“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” –Molly Eichel, AV Club
“The show is interested in the message the killer is trying to send, but it’s not reveling in the twisted and clever nature of the crimes themselves, which is no mean feat. Shows like ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘The Following’ tend to fetishize their killers and revel in every nasty image; ‘The Bridge’ gives us a similar killer but clearly takes no pleasure in what he does.” –Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
One of the aspects of The Bridge that I am most impressed with is the way that it is drawing people’s attention to the location and the politics of the place, rather than just on the murders. Sure, I got a sense for the underbelly of Miami watching Dexter, but that always feels like it’s taking advantage of existing problems rather than shedding light on inequalities and systemic corruption. As the critics above point out, The Bridge seems to be taking an approach to violence that is less voyeuristic and more pointed than its predecessors.
In this week’s “Maria of the Desert”, the killer and the story continue to drive home the inequality not only in the gendered violence on the U.S.-Mexico border and in Juarez itself, but also media and law enforcement reactions to this violence. As we previously saw, the killer wants to know why one white woman’s death got so much more attention than hundreds of murdered women just across the border. Then, in a story I’m still waiting to pay off, he used a poisoned oasis to kill ten migrants trying to cross the border. This week, the migrant who got away is tied up in the desert with a camera on her so people on the internet can watch her slowly die while the police scramble to gather the million dollar ransom. What I found refreshing about the scenario here is that, rather than spend time on the virality of the video and the voyeurism of people watching it rather than helping, the show instead focuses just on the police work to save the girl. The spectacle is the point, after all, but The Bridge does not invite us to participate in it in the way that torture porn movies, for example, would.
Once more, sleazy reporter Daniel Frye* is on hand to vocalize the killer’s MO. He asks the detectives where the money is, arguing: “I’m betting if it was a pretty little coed with blonde hair and perfect teeth and big tits the money’d come pouring in.” (It’s an interesting point, too, considering recent discussions over the relationship between race and the attention given to victims of violence in the news media.)
None of this is new to this episode, though. What the killer brings in now is attention to the way the feds handle things. It’s not a new thing on a cop show for the FBI to swoop in and take over an investigation, much to the chagrin of the local police. It happens all the time. But in this context, it’s actually pretty important. If you’re interested, there is quite a lot written about police and federal law enforcement on the border.* Often, these studies focus on how bickering over jurisdiction or an incompatibility between laws causes tons of red tape, lost evidence, or enormous cracks in the system, delaying or derailing justice for feminicide victims. The Bridge doesn’t go into that so much, but the killer does assert: “You can always count on them to insert themselves where they’re not wanted.” As Frye makes a potty-humor joke about inserting, I should have seen it as foreshadowing.
Spoiler warning: The killer asks for the FBI agents’ names and, afterward, they say it’s normal for the hostage taker to do so. The personal connection let’s him know they can be trusted. They should know, however, that this isn’t a normal hostage taker and Ruiz even mentions that Agent Ralph Gedman looks worried. Lt. Wade brushes it off as a case of the yips. But by the end of the episode Gedman’s head is in a trash bag with a phone, on which the killer has displayed him drinking and engaging in illicit activities with a young Mexican woman. Sure, it could be consensual, but my guess is that we’re going to find out that Gedman was into some shady stuff and the killer is now drawing our attention to corruption within U.S. law enforcement too.
In other notes, I’m kind of disappointed that Ruiz (Officer Friendly) is not as clean as he first seemed. Not only is there the affair with Charlotte, the silver/lead dynamic he describes about bribery came back in a big way this episode. On the other hand, I’m finding it interesting to see how Sonya (Officer Frosty) and Steven Linder have mannerisms in common. They both have a kind of monotone and a vacant look that others find unsettling. I don’t know what Linder’s role in everything is, but he’s pretty creepy and it could be interesting if the bad guy and the good gal are doubled just in terms of awkwardness.
*Is it weird for anyone else to see Matthew Lillard receiving calls from an anonymous killer again after Scream?
Campbell, Howard. Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez. Austin: University of Texas, 2009
Cornelius, Wayne A, and David A. Shirk. Reforming the Administration of Justice in Mexico. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.
Dominguez-Ruvalcaba, Hector, and Ignacio Corona. Gender Violence at the U. S. –Mexico Border. Media Representation and Public Response. University of Arizona, 2012.
Staudt, Kathleen A. Violence and Activism at the Border: Gender, Fear, and Everyday Life in Ciudad Juárez. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.