Synopsis of 1×09: Offred embarks on a dangerous mission for the resistance. Janine moves to a new posting. Serena Joy suspects the Commander’s infidelity.
It’s hard to rate a show that seems to be always firing on all cylinders. The Handmaid’s Tale made another large deviation from the book again this week, but it was a welcome one. Moira’s story, like Luke’s, seems to not only be getting an extension but a pickup.
The episode started in a place we knew we’d be eventually. Janine. She’s packed up and ready to leave her home with the Putnams. Warren has, unsurprisingly, not lived up to his promise of running away with Janine and building a family together with her. While there seem to be layered to every single character, I have to say that Naomi doesn’t have that many right now. She is quick to see Janine gone. She likens her to a wild animal and is all too eager to take baby Angela out of Janine’s arms.
We’ve known since day one that this was not going to end well. Despite giving a brave face to the other handmaid’s after being lead out of the Putnams’ house by Aunt Lydia, Offred is still unsure of it. Having lost her own daughter, even crazy Janine is relatable to Offred. When she asks Aunt Lydia if Janine will be okay, Lydia tells her, “She’s braver than you think.”
What is so interesting about this show is how difficult it is to box people into stereotypes, especially the female characters. Lydia, who has so frequently been painted as the blackest of villains, is not wholly incapable of being soft and sympathetic. The concerned looks she gives to Janine throughout the last few episodes shows a completely unfamiliar side to this ordinarily militant and cold character.
Taken to her new station, Janine finds herself renamed again, this time being Ofdaniel. Although it’s rumored that her new mistress will be nice, Janine is still facing the trauma of losing her daughter. When the night of the ceremony comes, his mistress is initially friendly. However, after laying her down and holding her arms back, Janine is raped by one of the commanders. Unable to hold back anymore, Janine breaks out of her hold and cries in a corner, asking for Warren. On one hand, it’s easy to say, “Toughen up and get over it.” All the handmaids must face the same kind of trauma. But it’s not that easy. There’s no getting over something like what happened to her. No matter how nice her new owners are, she can’t erase the loss that she experienced.
Meanwhile, Offred is keen on joining Mayday after her experience. She talks to Alma, who eventually pulls her aside and tells her to go back to the Jezebel and pick up a package from a woman named “Rachel” at the bar. Surprised that Alma even knew about her trip there, especially given the amount of secrecy that Waterford put into it, it’s worth questioning just how powerful Mayday is and where their loyalties lie. Is it simply in freeing the country of Gilead? Or is it to install a new institution?
Regardless, Offred is ready to help but has to convince Fred to take her to Jezebel that night, with Serena Joy in the house. She manages to manipulate, coax, and flatter her way into a trip to the brothel. But, it’s not as easy as she thinks. He takes them directly to his room, skipping the bar entirely, saying he’ll go there with her later, maybe. Nick, the only person privy to Waterford’s actions, is also on edge because of his relationship to Offred. He warns Waterford to be careful in the only way that he can before he must wait for them to finish.
At home, Serena is kept up late at night, lamenting the absence of a child. It’s very clear that the only thing she has wanted for a long time is a child. Without any semblance of power or position in the world, her sights seem to be focused on a baby. It’s sad, watching her sew unused baby blankets and watch over Naomi and her baby with half envy and half sadness. To add insult to injury, she’s got to bear the scandal of Waterford’s actions with the previous Handmaid. It’s very clear how suspicious she is of him when he returns late into the night.
Rita ends up finding her rummaging through the cabinets late at night. Although Serena initially says that she’s there for tea, Rita knows her intention and gently suggests something with a little more flavor. They drink together, and Rita reveals a bit of her story. She explains that she had a son, Matthew, who died at 19 while fighting in the war. Seeing glimpses of the characters in their previous lives humanizes them in a way that nothing else does. Seeing a slice of their life feels refreshing from the monotony of the dystopian.
Back at the Jezebels, Fred has some cold, awkward sex with Offred, before he calls her out on her lie to go to the bar. Having seen her recognize Moira last week, he buys Moira’s time and calls her up to the room. Although it seems like initially, it might turn out to be some kind of weird, rape threesome, Waterford seems confident enough to leave them to catch up while he showers. His greatest weakness is his arrogance, also the fact that he’s an asshole.
In this scene between Moira and Offred, it feels familiar in an unsettling way. Moira, like Emily, both had a strong streak of rebellion. We have seen Moira in the past, and it’s clear that her escape and her subsequent imprisonment as a Jezebel has left her humbled and broken. Her spirit is gone. She not only doesn’t trust Alma but refuses to help Offred. When Offred tells her not to let them grind her down and calls her out for being a coward, Moira leaves and leaves Offred in tears. Fred comes out, having missed the conversation, but is unmoved by her tears. He callously tells her to pull it together and gets them out of there.
While this is all happening, Nick is back in the kitchen with the same Martha from last week, eating a pasta carbonara. It’s a sort of dark irony, that Nick is also in a place of servitude and yet he is allowed a thousand more freedoms as a man than Offred or even Serena ever will be. He’s investigating the club, asking if there are any revolutionaries in the crowd. Suspicious of Offred’s intent, he is looking out for her while also trying to figure out what is going on.
In the morning, Offred is shaken awake from sleep by Serena who drags her out of the house and they race to the bridge. Barricades have been set up and we see the Putnams standing with Aunt Lydia. It quickly becomes obvious that something horrible is about to happen. Although the Putnams initially do not want Offred there, Lydia speaks up for her, telling them that she is Janine’s friend.
Janine is standing in the middle of the bridge with her baby in her arms. Threatening to jump, she doesn’t hesitate to put Warren on blast. She reveals all the lies that Warren told her, along with the sexual deviancy that he forced her into under the guise of a happy family in the future. While the Putnams are probably the worst people to try and talk Janine down from the ledge, Offred might be the only good one.
Approaching Janine, she promises that after this is all over, they’ll all go get drinks and sing karaoke. It’s a pipe dream, of course. There is no “over”, as least not for the foreseeable future. Their job, probably for the rest of their lives, is to be raped, repeatedly, impregnated, and have their child taken from them before being finally sent to their slow, agonizing death. The world is not only cruel to them, it’s unforgiving and revels in their suffering.
Unable to see a true solution from her problem, Janine hands over baby Angela to Offred, but jumps off the bridge anyways. Stunned, Offred stands there holding the baby while the rest of the people jump into action to fish Janine out. The baby is given back to Naomi, but Warren has been arrested. The truth that came out with Janine’s confession has him under investigation. Janine, despite her fall, is still alive. Aunt Lydia watches over her, calling her a stupid girl in the process. But is she? What solution, what exit did she have at that point? Get another eye cut out? A hand? Perhaps her clitoris, like Emily? The government and the society aren’t exactly lax.
The final scene ends the episode with the most impact. Offred, still shocked by Janine’s actions, is mindlessly picking up meat from the butcher. But when her parcel is presented to her, there’s another package underneath. It reveals a message from Moira and the package from “Rachel.” The lovely coda to the episode shows Moira, revived from her complacency, wielding a weapon made from some part in a toilet and killing her John before escaping in full incognito.
It’s thrilling, to imagine that another character will potentially escape Gilead. Obviously, the ideal is to see Moira meet up with Luke, but she’s run into problems before. With the season finale coming up next week, it’s a toss up of how much of Moira and Luke we’ll see, but I know we just can’t wait!