Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 6: “A Woman’s Place”
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Written by Wendy Straker Hauser
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Faithful” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Other Side” – click here
We start as we finished last episode, as Offred (Elisabeth Moss) falls into actual passion with Nick (Max Minghella). She thinks of it the next day, but laments it won’t happen anymore. “Sorry, Nick.”
The handmaids are out cleaning a wall of execution blood. Government officials are coming, so they don’t want any of the nastiness around to make Gilead look bad, now do they? Janine (Madeline Brewer) remarks how it doesn’t look the same without all the “dead bodies.” Amazing what you can get used to in Gilead. Back at home, Offred’s called to see Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), she preps the handmaid on the coming visit, a trade delegation from Mexico; the one which Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) went to arrange a short while ago. The woman of the house wants everything to go smoothly.
But will it?
Offred: “Red‘s my colour”
We see Serena remember different times with Fred. They rushed to the bedroom in lust for one another. Although quoting the Bible’s a bit strange. Either way, there were happier moments for them. Now it’s all an eerie struggle, a routine, an elaborate, emotionless spectacle. Serena’s complicit in the patriarchy, despite any of her issues she continues trying to make her husband happy.
One thing Offred, the woman formerly known as June, has not lost is her spirit, and her sense of humour. She’s very sly, in many ways. Also there’s a clear connection between her and Nick. He does his best, outwardly, to deny this fact. It’s obvious, though. And they keep it as quiet a secret as possible. In the meantime, Offred’s trotted in to see the delegation. There’s a vast divide between women in Gilead v. women from Mexico, for instance. She automatically believes the ambassador could not be a woman. Even as smart and tough as June was, still is, she’s been brainwashed, beaten down by the system in this nation-state.
On top of everything, she’s forced to say that she chose being a handmaid. When Ambassador Castillo (Zabryna Guevara) asks if Offred is happy, she reluctantly reads the script prepared in her mind. Sadly, she knows a woman’s place in Gilead. As do the barren wives, all too tragically. We find out more of Serena, too. She was a rebel. The ambassador puts it to her pretty hard and sees how these women, all of them, are trodden upon.
Ambassador Castillo: “Never mistake a woman‘s meekness for weakness”
More flashbacks show us a time before. When Fred was working towards the idea of Gilead, setting things in motion. Serena supported him every step of the way, which illustrates the lengths of her complicity in an authoritarian patriarchal rule. We see the divide between America then, Gilead now. Even Fred, he was slightly different. Before power took hold, anyways. Then suddenly he gets word about “three attacks” coordinated in several weeks. The beginning of the end.
So, as much as I pity Serena, I pity the handmaids more. She used an epidemic to subjugate the will of fertile women. Offred, and so, so many more, they suffer much worse because of what Serena allowed to grow in her own actions and support of Fred. Kinda like how I couldn’t give a shit now that Ann Coulter thinks anybody cares that she’s FINALLY figured out that Trump duped her and a portion of the country. Because she is one of those women whose toxic aid to the patriarchy of America has only made things worse for women who don’t hold the privilege of her status.
Alone together, Offred gets closer and closer with Commander Waterford. Perhaps too close. It’s a dangerous game, even if it’s a part of a plan she’s enacting over the course of time. He feels wildly unpredictable. He asks for a kiss, which she grants him. Later she scrubs her mouth raw with a toothbrush to get the taste out.
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) has the handmaids out, well behaved, going to a dinner. They even get to sit at tables like normal people. Present and enforcing strict dress code, Serena requires “the damaged ones” removed. But Lydia says they are serving the Lord, therefore it’s worthy of honour. To Mrs. Waterford they’re “bruised apples” and nothing more.
More flashbacks take us to before Gilead rose, as America fell. Serena slowly sees her privileges erode. Once a writer of books, she was on her way to never being allowed to read one again, being pushed out of the bureaucracy of the coming changes. Fred actually starts coming off as a guy who didn’t realise what would happen when he started out. As if he was one of those bible thumping Republicans who began hard on terrorism, letting civil rights erode, then watched as it all spun out of control. But no matter. Somewhere along the way he wholly accepted the state of things.
In Gilead, at their fancy dinner, Serena is allowed to speak. ALLOWED is the operative term. The handmaids are honoured. Blah, blah, blah. All for show. Then the children are paraded through to music, those who’ve been produced in Gilead like cattle. IT’s a way of blinding the delegation. All the sour, hideous shit is hidden beneath this glossy exterior, fabricated out of the sadness of these women who are made to stand by and, some of them, watch their own children who’ve been yanked from their arms being used as propaganda.
Worse – Mexico’s looking to trade for handmaids. That’s so terrible, so ugly. What a heavy scene. With all the heaviness that’s come before it, hard to imagine this is so weighty. One of the subtle, toughest moments shows us a flashback as Serena gathers things together, throwing things away; outside, garbage trucks and men take all things belonging to women, truckloads, and cart it away for a new beginning.
A rare lovemaking moment occurs between Mr. and Mrs. Waterford, going against the whole idea in Gilead that sex is for procreation only. Tsk, tsk. But I wish they’d get back to that, their old lives. Instead of raping women into pregnancy for their own cruel needs.
Offred beats herself up for acting in front of the ambassador and everyone else, saying she’s happy there. It rips her apart, and no wonder. Having to say that, even if she doesn’t mean it, just having to let those words out of her mouth is a form of giving up to the patriarchy of Gilead.
The next day when the ambassador stops by before leaving, June tells her it is a prisoner there and about the abuse they suffer. She tells her everything. She pleads for her to do something, but the woman refuses. Another woman complicit with the authoritarian patriarchy of Gilead. Disgusting. All in the name of making babies.
Ambassador Castillo: “My country is dying”
Offred: “My country‘s already dead”
However, the man with Ambassador Castillo offers to get a message to her husband. He is not dead, and Mr. Flores (Christian Barillas) knows. He also knows that her name is June. Wow. I could see the whole episode his eyes were kinder, somehow he was sensitive to their plight. And dammit, I was right.
What’s going to happen next? What a grim yet still beautiful episode. Christ, they up the ante every week with this series. Next is “The Other Side” and I’m anticipating other, bigger things will come out.