created at: 2013-09-03

In the summer, TV slows down. Between True Blood and The Newsroom Sundays, there’s not much else on, aside from Real Housewives of Orange County Mondays and Burn Notice Thursdays. But this summer had a nice surprise in between: FX’s The Bridge. The show is an adaptation of a Swedish detective show, in which a dead body is placed across the bridge that separates Sweden and Denmark, falling into both jurisdictions. A female detective from the Swedish side and a male detective from the Danish side are assigned to investigate together.  Aside from the oddities of the case, the Swedish detective also has undiagnosed Asperger’s.

The American version of this show keeps the essentials intact: a body on a bridge, male and female detectives working together, she with unrecognized Asperger’s. The bridge, however, separates El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. The body, it turns out, is half of two bodies stuck together: a white Federal judge from Texas, and a Mexican prostitute. As it becomes clear this murder was one of many by a man with the intent of drawing attention to the disparities between the dead girls of Juarez (a real thing: and the privileged white Americans, The Bridge does not limit itself to the Detective Fiction genre. The narrative of The Bridge zooms out from the dead body, past the ignored dead bodies, and wonders “who are the people caught in this narrative, and how do they fit in with a larger geopolitical, political, and social institutions?” In this sense, The Bridge is about borders.

Thinking about this notion of borders from a Jewish perspective (because that’s what this blog is for!), I realized that it’s fortuitous I’m writing this now, a week before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The Roman god Janus represented duality, pictured with a head with two faces: one looking forward and the other looking backward. You can imagine him as the literal representation of a doorway, one foot in and one foot out. This is why the month that begins a new year is called January. The Jewish New Year doesn’t take place in the January, but the same notion applies: what are the lessons of the past year, and how can we apply them to the new one?

I don’t think The Bridge seeks this direct a message, but it’s an interesting thing to consider. Mostly The Bridge focuses on the fluidity of that which is supposed to be rigid. The Mexican-American border is supposed to be immutable, a literal line that is constantly monitored to keep the undesirable out. But the characters on The Bridge cross, re-cross, and cross back again with absurd ease. The detective from Mexico’s wife works in El Paso every day, and drives home to Juarez every evening. Her son attends college in El Paso and his home to hang out with friends in Mexico the same evening. Of course there’s drug trafficking, but the detectives and reporters chasing the story go back and forth just as easily.

The Bridge forces a consideration that our efforts to keep one thing out may only serve to exacerbate the situation, creating more dangerous and nefarious conditions that hurt many innocent people on both sides. For example, a wealthy widow in The Bridge discovers her husband kept a secret tunnel to Mexico on their property used to smuggle people across the border. She is terrorized by the cartel head (a woman- points for shaking up gender roles!) and in her resentment at being bullied, brings in a dubious boy toy to try to work it out. Instead he orchestrates with the cartel to now begin transporting weapons back into Mexico. It is this type of unintended consequence that The Bridge appreciates.

Jumping back to the High Holidays, Yom Kippur asks us what kinds of unintended consequences have we inadvertently created, and how can we do better next year. We are tasked with taking responsibility for our actions, intended or otherwise, for the results have a ripple effect.  While summer TV seems slow, we don’t have the luxury of constantly keeping one eye on the future and one eye on the past, keeping everything in context. Time marches on, and as The Bridge likes to remind us, everything in connected.

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