Well, that’s a relief. The Bridge’s serial killer — the same man who has murdered judges, tossed interconnected corpses onto the U.S.-Mexico border, tied up immigrants in the Texas desert, decapitated FBI agents, slit the throats of law enforcement psychiatrists, and left numerous deep-throated, socially conscious voice mails — has finally been caught.
“We got him. It’s over,” Detective Marco Ruiz declared after Jack Childress — a mentally unstable loner who wrote a book called The Dialectics of El Paso del Norte, which proves he knows the same SAT words as the killer and therefore must be him — was apprehended and placed in El Paso police custody. Yep, it’s only episode seven but the Bridge Butcher murder case is now closed. So let’s just call next week a halfday and cancel the rest of The Bridge season one because all the issues have been resolved, right?
Uh, no. They haven’t been resolved at all, because the sudden arrival of Childress (a.k.a. GoGo from Sons of Anarchy) and his rapid evolution from Suspect No. 1 to the Guy Who Did It seemed too sudden, too easy, too in line with how a murder case would be wrapped up on a bad CBS crime procedural or a particularly lousy episode of Law & Order. The Bridge has earned our trust as a series of depth and intelligence, which is why it’s pretty obvious this Childress business is the midseason, head-exploding (R.I.P. Deputy Sheriff Manny Stokes) mega-red-herring on a drama that’s actively thrown some cured kippers — most notably Steven Linder’s brief status as murder suspect — in our path before. Question to ponder: Does the fact that this red herring is so damn obvious make The Bridge seem less deep and intelligent than it did just a week ago when, in this writer’s view, it delivered its best episode so far? Still mulling over that one.
To be fair, several characters didn’t buy into the Childress-as-killer explanation either. Daniel Frye immediately cast doubt on that scenario when fellow reporter Adriana mentioned the police were investigating the guy, a fact she learned from a source she didn’t name. “What’s the connection between him and Gedman, or the shrink, or Marco Ruiz, Body 23, or me, even?” Frye immediately wondered, adding, “There are no coincidences with this guy.” Too bad Frye — who almost certainly possesses some key information and sources that might be useful — suffered from an alcohol withdrawal seizure and may not wake up to investigate further.
Manny Stokes also was on the verge of sharing interesting insights about the qualities the suspect needed to possess. “If you were the killer and you were to go to all this trouble to do the beads and all these messages — ” he started to say, at which point his head got blown off in a moment almost as gasp-inducing as that time Arzt exploded on Lost. He never finished his thought, but it seems fair to assume he was going to say that the killer would probably have a pretty elaborate master plan in place, something Childress clearly did not, unless leaving an incriminating book in plain sight counts. (Then again: Walter White.)
Detective Sonya Cross, who took a Childress-fired bullet to the vest-protected chest, also expressed skepticism that they’d found their man. “He’s insane,” she told Marco regarding Childress. “I’m just not sure that the man who planned all this is insane.” Marco advised Sonya earlier in this episode that she should listen to her gut sometimes. Well, her gut’s telling her this isn’t right. And if Marco’s gut legitimately is telling him that this is right, well, Marco Ruiz’s gut is incredibly stupid.
The thing is, Marco can’t possibly be that dumb, can he? So what I’m wondering is this: Did Ruiz, perhaps in concert with Fausto Galvan, orchestrate a cover-up designed to shut down the Bridge Butcher investigation while Galvan’s people hunt down the real killer themselves, vigilante-drug-cartel-justice-style? As Adriana and Daniel noted last week, the killer knows about the connection between Marco and Galvan and possibly wants to expose it. Marco wouldn’t want that, and neither would Galvan. But Detective Ruiz possesses enough moral fiber to want to stop the loss of additional lives, which is why he might direct his childhood associate, the drug-running mass murderer, to take care of his current professional Achilles’ heel, the serial killer fixated on cross-border politics. There’s almost an odd poetic justice in that scenario: just let the two creepy assassins take care of each other so the rest of us can get on with our lives.
