The Handmaid's Tale: The Bridge

"Go like an open flower."

In a moving episode of The Handmaid's Tale, we see June/Offred begin to take action in a world where she can take no action.

This episode brought me from despair to ecstasy. And at its core it is about what mothers give up for their children.

The opening scene of this episode was gorgeous cinematography. And like almost everything else in this series, the beauty is covering up horror. The red handmaids against the muted greenblue background. Janine leaving with a red suitcase. Her look of continual uncertainty. I don't know how much she was damaged in the process of losing her eye, but sometimes she seems strong and definite. Sometimes... Here she seemed uncertain, caught between dreams and reality as the Warrens make her give them her own child. Aunt Lydia, she terrified me. She's so intent, so sure the way is right. Janine's confused nature bows before Aunt Lydia's certainty. Janine starts to resist in the house, though, despite how awful the Daniels are (the velvet glove and the iron fist, I wrote in my notes, and it was certainly true that 'we're in this together, aren't we' turned into an order to 'be still!')

The Ceremony scene was the worst for me. I couldn't deal with seeing Janine violated by Commander Daniel. I couldn't deal with the aftermath too. Calling for Commander Warren? Really? This is where the confusion comes in... and I bet Warren used the same soft noises Lydia used to play with Janine's mind. Janine's like the wild teenager you love and worry about uncontrollably. I was proud of Janine when she stood on the bridge. I was proud too about June going to talk with Janine, and convince her to live for the sake of her child. Janine telegraphed what she was going to do, at least to me; she made sure her child had a future, but she couldn't think of one for herself. The body on the water felt like the inverse of the beautiful opening image: instead of a sea of red, it was a drop of red in a sea of black. Will Janine live? By the end of the episode, we don't know, but we see her on life support, being monitored by Lydia.

Poor Janine. In this twisted world, did Warren really love her? Does Lydia really care about the 'stupid girl'? Or is it all a sham? Warren did refuse to leave the bridge at the end, but he just as clearly didn't see Janine as equal – but we already know how people in Gilead feel about love. June's easier to read, possibly because we both think love is real. In this episode, all of a sudden, after seeing Janine lose her child, June decides to act. Has she reached a limit of her own? There's a package waiting for her back at Jezebel's at the bar. This package's delivery will, somehow, help the Mayday movement. But to get it, she must seduce the Commander.

This plotline seemed a little contrived and desperate to me, but it's a world of desperate contrivances. The return to Jezebel's was stressful and tense. June is getting better at pulling off her vamp act; Commander Waterford seemed completely under her thumb... until he brought in Moira. For a moment, I almost thought he was part of Mayday, he was helping arrange the package... no. He was half prodding for group sex and half trying to punish June. And punishment it was – because it took June's secret life and put it right out there in the air, reminding June of her place and her powerlessness. He knows who she speaks to. Waterford is the attractive, manicured evil your mother doesn't warn you about.

June took advantage of the moment to beg Moira for help while Waterford showers, then attacks Moira when Moira refuses. I almost felt like attacking her too, when she told June to just go home and do what they say. It feels, though, like June is trying to attack June as well, especially when June talks about Hannah. After all, isn't it equally true for June? June's attempt to save Janine was her second attempt to change or save another woman in this episode, and when Janine turns (after making carefully sure that the child, which even the captions called Angela, was in June's arms and June unable to stop her) Elisabeth Moss' face is a study in the stoniness of despair. I recalled when she sent that message to Luke – save Hannah. I wonder if it occurred to June at that moment that she herself had also given up, in a way... and she's decided not to give up. I almost wish that June had chosen to live for herself – but it really does seem her motivation to stay for the future is Hannah. I'm troubled by this; it's honorable, I suppose, but in context also disturbing. Is the only way for women to not lose themselves, to give themselves away?

The thing which brings me joy, and saves June and the episode, is Moira. Last episode I was horrified at the depths to which she'd been drawn. Here, we see June become Moira's salvation. Moira is so disturbed by what the fight with June reveals about the depths to which she's fallen, that she's driven to deliver a package, kill one of the Johns at Jezebel's, dress up for Try Number Two and drive the heck out of Dodge. The smile of freedom is a killer. And I'm hoping, I'm wondering, I'm dreaming while she drives that Moira has a plan, and somewhere in her plan is June, and Hannah, and salvation. After all, while this series used the book as inspiration, it's clearly going to a different place, and in this new world salvation may be possible, and a bridge may be a rebirth as well as a tomb.

Go like a flower, Moira. Like an open flower.

Seen On A Walk

The relationship between Mrs. Waterford and Mrs. Warren, and their exchanges throughout, are interesting – the wives watch each other too, with horrifying closeness. Serena Joy is clearly desperate of the Warrens having a child, and Mrs. Warren seems to have issues with her husband's status. Plus, everyone seems to know about Offred 1.

The moment early on where Mrs. Waterford is looking for liquor, and Rita comes out, and they both manage to understand one another.

On the drive to Jezebel's, June teases Nick. Nick seems to think that something's going on, and checks up on June in the kitchen – and he seems almost desperate.

Moira kills to get out using the same type of sharpened metal tool with which she created graffiti at the Red Center. Nice callback.

I have seen the look on June's face so many times on the faces of my friends. The one she had in the office, and the limo, and at Jezebel's. The look of a woman working hard to convince the man and herself that she has feelings and that they're real. This show is sometimes so close to our reality that it punches me in the gut.

Rita had a son named Matthew who was on the Gilead side during the war and died at 19.

On the Wall

Rita: "Ma'am, might I suggest something with a little more flavor to settle the soul?"
Serena Joy: "Make it two if you like."

Moira: "Praised be, bitch. Here's your damn package."

Overall

I don't know how I feel about June and Moira becoming what they have. It's a very different approach to Atwood's world. But as an entity of its own this episode was powerful and engaging, and hey, nobody's taking the book version away. And Moira. So five by five from me.

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