The Bridge: “Calaca”
B+

The Bridge: “Calaca”

B+

The Bridge

“Calaca”

Season 1, Episode 2

The Bridge’s second episode begins and ends with altars in tribute to death, apt considering the title, “Calacas,” is a Day of the Dead tribute to the no-longer-with us. One altar, placed in the hidden underground tunnel on the Millwright ranch, is a ceramic Virgin Mary next to the skeleton of dead traveler. The other, is a more sinister sight: The Mary figure becomes the skeleton itself, gazing on nine corpses who were desperate enough to drink the water. “Dangerous crossing,” says Detective Marco Ruiz. “The fence forces them out here.” He’s referring to the mountainous terrain, but could mean the Millwright’s underground tunnel. Death is everywhere for those looking for safe passage across the border from Mexico to the United States.

Just as Todd VanDerWerff astutely pointed out in his review of The Bridge, this show is good because it’s not just about the death of Judge Gates, but uses that case to illustrate a more macrocosmic situation. A murdered American judge linked with a Mexican prostitute thought to be killed by the cartels is a considerably sexier concept than a treatise on Mexican-U.S. immigration. “Calacas” continues to build the respective worlds of Ruiz and Sonya Cross without making them seem like the center of the universe. As they investigate the deaths of Gates and Cristina Flores, lives continue around them.

Some of those lives intersect with their investigation, namely that of journalist Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard), whose car was stolen in order to dump Gates’ body at the border. Frye, introduced later in the pilot, had the unfortunate experience of being stuck in a supposedly bomb-rigged car while he was talked down by Cross, who was more interested in the information that could potentially die with him than the loss of his life. The Frye (and eventually Emily Rios’ Adrianna Mendez) angle of the story is interesting not just because I like their odd couple-dom (not unlike Ruiz and Cross), but because it adds another layer to the investigation. Not only are the journalists another set of eyes to the case, they also give the disembodied voice of the killer, that we learn was actually recorded by a voice actor three years prior, another pair to play with.

By giving Mendez and Frye a portion of the investigative burden, the story allows for a glimpse of the roadblocks Ruiz and Cross will surely continue to face throughout the run of the series as they venture across the border together for the first time. Cartels tend to be portrayed in film and television in a way that plays about their vicious, violent side. Cartels provide for some of Breaking Bad’s more stunning moments. And that is a part of The Bridge as well; Ruiz tells Cross that her line of questioning will get him, or his family, killed. The specter of cartels certainly casts a shadow over the investigation: Cristina Flores body was dumped in the same house with Rafa Galvan, the brother of cartel leader Fausto Galvan. Cartel violence in the episode is perhaps best embodied by the man looking for the girl who disappeared in the pilot, even though his cartel membership is never explicitly defined. His permanent look of disgust is just as threatening as the action he takes, as if he is being forced to chew on his least favorite food at all times. But The Bridge shows another side of the cartels, one that is more banal visually, but just as dangerous: The depths to which they are embedded within the police department. The corrupt cops here are not the stuff of crime novels, instead they erase evidence and information, rendering the department impotent. Ruiz’s El Capitan and his way of thinking is not just detrimental to the case at the center of The Bridge, it’s at the heart of what the killer is trying to convey through his garbled up messages.

That impotence seems at odds with Ruiz. Despite his justified hesitance to take on the cartel, he is clearly frustrated with the actions and attitude of his boss. Just as Cross is outcast for her inability to connect, Ruiz feels separated from his job because he cares too much. He’s had a vasectomy, and everyone in the department is (pun totally intended) busting his balls about it, as if it would take away his virility. But, at the end of the episode, his wife reveals that she’s pregnant with kid number four, a happy accident that occurred pre-vas deferens snip. He still has some power left in him. Ruiz’s relationship with his wife is in deep contrast with Cross, who goes all season one Carrie Mathison and picks up a stranger at a bar to fulfill a sexual need, rather than an emotional one. After she’s finished, she picks up her tablet once more to look at crime scene photos. And shell never truly understand why Ruiz’s wife calls just to hear his voice.

Fortunately, just as compelling as the investigation itself, are those plotlines that do not yet directly intersect with the investigation into Gates and Flores deaths. Charlotte Millwright discovers her husband wasnt just keeping secret his desires to separate, but also their financial situation and a secret tunnel hed been funneling Mexicans through for a price. She even gets her own Saul Goodman in the form of Lyle Lovett’s Monty P. Flagman (unlike Frye’s cynical humor and Ruiz’s warm jokes, Flagman could be an excellent source for some good character-based goofiness, much like Saul). As of right now, and I know it’s only the second episode, I am the most curious about Charlotte, if only because her connection to the case appears to be nonexistent at this point. It’s not a matter of if she will somehow become involved because of her late husband’s tunnel but when and how she will become involved.

What I thought was one of the more interesting plot threads of this episode was the 10 would-be immigrants. Their story played out like a cross between El Norte and The Grapes of Wrath. Watching 10 people attempt to cross the border in ways so desperate they would kill for it, is not often portrayed on television and those scenes illustrated the wider issues The Bridge deals with. Those unfortunate 10 are part of the killer’s masterplan, as well. Whether they have significance beyond bad luck or whether their de facto leader survives has yet to be determined. There are quite a lot of those factors still up in the air in the nascent stages of the investigation. The killer has been planning his actions for some time, and toying with those who seek him (or her?!) out is a major part of that, leaving beads in his wake. Thomas M. Wright’s Steven Linder, a trailer-dwelling loner with Wolverine sideburns, is currently being positioned as the man with a penchant for murdering pretty Mexican women and stealing their IDs. But the world of The Bridge is too rich for things to be that simple.

Stray observations:

  • It’s embarrassing how much my childhood self pines for Sonya’s horse jacket.
  • Don't get me wrong, I really like Diane Kruger, but her accent wavers subtly throughout the episode.
  • I've pretty much loved everything Emily Rios has ever touched (Friday Night Lights! Men of a Certain Age! If you haven't seen Quinceañera, I recommend it, she’s great in it) and I was happy to see her expanded role in this episode. I hope they keep her around

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