Today we’re chatting The Handmaid’s Tale: The Bridge – episode 1.09. Any journey throughout a television show requires three main parts – characters, relationships, and change. But most importantly, payoff. Luckily, we get plenty of all them here…
I’ve been critical of the past two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale – and I believe rightfully so. They were either heavily flashback reliant, or just plain confusing when it came to the characterizations of certain players. The hard part about reviewing each episode is that sometimes we aren’t privy to all that the showrunners have to say, or are intending to say. Having said that, I see what Bruce Miller was going for after seeing this latest episode.
Does that mean “The Other Side” and “Jezebels” are now better in hindsight? Well, no – not really. I believe they’re still confusing as hell. But I understand the context now.
Any show has an obligation to character, their relationships, and how those facets change throughout it’s run. Managing the burning cauldron of these three facets is a very fine alchemy that requires patience not only from the viewer, but also from the showrunner – who has to trust the viewer actively engage with the recipe.
In other words, the episode cannot exist without the previous two episodes. True, The Handmaid’s Tale is a heavily serialized program that needs your specific attention with each episode just to keep up with the story on a very tertiary level. But, “The Bridge” requires the past two entries because of very pointed thematic measures that are finally paid off by the time the credits roll on itself.
Was learning that Luke is still alive and how he did it the most visceral television experience ever? Absolutely not. The Other Side was relatively boring, and I still don’t think it warrants an entire episode dedicated to itself. Without Luke’s journey, however, I don’t think June finds it within herself to fight Gilead. There is absolutely no way she tells Moira, “What is wrong with you? Moira, do not let them grind you down. You keep your shit together. You fight.” Because now June, who once turned down
Rory Ofglen Ofsteve to join the rebellion, has a reason to fight.
Yeah sure she’s got stuff happening with Nick, but learning of Luke gives June the courage to fulfill the rebellion within herself.
June looks to Alma with steely eyes, whispering words that would rain instant death upon both of them, “Mayday”. Is she doing it because it’s a fuck you to the patriarchy? Maybe. Is she doing it because its her own personal rebellion? Perhaps. Ultimately, though, I think she is actively partaking in the Mayday insurrection because, like how she felt in being with Nick, it just feels good. Luke being alive, and seeing Moira alive, now gives her hope that she can traverse every ounce of hate Gilead has to offer her. The Waterfords, and the rest of Gilead are torturing she and the Handmaids, and now it’s time to get back at them.
Not only, though, do we see a change in June, but we also see one in Moira. Moira is a beaten down, battered, and almost defeated woman by the time we meet up with her again at Jezebels. It was tense witnessing the conversation between June and The Commander about the real intentions of being back at Jezebels, but that is nothing in comparison to the dichotomy we watch between June and Moira. Seeing the flashbacks of Moira etching propaganda against Aunt Lydia in the bathroom was one thing, but within the same hour mark see her so defeated is a tragedy. Being a whore and illegal plaything of transgressing Commanders of “superior status” is far more appealing to her than leaving Jezebels via the only way she knows – a hearse.
Moira’s downfall is only more riveting by the end of the episode when we understand that she finally sent the package June went to retrieve at Jezebels in the first place. It’s not just the meat department guy that is the payoff we all need, but really it’s the mirroring of the Moira flashbacks that stand out most blatantly. Moira makes that similar shiv out of the toilet like she did when she was spouting off against Aunt Lydia – and in the same fashion, straight up murders a Commander. How she does it, why no one hears it, and her escape are all details that probably should be discussed in any other normal show. But, this is not necessarily about the details. Do that on your own time. The act of murder is about taking agency back, and it highlights Moira’s change back to the fighting woman she was and is.
That change is also evident in the final (?) scenes with Janine – and her inability to give up her baby to the Putnams. Leaving aside the weird traditions that have been built upon the backs of the Handmaid’s, and how truly effed up it is that they have to be impregnated, go through gestation, birth the baby, nurse the baby, and then be forced to give it up in one fell swoop – you don’t need me to tell you how crazy it is. That’s self-evident. Despite her circumstances, and all the lies that were spewed to her by Commander Putnam, Janine believed that she was going to run away with him. It’s a sad, sick, and tragic moment when we see her realize they were, in fact, all lies and she decides she can’t move on. She and the baby will worked together to come into the world, and they would go out of the world together.
But Janine and June have this terrific moment between them, talking about the days before the war, and they’re going to do when it’s over. Drinks, Karaoke, and friendships all sound like a normal fun weekend. But they are unthinkable to the women of Gilead now. It’s that shift in demeanor that allows Janine to hand over the baby, and a change in her that was prompted by June. And you know what, because of everything we just witnessed over the past three episodes – the flashbacks, the motivations, the resolve, and the fire within June, it’s believable. Like Janine, we the viewers believe that June can do it. She can be a leader in the Mayday movement.
If she can coerce a (mentally unstable) Handmaid to save her baby by GIVING it to the man that lied to her all of this time, and then convince a beaten down Jezebel with nothing left to live for to hand over the package she so desperately needed, then she has to juice to forge a new path in Gilead. She’s proven the ability to manipulate people (including The Waterfords) and to lead them, and if she continues down this path, it will be her crowning achievement.
Having said all of this about the change in June, Moira, Janine — hell even Serena (offering Rita a drink) — it makes great television because it is dramatic, but it also alters the relationship dynamic between all of them. June has a certain power over all these characters now, yes, even Serena. Any great drama watches these relationships and forces them to change. That’s the point of what we’re watching. BUT, and this is a big frakking BUT, this is Gilead. June may have played the Commander a little bit by going to Jezebels once again, but he was one step ahead. He knew (or at least though he knew the whole time) why she wanted to get there. This is an example of the show telling you, that you may think you know whats about to happen, but the relationship dynamic has to change again, and we have no idea what’s going to happen.
Don’t take it lightly the Serena just went rifling through The Commander’s office. That, too, signals a character change, but also a relationship change. Despite all her underlying ethos of a woman being at her best while listening to her husband, she is going to find out what happened with June and Fred. Mark it eight, Dude. Because, just like Fred, the rules apply to everyone except to those who make them, and Serena has made them all for Gilead. Something tells me June is going to be put back in her place by Serena, and quick. Best yet, I don’t think that it’s going to end with just June either.
Here’s looking at you, Fred. Maybe you’ll end up just like your boy Putnam – in the back of a dark van with your wife looking down at you in rebellious triumph.
Mary & Blake Certified: A-
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