FX hit it out of the park with this adaptation of a series that was originally set on a bridge between Sweden and Denmark. By moving the series to the Mexican-American border for American viewers, it brings in all sorts of politics and cultural clashes into the mix. In the pilot, a body is found lying on a bridge exactly halfway between Mexico and the United States after an orchestrated blackout at the border. This is the backdrop to meet the characters.
Diane Kruger plays Sonya Cross, a detective with the El Paso Police Department, who is very by the book. She refuses to let an ambulance through her crime scene, regardless of the American having a heart attack in the back. She also bluntly questions the husband of the murdered judge, whose body was found on the bridge, having difficulty expressing empathy for his situation. Her boss even had to remind her to use eye contact when speaking to the husband. He also helpfully reminds her that she should use the bathroom when changing her shirt in the office. Lacking social cues, the audience is left to wonder along with the other characters on the show, what exactly is up with Detective Cross. I would feel the same way, if it wasn’t spoiled for me days before the premiere – so warning to you now, spoiler alert – Sonya Cross has Asperger’s, though it may not ever be directly addressed in the show.
Her boss, Lt. Hank Wade, seems accustomed to these intricacies and knows how to deal with Cross. He’s an obvious father figure who has probably helped her rise to the level of detective because let’s face it, as good of a detective as we see her to be, police work is about people skills as well. We also see just how important their professional relationship is to Cross when he explains to her at the end of the episode that he may be looking into retirement. After dealing with dead bodies, crime scenes, and bomb threats, this is where we witnessed real fear for Cross.
Sonya’s counterpart across the border is Marco Ruiz and in many ways he embodies the “everyman” sensibilities we are accustomed to on our television sets. He works for the Chihuahua State Police and is brought in, after giving up the scene to a terse Cross, when it’s discovered the body is in fact two bodies – top part judge, bottom part belonging to one of the missing girls of Juarez. Fairly easy going, he learns about Cross’ mannerisms and behaviors right along with the audience – from her strict nature of following the law to her dangerous driving. He’s a family man, one of the few who seems (so far) to be uncorrupted by the Mexican judicial system. Ruiz knows how to play the game, asking for permission to pursue the case, and explaining to Sonya the quirks of being a police officer in Mexico when it comes to things like “reports” and “following up on leads. He is a perfect shell to the people skills she lacks.
The woman, Charlotte, whose husband was suffering a heart attack in the back of the ambulance that Ruiz ultimately let through the crime scene, is told by her husband that he doesn’t love her and that he would like a divorce. However, he dies soon after, still in the hospital. They were “looking at horses” over the border – a suspicious activity – and when she finds an unfamiliar cellphone and key in her dead husband’s possessions from the hospital, she confronts one of the men who works for them about it. He takes her to a part of their ranch she’s never been to before and shows her the padlock that the key opens. With hesitation, she opens the door, though we’re not yet shown the contents.
Interspersed throughout the episode, we’re introduced to an imposing figure who we witness kidnap at least one young woman from Mexico. He shoves her into the trunk of his vehicle and brushes off the border security guard by telling him he went to Juarez to visit the girls. They share a heh-heh-heh moment and he’s allowed to pass back into the United States. Once they get to… wherever he’s going to keep her in his locked trailer, she tries to run and trips over barbed wire. He brings her back into the trailer and helps to bandage her up, switching between concern and anger quick enough to scare the girl. I don’t think he’s the one who left the body on the bridge, but it could be just that simple and we’re all overthinking it.
The last character we meet is a scummy reporter played by Matthew Lillard. His car was the one used to drop the body on the bridge and when Cross and Ruiz go racing off to meet him, we find that he’s in the middle of a bomb scare – locked in his car as the timer ticks down. Showing an interesting bit of logical empathy, Sonya tries to reassure him by telling him that he will feel no pain in his final moments. However, it turns out that the bomb didn’t detonate; instead, the phone delivered a message for the police.
A gravelly voice asked them the importance of one white woman over “so many just across the bridge,” wondering how long El Paso can look away from things like the missing girls of Juarez. It is an ominous and interesting way to end the pilot that I found intriguing, I’m ready for more.
Did you like the episode? What do you think of the key players identified already? I found the pacing a bit strange from opener to the middle where character relationships were better established, back to the action of the final bomb scare, but I think that can be ironed out with time. There are a multitude of commentaries that can be explored against this backdrop, though I hope they keep it mostly apolitical. The character of Sonya Cross took some getting used to – and frustrated the hell out of me at points – but I really appreciate her already. I’ll be tuning in next week, will you?