The Handmaid's Tale: The Crossing

"Sarah. Elie. Brianna. Alma. Janine. Moira. June."

I got spoiled about what happens in this episode, and did something I've never done before:

I asked someone who knows me well to watch it alone first and see if she thought I could handle it. She decided that I could. She was right. There aren't enough words to express how much I hate torture episodes so honestly, if she hadn't, I probably would have turned it off at the waterboarding, and stopped watching and reviewing this show.

The Handmaid's Tale is difficult enough to watch, and it often teeters on the very edge of unendurable. Fortunately, the director focused on the story, the characters, their actions and reactions, saving this episode from falling off a torture porn cliff. As is often the case, Elisabeth Moss carried much of the story with just her eyes and facial expressions, even when masked. What's wildly impressive is that she did this while also directing the episode. It was even her directorial debut.

It was Aunt Lydia's reactions to June's torture that we saw, Lydia's attempts to control herself and continue to buy into this twisted Gilead world view. She tried, but I thought Lydia seemed visibly deflated, as if her faith was failing her. When Lydia yelled at June, as she has many times before, that it was her fault, June turned it right back on her. "You failed them. It is your fault, Aunt Lydia." And it worked. June knew it, too. In the red van at the end, June could have beaten Lydia to death in a matter of moments, and she didn't.

After finally giving up the location of her sister handmaids, June told Lydia she was ready to die. But no. A Magdalene Colony. Laboring in the fields instead of languishing in a spartan bedroom in the attic. The only surprise is that we'd never heard of a Gilead breeding colony before. It makes more sense than sending them to a Jezebels or the radioactive Colonies.

There were so many powerful sisterhood moments in this episode. The scene on the roof in the rain was just devastating. Beth knew she was going to die anyway and was outright defiant, telling June not to give up. Sienna was in tears, not ready to die, but in the end smiling at June as if she'd also accepted her fate. I hated losing them both.

As the handmaids were captured, they stopped cowering in the basement, stood up and held hands, giving each other comfort and strength. And later, in the red van, they communicated with their eyes, signaling that they were ready to chance breaking out, but leaving it to June to make the first move. It was awful, watching them die. I'm genuinely sad that they're gone. That final flashback to the Red Center where they were all whispering their real names to each other made me cry. It helps that like Beth, like June, they had clearly chosen risking death over continued slavery.

At least Janine survived. She's always been my favorite supporting handmaid and I don't think I could handle losing her. Janine has most certainly suffered enough. Although like the proverb, it seems to have made her stronger.


For me, the strongest scenes in this episode were the railroad crossing and the flashback to the gymnasium, but June and Nick on the bridge was a powerful scene too, as well as beautifully shot. But the thing is, The Handmaid's Tale isn't a love story, and June and Nick aren't destined for a happily ever after.

Yes, they love each other. Nick kept June alive through this ordeal when she was ready to die. But note that he didn't grab her and make a break for the border when he had her right there in his arms. She didn't expect it, either. That doesn't feel like love to me. It suggests that Nick still believes in Gilead and is still willing to fight for it, and that he acknowledges his feelings for June but they're an inconvenience. Am I wrong?

Meanwhile in Canada... Interestingly, this was the first time in the series that I got the feeling that June's marriage with Luke might be over. During that lovely conversation on the porch as he was holding June's daughter (who looks very much like June), Luke told Moira about how crushed he was that June chose Gilead over returning to him.

I think Luke is mistaken. I think June chose Hannah. Luke didn't even mention Hannah. But the scene with Hannah in the box suggested that Hannah has been so successfully assimilated into Gilead that she no longer loves or trusts her own mother. June's relationship with Hannah and Luke may be irreparable. The rebellion may be all that June has left now.

There is so much symbolism in The Handmaid's Tale. This week's most obvious was that Hannah's box, symbolizing Gilead, was bigger than June's, but it was still a box. While imprisoned, June often had light directly behind her head, which I've mentioned more than once is consistent imagery in this show. This time, it was deliberately halo-like. June has become so much more than a wife, a mother, a handmaid. She's become the movement.


Bits:

— Lieutenant whatever, the torturer, was Gilead personified, with a great big smile and a matter-of-fact manner. Good performance. He even called June "sweetheart." Bleah.

— Nick told June that Mrs. Keyes is in custody. The Keyes farm is in Pennsylvania. I wonder where that prison is.

— The poisoning at the Jezebels resulted in six dead commanders, with nine in the hospital. Good for June. Nick suggested that those deaths might help keep Joseph Lawrence alive; they'll need him. That reminded me of Emily and Janine returning from the Colonies after the bombing of the new Red Center.

— The dinner scene where Lawrence was trying to get June to talk was visually striking, the weirdest faux dining room ever: cement bunker walls, rows of overhead lights like tombstones, a lovely dinner with candles.

— I am still really enjoying Nick's new relationship with Joseph Lawrence. I think these two interesting men like each other. Together, they could make a real difference in Gilead.

— Loved the bit with the persimmon for luck. It worked, didn't it?

Quotes:

June: "There is no light here. God has forsaken this place."

Lawrence: "Gilead doesn't care about children. Gilead cares about power. Faithfulness, old-time values, homemade bread, that's just the means to the end. It's distraction and window-dressing. I thought you would've figured that out by now."
June: "I thought you were gonna clean up your mess."
Lawrence: "I can't do it from the end of a rope. This is where we are."
June: "Well, go fuck yourself."

Four out of four green persimmons,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

1 comment:

Samantha M. Quinn said...

Brilliant and utterly impossible episode to watch. I yelled at my screen at least three times, including a violent "NO!" when Alma and Brianna died. I thought it was beautifully shot, given this is Elizabeth's first time directing I'm impressed as hell. The choice of shots, the composition and the use of light and slow motion was all very deliberate and detailed. There was also quite a bit of close up shots, taking full advantage of this marvelous cast. The behind the scenes for the episode, one of the actors said that Moss is an actor's director. If she is that, with this level of visual style, I believe she has a future as a director.

Great review, I'm glad you suffered through this one for us!