It’s not about the money and it’s not about the kill. It’s about the message. Sonya gets it, Daniel Frye gets it, but no one else on the task force looking to save Maria understands that the money isn’t really the issue. Nor is Maria’s life. For an episode with a suspenseful climax that moves faster than previous episodes (even the previous one, which I lauded for its comparatively speedy pace), “Maria of the Desert” doesn’t move the central plot forward in any major way, instead it further establishes the killer’s purpose: To bring attention to the United States’ disinterest in their neighbor’s unsightly affairs. To say the least, Marshall McLuhan would be psyched about this episode. But what “Maria of the Desert” proves to me is how much more I care about the world The Bridge has built than the murder that precipitated this entire affair. It’s an odd problem for a show like this to have, and could certainly bode well for the series’ longevity because the central mystery isn’t what’s keeping me hooked. Justified, for example, is particularly adept at balancing both worlds. Hopefully, The Bridge can right that balance in future episodes.
Throughout the episode, Marco, Sonya, and the FBI contingent on the case are scrambling looking for Maria, the girl the killer tied up in the desert and whose slow death he plans on live-streaming for the world to see. She’s dying, the killer is saying, and it’s all your fault. Sonya, like any good television detective of recent years, notices what the others cannot: The killer has made a mistake, leading to Maria’s rescue. Like Sherlock, House, Bones, and various other investigators (of crimes or otherwise), Sonya’s solves her half of the mystery because of, not despite, her anti-social behavior. Of course, she’s going to the find the girl. Because that’s what investigators like Sonya do. It’s meant to show Sonya’s doggedness and strength as an investigator, but as soon as she starts to squint her eyes at the video feed, it is entirely apparent Maria will be found.
In the process of the investigation, Sonya’s backstory gets expanded: Her murdered sister died alone, most likely in a horrific way. Sonya also insinuates she knows her sister’s killer well enough to visit him. I was not entirely sold on Diane Kruger’s performance on this one, if only because this was an opportunity to soften Sonya, to endear her to the audience, and it just didn’t work for me. Ted Levine playing surrogate father, on the other hand, was quite wonderful. I’m still on the fence about Kruger-as-Sonya. She’s so off-putting, but I also believe that’s intentional.
Before Maria, who was tied down in such a way to signify her martyrdom, is saved, Marco and the feds decide to give the killer his requested $1 million. Here’s where things get interesting. Agent Gedman has requests to make the drop at a seedy dive where he encounters a bartender who hands him a cellphone, featuring himself with murdered prostitute Cristina Flores (she of the lower half of the two corpses from the pilot). He’s shocked and appalled, leading him to take out his earpiece and go forth unto his untimely demise. Here’s what bothered me: The killer decapitated and separated the body of a federal agent quite quickly and quietly considering how many cops were hanging out just outside. It’s also quite convenient that the previous video of Cristina just happens to include Fed Ged, and that he would just happen to be the one making the drop, although his seedier side was telegraphed by his general nervousness which Marco noted to both Sonya and Hank. His involvement with the case, or with Flores, can’t end at just a simple dalliance with a sex worker from across the border. Hiring the services of a prostitute is illegal but certainly explainable for an entrenched FBI agent, especially considering the video showed nothing more than the notion they were in the same place at the same time and beer was involved. Was Gedman Cristina’s killer? Was this his comeuppance?
But it’s Marco’s story that interests me more (and not just because he was spared by the killer), once again proving that I’m so much more interested in the world than the mystery. While the feds scramble to find the cool mill to pay off the killer, cartel head Fausto Galvan (Ramon Franco) is the one to come through, because the police presence at the border is causing him to lose money, drugs and mules. Charlotte’s plot felt negligible this week, but I liked how her decision to reopen the tunnel underneath her house allowed Galvan to make his way to Marco. Not every story needs to directly hit home with the main plot, and this worked out nicely. (Although I’ve liked Annabeth Gish so far, her continued, and justified, anxiousness and declarations of illegality were grating in this episode in a way they haven’t been in previous outtings.)
In my review of the second episode, “Calaca,” I noted that it was fascinating how cartels are interwoven into the very fabric of Juarez life. Marco knows the only way he’s going to get the money to save Maria is through the cartel, and he’s willing to do it even if it bolsters Galvan’s business, because that’s just how life works. When Marco and Frye discuss life in Juarez, Marco says it’s getting better, but Frye counters. He just saw someone get shot in the head. How is that better? Almost with a shrug, Marco responds the shooting was most likely cartel business, rather than random violence, as if it bothers him less. This is the way life works for Marco and the people of his city. And that’s what I want to see more of.
- The sweeping aerial shots at the beginning of the episode were quite lovely and demonstrated scope.
- Marco doesn’t seem to notice his wallet is missing throughout the entire episode. Assuming he’s not a dual citizen, I have to figure it’s difficult to cross the border regularly sans wallet.
- Best Lt. Hank Wade line of the episode: “Whose idea was this internet horseshit anyway?”