Previously on The Handmaid’s Tale, “Faithful”
Boston-B.G. (Before Gilead)
Serena Joy spends much of the episode reflecting on her life before the installation of The Republic. Her life with the Commander was full of something like love and mutual adoration. Steamy afternoon love making sessions; movie nights and working together to undo the power structure of the United States; like many wives and partners of dictators, she is not a victim – a willing pawn perhaps, but never a victim. She even authored a book in her former life with plans to write another, albeit with limited support from her husband. These flashbacks reveal she was willing, able, and fully vested in the eventual takedown of the US Government; even playing a significant role in the early stages of planning… until her vagina got in the way.
“We gave them more than they could handle. Put so much focus on career and academic pursuits, they forgot their purpose. Won’t let that happen again.”- Commander Putnam a.k.a. Asshole in the Hallway
As she reflects on the early times of building this new republic, we get a glimpse at how homes, neighborhoods, and people were stripped of their personality and life. Bags and bags of colorful designer clothing, trashcans full of books, a strategically placed pair of unworn stilettos and a familiar face, Nick, were all a part of the purge. A new world devoid of color unless it is assigned you: grey, black, teal and red, the colors of organized oppression.
Maybe this was meant to garner some level of sympathy for the Waterfords, or at the least Serena Joy. It simply confirmed she was an awful person B.G. and now she is both awful and miserable during the rise of the Republic. She was left behind with all the other vagina-wielding women, she just happened to be on the “right” side of power. It all feels painfully familiar.
Presentation of Wares
Serena Joy is ever the hostess, paying attention to every minute detail in preparation for the visit from the Mexican delegation. The murder wall must be scrubbed; for reasons I am not entirely sure beyond terrorizing the handmaids who are tasked to wash it.
During a brief meet and greet with Mrs. Castillo, the representative from Mexico, Offred is meant to be the voice of the handmaids. Mrs. Castillo presents as kind and reasonable. She has a warm smile and treats Offred with a certain level of respect and genteelness she hasn’t experienced in a long while. Under the scrutinizing eyes of The Commander, Serena Joy and other dinner guests, Offred responds to Mrs. Castillo’s questions as best she can, with rehearsed truths. Serena Joy is even caught off-guard by the Mexican delegate’s candor when she recites a quote from Serena Joy’s book also rehashing her B.G. prison record.
This two-day visit culminates with a meal and the handmaids are special guests. Well, not all of the handmaids. Lined up like show ponies, Serena insists the Aunts remove the damaged ones; no handmaids that show the wear and tear of their lives are to be at dinner. During the dismissal of the damaged goods, Offred’s eyes are opened during a brief exchange with Alma. The prior evening’s talk of oranges was not totally about produce; the handmaids are the oranges. Marched in two-by-two, the girls are barely one course into the awkward dinner when the ultimate punch in the gut comes to life. Babies, a couple dozen babies and toddlers are trotted out during dinner for the eyes of the visitors. Crestfallen handmaids sit and watch and wonder which children are theirs. Which children they carried to term and birthed without modern science then had stripped away as soon as they were weaned. Serena Joy is a monster, along with her husband and every other free person in that room.
Glimmers of Hope
Offred and Nick have grown closer since their first consensual sexual encounter; maybe it’s just a taste of something normal? A forbidden hand touch here, a quick and flirtatious exchange there, a few quiet moments that aren’t entirely peppered with fear. After the dinner fiasco, Offred is bent, but not broken and turns to Nick; she shares her real name, he won’t speak it, but now he knows. These last shenanigans pulled by the Waterfords are enough for her to finally speak out.
During a chance meeting with Mrs. Castillo, she lays it all on the line: the kidnapping, the abuse, the rape, the forced servitude, and the fact that handmaids are not happy; they are in fact the complete opposite of anything close to happy. With sincere, kind eyes Mrs. Castillo breaks Offred’s heart after telling her she won’t help her. She actually says she can’t help her, but that isn’t the truth, she could help anyone she chose. She chooses the fate of her people over the handmaids because her city hasn’t had a live birth in 6 years and the idea of handmaids gives her hope. For Offred, though, all hope may not be lost. Mrs. Castillo’s assistant, who’d taken a keen interest in Offred during the visit, engages her one last time. He knows where her husband is, and he can get a note to him, she just needs to write something down.
“A Woman’s Place” points the lens at all women in the show from the Marthas to the Commanders. Even the Commander’s wives do not have carte blanche; they roll up to their husbands and their peers. Women are merely in place as supporting figures in this world, and the only thing for which they have control is their homes and most seem to abuse that power. They made their own hell and everyone else has to live in it.
The Commander used Offred as a springboard while he vented about their visitors and she was quickly reminded that it was a privilege and not a right to be in his presence outside of ceremony days. Not only does each woman have her place, each woman has her assigned color. The women (and children) are the only people color-coded in this new world: Gray- Marthas; Beige-Aunts; Teal-Commander’s Wives, and Red-Handmaids. All of the men wear black pretty much exclusively with the exception of a white collared shirt. This is the first episode where we are introduced to a woman with real power and even she endorses the status quo.
This episode was another slow burn, but it possibly confirmed Luke is alive. Yvonne Strahovski did a great job showing the evolution of Serena Joy from hopeful to I’ve made my bed and now I must lie miserably in it. I am at the point where I wish they would move the plot forward a bit more. I’ve heard book readers mention the book is slow and laborious, and you would hope this is something they would remedy in the television series.
The Handmaid's Tale S1E6
"A Woman's Place"
Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Samira Riley, Yvonne Stahoviski, Joseph Fiennes, Ann Dowd, O-T Fagbenle, Max Minghella, Madeline Brewer