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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Bridge: “Old Friends”

Illustration for article titled The Bridge: “Old Friends”
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“It’s a strange feeling for a cop, to be powerless,” David Tate/Kenneth Hastings tells Marco when they meet at the climax of “Old Friends.” While it may not be an unfamiliar feeling to those who don’t work in law enforcement, it’s certainly a feeling shared by the major players in this episode. “Old Friends” is fueled by desperation. Everyone in this episode feels frayed, worn out. Marco is on the verge of losing everything—his wife, his son, his daughters—because of a grave mistake he made six years ago. Sonya fails her one job. Daniel Frye believe he’s set the entire plot into motion. Charlotte goes to great lengths to ensure she doesn’t end up just some waitress in Tampa once again. Gus needs some last minute heroics. It’s a theme that leads to powerhouse performances from each member of the cast, which elevated this episode beyond focusing on a central plot I’m ready to wrap up.

While I’ve credited Demian Bichir as the show’s strongest element since the beginning, “Old Friends” did wonders for Matthew Lillard as well. Daniel Frye is a hard part to play. He’s an asshole, an addict, and a deeply wounded man. Yet, Lillard imbues him with this affability that makes the shifts from levity to despair feel palpable. He’s a familiar character, one who covers up pain with sarcasm and archness. Take his monologue in Alcoholics Anonymous: “Thank you for telling me that deeply depressing story, Sean. You actually make me feel really good about myself. So that was awesome.” He double takes. “I had my last drink about 90 minutes ago, and it was delicious.” Then he notices that Adriana doesn’t think it’s funny anymore (as if she ever did), and Lillard uncovers the man beneath the addict. “Life is so much better when you’re hammered,” he says, with a pain in his voice that makes you believe him. It was a beautiful episode all-around for Lillard. This is not to discount Bichir, who was, once again, wonderful, especially as he vacillating between anger and immobility. Even Diane Kruger, who has not left me as breathless with her performance, made a strong case for herself this episode, as she pushed past a slashed torso in order to do her job.

At this point in the series, we’ve learned the Why, so I’m more interested in the How of David Tate/Kenneth Hasting’s plot. This week, ThinkProgress’ Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a great piece on the television mastermind problem, calling out The Newsroom, Sons of Anarchy, and our own The Bridge. Rosenberg writes, “…when you make someone all-powerful, it’s tempting to test the limits of their capacities by having them show up in places they couldn’t possibly know to be, by having them get exceptionally lucky in ways that defy reason and the odds, or giving them levels of hubris that would cause even smart people to get caught. … [Masterminds are] not human in a way that might make them actually frightening, but rather, forces of plot, with all the paper and paint and gears visible if you look for longer than a moment.” Rosenberg is exactly right, especially when it comes to Tate/Hastings. He's a lucky guy, and there are still so many things I want to know about this guy. How did he find out about Marco and his wife? How did he figure out the connection between Daniel Frye and Santi Jr., which seems fleeting at best? We’ve been told that Tate was an impressive investigator, but at this point, he’s only used those skills to torture. I want the basis for how those skills helped his plan in the first place. How did this guy start to pull it all off? Because as the show progresses, as Rosenberg writes, the paper and paint and gears are becoming visible and the only solution to that, in my mind, is to put it all out there.

Tate/Hastings now has both Gus and Daniel Frye in his custody. While Gus has been captured to torture Marco, the plan for Frye is unclear. Here’s a man with no friends other than his no-bullshit co-worker. The other curveball thrown in this episode is the appearance of Tate/Hasting’s uncle, who has Alzheimers. Despite giving up his entire identity, Tate/Hastings held onto his uncle as seemingly the last thread from his old life. I’m interested to see how the uncle will factor in later because getting the parking ticket was a mistake on Tate/Hastings' part, or if it was just a function of the plot to give something for Sonya and Marco to investigate throughout the episode.

At this point, we know that Tate/Hastings kidnapped Alma to distract from Gus’ eventual kidnapping, and I figure her reaction to Marco’s attempt to get her and the girls to El Paso will be a controversial one. But I appreciated that element. Yes, Marco saved her life, but she recognizes that his actions put her and her children at risk, and eventually learns that it was his infidelity that caused her near-death experience. Some might see her reaction as cold and callous, especially in light of Gus’ disappearance, but I think it showed a woman with depth and conviction, who has had to fight against her husband’s infidelity before. It’s a nod to the rest of the women on The Bridge, that each one is given as much depth as their male counterparts, a rarity in the cop genre.

One of my issues with The Bridge in the past has always been a back-handed compliment in a way: The story isn’t compelling, but the world is. I’ve enjoyed the Walter White makeover of Charlotte Millwright as she handles and mishandles this power she’s inherited (and, apparently, she hasn’t inherited anything else) in the form of the tunnel. Graciela warned her of her fate; she may have a moral compass now, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Still, Charlotte’s scenes felt out of place. It was in so much of its own orbit. Would it have been better to simply leave out the periphery characters while the mystery ran its course? There were no outside scenes, unrelated to the search for Gus, to justify their world-building. I’m sure Charlotte Millwright and her newfound agency will factor into the end of the season, and certainly a potential second, but she got lost in the chaos of Gus’ disappearance.


Stray observations:

  • The key to everything will most certainly be in the boxes piling up at the El Paso PD, as Sonya literally says that the answer is in the documents.
  • Daniel Frye killing it on the quote this week: “Twelve steps can suck my dick.”
  • These are some redneck reasons for not killing a man: “We used to play kickball together.” “We took an RV to prom together.”