Clearly that’s just a theory and a theory that, like previous theories, could be proven wrong. For example: I’m backing away from my recent assertion that Tim Cooper is the killer. In this episode, that didn’t seem plausible at all, especially when he showed such sadness over the death of Stokes while exhibiting such a pleasant singing voice. I do maintain, however, that there’s something about his mullet that should give everyone pause.
But back on topic: rewatch the scene in which Sonya and Marco burst into Jack Childress’s place after having confirmed that he purchased a Crown Vic five years earlier that partially — partially — matched the engine block on the Bridge Butcher’s car. The detectives entered to find: a map of Juárez with coordinates prominently displayed on a large monitor; a dialectics book authored by Childress and sitting right by the door; a stash of guns and ammo; and a ton of pills in a bathtub that clearly Childress had been neglecting to take. “This is our guy,” Marco said — and that was before they even found the pills! The only thing missing was a flashing neon sign on the roof that said, “Jack Childress, Socially Conscious Serial Killer, Lives Here. Yes, That Socially Conscious Killer. It’s Me, Sonya. I DID IT.” That’s way too many coincidences for a guy that, as Frye rightly noted, is not about coincidences. And Marco was way too itchy to accept all of them at face value.
Also, there’s this: After Childress was in custody, Sonya asked him why he stayed to shoot. “My job wasn’t done,” he said. “I meant to kill the Mexican,” meaning Ruiz. Is it possible that Ruiz was working with Galvan on this cover-up, but Galvan had planned to use that to his benefit and bump off Marco? Or was Marco supposed to get shot, but, like Sonya, not killed, which would throw sympathy his way and further block any suspicion of him? Or, or: did the serial killer orchestrate this whole thing, using Childress’s madness as a means to throw everyone off-target and kill Ruiz by proxy? All of this sounds plausible but also, none of it could be on-target. That’s The Bridge for you: It acts like it’s tying up loose ends but actually, it’s just creating a whole bunch of new, unsecured knots.
Elsewhere in El Paso and Juárez this week, other alliances were forged. Ray, The Bridge’s resident sex-idiot, made an arrangement with Graciela that allows him to run guns through the tunnel in exchange for giving her oral pleasure. As twisted and undoubtedly disastrous as that partnership is, part of me had to give it up for Graciela; after watching bad guys demand oral sex in more movies and TV shows than I can count, it was weirdly refreshing to see a female baddie do it for a change. Meanwhile, Charlotte stupidly continued to trust Ray and also probably got herself pregnant with his child, a baby that presumably will emerge from the Wainwright womb with a seashell necklace already adorning his or her neck. (Ray: Lose the necklace. You can’t assert any authority with that thing on unless you work in a surf shop or operate a glow stick kiosk.)
Also: Alma, wife of Marco, began an affair with her supervisor, a story line that seems completely disconnected from the central Bridge narrative, but presumably will synch up somewhere. And then there’s Steven Linder, who, despite clearly having one of his eyes battered by Fausto Galvan, made an arrangement to rescue yet another Juárez female in trouble. That female, Sara Vega, happens to be the girlfriend of Galvan, who nearly shot Steven when he saw him talking to his girl. But given Linder’s commitment to preventing more women from becoming lost women, he’ll probably continue his efforts to save her. Linder is ultimately emerging as the true, unassailable hero of The Bridge, a fact that, like the bogusness of the Jack Childress arrest, serves as a reminder that it’s vital to look past the surface of things and probe more deeply — beyond stereotypes, beyond cultural assumptions, beyond book covers with the word Dialectics in the title — to find the truth.
That’s the sort of message that The Bridge’s serial killer has endorsed throughout this entire season. And that means that this episode’s red herring — which, by definition, is a distraction that should be dismissed — is actually something to which we must pay close attention. It means something, including this: that the Bridge Butcher case isn’t over. Not by a long, deputy-sheriff-obliterating shot.