Previously on The Handmaid’s Tale, “First Blood”
Gilead thrives on gratuitous displays and ritual, whether it be a celebration of life or acknowledgement of servitude. The funeral for the handmaids killed in the suicide bombing is no exception. The handmaids are adorned in their mourning garb. Draped in black and red, they are ushered to thirty-one meticulously arranged caskets in the shape of a compass. Aunt Lydia recites the names of the deceased handmaids and someone starts cutting onions in my living room.
This regime seems to understand the importance of allowing people to mourn but only in a specific and regimented way. Here is our public display of grief, see, we do care, now back to your homes and abuse by your host families.
The fallout from the explosion is shaping up as expected. With Commander Price out of the way and Waterford hospitalized, this leaves the door open for underlings to flex their muscles on those who survived the attacks. The supposed “leaders” of Gilead are like crabs in a barrel, scratching their way to the top. Commander Cushing is especially ambitious after a recent embarrassment by Price in front of the other Commanders during one of their He-man Woman Haters meetings. Cushing has decided to make an example of anyone deemed a traitor. As a result, hanged bodies now adorn the homes of Gilead Commanders suspected of treason.
One of his first stops is an interrogation of Offred. He hints at her escape versus kidnapping and she deftly navigates his questions. While this interaction is frightening, Offred sees it as an opportunity to force Serena’s hand. Even Serena acknowledges the maniacal nature of Cushing and realizes she has to do something about it. Enlisting the aid of Nick, Serena finally works this system in her favor. Cushing is arrested for treason which takes him out of commission and off the trail of Offred’s disappearance. This move involved the forging of Commander Waterford’s signature which puts the entire household in a powerful and also tenuous situation. Serena is taking her husband’s absence as an opportunity to make change, but can Serena be trusted to make the kind of change that improves life in Gilead or is she going 53% her way into a NEW Gilead?
After three episodes, we finally check back in with Luke and Moira. The fallout from the explosion isn’t just felt in Gilead, it ripples through Little America. Friends and family want to know if any of their loved ones were killed in the blast. This sends Moira down a rabbit hole to find someone she lost before the war, her fiancé Odette. They took this opportunity to give Moira a little more backstory; prior to the rise of Gilead she was a surrogate, that’s how she met her fiancé Odette. She was Moira’s OBGYN. I wondered how they knew Moira was fertile since they gave no indication that she had children prior to the round-up of future handmaids. This also sheds light on how it was even more devastating for her to have her fertility stripped when she was shipped off to the pleasure house. Moira pours over the archives of the unidentified dead and her worst fears are confirmed: Odette is one of the many unidentified dead in Little America archives.
Eventually, the handmaids lost in the explosion are identified and their names read off in a very formal fashion that devolves into mild sobs: Jennifer Briggs; May Cohn; Nora Ford; Pat Frank; Lillie Fuller ”OfGlen”; Sheryl Gardini; Joanna Grantt; Lindsay Hayes; Tianna More; Jada King; Megan Young; Chloe Washington; Adrianna Hall; Helen Campbell; Isabella Flores; Odette Johnson…
I’m not sure what was worse: hearing their handmaid titles or their given names. Women who had autonomy and families and lives prior to Gilead had all of that stripped away with a blast. The irony isn’t lost on me that Gilead may be dismantled the same way.
This is the first episode since Offred’s return to The Waterfords that felt like the show was making some forward progress. The handmaids are slowly uniting even if it is something so simple as sharing their given names with each other. Janine and Emily have also returned to Gilead which adds some much-needed personality to this group. Eden is still lingering in the periphery with her sights set on being more than the wife of an Eye. The figureheads of Gilead are in disarray, busy fighting for power they are not giving full attention to those within their circle. “After” is an episode full of more moving parts and less stagnation.
While I was delighted with the return to Little America, Moira’s story didn’t quite have the emotional heft the showrunners intended. They wanted to put a fresh face on those left behind and while Samira Wiley is very good at making people believe her pain, the choice to focus on the loss of a fiancé we were just introduced to felt forced. If the focus was less on the pregnancy and more on the depth of her relationship with Odette it would have been more impactful. I would have felt her loss more deeply if she found out the child she birthed was one of the unidentified children in the Little America archives. This show has been spinning its wheels a bit this season and perhaps this is purposeful and a ramp up to the second half of the season, which is shaping up to be the early stages of revolution.
- Serena is ghost-writing for her infirmed husband; just how is she going to get things “back to normal”? Normal as in before Gilead or Gilead light? Serena has proven she is not trustworthy and June, Nick, and Rita need to stick together.
- Is Little America the Meereenese Knot of The Handmaids Tale? Important characters have washed ashore and now they are in this hamster wheel of helplessness. How do you save your wife, child, and best friend without leaving the safety of this place?
- Now that Janine and Emily have returned to Gilead, what of the Colonies? Are we supposed to forget the Colonies exist now that familiar faces are back in the fold? I really hope this is not the case and whatever future plans for revolt include the women who have been left to die.
The Handmaid's Tale S2E7 Review Score
Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd, Max Minghella, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, O-T Fagbenle, Samira Wiley, Madeline Brewer, Amanda Brugel