Thoughts on “The Bridge” (2013) as re-run

14 July 2013


After hearing so many raves about the 10-episode long Danish-Swedish series, Bron/Broen (The Bridge, 2011), I did what most Americans are forced to do to see it: I watched it online. It was worth every minute of watching it on a laptop screen and reading sub-standard subtitles (which read a little bit like a very early and quite comical version of Google Translate). The acting was stellar; the dynamic between the Swedish detective Saga (Sofia Helin) and Danish detective Martin (Kim Bodnia) was one of the best versions of a buddy-cop relationship I’d seen in a long time; and the show’s central concept — a dead body found exactly midway on the bridge connecting the two countries — allowed for a riveting diagnosis of the social problems in those two countries.

So when I heard that the US channel FX planned to remake the series but situate it on the border between the US and Mexico, well, YES.


The story opens with a body found dead in the middle of a bridge that crosses between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The two detectives who arrive at the scene — one from each country — find that the killer sliced the body clean in half. The subsequent autopsy reveals an additional wrinkle: the top half, belonging to an xenophobic US judge, doesn’t match the bottom half.

“White arms, brown legs,” comments the El Paso detective, Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), with characteristic unemotional precision. She gradually permits the Chihuahua State Police detective Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir, the star of the wonderful A Better Life) to work with her, particularly after he explains that the “brown legs” belonged to one of the hundreds of Juárez women murdered along the border every year.


So far I have several thoughts:

The storyline follows the original religiously. Thus, viewers like me who fell in love with Saga and Martin and were riveted by certain plot elements (the reporter getting trapped in his own car) will find not much to be surprised by in the plot so far.

What’s truly original here is the view of life on the border, particularly in Juárez, which is one of the most violent places in the world. (Maybe, as some have claimed, the most violent outside of open war zones.) I’ll watch every episode as a result with the hope that this unique setting ultimately changes the narrative in fresh ways. Juárez is a site for both the border drug trade and the fabulously lucrative maquilas (factories) that offer comparatively high wages to Mexican workers, thus attracting huge numbers of people to the region and making it deeply unstable. It’s about time we gave some cultural attention to the border in this way.

THE BRIDGE - Pictured: (L-R) Diane Kruger, Demian Bichir. CR: FX NetworkOne of the things I loved about the original was its treatment of Saga’s place on the autism spectrum. By treatment I mean the characters never said anything explicit. Saga’s probable Asperger syndrome revealed itself gradually over the course of the entire season without ever putting a name to it or fitting her into a tidy box. The original made Saga a true individual, not a set of symptoms or a condition described in the DSM-IV.

The original character had a delicious knack for social gaffes, but in my eyes the show didn’t play them for laughs or to claim she was a naïf. Rather, they highlighted Saga’s independence from and utter disinterest in the social niceties to which women are typically chained. (I’m curious whether any of you disagree or found her character to grate on your nerves — if so, let me know why you found it problematic.)

tumblr_m451hzx2uq1r5565fo1_500Whether abruptly asking men in bars, “Do you want to have sex at my place?” or equally abruptly kicking them out of bed when she’s done, Saga was the most unexpectedly wonderful character I’d seen in years. She did it all with a confident forthrightness that made me love her. The great drama of the series rested on how Saga had to stretch herself beyond her usual personal rules and patterns, largely in response to her new partner — but also how she remained utterly herself throughout, which constituted her great strength and weakness all in one. The portrayal of Saga was downright feminist, and more important she was truly three-dimensional.

You can see why I fell in love with the series.


In contrast, the American show seems to feel eager to label (and doesn’t that capture all that is unsubtle about Americans?). Here, Sonya’s awkwardness, rigid adherence to rules, and lack of empathy have already been hammered on as “different” after only a single show. Le sigh.

On the other hand, I like Kruger and Bichir a great deal in these roles, even though/ due to the fact that they’re both preposterously good-looking, even more so than the beautiful Helin in the original. Kruger’s accent works most of the time (she’s German but does well with American accent) and the far more natural actor, Bichir, flows between Spanish and English in a way that won’t alienate viewers who are allergic to reading subtitles for the Spanish bits. Whereas the Swedish actress in the original series had been wide-eyed in a way that signaled her lack of interest in others’ emotions, Kruger looks more distrustful and hostile.

the-bridge-620x238The filming and cinematography of the US series is downright beautiful and infinitely more stylized than the Swedish-Danish original. The pilot was directed by Gerardo Naranjo, whose film Miss Bala I enjoyed so much earlier this spring (if anyone understands the drug war, it’s Naranjo). The shots of that rangy part of the Chihuahuan desert and the haunting scenes of street life in Juárez feel real.

