Let us pause, for a moment, to consider the brink of disaster we are standing upon. June has a package containing a something, the exact nature of which we do not know, but the implications there of screaming loudly, clearly, that now she is a part of May Day. Serena Joy knows about Fred’s extracurricular interests in June; Janine has publically snapped and in doing so, forced attention to the fact that Commanders are forging inappropriate attachments to their handmaids. Moira’s stone cold killed a man, and Fred is aware of June’s connection to her. This is a lot to take in. And before we can consider the full range of implications, we must first discuss how we got here.
Under his eye, friends, let’s begin:
The episode opens with Janine showing distinct separation anxiety from her baby. She has bonded, and it is a violence to remove her, put her in another home to be raped, impregnated, discarded, repeat. Janine’s new commander and his wife are “kind” people, bringing to mind the cognitive dissonance of having ever referred to slave owners as “kind”; there is precious little value to a kindness that is made a necessity out of a chosen cruelty. Janine’s commander (Warren), apparently fed her a pretty stream of flowery lies, to either appease his own conscience or to coerce her into an increasingly illicit relationship (perhaps both), and she believed them with the desperation of the broken. One-eyed and emotionally fragile, no character has displayed the same ravenous need to be loved that Janine has; she is the prime target for an emotionally manipulative abuser. A man who was supposed to maintain a – let’s call it “professional” – distance crossed all sorts of lines and convinced her he loved her so that she would engage in actual sex with him, instead of a sterile and infinitely weird impregnation ceremony. And then he threw her away. That is a great deal to manage psychologically, and Janine is bereft of the tools.
Meanwhile, our dear June is told by a fellow handmaid and May Day insider that if she truly wants to help, she needs to go pick up a package at the brothel, tonight. June bats her eyelashes at Fred and he is so delusionally convinced of the impact of his charm that he lets himself be flattered into taking her out after the house goes to sleep. Nick, my heartbeat and first eyebrow royalty, is visibly shaken; he is worried, he is fretting, he is offering June sly warnings, but he takes them to the brothel regardless, because he too is powerless in this society. Fred takes June directly upstairs to rape her and play house, and, because he’s just such a nice guy, brings Moira up to see her. He had, you see, noticed their connection the previous visit, however, assumes it is a romantic bond and that this ends in a three way for him, because he’s been a very good boy this year. He can scarcely disguise his disappointment when he discovers the error in his supposition but still allows June and Moira a few moments alone. Moira is defeated; June tries to rally her friend. The next morning, Serena Joy wakes June up with little explanation and takes her to a bridge, where Janine is holding her baby, prepared to jump. June connects with her, and Janine hands her the baby before jumping into the river below. She is fished out and no rescue has ever felt less like a blessing. June goes to do the household shopping, looking downtrodden, maybe a bit broken, but is given a package at the deli, with a note from Moira – “praised be, bitches.” Keep your lasso of truth, I’ll take Moira on my side in a fight any day.
The Handmaid’s Tale has done so many things well, but this episode excelled in showing the complicated but intense nature of female friendships. It is illustrated over and over – that Fred immediately assumes June and Moira were lovers because of the bond between them, that June is the one person who can talk Janine down. While June is out with Fred, Serena Joy gets up to make a cup of tea, and Rita accidentally spills the beans about Fred being out. Instead of retreating and wanting to be alone, Serena improbably reaches out to Rita. There is a unique succor to a true friendship between women; Serena has no real friends and longs for that sincerity. Inversely, we see her interacting with Warren’s wife, and it is in every way the toxic flipside of a loving female friendship. There are snide remarks; defensiveness and carefully sharpened barbs intended to maim, to damage. If at all possible, to entirely destroy.
This episode also illustrates perhaps more clearly than any to date, the extent of Fred’s blinding narcissism. In the hotel room, post coitus, he tells June that she is free to make noise, to demonstrate what a good time she’s having during this fake consensual sex. Now. We must, of course, immediately be furious about the notion of him granting her permission to use her voice. He is not a sea witch and she is no ginger mermaid. Still, these are the conditions of Gilead. But perhaps more importantly, he is ignoring the fundamental tenant of Occam’s Razor: she’s not making noises of pleasure because she is not receiving any. The idea that she is not sexually sated by him is nothing he ever considers. Despite the fact that June has all of the poker face of absolutely no poker face, he does not intuit that she is lying about wanting to spend time with him; the notion is too absurd to him.
Finally, this episode demonstrates with crystalline clarity that handmaids are chattel. We have always known that they are viewed as wombs, and we have seen them abused. But we have never before seen them passed along, though we have known about it. To actually see Janine taken from her child, taken from her home, given a new house, a new name…she is a pet, not a person. And because we know that this society holds motherhood as sanctity, that she who bore the child is granted no parental rights, we know that she is viewed as less than a woman; she can make children but she can never mother them.
Though we are, of course, looking forward primarily, this episode gave me a quick moment to look back. We met June coming into Fred’s house. We know that there was a handmaid previously in her position, but what do we know of June? Was Fred the first commander she handmaided under? Or does her appearance at Fred’s home mean that she had, like Janine, fulfilled her duty and produced a child for a different commander?
We have one more episode of the season to go, and perhaps no answers on the horizon. And I am entirely okay with that. It’s been a pleasure (and sometimes a frustration) getting this far.
But now, here’s what Jim thought (that’s right! He’s back!)
“A most solid episode this week and clearly there is an uprising brewing on the horizon.
Blessed be the fruit and it shall be taken from ye, and poor crazy one-eyed Ofwarren was not having any of that. She got set up with a new family, went crazy during the nookie ceremony, escaped, stole her baby back, and jumped off a bridge of insufficient height. Fortunately, Offred saved the baby before the plunge…Blessed be!
Offred also tricked the commander into returning to Jezebel City on a secret May Day mission, but the Commander had his own naughty plans for a reunion for Moira. Sadly, Offred was not down for that game but the girls did catch up and Offred managed to light a fire under Moira who ultimately steps up, delivers the secret package, kills some random dude, and escapes from her prison, destined for parts unknown. Praised be, bitch! Here is your package and nobody calls Moira a filthy degenerate without some consequences!
Also, Nick becomes even more sullen, moody, and jealous of Offred and the Commander, but he gets a little redemption in the form of some tasty ass Carbonara from his lady friend at the cat house.”
Until next week, don’t let the bastards grind you down.