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The Handmaid's Tale - The Crossing - Review

  The Handmaid’s Tale “The Crossing” was written by Bruce Miller and was directed by none other than Elisabeth Moss (June) – doing double duty again! This was a truly horrific episode both for the torture that June undergoes and for the high body count of all those we lose in this episode. Moss throws in some wonderful homages to horror films and also incorporates a number of images that resonate with previous episodes.

As the episode opens, all we hear is June’s breathing. Then we get a close up of her face – and all we can see are her eyes as she’s in the gag we’ve seen before on Handmaids before – perfect for filming during Covid! She’s in the back of a truck, chained by her neck and feet in place. We get the usual aerial shot and see that she’s being taken to a large facility, well out in the country. The truck stops, and Nick (Max Minghella) gets in.

He leans in close, seeming to drink in her presence and scent. He proceeds to unlock her chains. He tells her that Esther is safe in custody, but the other Handmaids are still at large. I loved the way his face is shown in closeup, going in and out of focus. June doesn’t know whether to trust him. Is he tormenting her with this information or trying to ease the torment of not knowing. He tells her that he can’t help her if she doesn’t tell them where the next safehouse is. He asks her twice – adding “Please” to “let me help you.” She looks like she’s almost about to believe him when Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) shows up with two Guardians. June shuts her eyes. She knows what’s coming now. 

Aunt Lydia thanks Nick for bringing June and tells him she’s there as June’s advocate! HA! He should think of her as June’s Guardian Angel – omg… Nick tells her to “be strong with the Lord and the strength of His might.” June just stares at Nick. They both know what he’s turning her over to. June is lead through concrete halls, bathed in red, with torture rooms open until she’s dumped in her own cell by the Guardians. It’s beautifully shot like something out of Saw or Hostel.

As soon as Lydia is alone with her, she smashes June across the face, berating her as a wicked “girl” for taking all the children from their homes. June, however, goes from terrified to furious as soon as Lydia touches her. Lydia asks if she thought about how their poor parents would feel – and how SHE would feel! It’s not long before we see that Lydia’s true concern has always been herself – and her power. 

Four Guardians come in and strap June to a metal table. A Lieutenant (Reed Birney) comes in, and Lydia tells her that he has questions, and she’s sure June can help. He takes off the gag and tells her that she doesn’t need to be afraid – ‘blessed be the fruit.’ He asks ‘Ofjoseph’ where the other Handmaids are, and Lydia tells her to answer while “God’s light still shines upon you.” I loved the way this scene was set up. The room is lit only on one side – the side where June’s feet are, so her head is bathed in darkness as she says “There is no light here. God has forsaken this place.” 

The Lieutenant responds by punching her viciously in the stomach. He asks her again. She remains silent. He asks if she’s sure she doesn’t want to answer, and Lydia tells him Ofjoseph is always sure – she wants to be sure that June is tortured. The Lieutenant prays before beginning to waterboard June. He smiles – clearly he likes his work – as he puts the cloth – with a cross on it – over her face. Outside the door, Lydia actually looks troubled as she hears June within, but she sits down and begins working on her needlepoint anyway. Does she actually feel anything like sympathy? She’s been tortured herself, and she keeps saying these are “her” girls – but does she really care about them past the power they give her? We’ve seen glimpses of it before with Janine (Madeline Brewer), but I don’t trust it.

In Toronto, Luke (O-T Fagbenle) tries to get news about June at the American Consulate. Rachel (Krista Morin) confirms that June has been captured and is alive, but doesn’t think they’ll get much more information. There might be a trial, but it won’t be public – no verdict or sentencing will likely ever be forthcoming. Rachel tells him that her Grandmother used to bury a green persimmon in the backyard for luck – “for what it’s worth.” 

June – sopping wet – is taken to a room and placed, hands tied on a chair. Aunt Lydia comes in. She looks concerned and tells June that the Lieutenant is very determined. Lydia tells her it’s going to get a lot worse. She points out that the other Handmaids are wanted fugitives and in danger because of her. June needs to bring them home. June points out that this isn’t their home. Lydia insists that they have a life of service and meaning in Gilead. June responds that the only meaning there is violence. 

June tells Lydia that she told the girls that if they followed the rules, they’d be ok, and then she sent them out to be raped and beaten and humiliated – over and over. Lydia looks troubled, but when June tells Lydia that she failed them, Lydia hits her and pushes her off the chair. Lydia calls for the Guards and puts June back on the chair. June calls her Lydia – no Aunt – and that really pisses Lydia off. And then June enjoys really driving the knife in. She tells her that Lydia’s precious Janine was easy and turned on Lydia in a second. That one clearly hits home. 

