‘Under the Bridge’ Just Dropped Its Most Challenging Episode Yet

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‘Under the Bridge’ E7 Begins Warren’s Trial Bettina Strauss

I’ll admit: Even though I’m familiar with the true story behind Under the Bridge, I never thought I’d sympathize with Reena Virk’s killers. Even before the Hulu series told us who was responsible, I found myself shunning the perpetrators. I thought, Who could inflict such violence so flippantly? I thought I’d feel vindicated when they faced the law. Instead, I found myself teary and heartbroken for Warren Glowatski, whose trial begins in episode 7 of Under the Bridge.

In the penultimate episode, we learn that Warren is guilty. While the prosecution is questioning him, he says so himself. He kicked Reena while she cried for help. He commented on her body hair. He stood back and watched as Kelly delivered the final blows. He knew that his peers went too far—and still, he didn’t help Reena. When the prosecution asks how he’d rate his involvement in Reena’s death on a scale of one to 10, he gives himself a three for the kicks and “just for being around.”

Like many of the kids in Under the Bridge, Warren was around that night because he lacked parental supervision—or any guidance in his life, for that matter. His dad abandoned him to live with his girlfriend, leaving Warren behind to care for their home. Soon after, he got an eviction notice. On the day of Reena’s assault, he lost his home for good. Rebecca Godfrey—who’s portrayed by Riley Keough in the series—surmised the obvious: Warren couldn’t cope with his challenges anymore. How could he?. “Warren didn’t know there were words like humiliation and shame, so he thought it was maybe anger,” she wrote. “This emotion that he felt when he did things he would later regret.”

Though Warren takes part in Reena’s beating, he’s one of the few kids who feels remorse in the following weeks. Before his trial, he speaks briefly with Rebecca, who isn’t aware of the extent of his crimes. He’s worried people will think he’s a monster. She disagrees. “That’s not true; every single person I’ve talked to loves you,” she says. “Not Reena’s parents,” Warren responds. “That’s because they don’t know you.”

After a painful trial, Warren is sentenced to life in prison. Like the people in the courtroom, I felt both a sense of relief for Reena’s family—and a deep sorrow for Warren, who looks utterly lost. Under the Bridge clearly aches for both sides of this tragedy. Maybe I'm just the kind of person who's suspicious of law enforcement, yet roots for justice when violence occurs—only to remember why they were weary of the system to begin with.

Years ago, my uncle was murdered at a party. He was shot and left to die on the side of the road. The trial was brief, from what I’ve heard. To spare you the details: a lawyer asked some questions and the perpetrator was put behind bars. That was the end of it. We won. The system worked, right? To this day, I wonder if it really did—or if it even could, given such a tragedy.

As Rebecca suggests, those who villainize Warren simply do so because they don’t know him. To them, he is a monster; to Rebecca, he’s a product of his environment. “Why is it so crazy to see the side of him that’s not just the one horrible mistake he made in his life?” Rebecca asks Cam (Lily Gladstone). It’d be easy to dismiss Rebecca’s pleas as overly sympathetic—or even worse, TV hysterics—but her question points to the heart of Under the Bridge. It’s nature versus nurture, at its most tragic: Are humans really capable of pure evil?? Or are we just victims of circumstance? Either way, do our mistakes define us?

I’ve never spoken to my uncle’s killer, and if given the opportunity, I’d decline—not because I’m angry, but because I’m scared I won’t hate him. It’s much easier to think of people as nameless, faceless monsters. But who knows? Maybe he was also dealt a shitty hand and didn’t know how to spin it. If someone asked him, maybe he’d also feel guilty for “just being around.” For not choosing differently.

Justice is fickle. We have to choose to believe that our society is still capable of delivering it—because it’s too hard to imagine a world without justice. But is it up to us to define what is just? Perhaps that’s why the Virks supported Warren’s request for parole in 2010. People are too complex to be judged by rigid systems—especially ones that don’t take all of the things that go into the human experience into account.

Next week’s finale will feature Kelly Ellard's trial. Unlike Warren, she’s wealthy, has the best lawyers in town, and bears no remorse for killing Reena. If anything, she appears to be indifferent—which is somehow one of Under the Bridge’s greatest horrors so far.

For every Warren Glowatski, there’s a Kelly Ellard. As Under the Bridge reaches its finale, it clearly wants to show us that, which indicates that humans are truly capable of anything—of good bad, redemption, mercy, and even contempt. And that maybe instead of searching for justice, we’d be better off searching for understanding.

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