Season 1, Episode 9: The Bridge
Well folks, we’ve reached the penultimate episode of Season 1 and I am both nervous and excited to see how we carry on (missed episode 8?). With Offred fully committed to the resistance cause, the 9th installment of the series begins to show the lasting effect of the oppressive system in Gilead. From Offred’s interactions with Moira to the heartbreaking story of Jeanine, the trials of being a handmaid are taking their toll. Let’s dive in a see where we end up!
KD: So we can start off by me making the comment that the bit of Scripture they were reading in the beginning is taken wildly out of context and even a bit re-written. I’m sure you’re not surprised.
As the episode starts with Jeanine, I’d like to start there to. Or, Ofwarren, as her slave name is. I want to touch on two things: first, that all the other handmaids are summoned for the process, but aren’t allowed to offer any support and secondly, that Aunt Lydia seems to have authentic human emotions for Jeanine. Ann Dowd is one of this generation’s best character actresses and her portrayal of Aunt Lydia is unbelievable. I actually paused in this scene to consider Aunt Lydia as a woman, which is not something I had done before.
To the surrender of the child, we’re echoing the scenes from the birthing. It may seem communal on the outside, but it’s a shadow of one. Instead of allowing the authentic support a sisterhood would provide, the handmaids are simply physically there. I wouldn’t even say they were present. So, it’s theater, like the rest of Gilead. A damaging and controlling element masqueraded as community. What did you notice about that opening?
EH: I agree 100% about Ann Dowd, she is simply stunning as Aunt Lydia, but I was struck by your comment that you considered her a woman for the first time in that scene. I hadn’t realized how deindividuated the women are forced to become until character’s (like Jeanine and Lydia) break out of those roles.
The whole political and social system of order and control in Gilead (as all systems are) is maintained through performativity and ritualization. They don’t particularly care if the women are actually supportive (in fact they don’t want them to be because the promotion of real solidarity could undermine the system), and so it is the symbol of solidarity that is visually represented through their physical presence. The farce that Ofwarren is to be honored now that she has fulfilled her duty as a Handmaid is pure theater as you say, when we see that she is just sent to another Commander in order to continue to process of producing children for Gilead. It’s no surprise to see that Jeanine immediately begins to struggle with her new posting as Ofdaniel - away from the Commander she cares for and the her baby.
Back in the world of the resistance, Offred manages to get back to Jezebel’s to try and get the package. Her confrontation with Moira perfectly encapsulated the oppositional perspectives of the docile and resistant prisoner. Offred/June continues to be the one who resists the system in all places, whether it’s comforting Jeanine as she leaves, or in questioning Moira’s strength of conviction.
But the focus of the episode is clearly Jeanine’s continued struggle without her child. What did you take away from the scene on the bridge? It was one of the hardest to watch for me in the whole series.
KD: This whole episode was one of abject heartbreak for me, both in the moment of Jeanine on the bridge and in the look in Moira’s eyes (Samira Wiley for all parts forever, please!) when she has to express her frustrated defeat to June. While I certainly don’t know anyone who has had to make these exact decisions, I know many who have had to make shades of them and I found myself angrily weeping for women everywhere.
Back to the story, though, let’s talk about the bridge. Let’s talk about the militarized response, because hoo buddy, and I want to take a hot minute for what an absolute douchecanoe Warren is. An accurate picture of my face when he tried to stop June from helping is seen below:
In all seriousness and as we’ve said before, the dehumanization of everyone that Gilead requires struck me harder than it ever has before. Warren and his wife have no regard for the fact that June and Jeanine might have a relationship that could be helpful, because they had no regard for Jeanine. Warren’s consistent lies to Jeanine are a familiar trope and reflect a man who has no regard for anyone but himself. His urges and his sexual needs. It clearly never occurred to him that Jeanine was more than a womb and that his promises to her mattered.
The gentle moments between Jeanine and June reminded me of the end of Return of the King, when Sam and Frodo are talking about strawberries. One of those, “I know everything is awful and hope is fleeting, but this too shall pass” conversations. Those can offer empowerment, as they did for Frodo, or they can remind the person that life is not what it was, which is what happens with our Jeanine. Were you surprised at her jump?
EH: I was, sadly, not surprised that Jeanine jumped. After a moment of hope and comradeship with June, she still realized the futility of fighting against the state. The hyper-militarized response was shocking but not surprising. The state was founded in a time of heightened security and the maintenance of the state depends on the maintenance of that security and also the continued production of children. It’s remarkable to think that the reproductive act and its outcomes could become controlled and sanctified by the state, but the survival of the two are intimately tied together.
I think they had to give us that outcome for Jeanine in order to be able to bring Moira back into the resistance camp. We all have small acts of protest in us, but Jeanine’s was firmly tied to her child, as is June’s in the end. To be so despondent after Jeanine jumped and then be brought back by Moira’s “Praise be, bitch. Here’s your damn package” was another emotional rollercoaster, but I was fist pumping for Moira at the end there! And then of course, Mrs. Waterford finds the dress in her husband’s closet. I don’t think good things are in store for our June (because by now we know it will be the woman’s fault).
KD: I have a feeling nothing good is in store for anybody. We have 60 minutes to wrap up a whole lot of things. I remember in the book feeling satisfied with the ending, but now that we’re heading into the finale of the show, I find myself really glad we’ve got a second season to look forward to.