The Lieutenant comes back in. June looks defiant still, and Lydia doesn’t leave this time. He gets out a pair of pliers, takes her hand, and is about to start ripping out her nails. He tells her that she can stop it any time. June looks like she’s breaking, and she suddenly sounds completely submissive, she calls for Aunt Lydia. She tells them that they went to Vermont. Lydia looks confused. June has at least bought herself some time. 

It looks like Luke and Moira (Samira Wiley) now have a house. Luke is on the porch, which is festooned with lights, with Nicole as Moira fills the car with signs. There’s going to be a march – and prayer vigil – for June. Luke tells her it’s early, but Moira says it’s going to be crowded. She offers to wait for him. It doesn’t seem like he’s even intending to come when he says he’s going to bath Nicole and get her to bed early. He points out that June is in prison and they’re lighting candles. Moira points out that they’re doing everything they can. Luke tells her not to rub it in.

Luke asks if June chose this. Moira is adamant in saying no. She’s been subjected to Gilead. She knows that there are no choices there. But Luke points out that she chose to stay behind, knowing she’d likely be caught. Moira says maybe. Die trying to do something again. Luke can’t get over that June had to make the choice not to ever see him – or Nicole again. He has to respect it. He can’t ask God for something she didn’t want. I loved the contrast of them being outside, in a well lit space, while June is in dark, sterile concrete. 

Back with June, we get shots very reminiscent of the first episode. June is on her chair, the door opens and the chair is framed in the doorway. Lydia appears directly behind her bathed in red light. Lydia walks up behind her and says poor choice. June says she’ll never tell, and Lydia says brave words – but just words. June is taken from the room. She looks at Lydia – does she really think there will ever be help there? She’s put on an elevator and taken up to the roof where it’s pouring rain.

Handcuffed and beaten, Beth (Kristen Gutoskie) and Sienna (Sugenja Sri) are standing on the wall at the edge of the roof. This is beautifully shot – and I’m assuming some really magnificent CGI. June is shaking her head. Beth is stoic, but Sienna is crying. The Lieutenant quotes scripture, laughs and asks again where the Handmaids are. Beth tells her not to tell them anything, and the Lieutenant simply pushes Beth over. He takes June to Sienna and tells her that she can save Sienna. June and Sienna join hands and press their foreheads together. They pull apart and smile. It looks like June is about to tell, and Sienna says “June…” before the Lieutenant pushed Sienna over and tells June not to lie to him again. They take her back to another room and put her in a very small metal box. I was so happy to see Beth – and devastated when they killed her. This was punishment for telling a lie - there was no way for June to save them, even by telling the truth.

Nick goes to see Joseph (Bradley Whitford). They sit before his fire, drinking whiskey. Joseph points out that June isn’t stupid, but she is stubborn. Nick tells Joseph that he owes him, and Joseph tells him that he can’t save her, and she’s never coming back to Nick. He knows – he just wants her to stay alive. Joseph says it’s nice to want things, and Nick points out that Joseph used to want things – like change. He points out that June changed Gilead. Nick points out she also changed them – and Joseph says perhaps she’s fulfilled her purpose and it’s time to move on. It’s hard to reconcile this Joseph with the one who was so devoted to his wife. Nick says he can’t move on. Joseph says he wishes he could help him.

The room is dark, but their faces are lit by the fire. Nick points out that Joseph has gotten very comfortable in his house. He tells him that he could help him get back to the top. He could help him stay in the house – it’s a very veiled threat. Joseph can help him, and Nick will help to get him back to the top, get his power back, or Joseph doesn’t help, and Nick will see him kicked out of the house and ruined, with no chance to get power back.

June is singing to herself – “Heaven is a Place On Earth” – ironic. But the song is also about love making Earth like Heaven. Is this an ode to Nick to help her? As she sings, we see Luke sitting on the porch with Nicole. Could this be June’s ultimate Heaven? Luke takes Nicole into the yard and they bury a green persimmon. 

June’s box pops open and she crawls painfully from it, unbending herself to lie on the floor. Guardians come in sit her up and put a bag over her face. When they remove the bag, she’s sitting at the end of a dining table with Joseph at the other end. He tells her that she’s looked better. He then tells her to eat. No one will hurt her there. She takes a few mouthfuls of soup. 

She’s surprised to see him. He tells her that they need him, especially now, and we finally find out what happened at the Club – six Commanders dead and nine in the hospital. Joseph tells her that he has to tell her where the Handmaids are. June’s face hardens and she puts down her spoon. She shakes her head. He tells her that if she doesn’t tell, they will hurt Hannah. I loved the extreme closeups in this episode. We get Joseph’s face – just his eye from the side. We are really digging into the core of him. 

