior complex”.
Should you watch the show? It’s amazingly intriguing and suspenseful.