This latest episode of The Handmaid's Tale hit a lot of familiar notes. Offred and the Commander pay a visit to Jezebels? Ofwarren is acting paranoid and scared? Serena Joy is sad she doesn't have a baby? Checks all around. On the surface, it felt a little repetitive -- but it was also laying the foundation for next week's season finale, and showing how much Offred has changed.
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Offred (Elisabeth Moss) has joined Mayday, the secret rebellion trying to overthrow Gilead from the inside. After watching Ofwarren (the only handmaid we've seen have a baby so far) forced to leave her commander's home, Offred singles out Alma, a handmaid she believes is part of the rebellion, and says, in no small terms: "I want in." Alma, at first, pretends she has no idea what Offred is talking about, but then later corners Offred at the grocery store and orders her to fetch a package for them. They all know she went to Jezebels with the commander (Joseph Fiennes), and they want her to go back... tonight.
Moss delivers an excellent performance in this episode, presenting a combination of terrified, determined and dangerous. She knows that working for Mayday is a point of no return, but she's past caring about the consequences. She doesn't just want to survive, she wants to live. Her husband Luke has escaped, her friend Moira is alive, and there's hope she can get her daughter Hannah back. So, Offred is now a spy... and she isn't bad at it. She surprises the commander outside his office. Playing coy and piquing his interest, she tells him how much fun she had during their "adventure" at Jezebels, leaning on his need to both impress and dominate. Little surprise, he takes the bait, and offers to take her back that night.
Offred taunts Nick a bit during the drive over, while simultaneously playing into the commander's hand -- though, really, he's playing into hers. Nick is instantly suspicious, because he knows how much Offred hates her life with the Waterfords, and also because he's an entitled weasel who only values Offred for what she could give him. The commander surprises Offred by saying they will go straight up to the hotel room, which Offred briefly questions (since the package is at the bar), raising Nick's suspicions even more. But Offred knows she has to play it cool, and you can see her mind working on other ways to get what she came for.
After getting screwed in the hotel room and briefly faking an orgasm to satiate the commander, Offred tries to lure him into taking her downstairs for a bit. But he isn't going to do that, because he says he knows what game she's trying to play. Uh oh. The show makes it momentarily seem like the commander set her up with a fake Mayday Rebellion scheme -- meaning she'd be leaving that hotel in a black van -- but no. Instead, the commander brings in Moira, knowing that the two of them are friends, and believing Offred wanted to go to Jezebels for a reunion with her. Since he's already screwed Moira, he wants them both to know he's totally cool with a threesome. Offred shuts that crap down immediately, so the commander decides to go take a shower instead.
Offred tells Moira about her plan and tries to convince her best friend to help her, which Moira instantly refuses to do. This is where we see just how damaged and broken Moira actually is. Previously, she tried to hide it under a veneer of aloofness, but seeing Offred again painfully reminded her how nothing is fine, how she's "a prisoner and a whore". She implores Offred to give up and just try to survive, which Offred rejects. After all, if they give up, they have no hope of rescuing Hannah... and she is Offred's last beacon of hope. But that beacon is looking mighty dim, as she and the commander head home with Offred having failed her mission.
The episode also dives into Ofwarren's story, which alternates with Offred's arc over the course of the episode (there were no flashbacks in this one). Ofwarren, proven herself fertile once and thus forced by Gilead law to serve a new commander, is reluctant to leave Commander Warren's house and her baby Charlotte, who the commander and his wife named Angela. But she still exits the home full of hope, knowing in her heart that Warren will come back for her.
Sadly, her illusion comes crashing down soon after arriving at her new commander's home. Commander Daniel and his wife, unlike Warren and Bitchy McMrs, have come to super-cool terms with the whole handmaid situation, treating Ofwarren (now Ofdaniel) like a joyful possession instead of a reluctant addition to their household. The moment Daniel forces himself on her, in full view of his cultishly smiling wife, now-Ofdaniel goes from confused to traumatised, pushing Daniel off her and cowering in the corner.
The next we see her is when her and Offred's stories violently collide. Offred is brought to a bridge high over the river, where Ofdaniel is standing precariously on the edge... with her baby Charlotte in her arms. Warren and his wife are pleading with her to get down, promising she can come live with them if she spares the child. We all know that's a bald-faced lie, and Ofdaniel isn't buying it either. Warren promised her they'd run away together with the baby, and she did everything he asked in order to make that happen -- mainly, all the perverse sexual things his wife wouldn't do any more. That was her last shred of hope amidst all the tragic things she'd been through. Once that was gone, she had nothing left.
Aunt Lydia asks Offred to talk Ofdaniel down, since they're friends, which Warren immediately scoffs at because he's just another selfish prick like the rest of them. Offred knows this problem is bigger and more important than Warren's ego, and she stands her ground against his aggressive behaviour (though Warren only backs down after the commander asks him to). In full view of her commander and a bunch of soldiers, Offred promises Ofdaniel, whose real name is Janine, that there is reason to hope, because the end is in sight. They're going to survive -- and after they do, they're gonna get hammered while singing karaoke. It's touching seeing Janine try to find hope in something again, even if she ultimately fails. She does agree to give Charlotte a chance at a better life, handing her to Offred... and then she jumps off the bridge.
Janine survives, albeit in a coma, and Warren is taken away for questioning. Warren's wife struggles to calm the baby, shaking her like a bag of popcorn, and after brutally rejecting Serena Joy's offer to help, tells Serena she should focus her attention on her own husband. After all, they all know what happened with the last handmaid.
The episode ends with Offred on a routine run to the meat market, clearly defeated after the interaction with Janine and having failed her mission. Only... Offred didn't fail. She may not have picked up the package herself, but she inspired someone else to do it for her.
Moira has escaped Jezebels. The last we see her, she's killed a guard (using the same "toilet blade" technique she employed during her last escape) and is driving away in his car. The package itself it still a mystery, though based on its size and shape, I'm guessing it's the very thing Offred needs to tell her story. If you've read the book, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
"The Bridge" wasn't really a story in and of itself, but rather set up for whatever is coming during next week's season finale. By itself, that made it feel kind of dull -- with the exception of the darkly intense bridge scene -- but it wasn't necessarily bad. We've seen elements of Offred's rebellion percolating throughout the season, and it's now finally coming to fruition. She isn't just surviving any more, she's figuring out how to make a difference. I'm OK with set-up episodes every once in a while, so long as the payoff works. We'll find out next week what everything has been building up to, and I have hope for what we'll end up with. In the words of Moira: "Praise be, bitch."
- I've come to the realisation that Aunt Lydia is the perfect example of a true believer. Every choice she makes is in service to the scripture. She cherishes the girls for who they are and what they provide, and will do anything to protect them. But that includes protecting them from themselves, as seen in the multitude of scars on her handmaids. She is devout, and that makes her dangerous.
- Best interaction of the episode:
Offred: "I hear we've been having good weather."
Mayday Handmaid: "It's freezing, dummy."
- Serena Joy doesn't get a lot to do in the episode, but it's clear she's at the end of her rope. We see her finishing up yet another unused baby's blanket, soon followed by getting drunk with her Martha, Rita. But the biggest moment comes when Bitchy McMrs reminds Serena that her husband is just as bad as Warren. Serena Joy storms the commander's office, suspecting that he is up to his old tricks... and there will likely be a reckoning next week.
- Bitchy McMrs should be arrested for child endangerment.