FX’s The Bridge is Developing a Good Indicator of the El Paso Undercurrent

Like many people I have been watching The Bridge and like many who have lived and experienced El Paso there are many things in the television show that are obviously literary licenses taken by the network. But there is also much underlining truth that many in El Paso ignore, or conveniently turn a blind eye to. The show is still very new and will change but my hope is that the television show continues to explore the undercurrent between El Paso and Cd. Juárez.

I realize that many of you are laughing, like me, of the many incredulous characters portrayed in the show. We all know that the El Paso Police Department is incapable of handling a case such as this and would likely never even be allowed to. What many people forget about El Paso is that it is a city that has many more law enforcement than the majority of other cities in the nation with maybe the exception of Washington DC. El Paso even boasts diplomatic security forces that few other cities have not to mention the alphabet soup of other federal agencies from around the nation.

However, those of us who know anything about El Paso know that Sonya Cross would never have made it up the chain of command to a point where she leads an investigation with the magnitude of the one portrayed in the show. More importantly, setting aside for a moment her disability, Cross would never have been allowed to go alone to interview the husband of the dead judge dumped on the bridge. Not only would the federal agencies have taken the case from the local PD, as jurisdiction was well established in that a judge was killed and the body was found on federal property, the high profile of the case would have all of the other agencies scrambling to keep the local dimwits out.

Jaime Esparza’s office would have been all over this case, if nothing else just to get face time on television to further his political career, not to mention the faces of all of the other politicians of the city. I haven’t even brought up the caricatures of officer Tim Cooper and the sheriff’s deputy; Manny Stokes. About the only thing the television producers have been able to get right, as far as characters are concerned, is Daniel Frye and the ineptitude of the El Paso Times.

I realize that Hollywood creates illusionary representations in order to bring in an audience and that the show isn’t original, rather it is adopted from another show, the Bron. But what the show lacks in authenticity in the characters it makes up for in the political message it seems to be developing.

For many years I have seen and witnessed the corruption that permeates El Paso that allows it to act as if the city is far from the death and mayhem of drugs, people trafficking and overall corruption that allows it to pretend it has clean hands. El Paso, to this day, pretends to be the third-safest city when in reality the bumbling local police department wouldn’t know what to do with a body it found on the dividing line between El Paso and its sister city. Setting aside the Hollywood characterization of El Paso the message being developed is one that El Pasoan’s would rather ignore.

As of last week’s episode the undercurrent being developed is something that many in Cd. Juárez have grumbled about for many years. Drugs, murders and corruption are a shared problem perpetuated and enabled by many on both sides of the border. The multidimensional problem that is the criminal activities across the border is normally blamed on incompetent police in the Mexican side of the border. Demián Bichir’s character; Marco Ruiz begins to give the audience a peek into the multitude of problems facing a Mexican police officer trying to be honest in the treacherous waters of corruption.

Refreshingly, the show’s producers do not make him the perfect “white-hat” guy nor do they make him the treacherous corrupt-ridden most assume Mexican police officers to be. He is not a single-faceted guy always doing what is right even though the odds are against him. His human failures are shown in how he attempts to deal with his oldest son’s failures attempting to correct the misbehavior while not fully dedicating the resources he needs to accomplish that. He shows more assertiveness in the hunt for the woman dying in the desert than he does his son’s fall into the drug world where he might end up lost forever. Ruiz’ character clearly understands the treacherous path his son is on but doesn’t seem to grasp how he is losing his son to the criminal underworld. At the same time, Ruiz seems to be fighting to be a good public servant while falling into temptation with Charlotte showing that his character is not immune to the frailty of human nature. Putting aside the fact that Ruiz would never have been allowed to give passage to the ambulance on the border it seems that this single act of compassion will be the impetus for the future scurrying of higher-ups when the truth is revealed and they need to point fingers to convenient scapegoats.

The Marco Ruiz character is not a stereotypical Mexican. Ruiz is portrayed as a fallible human being but full of compassion, honesty and integrity but not overly so. He is wrestling with the demons that make up the intricacy of the El Paso-Cd. Juárez reality. If you can overcome the obvious failings that the television show uses to set the plot then the underlining message it is developing is important for those that want to understand the complexity of the US-Mexico relationship.

If you look for it you will first notice it with the hierarchy of the well-to-do in El Paso that have a hand in the people and drug trafficking but conveniently seem to keep their hands clean. Cesar clearly lays out this when he tells Charlotte to “go do something” because the tunnel is “criminal”. In other words he is telling her to create her alibi. The old Mexican lady that manages the people trafficking tunnel in Charlotte’s ranch is well portrayed, unlike the character of drug smuggler and his companion which both are very one-dimensional.

