There's nothing subtle about the dark drama "The Bridge," premiering on FX tonight (July 10.) It tackles complex issues and insists that viewers at least ponder the crisis on the United States/Mexico border.
And it does that so incredibly well that days after watching, scenes linger, the message reverberating.
Set in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the show opens with a woman's body left in the middle of the bridge. Each country could legally claim half the corpse. Early on it's hideously apparent how accurate that is.
The surgically divided body is actually from two separate women. The top half was a judge from Texas, famous for her hard stance against immigrants. The bottom half was from, thus far, a nameless woman from Juarez.
Police from both countries investigate. Juarez Detective Marco Ruiz and El Paso Detective Sonya Cross ( Demian Bichir, Oscar-nominated for "A Better Life," and Diane Kruger, "Inglourious Basterds") must work together.
For Bichir, who grew up in Mexico and became an American citizen, cooperation between the countries is critical.
"El Paso is considered the safest city in the United States, and Ciudad Juarez is one of the most dangerous in the world," Bichir tells Zap2it. "They are only separated by a bridge, so just the fact that we are able to talk about the problems these two countries share is a very important issue. Nowadays everyone blames each other. When you are so close together you need to work together over every problem you have."
His character, Marco, appears very easygoing, especially contrasted with the harshness of Kruger's Sonya. At first glance, viewers could mistake Sonya for just being mean.
That happens when you forbid an ambulance to pass through from Mexico to the United States, even though the patient in the ambulance is American and having a heart attack.
"Personally I am very fond of her," Kruger says of her character. "She is socially awkward. I definitely thought she falls on [the] spectrum of Asperger's.
"Her condition alone is very complex," Kruger says. "Because it affects a lot of people, I am always wary when characters have a condition that they become a tic or comic relief and just something you put in every episode. I didn't want it to be something that was an affectation."
There's a gritty realism to the series, which was adapted for American television from the international hit "Bron" about the bridge between Denmark and Sweden.
That realism is felt when Marco is away from Sonya and speaks Spanish.
"The fact that we use a lot of Spanish making this makes the whole thing real," Bichir says.
"Me and my wife are Mexican characters from Juarez. Speaking English at home does not exist. Many other elements make this something you can feel that is real."
"It is fiction," he says, but "you can get trapped because of the sense of reality."
The pilot does precisely what it should by laying the groundwork for the rest of the series: This case will continue to unfold. We have a strong idea of who Marco and Sonya are, and the first hour also carefully weaves in two other plotlines bound to be important.
A man kidnaps a woman off the streets of Ciudad Juarez. If anyone reported her missing, she would be added to the growing count of vanished women from Juarez. This man talks trash about women with a border patrol agent, and when he returns to his trailer in the states -- essentially a prison on wheels -- we glean insight into his life that makes him much more vital to the story than a random kidnapper.
And there's an arrogant newspaperman who is put in the most dangerous position. Anyone who has worked with a guy like this understands why someone would want to take him out, though a bomb does seem like overkill. He, though, has the power to ask the questions. And the main question the unidentified voice on a message asks is: "Why is one dead white woman so much more important than so many across the bridge?"
It's a question the series will attempt to answer, and if viewers are lucky, it will take several seasons to do so.
Photo/Video credit: FX