David Tate is a disturbed, vengeful, murderous bastard. We knew this as of last week’s episode of The Bridge, when we realized Tate is the Bridge Butcher, as well as a man pretending to be Kenneth Hasting, and a vengeful widower who lost his wife and son in a terrible car accident, and someone who has it in for Marco Ruiz, who was sleeping with that wife just before she died.
This week’s episode further confirmed all of that information. But it also introduced this notion: that plenty of other relatively decent people in El Paso can just as easily be driven to kill. Cesar put a bullet in Graciela Rivera’s henchman without giving it much more than a millisecond of thought. Charlotte Millwright then followed up by shoving a pitchfork directly into Graciela’s torso, ensuring that she’ll never bump off another defenseless horse or demand oral sex from good ‘ol Ray-Ray again. (By the way, the pitchfork? Totally the little-known seventh murder weapon in the game Clue.)
Steven Linder grappled with his own killer’s instinct, turning, as one does during such times, to Uncle Rico for counsel about his murder of Hector. (Fine, it was actually the Über-religious Bob, as played by Jon Gries, who also played Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite. Semantics.)
“Let’s discuss this over a ham salad,” Bob suggested.
“I am so glad you said that,” Steven responded. “I’ve been so hungry of late.”
“That happens after such things,” Bob sagely advised. “My first kill, I couldn’t get enough cheeseburgers.”
Wait, what? Who the hell says “I’ve been so hungry of late”? And exactly how many “kills” has Bob been responsible for? It doesn’t matter — at least not in the context of this ham salad conversation. The point The Bridge writers were trying to make, both in that weird exchange and everywhere else this week, is that each of us resides just on the border (!!) between sanity and madness, and any traumatic event has the capacity to serve as our tipping point.
We saw that in the slo-mo flashback that opened this episode and revealed David Tate’s wrenching reaction to finding both his wife and his only son bloodied and lifeless immediately after that car wreck. That sight destroyed him. This does not excuse his behavior, which, this week, involved slamming a live hand grenade into Alma’s palms, taunting Marco via cell phone and, later, intentionally ramming into the vehicle occupied by Sonya Cross and Gus Ruiz. But it does explain that behavior and, in some small measure, provide a wee crack of empathy in our otherwise hardened crust of hatred for a man who thinks that murder is the most effective way to channel his anguish while making important sociological statements.
“What if he’s not done?” Gus asked after Alma and his half-sisters had been saved from Scary Man Tate and just before Scary Man Tate flipped Sonya’s car, which pretty much answered the question. Of course Tate wasn’t done. All along, he has felt a need to revisit the horrible vehicular wreck that altered his ethical DNA, but to do so from a position that allowed him to control a situation that previously turned him out-of-control. He not only flipped Sonya’s car, he flipped the script. (It was notable that the camera angle on Tate made us see him upside down, from Gus’s point-of-view, the opposite of the way he appeared in that flashback.)
Instead of watching his unfaithful wife get pulled from the wreckage while his little boy lay trapped and bleeding, Tate chose to write a new story in which he pulled Marco’s son free (presumably with the intent to kill him) and left the woman he probably assumed is now Marco’s lover — Sonya — to die alone.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Sonya said right before the accident of Tate’s actions. Actually, horribly, they make total sense. This was Tate’s plan all along. All that terrorizing-Alma business was just the eight jillionth red herring on a show and from a murderer that apparently never runs out of those misleading little fishies. All that sleight of hand may be wearing on some viewers. It’s true that once a narrative starts relying on too many deliberate attempts to mislead, it becomes harder and harder to truly surprise. The audience may be watching The Bridge now on high alert for possible fake-outs. On the other hand, this series is keeping the herrings coming so quickly these days that we barely have time to get too annoyed. For the moment, I am okay with this.
