In Season 1 of FX’s dark border-straddling drama The Bridge, the ends never quite justified the means. But because the means involved some of the most beautiful cinematography on the small screen and an endless number of consistently interesting and powerful performances, all was easily forgiven. Never as loud and upfront as Sons of Anarchy and never as procedural-driven as The Shield, The Bridge is unique beacon in the sea of FX’s original programming. In Season 2, co-creator and showrunner Elwood Reid has up and created his own maddeningly large sea for this drama to wallow in, and even though there are more plotlines to follow than there are highways in Texas, I’m completely entranced by it all.
Let’s see if we can make some sense of this cross-cultural thriller. The season begins by introducing us to an extremely dangerous and moral-free Cartel bookkeeper (and churchy dresser) named Eleanor Nacht, played with detached and subtle glee by Franka Potente (Run Lola Run). She and an enforcer for Cartel bigwig Fausto Galvan (Ramón Franco) head into El Paso for some business, which goes slightly awry in different ways; suddenly Eleanor is out in the world alone, with the Cartel, DEA, El Paso police and the Chihuahua State Police looking for her. She’s a whirlwind of trouble, with a body full of tattoos to mark her personal demons.
Enter the polar-opposite dynamic duo of bleary-eyed Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) and the slowly crumbling Sonya Cross, whose Asperger’s syndrome continues to keep Diane Kruger’s performances in primetime's upper echelon. Both are dealing with their own side issues, as the sub-alcoholic Marco has been completely shut out of his ex-wife and children’s lives, and Sonya begins a lascivious relationship with Jack Dobbs (Nathan Phillips), the brother of the brain-damaged lug who killed her sister years ago. The latter is a more complicated situation, in the season’s early going at least, and it’s clear that Sonya’s motivations are psychologically opaque. I mean, she keeps the killer Dobbs’ childish drawings on her fridge. Who does that?
On the professional side of things, Marco and Sonya are brought together again to track down Eleanor, while also dealing with a dead Cartel member found in Texas, and a dead DEA agent. This is where the model-building DEA Agent Joe McKenzie (Abraham Benrubi) comes into it, with a clear endgame of arresting Galvan in the United States and putting him in a U.S. prison. (Yeah, good luck, guy.) Plus, Chihuahua Capitan Robles (Juan Carlos Cantu) is being investigated by an unassuming prosecutor whose research takes him to questionable places.
I hope you’re not too bogged down by plots yet, because we haven’t even touched upon returning journalists Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard) and Adriana Mendez (Emily Rios). While everyone else is finding bodies, Frye and Mendez are following the Cartel money trail, while also stumbling across a dead body or two. They’re looking into the bank that launders the Cartel’s money, which is the site of some pretty heinous acts. As far as sideplots go, Frye is working on his two-beers-a-day form of general sobriety, while Mendez is trying to find her missing sister.
Getting less screentime this season is the immigrant-smuggling Charlotte Millwright (Annabeth Gish), her “boyfriend” Ray Burton (Brian Van Holt) and close confidante Cesar, who are all eventually brought into a new housing development for safe keeping. Helping them along in a recurring role is Lyle Lovett’s shady lawyer Monte P. Flagman. In the handful of episodes I watched, I never quite figured out where their story is going, but I’m betting it goes in twelve different directions at once.
Finally, we have the bearded coyote Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright), who still holds a fondness for Eva (Stephanie Sigman), the undocumented girl who shouldn't have survived the events of Season 1. Lt. Hank Wade (Ted Levine), when not being disappointed by Sonya’s actions, is being targeted by unknown assailants for hiding Eva, so he sends her back with Steven and Bob (Jon Gries) on their quasi-religious commune. There, we get to the bottom of her attack, and the path to revenge begins paving itself.
It takes some TV series entire seasons to pull off the storytelling that The Bridge delivers on a weekly basis. Sometimes it’s to the show’s detriment, as following the multi-threaded plots can sometimes feel like more of a chore than a pleasure. But when that happens, it’s always easy to fall back on the gorgeous scenery, stellar acting and sporadic dark humor. After all, we’re not the ones that have to try and keep the border safe; we just have to watch it happen.
The Bridge debuts its 13-episode Season 2 on FX tonight, July 9, and will continue to air on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.