I think this has been the funniest episode of The Bridge so far. “The Beast” was just as suspenseful and dramatically proficient as any of its predecessors, and continued to masterfully develop its characters and main plot, but there were several moments where I found myself laughing out loud. That either makes me a suspiciously disturbed individual or it’s a testament to the efficacy of constructing such a thoroughly realized narrative. Tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin so it shouldn’t be surprising that the best comedies can evoke genuine pathos nor that the best tragedies can include moments of hilarity. “The Beast” didn’t reach the greatness of any of Breaking Bad’s comedic moments, but it, among other things, demonstrated its excellence through these lighter payoffs.
Sonya had the most of these with her blunt criticism of Alma’s cooking, her reactions to Marco’s need to blow off steam and return from a meeting with Charlotte (“More sex?”), as well as her assessment of Frye’s recreational drug use. Not once were any of these comments intended by Sonya to be funny, but the contrast between the delicately foggy social context of the conversations and her matter of fact delivery combined with her motivation to be nothing more than honest and accurate make it the stuff of a straight-man’s dream. Her observations are humorous, but they also illuminate truth, as great comedy often does.
The relatively new trend of milking comedy from characters such as Sonya whom exhibit the same characteristics of those with disorders on the autism spectrum walks a very fine line. Too often these attempts are borderline offensive if not outrightly exploitative or cheap (The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper and Bones’ Temperance Brennan come to mind), but on the occasions when the characters have been adequately developed and are seen as three dimensional human beings (in addition to Sonya I would also place Community’s Abed Nadir and Alphas’ Gary Bell in this category) they often steal the scene for all the right reasons. Rather than playing Sonya for nothing more than easy fish-out-of-water gags, this character is also seen struggling with traumatic loss. We’ve known since the pilot that Sonya’s still in the process of coping with some profound loss, but only over the course of these five episodes have we been gradually learning this backstory. This episode filled in many of the gaps between the clues we’ve received thus far specifically by naming the artist responsible for the often seen drawings in her apartment, her sister’s killer, Jim Dobbs, describing him as “brain damaged,” dating her death (Sonya was 15 while her sister was 18 working as a waitress at a roadside diner), and silently confirming that it was a violent one. That silence conveyed volumes about Sonya’s challenges and Diane Kruger’s skill as an actor.
Demian Bichir deserves just as much credit for authentically portraying the sitcom staple of the-husband-in-the-doghouse by conveying the dramatic gravity of this situation, emphasizing the fragility of his marriage and his family. I laughed both when Detective Mustache Cooper immediately handed Marco his coffee once he learned the man “got the toss,” and when Hank immediately backed off questioning Marco’s attitude when learning the same information. However, it’s clear Marco isn’t taking this lightly as he explained to Charlotte that just as she needs to “take the long view” in dealing with Garciella Rivera, he needs to do the same in regards to his wife and family. In response, it looks like Charlotte may be laying low with her Floridian beau. I’m sure she’ll reappear, which is more than I can say for the creepy but dumb Sheriff Vlad Stokes.
Even Steven Linder’s plot made me chuckle and it had nothing to do with his sideburns. The opening to this episode saw Faustos Galvan and his trusty assistant discussing the particulars of what constitutes a serial killer, probably the most poignant and funny conversation on the series so far (I loved how Galvan tells his partner that if a serial killer is someone who kills a lot of people then soldiers and presidents are serial killers too). We don’t see them again until the end of the episode (of course now that we know Steven’s a good man, he’s got to find himself in a world of hurt), but they announce that Steven is in their sights for having distracted their apparent employee, Hector “Calaca” Valdez. Hector and Steven’s encounter in Steven’s apartment didn’t have the same tense build-up as their close (but not quite) encounter in “Rio,” but I was still holding my breath until that final blow with the iron. Later we see Steven transporting the body by dropping it out his window to his car at which point we hear Steven utter an “Oh, dear,” which left me in stitches. Just as much as Sonya’s comedy this episode came from her naivete, this line from Steven conveys how genuinely he aims to avoid conflict, yet clearly will adapt as necessary. I find this adaptability even more frighteningly dangerous than Hector’s penchant for rage-strangling.
The most powerful thread of “The Beast,” however, was devoid of humor and was the dramatic anchor to the rest of the episode’s relative humor. I can imagine many viewers with less patience wondering what purpose the introduction of a young distraught American teenager would serve as her connection to the rest of the show wasn’t made explicit until the final scene. But Gina Meadows’ story was an expert demonstration not only in how a seemingly stand-alone plot can heighten the themes of a larger narrative, but wind up lending an even more profound impact to a scene which could have otherwise felt gratuitous or unearned. Imagine how hollow or even cheesy Gina’s line of, “I saw the beast!” could have come off if we hadn’t followed her travels in Mexico. But since we did watch her brush with the all too common practice of kidnapping in Juarez, we saw how easily she could have become one of those pink crosses, a symbol of the threat The Beast poses to young women throughout the region. Some have felt The Bridge Butcher, and the series, have been too preachy or heavy-handed in its political message (whereas I find it refreshing on multiple levels), but this plot did an excellent job of showing rather than telling.
Having seen this misadventure, as well as why she ventured so blindly into such a dangerous place to begin with, the sight of her cowering at the bottom of a closet hit hard, especially since anyone besides me (who looked up the character’s name on IMDb while watching to take accurate notes) didn’t realize already that her tool-bag father was the late Agent Gedman’s Fed-appointed therapist, a fact Sonya gleamed from her conversation with the killer thanks to Marco’s ingenuity, illegal though it was. Plus, on an unrelated but morbidly exciting note, did anyone else geek-out over knowing that the manner in which Gina’s father was murdered is known as “The Colombian Necktie,” because they too watched Bryan Fuller’s outstanding Hannibal on NBC? I was way too excited by this connection so I hope some of you were too.
“My, you must get up very early in the morning: death, death, death, death, lunch, death, death, afternoon tea, death, death, quick shower…”
“The Beast” may have been the best episode of the series so far by demonstrating the efficacy of the gradual pace at which we are learning about the characters, the revelatory nature of their comedic notes, and the steady progression of the plot (lesser series would probably rush through this one case in one to three episodes). The combination of these elements yields a slow burn which when realized creates moments of genuine satisfaction for the show’s audience. Because this show hasn’t wasted its viewers time and has made the most of each scene, each line of dialogue, to craft such thoroughly realized characters their interactions hold tremendous narrative weight and the intersection of plot threads leaves profound impressions as opposed to feeling like shallow twists. If only other series could be as considerate with their medium.