Anyway, back on point: Tate clearly wants to take away the only person on whom Marco can never cheat, perhaps the person he loves most: his only son. This development was particularly sad considering how Gus noted that the fake text messages Tate had been sending via the mysterious Zina – who is actually not a hooker as I previously hypothesized but, actually, Avril Lavigne’s doppelganger – made him feel closer to his father. Now we know why Tate, in the guise of Zina, was encouraging Gus to bond with his dad: so it would hurt Marco that much more when Tate ends him. Still, there’s something both ironic and hopeful in Gus’s feelings and in the obvious way that Alma and Marco seemed renewed in each other’s presence after that grenade scare. Tate may want to ruin Marco Ruiz, but his deep-throated serial killer rhetoric also has suggested he wants to bridge divides (again: !!). What his actions actually have done, so far, is bridge the divides within the Ruiz family.
Since all that U.S./Mexico stuff just kind-of sort-of came up, let’s talk about the law enforcement-related element of Tate’s insanity. He clearly believes that the ongoing issues along the Juárez/El Paso border haven’t been solved because law enforcement is corrupt and ineffective. Why does he feel that way? Probably in large part because of what Marco mentioned in this episode: that Tate wanted to open an investigation into the lost girls of Juárez, but his bosses shut him down and prevented that from happening.
One of those bosses had to have been Hank Wade, which would explain why Hank also was eager to pin the murders on the (relatively) harmless Jack Childress. And it also would explain why Hank seemed so damn eager to please in this episode, telling Marco, “We’re going to get this guy and we’re going to get your wife and kids back,” and insisting on sending that text to Tate/Fake Zina, and demanding that he be the one to initially approach that cabin where Alma, Lilly, Sophia and a hand grenade were being held hostage.
Hank feels guilty because he knows that part of the reason for David Tate’s rampage of corpse Frankensteining, decapitation, and Colombian necktie-ing is because of something he did. Which raises the question: Why would Hank have wanted to squash such an investigation? Answer: because it must somehow relate back to Sonya and the death of her sister. Perhaps Lisa was involved in some business south of the border and Hank doesn’t want Sonya to know about it.
A trio of final odds and ends:
• There is an enormous temptation to see virtually everything on television right now through the prism of Breaking Bad. I’d like to resist that temptation. And yet: Oh my God, didn’t this episode remind you a lot of this week’s Breaking Bad? The notion that everyone has dark, unethical tendencies certainly echoed what was going on Sunday night with the Schraders and the Whites, and the scene in which Gus tried to meet with Tate in a public square was very similar to the aborted public plaza meeting between Walt and Jesse, right down to the van holding law enforcement officials parked nearby. I was just waiting for Gus to text Pretend Zina using a Hello Kitty phone.
• Here’s a question: Does Charlotte feel sad about her husband’s death ever? Like, at all? She was pretty broken up when Karl had his heart attack, and when he told her he never loved her. Did she just harden her heart, Quarterflash-style, after she heard that deathbed confession of non-love? Or is she, perhaps, the most poorly written character on The Bridge?
• I know who the most well-written character on The Bridge is: Sonya Cross. When she discovered that Gus had called her a MILF via text, she wasn’t embarrassed or flummoxed or even freaked out. She was angry because it was inaccurate. “I don’t have children,” she said flatly. And then I laughed louder than I’ve laughed at anything on The Bridge ever, including the late Deputy Sheriff Manny Stokes, may he rest in bumbling peace.
This has been noted in these recaps before, but I feel it can’t be overstated: Sonya Cross is a remarkable character. She’s remarkable because she initially was so impenetrable and annoying in ways that seemed potentially forever distracting, and now no longer comes across that way. But she’s also amazing because she’s evolved beyond the clichés she was once rightly accused of embodying. Now, thanks to the writers as well as Diane Kruger’s ability to make Sonya almost-but-not-quite a robot at just the right moments, she’s smart, refreshingly literal and a woman masking at least 80 levels of depth that we haven’t even begun to penetrate. She needs to get out of that flipped-over, almost crushed vehicle and live. She needs to because the investigation needs her. And she needs to because we, and television in general, need her, too.