So I have high hopes for the American version of The Bridge, despite the fact that my fellow fans of the Scandinavian original are not going to be surprised by these early episodes. Nevertheless, I have hope that it permits its border setting to affect the narrative even more as the series progresses. Considering that the US version has stretched out the story to 12 episodes, it would seem that the writers have plenty of room in which to develop fresh and location-specific material. 

At the creepy end of this pilot episode, an anonymous voice asks, “There are five murders a year in El Paso; in Juárez, thousands. Why? Why is one dead white woman more important than so many dead just across the bridge? How long can El Paso look away?” YES. This is the question that has managed for so long to remain beyond the people most capable of addressing those inequities. How wonderful to find it on basic cable in the US.


And hey, I get to look at Bichir on a weekly basis. Sure, he plays shlubby, but we know he’s movie-star handsome right away, ‘stache or no ‘stache. All is not lost in the re-run aspects of the show. And as the always-on-target Alyssa Rosenberg put it in her review, how wonderful is it to find “a television show that presents women and men as highly effective colleagues and potentially good friends, without defaulting to conventional romantic narrative arcs”?

In the meantime, can Scandinavian friends find a way to get season 2 of Bron/Broen online for me? Please?

14 Responses to “Thoughts on “The Bridge” (2013) as re-run”

  1. JustMeMike Says:

    I’ll be watching this series. I was hooked five minutes in. I won’t have the background of having seen the original Swedish/Danish version so I won’t be approaching the series with a ready made basis for comparison. But I’ll get that by following your commentaries.

    Are we seeing a trend in TV these days. Just this spring & summer we have:

    Diane Kruger as Detective Sonya Cross in The Bridge
    Gillian Anderson as Chief Inspector Stella Gibson in The Fall
    Elisabeth Moss as Robin in Top of the Lake.

    I think that this series, The Bridge will out shine both The Fall as well as Top of the Lake.

    And as you so perfectly expressed it – isn’t great to have a detective series/procedural with an awareness of greater social issues rather than just the solving of the case.


    • Didion Says:

      I finally got around to watching The Fall, and I agree that although Gillian Anderson is awesome and watchable, the story wasn’t up to what happens in Top of the Lake and The Bridge. I didn’t quite like the way The Fall gave so much quasi-pornographic attention to what the killer did and thought as he went through the murder planning & execution … brutal. But like you, I’ve got high hopes for The Bridge.

  2. Becky Says:

    I watched the pilot because Bishir was in it. He is one of the most imminently watchable actors I have ever seen. No matter what role he plays, it is believable. Kruger’s character is too extreme and self-conscious. People with autism spectrum disorders do not generally behave as though they are hyper-aware of their own behavior, so I don’t find her believable. After all, that type of behavior would not be successful or tolerated in any job that revolves around human interactions. It detracts from the rest of the show quite a bit for me. Having said that, I will keep watching, but I hope her behavior ceases to be the center of the show.

    • Didion Says:

      Yeah, she has a bit of the “I’m Acting!” face on, and unfortunately I’m having trouble comparing her to the Swedish actress. But ohhhh, Bishir. So good. I’m watching for the border storyline.

  3. I am a Swede from Malmö, and I have so far stayed away from ‘Bron/Broen’ because of the bad reviews. People were complaining about the strange female lead, but also about the fact that none of the actors (except the extras) speak in our regional dialect. This area is basically Swedens “deep south” and to have everyone speak with a Stockholm-accent is just ridiculous.

    But after reading your review I had to watch both first episodes and compare! I agree with you on how similar the shows seem so far, but I have a few differences I’d like to point out about the female lead:

    The American version is more child like and insecure. She also leans more heavily on her (male) captain, both emotionally and professionally. The scene at the morgue for instance – why did she have to wait for her supervisor before she went in? He also tells her off more often than the Swedish equivalent (for example about her changing her shirt in the office).

    The Swedish lead is more of an adult and a professional, not so apologetic. She is the one to hand out orders to the team, while her captain just hangs back. Though some of this might be due to the more hierarchic structure of the Police force in America, I suspect it has also something to do with the American public being uncomfortable with a woman fully in charge.

