It’s good that The Handmaid’s Tale is going back to basics, even if it stumbles a bit yet again in the episode The Bridge. The show has shifted its gaze back to Offred, who is continuing her commitment to fight the power, as she volunteers for a dangerous mission for the resistance, which involves persuading her Commander to take her back to the brothel so she can somehow smuggle out a mysterious package.
The good news is that Moira makes a reappearance. The bad news is that the show oddly makes Offred the one who must persuade her to take drastic action. I suppose it makes a kind of sense due to the show’s complete avoidance of racial politics, but it seems an unlikely that Moira rather than Offred would be the one who was reluctant to take action against an oppressive government.
Of course, Moira is ultimately persuaded to do what Offred is physically prevented from doing, and this even inspires Moira to take an even more dangerous step to take her fate back into her own hands and free herself. Nevertheless, Moira continues to be unnecessarily sidelined. A better and far more realistic way to do her justice would be to to flip the script by having Offred be the one who would need encouragement after encountering an unexpected obstacle in her mission, thus giving Moira a chance to seize an opportunity to help Offred and herself. Instead, Offred becomes just another impassioned, inspirational white savior.
However, even Offred can’t do much for Janine. Janine has always been an exposed nerve, a string stretched too tight, poised to snap at any moment. She thinks her Commander loves her and will take her and her daughter to a safe harbor. But it’s a lie. He was just using Janine for his own pleasure, and this realization finally pushes her over the edge. Literally, as Offred is tasked with talking Janine down from jumping off a bridge with her infant daughter. Gilead has taken so much from Janine that she has come to view infanticide as an act of kindness, a way to spare her daughter from a life of pain. But even if she comes to see that she must give her child a chance, she is unable to give herself one. She survives the jump in a comatose state, with only Aunt Lydia able to provide any kind of comfort to her.
Aunt Lydia herself has proven to be one of the most complex, terrifying characters on The Handmaid’s Tale, coming off as sadistic and cruel one moment, and oddly maternal the next. She is all the more fascinating for having long since proved herself a true believer. She really thinks she is doing what is best for her country, and for the Handmaids themselves. And she has formed a kind of bizarre bond with Janine, with genuine moments of compassion and tenderness. It wouldn’t be nearly as heartbreaking without the spectacular Ann Dowd, who has received an Emmy nomination for her work on another critically lauded show, The Leftovers. Now that that series has ended, here’s hoping Dowd will eventually be recognized for her great work on this one.