1. Sonya/Marco – The chief plot, and probably what you would think of as the premise. An unknown man shuts down all surveillance on a bridge between the United States and Mexico, before leaving an apparent body right on the border line. It turns out to be two women—the torso is that of an American woman, while the lower body is that of a Mexican, thus forcing Sonya Cross (an El Paso detective) and Marco Ruiz (a Juarez detective) to work together to catch the killer. Later, the killer releases a mission statement: “Why is it that one dead white woman north of the border is more important than thousands of lives lost to the south?” And so begins pretty much a one-man war against the concept of a border.
Unfortunately, this intriguing premise pretty much goes nowhere; soon, it turns out that the whole border thing is a red herring and the killer is really carrying out an obscenely convoluted revenge plot against those who’ve wronged him, so the murder might as well have taken place on the border between Ohio and Indiana. It pretty much makes no sense. The killer puts so much effort into doing things that are only useful as a red herring, actually more effort than he puts into the guy who actually pissed him off, just to give himself away purposefully once the narrative is done playing coy.
Also, I’ll take issue with the character of Sonya Cross. She has Aspergers, so this is kinda my area of expertise, though obviously she’s on a different place on the spectrum than me. Now I appreciate that the show isn’t doing the defective detective thing; it’s not Monk or Hannibal. However, in those shows, they make a point of the main characters being so good at their job that it justifies their unsuitability in other areas. Both Will Graham and Adrian Monk aren’t actually allowed on the police force, they’re just used as consultants. Here, Sonya is just an unremarkable police detective who happens to have a neurological situation. It doesn’t make her any better at her job, she doesn’t have any superhuman insight or anything.
However, that itself is the problem. She’s only competent at her job to begin with, and then her neurological condition makes her borderline incompetent in a way the show keeps (unintentionally?) making a point of in a really broad, dumb sort of way. I guess apparently in Texas, there’s so little prejudice that a woman with a debilitating mental condition can ascend to the rank of homicide detective and be put on an extremely high-profile case without anyone being rude enough to say “hey, maybe the woman who needs emotions explained to her in words of two syllables shouldn’t be the one to interview a traumatized witness or inform a civilian about a loved one’s death.”
It’s less like she has Aspergers, or whatever, and more like she’s the Obligatory Sexy Star Trek Lady Who Doesn’t Understand Emotions, Nerds. Like, if the premise was “Seven of Nine is a cop now!”, I don’t think there’d have to be any rewrites. I’ll give you an example that hit me. It’s FX, so there’s one episode where Sonya finds herself getting horny, goes to a bar, finds the first good-looking guy, and after a kooky misunderstanding with him trying to buy her a drink (because how would someone with Aspergers ever know from pop culture that flirting men will buy women a drink?), she immediately says she wants to have sex and it’s back to her place for some spicy Diana-Kruger’s-bare-back action. Okay, sure.
Is this the first time the character of Sonya Cross has ever gotten horny? Wouldn’t it make more sense for her to have a fuckbuddy or two that she knows isn’t a potential psycho (something you’d think a policewoman would be really wary of) and doesn’t have any STDs already? And that would make the same point about her character, just in a less ‘edgy’ way. I don’t know, I like that they seem to be keeping the Cross&Ruiz partnership strictly platonic, for now at least. But this storyline just falls flat for me.
2. Daniel Frye
The story of a drug-addicted journalism and his lesbian sidekick who get drawn into the murder case. Okay, at least it’s relevant, even if Frye’s struggle with addiction seems (like a lot of this show’s subplots) to be a Cliff’s Notes version of storylines other prestige shows engage with more. Oh, and obviously Adriana Mendez doesn’t have a girlfriend or romance plot; her lesbianism is mainly important to her dealings with her intolerant mother. But fine, it gets a pass.
3. Charlotte Millwright
Ehhhh? This is one of the storylines that is almost entirely unrelated to the murder case. It seems to just be here because the writers wanted to do a Lifetime Network version of Breaking Bad’s ‘mild-mannered whosits becomes a crime lord” story. Only it doesn’t make any sense. Let me just sum it up for you.
Charlotte: My rich husband has just died and now I see he was getting paid off to house a tunnel to Mexico on his land! I’m closing this tunnel immediately!
Obligatory Female Cartel Boss: Keep the tunnel open or I’ll kill you.
Charlotte: Okay, the tunnel’s open. So this situation’s resolved and there’s no drama or conflict here unless someone does something unimaginably stupid. (beat) I should probably call up my obviously untrustworthy and incompetent ex-boyfriend to put him in charge of the strenuous task of accepting envelopes full of money.
Ray: Thanks, Charlotte, and also for the FX Network PG-13 lovemaking. Now allow me to fuck everything up, repeatedly.
Charlotte: I guess I have no choice but to become a crime boss. Season two!
The only way this storyline really makes sense to me is as a subtle indictment of racism. The obvious choice for Charlotte to put in charge of the tunnel operation is Caesar, her property’s foreman and someone who is already intimately familiar with the set-up. And she does make him a partner in the venture and split some profits with him (though he still ends up doing most of the manual labor). However, instead of promoting from within, despite Caesar’s clear respect for her and above-and-beyond competence, she brings in an obnoxiously ill-equipped white guy to order Caesar around, though it’s clear she thinks of herself as a good liberal (see the profit-sharing above). And that’s an interesting point to make. But do we really need The Asylum version of Breaking Bad to get to it?
Some white guy is smuggling abused Mexican women into Texas so they can find new lives at a compound of militant Christian fundamentals (OF COURSE). Whatever.