“Yankee,” the first episode of The Bridge’s second season, is not just the first episode of The Bridge’s second season. The Bridge is facing two massive changes: The first is a function of business, while the second is a function of plot. First season co-showrunner Meredith Stiehm left the series to return to Homeland after reportedly disagreeing with partner Elwood Reid on the direction of the series. So what does the loss of Stiehm say about The Bridge thus far? Honestly, I can’t tell yet, considering the biggest change between the first and second season comes in the form of that plot function. The “Lost Girls of Juarez” angle that seemed to be a jumping off point for subsequent episodes at the end of the first season appears to have been downplayed, although Adriana’s sister is still missing but in other aspects, The Bridge feels the same. So in comes that plot function. “Yankee” is very much a place-setting episode. New characters and stories are introduced that will surely be carried out for the rest of the season, yet there is clearly no central mystery that defines the course of the second season in the same way that opening deaths of the judge/prostitute did for the first.

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Franka Potente’s mysterious Eleanor Nacht and her blood-soaked body are the closest elements the second season has to a new villain as of yet, but that lack of driving mystery double-edged sword for The Bridge. My thoughts on the first season essentially boiled down to one idea: It would have been a great show if it weren’t for that pesky serial killer. The Bridge was dealing with real issues of immigration and poverty through the investigations of Marco and Sonya, yet the serial killer element gave the show this pulp sheen that had it’s upsides (a cast of colorful characters, especially in the form of the Mexican cartel leader Fausto Galvan and oral sex-appreciator Graciela) and downsides (it was often ridiculous, never seemed to have a point and distracted from the show’s main strengths—it’s rich world).  But, above all else, that pesky serial killer also gave the show its momentum and its reason to exist.

So without that, what are we left? An episode projecting a season that could either be barely organized chaos, or come together to tell a story that the first season eschewed for the sexier plot points of yet one more serial killer. Reid sent out a note to critics that points to the former. “We loved the characters and story of [Danish/Swedish source material] Bron/Broen and stayed relatively true to the original story, which was centered around the hunt for  a serial killer. That said, the serial killer thread was not the most interesting aspect of our adaptation. The most interesting thing to us has always been the shadow world of the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.  And that will be the focus of The Bridge, this season and beyond,” Reid wrote. Hey, sounds good to me but the series still needs that drive, that reason to exist and while I enjoyed some of the place-setting of “Yankee,” I’m not entirely sold that The Bridge can pull what it wants to off without that (admittedly cheap) conceit of momentum. What gives me the most hopes is that the layered world of Marco and Sonya continues to exist, anchoring initial messiness in a setting that feels real. That verisimilitude has always been The Bridge’s greatest strength and remains so.

The brightest spot of “Yankee” in terms of future plot possibilities comes in the form of Potente’s Nacht (for the record, she’s not named in “Yankee”) who seems to possess an evil on a much more believable scale than last season’s David Tate. Like many characters when first introduced on The Bridge, she remains mysterious in the first episode, but not maddeningly so (although, if she kills Lyle Lovett’s shifty, cowboy-booted attorney Flagman, I will be quite devastated), and seems well-suited to take her place among the Juarez baddies. Fierce women has been a standout point in The Bridge, thus far and I’m glad that has not been abandoned with the loss of a female head honcho.

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There are certainly other interesting aspects of “Yankee” that could lead to something great: Sonya’s (to put it plainly) fucked-up affair with the brother of the man that raped and murdered her sister; anything involving an off-the-wagon Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard continues to be fantastic and I’m glad that he and Emily Rios were upped to regular status); and the return of the strange home for runaway women run by ultimate weirdo/dirtbike assaulter Bob (Jon Gries). But there’s still so much ground that hasn’t even been touched upon yet hanging over from last season, namely Annabeth Gish’s Charlotte Millwright and Brian Van Holt’s sleazetastic Ray, or the further repercussions of Marco’s desire to avenge his son and kill David Tate with his own two hands. There’s a lot to get done this season. While “Yankee” put me back into the world of the first season, while expanding it, there are quite a few plates in the air. I’m excited to see whether Reid and his team can keep them all spinning.

Stray observations:

  • Brian Baumgartner (a/k/a The Office’s Kevin) as Daniel’s sponsor! “I may be buzzed but I’ll be sober tomorrow and you, sir, will still be a Rush fan.”
  • Another thing that makes me happy: I’m glad they gave Adriana a girlfriend (Lucy, with the perfect lips). Adriana isn’t just a lesbian for character’s sake. The writers are giving her an interior world that wasn’t necessarily possible when she was simply a recurring character.

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