Lost childhood and cycles of violence in Hulu's 'Under the Bridge' - Catholic Courier
Lily Gladstone is pictured in Episode 106, titled "In Water They Sink The Same," of Hulu's "Under the Bridge" streaming series. Lily Gladstone is pictured in Episode 106, titled "In Water They Sink The Same," of Hulu's "Under the Bridge" streaming series. (OSV News photo by Darko Sikman/Hulu)

Lost childhood and cycles of violence in Hulu’s ‘Under the Bridge’

Rebecca Godfrey (Riley Keough) squints through the floor-to-ceiling windows of her childhood home amid the ethereal beauty of Victoria, British Columbia. The scene of rolling pine-covered hills, deepened by the pale blue of surrounding water, is picturesque. Though she’s not glad to be back, Rebecca has returned to research and write a book on the her childhood town. With such idyllic beauty, who wouldn’t?

“No one is forcing you to write about Victoria,” her mother tells her.

“Well, I can’t seem to think about anything else,” she replies, staring through the glass yet seeing none of it.

It’s not the scenery that compels Rebecca. She’s here for the troubled girls of Victoria: the underage ones residing in a group home called Seven Oaks and unlovingly referred to by the adults around them as “Bic girls” — a reminder that they are easily replaced.

Based on a true story, Hulu’s “Under the Bridge” premiered in April and will continue to release new episodes weekly through May 29. The drama, rated TV-MA largely for its violence and language, stars Keough (of Prime Video’s “Daisy Jones and the Six”) and Golden Globe winner Lily Gladstone, whose talent steadies a show packed with emotionally volatile characters.

As Rebecca begins poking around, police detective Cam Bentland (Gladstone ) opens an investigation into the vanishing of Reena Virk (a heartbreaking Vritika Gupt). Reena’s disappearance sets into motion a crisis of conscience for several characters, forcing them to grapple with the knowledge that repentance demands a truth they may not be prepared to speak.

Reena is not a Bic girl. She has two parents at home, loud younger siblings and hot food waiting for her at the kitchen table. She has people who notice she is gone. But when those people notify the authorities, Cam has to wade through a sea of skepticism to get a thorough look at Reena’s case. Left in the wake of decisions adults made for them, the girls remain surrounded by people who can’t see their inherent dignity. To the people in charge, the troubled girls of Victoria are just that: trouble.

With barely a chance to garner viewers’ sympathy, the teenage clique holding court at Seven Oaks and terrorizing the town quickly digs into the worst of what everyone seems to think they are. Mean, exclusionary, drug-seeking and downright vicious, the girls only make it harder to glimpse moments of humanity hidden in them, rare sparks that enable any former angst-riddled teenager to feel a pang of sympathy. But by the end of episode two, Josephine (Chloe Guidry) describes exactly what she and her gang did to Reena under the bridge.

Overwhelmed by guilt, another girl rushes from the queen bee’s sight line before collapsing into a panic. She’s been calling Reena’s family home, hoping that her old friend might pick up and absolve her. Instead, Josephine reminds her of the “nasty right hook” she dealt Reena under the bridge.

“Under the Bridge” isn’t concerned only with a series of events on one terrible evening. It spends time with Reena and her would-be friends, linking childhood trauma with disproportionate reactions to ordinary adolescent happenings. Scenes that precede Reena’s disappearance might have fit into 2004’s “Mean Girls,” right between the burn book and three-way phone call — but what follows is pure crime and suspense thriller, dramatized all the more by the youth of its suspects.

Episode one opens with Keough’s narrative commentary about fairy tales, describing them as tales of “horror and wonder.” The Bic girls are unfortunate lost girls, stuck between the rising tide of nature and tragic consequences of nurture. The system, parents and law enforcement have failed them at every opportunity, And they’ve learned to perpetuate the carelessness with which they’ve been treated.

In its first episodes, “Under the Bridge” does little to suggest that any of the girls will be able to change the path they’re on. Josephine attempts to negotiate with Rebecca, hoping to trade a juicy story for lodging and a one-way ticket to New York. Cam, who spent time at Seven Oaks during her own childhood, hopes for a transfer away from Victoria’s police station at the first opportunity. Even as an adult, she’s still looking for a way out.

Amid the chaos, there’s hope for redemption, a pinprick of light at the end of a dark tunnel. For Reena, that hope might have been rejecting the toxic influence of girls with whom she sought to fit in at all costs. And the Bic girls’ childish way of navigating the world suggests their humanity haunted by moments of startling cruelty.

Such glimmers of light will mean little if the characters never have a real opportunity to rise above vices and conflicts to decide whether to strive for virtue. Before Josephine and her merry band of delinquents arrive at the end of the season, “Under the Bridge” ought to give them a chance to be more than the sum of their shock value.

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Meghan Schultz works as a creative director in Catholic ministry. She graduated from Hillsdale College with a degree in English and journalism.

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