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The Bridge Recap: All Setup, No Action

THE BRIDGE - "The Crazy Place"

It doesn’t feel good to end the first season of The Bridge on this note. But a recapper cannot tell a lie: This was, unfortunately, a two-star episode after twelve weeks of installments that regularly earned three- and four-star ratings, and, in some cases, the big five. After resolving the serial killer plot two episodes ago, then opening the lens even wider last week to finally focus on the lost girls of Juárez, it seems The Bridge just ran out of season-one gas.

If I may be permitted to use one final border-related analogy (for now), The Bridge has always danced close to the line that separates deep, intelligent crime dramas from standard TV serial-killer fare, while usually remaining on the smarter side of that divide. But this week’s hour, called “The Crazy Place,” didn’t feel quite as smart as usual. Marco Ruiz — who, as of just one episode ago, seemed headed back toward equilibrium — snapped into full-on vengeance mode. Charlotte Wainwright & Co. were being followed by a binocu-stalker named Arliss Frome. And Daniel Frye and Adriana Mendez started to receive mysterious messages, this time in handwritten form. The expression on Emily Rios’s face when she opened that note — “Forget the money. Who is Millie Quintana?” — conveyed what many viewers may have been thinking: “Ugh. Really? This crap again?” Honestly, the Day of the Dead–style preview imagery for season two of The Bridge, which aired after this finale ended, was more oddly gripping than anything that happened in this actual episode, which existed primarily as setup for the drama that will unfold in 2014.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I am suffering from finale fatigue and, therefore, am excessively grumpy about this season-one closer. Maybe the sound of “Livin’ on a Prayer” as performed by a mariachi band just makes me want … well, want a little bit more out of life. I am sure you will tell me in the comments.

Before you head there to embark on your “I’ve got two stars for you right here!” rants, let’s pause to assess where we’ve left some of our key characters.

Charlotte Wainwright
Let’s begin with Charlotte, since I made a huge mistake about her situation in last week’s recap. Contrary to my interpretation of the vague, threatening language Fausto previously used with Charlotte, Ray has not been killed. When Fausto told her that he cut off the American’s “dick, balls, and lips and sent them to his wife,” he must have been referring to the dick, balls, and lips that belonged to the late Tim. Because this week, there was Ray-Ray again, standing alongside Charlotte and Cesar, while Monty (Lyle Lovett came back! And he brought his big hat!) instructed them to establish an official front operation (Millwright Transportation Services) to cover up their actual tunnel operation.

I do apologize for that error, but in my defense, I’d just like to say: How is Ray still standing at the end of this season when he’s been so stupid? Has his seashell necklace filled him with secret immortal powers? Also: I like my version better. The notion of Charlotte having to deal with Galvan sans Ray, with only Cesar by her side, would have created a more urgent, compelling conflict.

Look, I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: I am really tired of the whole tunnel subplot. I get the point of it: to highlight the fact that wealthy Americans like the Wainwrights are contributing to the illegal movement of drugs, guns, and human beings across the border, proving that the issues between the U.S. and Mexico transcend ethnicity, culture, and class. Fine. Duly noted. But the tunnel narrative just never advanced this season because we never got a focused picture of the nature of the activity down there. What’s more, I still have no sense of Charlotte Wainwright as a person. We know she’s good with a gun. We know she can be ruthless. We know she’s willing to use sex to get what she wants and, based on this week’s episode, that she snacks while she grocery shops. Beyond that, she’s a one-dimensional mystery. For Annabeth Gish’s sake, let’s hope she becomes more interesting next season, when presumably she’ll be feeding information to Arliss Frome, the possible government official who knows exactly what she’s up to.

Marco Ruiz
While I was wrong about Ray, I turned out to be right about Marco. Well, first half right (I said he would turn to the dark side and join forces with Fausto after Gus’s death, but not to kill David Tate), then wrong (I really thought he was heading toward good again last week!), and now, apparently, half right (yeah, he’s actually turning Galvan-evil after all). By finale’s end, Marco had turned to his old friend Fausto and expressed his desire to kill Tate in prison, where Tate is presumably in solitary confinement, directing his smug, self-righteous expression at a cinderblock wall. Then the camera zoomed in on Marco’s eyeball, in a way that screamed “Descent into madness!” and it was clear the blackening of Ruiz’s soul was complete. Well, not Agent Cooper–becomes-BOB complete, but you know: close. Will Marco’s desire for vengeance be fulfilled if he kills Tate? Or will he be determined, like Tate was, to point out additional injustice and claim additional lives? Is it possible that Millie Quintana note came from Marco? Just some food for thought to distract us all from the fact that the season-ending eyeball shot was kind of cheesy and disappointing.

Sonya Cross
The true hero of The Bridge, Sonya ended the season in a good place. Apparently fully recovered from not just one but two near-death incidents, she announced to Hank that she’s determined to investigate the dead girls of Juárez, and she reached out to Marco, telling him she empathized with his desire to snuff out Tate. More important, and in keeping with the journey she’s made from emotionless, by-the-book woman with Asperger’s to semi-emotional, slightly less by-the-book woman with Asperger’s, Sonya broke a rule. She got in an ambulance and helped Eva, an undocumented immigrant, cross the border.

This was a significant step for Sonya and one that blatantly harked back the disagreement between Sonya and Marco from early in the season, when she reported him for allowing the Wainwrights’ ambulance to break through the Bridge Butcher crime scene. Does her ability to cross that bridge herself make her a better person? Maybe. The fact that she did something kind for Eva probably does. Still, once you break one rule, it becomes so easy to break another. Then the next thing you know, you’re threatening to kill a prisoner while a camera lens zooms straight for your right pupil.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I wanted things to wrap up for Sonya this season. All I know is that her excessive focus on Marco — undoubtedly born out of guilt over Gus’s death — was a little frustrating. It’s heartening to see how much she cares about her partner, and how readily she can now express that caring. But what I came to admire about her as a character was her capacity to be her own person, on her own rigidly controlled terms. Sure, I want Sonya Cross to get in touch with her feelings. But I also want her to just keep being Sonya Cross at her Sonya Crossiest.

Daniel Frye and Adriana Mendez
As previously implied, our wonder twin reporters from the El Paso Times went to do a feature story on an old woman named Millie Ventana, then found her dead, then opened a door in her house and discovered … all of Walter White’s money! Actually, it was Millie’s money and it was worth $40 million, plus 20 million in euros. Then they received a note that suggested this old woman was worth further investigation, further investigation that won’t take place until next season.

More important, and sadly, Adriana learned that her younger sister, Daniela, had gone missing, becoming yet another of Juárez’s many lost girls. Again, that plot development wasn’t a surprise, but in a strange, sad way, it was welcome. If The Bridge plans to truly confront the tragedy of all these unaccounted-for young women, it needs to show its audience, in real depth, the wrenching pain that occurs when one of those girls suddenly disappears with no explanation.

Steven Linder got his Eva back pretty quickly. But for the Mendez family, the search and the sadness have just begun. If The Bridge dares to truly explore that journey without getting bogged down in revenge plots and tunnel vision, then season two, hopefully, will make us completely forget about this lackluster finale.

Photo: Byron Cohen/FX Network