He knows how to hurt June the most – and he’s also, apparently, willing to hurt a child in the name of his own power. June doesn’t believe that Gilead would hurt a child. And Joseph is really talking about himself when he says that Gilead doesn’t care about children. Gilead cares about power – though it’s true of Gilead too. All of the values in Gilead were just a means to an end. June reminds him that he was going to clean up his mess. He tells her that he can’t do that from the end of the world, and this is where they are. June tells him to “go fuck yourself.” Joseph tells her that motherhood has always been an evolutionary puzzle to him. He seems truly upset that the has to actually put his plan in motion. 

June is lead out. Lydia is there – and also looks sorry. She pats June’s shoulder. Hannah (Jordana Blake) is in a huge glass box in the middle of a concrete atrium. June walks up to the glass, smiling and puts her hand out. When Hannah turns and sees her, she screams and rushes to the other side of the box. June walks slowly around so she’s sitting by her on the other side of the glass, telling her it’s ok. When the Lieutenant shows up, June tells him where to find the Handmaids. Lydia is clearly relieved when June tells – because Hannah has been spared or because she’s getting her Handmaids back? Lydia drags June away, telling her that Hannah is safe.

The Handmaids are asleep in a basement storage room. Janine hears the dogs barking and then flashlights are seen. The women huddle together. There’s no escape – only one door in and one out. They crouch in a corner, but when it’s clear that they’ve been found, Alma (Nina Kiri) is the first to stand. Better to die on your feet remember.

June is sitting in the corner of her cell. Lydia comes in with a chair and tells her that all of the girls have been taken. June moves onto her knees in front of Lydia and tells her that she’s ready – for it all to be over. She tells Lydia, “Please. Just kill me.” Lydia tells her that none of them will be executed because with all the children gone, they can’t spare even one Handmaid. June can’t believe it – they’re getting new postings? Lydia tells her in a manner of speaking. They will all be going to a Magdalene Colony. There, they will do hard labor, and when it’s their time of the month, the Commanders and their wives will visit them there. It’s like a Jezebel’s only worse – no sitting about reading and smoking during the day! Lydia says she had her doubts about the innovation but can see the value for certain temperaments. Lydia tells her to remember that everything that’s happened to June, the Handmaids, those poor Marthas is all a result of June’s actions – it’s all her fault.

There’s a beautiful shot of June being hosed off. She’s sitting and in the long shot her body looks like an hourglass. In close up, we see bruises, and her bullet wound. All that she’s suffered to get her. Lydia redresses her in the Handmaids outfit again.

We get another aerial shot of a truck moving through the country. June is let out. Guardians flank her as she walks down a path toward a bridge. Nick is waiting on the bridge. He tells her that Hannah is back home and safe. He apologizes and says he had to do whatever he did to keep her alive. June tells him to stop. The real horror was that Hannah was scared of her – not them. She didn’t know her. Nick tells her that Hannah loves her and that he loves her. The Handmaid truck is waiting for her. The two press foreheads together. June goes to get the truck but turns back and rushes into Nick’s arms, kissing him. The two press their foreheads together. She turns and goes to the truck without looking back. Will she ever see him again?

The rest of the Handmaids sit with their hats on their laps. Janine is humming. Lydia is also there. Alma just looks at June. They are stopped at a rail crossing. The driver tells them they’ll be a while and he’s going to take care of the necessaries. Lydia tells them “It’s so wonderful being altogether again, isn’t it?” She gets no response. It’s clear that the others are waiting for June to do something – and she does. She grabs Lydia’s cow prod and holds her down. Alma tells her to come on as the others are already out. She’s going to hit Lydia – but Alma stops her. And that is there undoing. Lydia is able to call the driver – who comes and starts shooting. Two of the Handmaids are shot. The others race with their cloaks and heavy boots, hands still cuffed to beat the train and get it between them and pursuit. June and Janine get across, but the train runs down Alma and Brianna (Bahia Watson). Janine doesn’t want to leave, and we get another scene of June with her forehead pressed to Janine’s forehead. And after giving her strength, the turn and run.

The final scene takes us back to the Red Center. It’s night, and in their beds, after the Aunts have left, the women hold out their hands to each other and tell each other their names silently. It’s a requiem to all we lost – though at least June, Moira, and Janine are still alive. 

This was a really powerful episode. All that June sacrificed is definitely going to haunt her. I think that Nick is definitely going to regret helping Joseph. What did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments below! 


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