Based on the standards the show set for itself, I believe the first season of The Bridge was a failure. As we outlined in our discussion of the Pilot, this was supposed to be Mexico’s answer to The Wire. I think there are 3 main reasons why the show wasn’t able to achieve that lofty goal:
1. Faithful allegiance to the original source material.
The Bridge was adopted from a Danish show called Bron, and while I haven’t seen the show, from interviews I’ve seen it appears the entire serial killer plot is lifted from the original. While there may be an argument that the show never gets on the air without this initial intrigue, the fact remains that this was the weakest (and most prominent) story of the first season. Besides the ridiculousness of the plot, years in the making and featuring an omnipotent (can control all lights on the bridge; survives car crash with no injuries; creepy and yet able to seduce Carlos’ wife) AND omniscient antagonist (knows exactly where Sonya/Gus will be and how to hit him with his car in the perfect way; plans every step of his plan perfectly), I was never sold on David Tate. Additionally, the initial idea that the serial killer is fighting for justice for the citizens of Juarez is a red herring–it was Tate covering his tracks. When Tate is finally arrested in the 3rd to last episode, I was done with the show. I honestly was about to put on the 2nd to last episode, and realized I had a strong aversion to doing so. It is interesting that one of the showrunners basically admitted on Andy Greenwald’s podcast that this was the least compelling part of the show for them too, but that doesn’t excuse that it was actually bad and un-interesting.
2. Sonya Cross is not a compelling television character.
I’ve covered in this space how I don’t really get why Sonya has to have some mental defect, so I don’t want to rehash that here. I want to instead point out a common technique in writing that doesn’t make any sense to me, which is picking up with the characters as if nothing has happened to them in the past. It’s hard to explain in a phrase, so let me illustrate by example. Let’s say two characters are having an argument and they get into the car. Then the scene cuts to them at their destination getting out of the car. However, they’re still having the same argument, when realistically it would have been resolved during the car ride and they would move on to other things. However in the moving pictures time freezes when we aren’t watching. It’s as if they were silent for the entire car ride, only to resume their conversation upon exiting the car when we could see them again. In a similar vein, we never see Jack Bauer going to the bathroom.
To continue on this track, I feel like the audience first encounters Sonya as if she’s never learned how to cope with any part of her disorder. As she grows closer to Marco she matures as a person, for example learning how to lie when she thinks that’s what he wants to hear. My problem is: shouldn’t she have learned some of these basic social cues already? She’s an adult woman surely living with the knowledge that she comes off as awkward and has the paternal figure of Hank behind her, supposedly guiding her. I wrote in an earlier review about how she didn’t understand what the offer to buy her a drink at a bar meant. I mean seriously, how dense is she? It makes for some moments where I think the writers want to be funny (such as Sonya’s dinner at the Ruiz household), but fall flat instead.
3. They haven’t depicted the real Juarez, and can’t possibly have the same level of depth and accuracy as the semi-autobiographical The Wire.
David Simon was a journalist in Baltimore who covered the very things he later fictionalized in his television show. Many of those storylines were based on anecdotal accounts from himself or others’ experiences. The Bridge could only hope to recreate that if they went about it the same way, but they clearly did not. A few weeks ago, Grantland ran a scathing piece about inaccuracies in The Bridge, and I think it’s a pretty damning argument. While the writers may have read a couple books on the area or taken a few trips, they did not live and breathe the city. Moreover, while The Wire was filmed in Baltimore and felt real, this show does not capture life in the real Ciudad Juarez, and was filmed in California. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t claim to be an expert, and I realize I’m comparing this show to a pantheon great, but that’s what they told us their goals were. By their own standards, I think they would have to agree.