You know you’re watching a great serial-killer mystery when the serial killer is the least interesting part. That’s the case with The Bridge, which was adapted from the Swedish/Danish series Bron/Broen by heavy hitters Meredith Stiehm (Homeland) and Elwood Reid (Cold Case). Sure, the story begins with a dead body: A corpse was dropped on the Bridge of the Americas, which connects El Paso to Juárez, leaving part of the body in the U.S. and the other part in Mexico. But from the moment you learn that the corpse is actually two women — the upper half belongs to a Texas judge known for anti-immigration views, the lower half to one of Mexico’s missing “girls of Juárez” — it’s clear that this isn’t a simple whodunit. As El Paso detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) joins Chihuahua state policeman Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) to interrogate material witnesses — including a journalist (Matthew Lillard) who’s being contacted by the killer, and a rancher’s wife (Annabeth Gish) whose late husband had ties to Mexico — the murders lead to a much smarter, stranger exploration of the shifting moral ground near the border. Mexican police fudge their investigations to protect their families from the drug cartels. American police self-righteously uphold their procedures, which are useless for solving crimes in Mexico. And the coyotes who charge large sums of cash to smuggle Mexicans into Texas are just as ruthless as the immigrants who are willing to smash the coyotes’ heads to get their money back. The culture wars are so rich here that it’s hard to imagine what issues the Swedish/Danish version explored. What could two relatively similar Scandinavian countries have to fight about? The length of their paid paternity leave? Whether Brigitte Nielsen is more famous than the Swedish Chef?
For a thoughtful drama that’s so rooted in national identity, there’s only one real misstep: No one will mistake Kruger for a Texan. Sonya has Asperger’s, which serves to explain her lack of empathy and her habit of bluntly asking random men in bars if they’d like to have sex. (After Claire Danes’ no-strings-attached hookups on Homeland, it looks like Stiehm may have a type.) With her mannequin beauty, rigid movements, and slight German accent, Kruger seems less like a woman on the spectrum trying to pass as a border cop than a Euro-cyborg trying to pass as a human. It’s a good thing Bichir disappears so completely into his role, delivering a rugged sadness that’s somehow sexy. He’ll constantly make you wonder whether Marco is a good cop or a corrupt one. It’s about time that American TV looked to Mexico for its next great leading man, and it’s hard to believe it took this long for a drama to go beyond the border with a story told from both sides. “Why is one dead white woman more important than so many dead just across the bridge?” asks the killer in an ominous message. And that’s exactly what makes The Bridge more than a serial-killer mystery: It will force you to ask yourself the same question. B+