The second season of the FX series "The Bridge" debuts tonight, and if you haven't watched it yet, you need to start now. Adapted from the Swedish-Danish series of the same name, it's a dark, harrowing police drama set on the U.S.-Mexico border of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. And it kicked off with a grisly initial event: In the first episode, a body shows up on the Bridge of the Americas, dumped straddling the border line.
On top of that, it turns out each half actually comes from a different murder victim: one a missing Mexican girl, the other an anti-immigration Texas judge. American detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and Mexican detective Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) enter the fold and discover it’s the work of a diabolical serial killer, whose manifesto is revealed at the end of the pilot. It serves as both the killer’s m.o. and perhaps "The Bridge’s" central moral.
“There are five murders a year in El Paso. In Juarez, 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?”
It’s a chilling moment to kick-start the first season of "The Bridge," which you can stream in its entirety on Hulu. In June, the show won a 2013 Peabody Award—rare for a show with only one season under its belt. The Peabody committee write that the show offers “powerful translation for American audiences, spotlighting issues along the border that are rarely seen on mainstream U.S. television” and “raising awareness of border issues while creating a compelling murder mystery.”
Elwood Reid is an executive producer, writer and showrunner on "The Bridge." He sat down with Fusion to talk about the changing demographics of television and where his show’s second season– premiering Wednesday night on FX at 10 p.m. ET– is going.
Fair warning: This Q&A may contain spoilers of seasons one and two. Again, you can watch season one here.
Fusion: So what’s in store for season two?
Elwood Reid: Season two takes a much bigger approach to the border question. Last year was hunting a serial killer. There are a couple of killers in season two and all of them are much more dark and vicious than the [killer] we had last year. Because they’re doing business down there and that’s what’s so scary. That’s what [the detectives] Sonya and Marco bump up against.
The mystery starts kinda small with the arrival of Eleanor Nacht, played by Franka Potente [the titular character] from Run Lola Run. She works for the cartel and you’re not quite sure in what capacity. You begin to learn how ruthless and thorough she is in enforcing the cartel’s will on both sides of the border. That’s the setup for this season. And there’s a whole lot of side stories from there. It was an attempt on my part to deal with a really interesting world, pull from the headlines and the pulpy backpack I carry around and try to mix those two into a combustible story.
So it’s still a fairly standard police procedural set at the border?
To some extent. But this year, the big difference is we follow our characters home more. But this is not a hair-and-fiber show, where they look at a blood splatter and say, "I know who the killer is!" This is not that show. We learn a lot more about Sonya’s personal life this year. Something from her past comes back to haunt her. Also [cartel leader] Fausto Galvan takes information and twists Marco and begins to use him, putting him under his spell. The second season is much bigger, and, dare I say, darker and weirder.
I read that originally "The Bridge" was to be set on the U.S.-Canada border to mimic the snowy, original Danish-Swedish series. What changed?
Well, it wasn’t a bad line of thinking to say, "This show did really well in Denmark and Sweden, don’t mess with it." Literal, easy thinking. So we were going to set it at the U.S.-Canadian border. And I said, "What’s the difference between Canada and the United States?" So I started bringing up the idea of Mexico-U.S. and a lot of people were very nervous about that. Their minds go right to cartels, it’s very lurid. I said, "No, we have this very safe, grounding mechanism of the body and this mystery."
In season one, there were about half as many English subtitles as there would be in a Mexican or other foreign film for American release. Even for cable, subtitles to the degree the show use them is kinda unheard of. What made you guys go that route?
It was a really useful device for me to use, because whenever you have a gringo that’s down [in Mexico] and they’re speaking in English because the gringo is there, then the two Mexican characters turn and speak in Spanish, that’s excluding that character. We use that a lot.
Also, and maybe I’m naive, but as the world has shrunk more, subtitles are something that add mystery to our show. But remember there’s a massive Hispanic population in [the U.S.] who might say, "What’s with all this damn English in the show?"
If you look at the numbers for [Spanish-language cable], they beat the network shows most nights. Their viewership is huge. This is just anecdotal research, but what [the industry] has found is that [those viewers] tend to stay watching [those Spanish channels]. What there hasn’t been is that olive branch or crossover.
Generally, what are the rules for when characters speak Spanish and don’t on "The Bridge?" Is there any rhyme or reason to that? Or is it just what feels appropriate?
That’s a good question. Our general rule is if there’s a gringo there, unless they’re being excluded, they tend to speak English. But when it’s two Mexican characters, it’s going to be 99 percent in Spanish. Because that’s their language.
So is the entire writers’ room pretty fluent in Spanish?
No, actually! I have one writer named Mauricio Katz from Mexico City. Bringing him on this year was a huge asset. We try to cast not just Hispanic actors but Mexican actors, who know have a facility with the language. And Demian Bichir who, when a script goes out to set and the Spanish isn’t exactly correct, he fixes it to make it sound like language. So we write in English first so the network and everyone else can sign off on it and then we turn it into Spanish.