The Handmaid’s Tale: 1x09 The Bridge.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down. As the story goes on, June’s interpretation of these lines changes. In the beginning, she saw it as a way to carve out some freedom for herself within the arrangement – a little bit more room to manoeuvre by manipulating the Commander, by playing into his vanity and his ego, against his wife. But the inevitable truth is that this is not a way to freedom, that freedom isn’t those inconsequential scraps that are fed to June now and then, but that this only distracts her from the greater facts – one of which is that women’s minds and women’s bodies are being ground down to nothing all around her. She saw it with Emily and everything that was taken from her (and the grace that she found when she took something from them, too), and with Janine, who is mercilessly robbed of her child in this episode. The promise that she made to Moira, to not do anything crazy, to buckle down, to survive so that they could find Hannah again, doesn’t really hold up in light of the cost of simply standing by, making yourself as small as possible, and waiting for things to change. That whole idea, that things had to change eventually, that they had to go back to the way they were, was a false security in the first place, and the main reason why Luke and June waited so long before they attempted their escape. Moira herself never even had that luxury: as a gay woman, she knew she couldn’t wait.
June saw Moira again, but Moira looked like she had given up.
June watched how Janine’s child was stolen from her, and could do nothing but to comfort.
There are a lot of reasons for why she approaches Alma in this episode and offers her help to Mayday. Part of it is maybe still that initial feeling she had after Emily revealed herself to her, a tangible hope that this promise of things going back to normal could be realised. But she knows now that it will cost something, that the system will not right itself by some kind of automatic mechanisms, an accomplishment of civilisation that guarantees a limit to how much things can get out of control. She knows that there is a price to pay for that kind of work as well, but is still horrified when she realises how much Mayday will ask of her, and how quick they are in making their demands. This kind of revolutionary work isn’t quiet, or indirect, or safe. They ask her to pick up a package at Jezebel’s, and to safeguard it until it can be delivered.
There is a distinctive parallel here between the June who has always been less politically active than her mother, and only made the decision to attend a political rally when things were becoming so ridiculously out of norm that not even she could deny that they required more than just a dinner table argument. It’s the same June who realised how truly fucked everything was when the first gun shots rang out that slowly comes to comprehend what it would mean to work for Mayday – that her skin is on the line in a very tangible way, and not just in that constant background danger that existed when she snuck out of her room to be with Nick. Working for Mayday means using everything that she has learned about the Commander and how to manipulate him, to use every bit she knows about his pride and how he needs to feel like he is doing something good for her to justify the rape, and this regime that he has built that imprisons women, to get what she wants – and in this episode, she needs him to take her back to Jezebel’s, even though his wife is not safely away and even though it means having to sleep with him, again. It’s a massive gamble on her part, and it turns out to be a misjudgement, as well, because the Commander knew that she was meeting Moira, and assumed that this was the reason why they were going back. Of course he went along with it – in the end, he did get what he wanted – but it also puts June in the terrible position of endangering Moira, of being reunited with her again under the Commander’s eye, with the clear message that any transgression on her part would not just put her in death’s way, but Moira as well.
It’s almost funny in that context that the assumption that Fred makes is so far away from the truth. He thinks – because that’s precisely the kind of man he is – that Moira and June used to be lovers, because he cannot even conceptualise the kind of profound friendship and partnership these two have. In the back of his mind, he reunites them hoping he will end up in some kind of threesome situation, a notion that June promptly disabuses him of. He takes revenge as well, and reveals himself once again, as he has done before, as a true ideologue and hater of women. It’s so easy to forget that – because he postures behind so much civility, that the Commander holds these beliefs, that he probably despises Moira for who she is, that the world that he built fits his conception of women as merely existing to fulfil their biological purpose, even if he needs the constant reassurance that what he is doing for them makes them happy. He is a twisted, sick psychopath, and June is coming to realise that more and more, which means that there is a limit to the amount of power and freedom she can gain through manipulating him.
I think this is what it comes down to, in this episode: June realises that freedom, and all these concepts of freedom that are offered to her, come to nothing. The Commander tells her she is free at Jezebel’s, but just complains that she isn’t more enthusiastic about being raped. Janine tells her the only freedom is the one that she already knows about, the freedom to destroy this body that the regime so desperately wants and needs, to take that back from them, to jump.
She realises because when she sees Moira again, she calls her out for giving up, for breaking her promise. She does this even though later on she gives a promise that she has no way of fulfilling, to make sure that Janine’s daughter Charlotte will be okay. Or rather, the only way to fulfil it is to work for Mayday, to make her small contribution. In any case, she feels like Moira betrayed her promise that they would find Hannah together, because she has given up on the option of staying alive, fighting back. She was caught once, so now she is taking what is given to her.
June: I think you’re a liar. Cause you said we would find Hannah.
Moira: You would find her.
June: No. We would. That’s what you said. When all of this was over, you promised, you fucking pinky swore, don’t you remember? Do not, do not let them grate you down, you keep your shit together, you fight.
Moira: I was doing alright until I saw you again.
There is so much here, because back when Moira made June promise, she did it to calm her, to soothe her, to save her skin. It wasn’t a promise that she had any way of keeping, and yet, now June is keeping her to it, because that is the only freedom that is left to her – the freedom to remind Moira of their friendship and love, of their obligation to each other to stay alive and find Hannah. Imagine, in this twisted world, that has completely deconstructed any kind of true romance and life, any kind of true companionship, June insists that Moira owes her this, because they love each other.
Later, when she attempts to talk Janine off the ledge of the bridge with the Waterfords and the Putnams who never deserved this child watching, she finally finds a connection with Janine that goes beyond pity. Janine fiercely insists that her love for her daughter doesn’t make her insane, and June has to agree, because she knows how much it takes, and how far it carries. She makes a promise she can’t keep, and saves a child, but Janine still jumps, because the words that June gave her – about a world that is changing, that will go back to normal – aren’t enough. They only exist as a vague idea in June’s head, one that she knows will cost so very much.
But elsewhere, the words were enough. They brought Moira back. And this is where the show truly delivers on its promise, because deliverance and freedom will not come from coddling a very small man’s ego, or finding those spaces of repressive tolerance that still exist. Moira does as she has before, finding tools to carve out her freedom, and part of that is drawing blood. Let’s hope that they don’t catch her this time, because I’m not sure I want to continue seeing a Gilead that doesn’t have Moira in it.
June: We’ve been sent good weather.
Alma: It’s freezing, dummy.
IDK guys, I think I really like Alma and I want to know so much more about her.
Also, my secret favourite scene this episode was Rita and Serena Joy drinking with each other right after Rita accidentally reveals to Serena that the Commander is being unfaithful (she receives further confirmation for this from Warren’s wife, later on, out of spite).
There is this very clear sense in this episode that Mrs Putnam’s resents Janine’s child for not being her own, and treats it carelessly, and Mrs Waterford absolutely resents her for this, and maybe even comes close to realising that there are definite flaws in this version of Gilead that she has helped to create. Also, in the end, she enters the forbidden room – I suppose we will find out how much of the Commander’s transgressions she will find, and which one of them will finally be a dealbreaker for her.
Janine: It can’t hurt very much. Just for a second. And then we’ll be free.
June: I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t because of my daughter.