A review of tonight's "The Bridge" coming up just as soon as I plan a trip to see the fjords...

"The system... does not work." -Gary

I'll admit to feeling puzzled at times this season that the show didn't feel appreciably better despite dumping the serial killer mastermind nonsense. But the plots have really started to intersect in fascinating ways the last two weeks, and we're starting to get enormous payoff to all the patient storytelling done in the season's first half.

"Lamia" — easily the season's best episode to date, and one of the best hours of "The Bridge" so far — was a reminder not only of the power of that patient storytelling, but of the many strange and seemingly incompatible tones this show can feature in the same hour when all the elements are in balance with one another.

It's an episode that can open with a darkly comic scene like Frye and his NA sponsor doing lines of coke and rocking out to Rush's "The Spirit of Radio," and close on a sober note with Sonya meeting the mother of Jim Dobbs' other victim, and have both bookends feel like part of the same show. Similarly, it can comfortably fit all of the following in between: suspense with the attack on Adriana's girlfriend Lucy (including what I believe is the first-ever deployment of Chekhov's Knitting Needles), some "Godfather"-style intercutting between Marco's medal ceremony and the murder of David Tate(*), that macabre, spellbinding monologue about Eleanor Nacht's origin story. (The thing in the cage is her castrated father, conditioned by Fausto Galvan's torture to act like a pet.) Virtually every scene worked on multiple levels — the Rush/cocaine binge, for instance, as both comedy and tragedy — even as they were all moving the many stories along, and pushing them closer together.

(*) Farewell, David Tate. I will not miss you, but I suppose the show did the best it could at getting out of the dumb corner it painted itself into at the end of season 1.

Where things seemed fairly hopeless for our heroes at the end of last week's episode, they even out here a bit. Robles accepts Marco's murder of the two cops because it gives him easy patsies for the prosecutor's murder, and prevents Marco from sending the affidavit on to higher authorities in Mexico City. Galvan remains isolated in his speedboat warehouse, and begins sounding like Monty Python's famous ex-parrot as he pines for the fjords and ponders an end to his reign. We know Galvan can occasionally turn introspective — note his concern last season that he might be viewed as a sicko serial like Tate —  but this is certainly the most vulnerable our chief villain has appeared.

Or is he the chief villain at this point? I might think that it's Robles, or the Grupo Clio CEO, at this point. Regardless, there are a lot of bad men on that side of the border, and Eleanor makes clear just how bad Galvan is when she tells a terrified Ray and Charlotte — the latter even sending a distress call to the feds, as we finally return to the thread introduced at the end of season 1(**) — her history with her boss in a spellbinding monologue that all by its lonesome justifies Franka Potente's presence on the show this season. Eleanor's backstory is as lurid and over-the-top as everything else about her — including Galvan's willingness to let her cross back over the border while she's still wanted for a child murder — but she fits into the stranger, more operatic corners of the show quite well.

(**) I don't know if Timothy Bottoms was too busy to return, if Elwood Reid simply decided to go in a different direction with the fed character, or something else, but the previous character's absence is explained with Joe saying that he was reassigned to Latvia. Wondering if he can buy a Winston Bishop game-worn jersey while he's there.

Meanwhile, the Sonya/Jack relationship pays off in devastating fashion with the revelation that he suspected his brother of an earlier murder. It doesn't make Jack into a killer himself, but it does mean he failed to prevent the murder of Sonya's sister, and in the process reshaped the entire course of Sonya's life. She's changed a lot just in the season and a half of the show — the Sonya Cross of the pilot would not abide Marco covering up the murder of those cops, even if it was for her own protection — but she's still the woman who became a cop out of her hero-worship of Hank, and the discovery that Hank tried to execute Dobbs, and therefore deprived her of any answers about Lisa's murder, just wrecks her. This is a rough episode for Sonya — both her closest friend and her father figure have used their badges to try to get away with murder (or attempted murder) — and even though Jack seems ready to skip town at episode's end, this larger character story clearly isn't finished yet. For one thing, there's Hank's offer to make a statement to the DA — and what that might mean for his career and/or freedom — but I wonder what, if anything, all of this turns Sonya into. Like many people with Asperger's, she's deeply rigid, but we know that huge events can change her, and she's just had one of the foundations of her adult life smashed into pieces. I don't know if anything good comes of that, but I look forward to watching Diane Kruger and the writers play that out.

Just a damn good episode where everything clicked from beginning to end.

Some other thoughts:

* When the head of Grupo Clio demanded intel on Adriana's loved ones, I figured they would go after her family in Juarez. Instead, it's Lucy who's attacked, and we'll have to see if she actually survives the knife wound and, either way, whether this leads Adriana to retreat from the investigation or attack it with new fury.

* It's a small role, but Brian Baumgartner is awfully good as Gary. The switch from the raucous silliness at the start of the opening scene to the utter melancholy of Gary realizing he just blew five years and 230 days of sobriety was all on him, and he pulled it off beautifully.

* Ray's kind of a hillbilly, he's on a show where a guy keeps his boat landlocked, and now we see Ray driving a golf cart around the housing development. At this point, it's safe to assume someone on "The Bridge" writing staff really likes "Cougar Town," no?

* Cesar has mostly been presented as the pragmatic voice of reason in Charlotte's terrible operation, but here he and Eleanor get to bond over the way he gets swept up in the stories of erotic vampires. (And if it wasn't for those damn fjords, you know that line would have introduced this review.)

* Though I imagine Charlotte's new arrangement with Joe will give her greater prominence in the season's second half, it feels like the creative team has tried to keep her on the margins so far this year, giving scenes to Ray and/or Cesar whenever possible. I don't necessarily object to that.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com