What is important to note is that the interaction between the old lady smuggler and the drug runner is accurate although very badly played by the male drug character actor. This interaction is important to note because most people mistakenly believe that the criminal underworld between the US and Mexico does not include ruthless women. Although badly acted the interaction superficially introduces the viewers into a world they have seldom seen or heard of.

Ruiz’ acceptance of the drug runner’s money is key to understanding the notion that Mexican law enforcement is corrupt. Although there is no doubt that corruption exists, it is important to note that many are not born to it but rather are forced into being a part of it. The Marco Ruiz character demonstrates this first in the scene where he lets the ambulance through with everyone assuming that he did it for the mordida, instead of the compassion for the patient. As much as Ruiz fights to keep himself not only safe from the drug cartels but from their influence, his need to save the girl tied down in the desert forces him to make a devil’s pact where he accepts the money from the drug cartel in order to save her life.

The intricacies of the many facets of this one transaction are important to note. First we have the FBI agents fumbling about assuming that they clearly understand the killer’s motive and unable to procure the money needed to save the woman’s life. Worse yet, is that they seemingly accept the money from Ruiz knowing full well that its origins are very questionable, at best. For his part, Marco Ruiz comprehends that the money brings him closer to the life he has tried to keep distance but it is that money that gives him the opportunity to do what he thinks is best.

As the “white-hats” fumble about it is the power that the criminals wield through their money that gets things done. For their part, the drug runner isn’t giving money away to save a girl, he is making an investment in Ruiz and in ending the extra scrutiny the woman’s predicament is having on his business. The sooner the police attention is gone the sooner he can get back to bringing in his drugs.

Throughout the episodes that have run the message has been delivered that if this were a “white” person the ongoing murders in Juárez would have ended sooner. People don’t care when its brown people being murdered goes the show’s subtext. Along with this we start to see the undercurrent develop with the murdered FBI agent whose own past has come full circle ending in his murder.

Some of you will remember that former FBI Special Agent in Charge Hardrick Crawford was arrested, convicted and incarcerated for lying about his relationship with people across the border that had been connected to drug trafficking allegations. Crawford went so far as to hold a press conference in Cd. Juárez attesting to the integrity of an individual that Mexican officials had been investigating for years.

There is more to the plot that needs to develop, but already we start to see how El Paso’s indifference is part of the larger problem. During the hundreds of female murders in Juárez in the 90’s there was much speculation about how it was possible that there was one, or more killers on the US side of the border, who crossed into Mexico to kill and then laid low in El Paso until their next murder.

Even today, there is the notion that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation but there are court records where someone is kidnapped on the US side of the border and is found dead on the Mexican side. There are other court cases where murders are alleged on the US side but the bodies are found on the Mexican side of the international line. And, of course there are many whispers of drug runners living on the US side of the border free from reprisals. There are countless stories in El Paso about huge cash transactions and business dealings that just cannot be justified by the community’s actual economic activity. Yet none are the wiser.

I once heard a story about how Chase Bank didn’t understand how its tellers’ in El Paso had to handle so much more cash than other tellers across the nation. This handling of cash led to transactional delays in their systems. Normally this was whisked away with the notion that Mexicans like to buy things in cash and for many that is true but the amount that Chase was handling in cash could not be explained away when the city’s business climate was analyzed.

As the stories went, Chase just “winked-winked” and took the cash out of El Paso. This was reminiscent of other business transactions in the city that to this day occur. Much more cash enters the economy then what can be explained by the documented legal economic activities of the city. Everyone agrees that the El Paso-Cd. Juárez corridor is one of the largest crossing points of drugs into the US but somehow the interception, the violence and the graft that comes from it is somehow absent in El Paso. Yet no one questions why this is so, instead glossing over it with “the drug dealers are afraid of US law enforcement”.

We are now into the fourth episode and it seems that the groundwork continues to be developed. The premise of the complicity of El Paso is becoming evident. Yet to make an appearance are the Juárez elite that are just as complicit as their American counterparts. If you can ignore the obvious clichés and Hollywood dramatization, The Bridge might actually expose the secrets that many in El Paso whisper about but continue to ignore. It is still too early to tell if this will actually come to pass but for now the undercurrent being developed about El Paso’s complicity will surely make many El Pasoans uncomfortable. It will be interesting to see how this show continues to develop.