“Old Friends” was by no means a bad episode. Frankly the creative forces behind this show are clearly far too skilled to produce anything thoroughly sub-par. But the primary plot of “Old Friends,” David Tate’s abduction of Marco’s son, Gus, and his subsequent exchanges with Marco, while done as well as these things can be done I suppose, felt like the most mediocre thing the series has done all season. Meanwhile, the episode’s strongest beats came from its secondary plots of Daniel Frye’s continued struggle with sobriety and Charlotte Millwright’s continued descent into criminality and moral transgression. Every actor on the show knocks it out of the park, the writers provide them with top-notch material, and the director conveys the story with pitch-perfect style, but it terms of long-term plot structure I can’t help but be disappointed in where the story has gone with David Tate.
As mentioned, Eric Lange is powerfully effective as David Tate, but the hollow feeling I got from “Old Friends” can best be summed up by the exchange between Tate and Marco when the two meet face to face alone on the side of the road toward the episode’s conclusion. Marco, after immediately choking Tate before reluctantly releasing him from his grasp since he knows he needs Tate to retrieve his son, eventually questions Tate’s motives:
“All of this because she chose me? You killed all those people because your wife left you? You’re not the first person to lose everything. Over there, it happens everyday. People have their lives ripped away from them. It doesn’t make them killers.”
And suddenly the story is evacuated of so much of its tension. Of course The Bridge Butcher was never justified in the crimes he committed – the lives he ripped away – no matter how noble his intentions or vile his victims (though most of them were innocent immigrants and even a teenaged girl), but at least when he was masquerading as a twisted crusader for change in Juraez there was a moral ambiguity which lent itself to confronting viewers with questions like whether the ends justify the means, and whether illegal acts are truly unjust when legal methods fail to achieve justice. Now though, the Butcher is David Tate and despite the best efforts from everyone involved, at this point he’s been reduced to every other revenge killer in the history of crime thrillers. Gone from “Old Friends” is that distinctive flavor that’s made The Bridge such a unique treasure in an overstuffed genre. That said, however, this series has taught us nothing if not to be patient. It’s repeatedly introduced elements only to not see their repercussions until multiple episodes have passed. So although I appreciate getting to know the Butcher as more a man than boogey-man, I’m eager for his characterization to return to the aspects that made him distinct among other crazed killers.
Whereas the main plot of “Old Friends” felt unfortunately typical, the turn of events in both Daniel Frye and Charlotte Millwright’s plots were anything but. Frye’s story was mostly concerned with seeing the self-loathing journalist fall off the wagon until Adriana, the awesome person she is, not only telling Daniel about an AA meeting the next morning, but that she’ll go with Daniel. This last show of support is enough for Daniel to realize he has no other real friends, and actually attends the meeting. Up till this point the plot sounds pretty sappy (though we do learn precisely how Daniel got his job at The El Paso Times), but the scene of Daniel telling his story at the meeting is something to behold. Matthew Lillard delivers the most moving and affecting performance I’ve ever seen from the actor whom is clearly capable of serious dramatic heavy-lifting, and this comes from someone with a close family member who’s been a part of a twelve step program and actually hates the typical teary-eyed support group confession monologue.
While Lillard absolutely kills it in the acting department, the Charlotte plot is less effective for its performances than for its action. Charlotte and Ray meet Tampa Tim in the desert to confront him about the transmitters in the guns he had Ray sell to Graciella. Considering what happened to Graciella I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised that Tampa Tim wouldn’t survive this meet, but despite Charlotte’s grace with a pitchfork I was still fairly shocked when Charlotte shot Tim in the chest three times once he revealed he’d been in touch with the ATF. What I think made the shooting feel like a true transgression for Charlotte was the fact that Ray, her go-to for all things shady, couldn’t even go through with murdering their high school buddy, and protested doing so initially saying, “I thought we were just gonna scare him?” It seems Charlotte’s been reminded by her perceived loss of being left nothing by her deceased husband (though I wouldn’t call a mansion and several acres of land, “nothing,”) of the rough circumstances she came from in Florida which helped her to jump from one murder, which was committed in mostly self-defense, to another, but this one is far less excusable. Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Breaking Bad lately, but I feel like Charlotte may shave her head soon.
I still contend that The Bridge has all the makings of a top tier series, but despite being executed with excellence “Old Friends” was comprised of that which the series usually rises above. Though this episode felt the most identical to the tropes the show has come to clearly be inspired by but usually surpasses, there are still three more episodes left in the series, plenty of time for a show as efficient as this one is.
This article was first posted on September 13, 2013