Meet Sonya Cross, the Anti- Anti-Hero

FX's 'The Bridge' subverts a prestige drama convention.


There are many notable things about FX's new crime drama "The Bridge," about a ghastly crime on the U.S.-Mexico border that brings together authorities from El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

It's based on a Scandinavian hit, "Bron/Broen" (not a first, but hopefully less problematic than "The Killing," another Scandinavian-inspired sprawling crime drama). It grounds itself in the current immigration debate: a hot political topic for sure, but one, for the most part, television has avoided. Being as such, much of the dialogue is in Spanish, reportedly also an effort by FX to grab a larger share of the growing Latino audience.

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But perhaps most notable, is how its lead character, Sonya Cross, subverts the anti-hero framing device that has become the norm on so-called "prestige dramas": the charismatic, crime-committing men, usually beloved by their families and viewers alike, who lead the charge. So abundant has the type become that the latest entry in the genre, "Ray Donovan," had critics wondering whether the trope had gotten stale.

But aside from being a woman – there are a few female anti-heroes as well – Sonya defies the archetype in a number of other ways. A detective in Texas, Cross is committed to the law and doing good; she is a rule-follower to a fault (in the first episode, she refuses to let ambulance carrying a critically ill man across a crime scene, lest it disrupt evidence).

But more importantly, she is cold, blunt and socially shut off. She is not charismatic like Tony Soprano, charming like Francis Underwood or smooth like Don Draper. And while it's not directly made clear in the first few episodes (to the frustration of some critics), Sonya has Asperger's Syndrome, which sits on the autism spectrum, a trait borrowed from "Bron/Broen."

"I was very confused and a little thrown off by Sonya, I didn't know if I like her or what was her deal," Diane Kruger, who plays Sonya, tells U.S. News. "By episode three, I thought she was one of the coolest characters I'd seen on television."

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The condition also sets Sonya apart from the smart-alecky, tough-as-nails female officer usually seen on crime procedurals. "I don't think Sonya is the typical, gun toting cop or detective," Kruger says. "She is more cerebral and has laser focus on things other cops don't see – her attention to detail is extraordinary."

Understanding the condition was Kruger's main concern in tackling the character. FX hired an autism consultant Alex Plank (Autism Speaks also played a role in bringing Plank on) to spend months helping Kruger understand Sonya's condition.

"Truly, I feel like I spend more time with him than with my family and friends," Kruger says. "He really tried in a sense to make see through Sonya's eyes."

Sonya's condition makes her a stellar detective, but also a pain to work with at a times, as she eschews many social cues. She changes her clothes in front of everyone at work. She has to be reminded to make eye contact when breaking the news to a victim's husband that his wife has died. When a man she has slept with (an encounter that's in itself quite awkward) surprises her at her office, she scolds him in front of her colleagues, "What are you doing here? I can't have sex at work." One would think Don Draper could handle that situation more gracefully.

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Her foil is a Mexican cop the initial crime forces her to work with, played by Demián Bichir. He is warm, jovial, a family man, but also one to bend the law, much to Sonya's protest. But don't expect a Carrie Mathison-Nick Brody romance to bloom. "I don't think we're going to end up having an affair on this show, which I love, too," Kruger says.

Before "The Bridge," Kruger appeared in a number of films, perhaps best known for her role as Bridget von Hammersmark in "Inglorious Basterds." She is only the latest in the growing number of film stars to make the jump to the small screen.