    I can’t help but draw a parallel to the remake of “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” (which for the record is originally called ‘Men who hate Women’). The American ‘Lisbeth Salander’ is also weaker, more girlish – yet also more sexualized – and more dependent on her male “partner” than the Swedish version.

    • Didion Says:

      Ms Misantropia, THANK YOU so much for writing such a detailed and careful comparison of the two shows. I’m surprised it got bad reviews, but I completely understand the clunky accent problems — I complain about that kind of thing all the time.

      You’re exactly right about what the Swedish actress got right vs. the American actress, and your comments line up with Becky’s re: whether the American seems appropriately Asperger-like. And I wish I’d had such a close reading, as you’ve done here, of the specific contrasts between the American’s relationship to her captain/supervisor.

      Interesting that you drew attention to the GWTT movies. Lisbeth was also supposed to appear as if she was on the autism spectrum. What is this fascination with women with Asperger syndrome?

      Thanks so much for this long, thoughtful response — so interesting and useful.

      • Oh wow, you really got me going now 🙂 Thank you for showing interest in my comment! I have a very long standing – but unfortunately not very well developed – theory about the portrayal of strong (white) women in film as “emotionless”.

        I have lost count of how many times I have been looking forward to a TV-show or movie with an interesting female protagonist, only to be let down – once again – by the fact that the producers chose to take the same washed up road: Making the female lead more robotic than human.

        There is a fascination (that is undoubtedly supported by teen boys) with strong, almost amazonian or aggressive, women in media. But ONLY if they fill these requirements: Super hot and beautiful, and devoid of any real emotion and human resemblance. Assertiveness, sexual prowess and power is only allowed if the (male audience) gets ample opportunity to objectify the woman, make her in to a sexual fantasy, while viewing. Examples include almost every strong woman ever portrayed in movies.

        The opposite however, can be said about exceptional intelligence and true talent. In a woman it is only allowed if she is made less a woman, less human (and sometimes more like a man). Examples include many popular police detectives, computer nerds and side kicks.

        As a sidebar: I never needed Lisbeth Salander to “be explained” by a diagnosis – she had enough trauma to explain her lack of social development and seclusion. But I only read the first book, so I’m not the best judge. But I did have a problem with how the (male) author portrayed her too, it was a middle aged male portrayal of a young woman, and the sexualization was always in the background there too.

      • Didion Says:

        Oh, Ms. Misantropia, this is so smart that it makes me want to do a whole piece about it. (But perhaps you already have? I’m scouring your site as we speak.)

        Mixed feelings. On the one hand, the opposite would be the highly emotional woman, which is a stereotype in & of itself. On the other hand, this has become such a tired trope — the woman on the autism spectrum is just an extreme of the hard-boiled type we’ve come to see so much of (did Helen Mirren start this with Prime Suspect?). Or has it been going on longer?

        The most recent version I’ve seen was Gillian Anderson in The Fall. She’s exactly the super hot/super cold woman you describe.

        Tell me you’re going to write more about this….!

  4. Hattie Says:

    Thanks so much. I depend on you for finding things that are worth watching.

    • Didion Says:

      I don’t know if you understand Swedish/Danish (I’m always so jealous of you multilingual Europeans) but I imagine the original could be even more wonderful if you did!

  5. Thank you and yes, like I stated; My analysis is not very well developed – yet 🙂 I would love to write about this (or something else about women in media) at some point in the future. But the piece I did for ‘Bitch Flicks’ recently is actually the first thing I’ve ever written and/or published for someone else, so I still feel like I’m in unknown territory…

  6. perry322 Says:

    Thank you for turning me on to “The Bridge.” I watched all three episodes back to back and I’m eagerly awaiting tonight’s installment. In the original was the captain as paternalistic as he is in this version? That may account for why the lead’s Asperger’s is highlighter more – or maybe FX viewers or Americans in general, need things spelled out for them a little more clearly.
    I don’t know that much about Asperger’s, but in the series “Parenthood,” a boy has Asperger’s and we watch as he is tutored on how to behave in order to be more successful in social situations, such as making eye-contact, smiling, being tolerant of others’ opinions and so forth. He’s only partially successful- but he is self- aware. Maybe that’s what the writer/director is going for here.

    Finally, what blog is Misantropia’s?

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