Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 2, Episode 4: “Other Women”
Directed by Kari Skogland
Written by Yahlin Chang
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Baggage” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Seeds” – click here
Things are certainly not any better now with June (Elisabeth Moss) back in the heart of Gilead. She likens herself to “pigs who were being fattened in pens,” as she’s chained to a bed, being watched by Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) and others. It’s somehow even more grim than before. Rape is bad enough. Forced pregnancy’s one horrifying reminder on top of another. Not to mention there’s execution at the end of the line. Right now, June has to play the game, or else she’s heading for death. After a taste of freedom, it’s going to be that much harder for her.
And so, she dons the Handmaid’s uniform once more, returning to the Waterford home. Yet I wonder how things will be, not with Commander Fred (Joseph Fiennes), but most of all with Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). The head of the household talks about “terrorist networks” in Gilead, seeming to believe she was taken rather than escaped. Or, that’s what he tells himself, and everyone else. You can already see Serena’s contempt and heartbreak. Won’t catch me feeling bad for her, though. She’s also pissed that the baby she wants so badly to steal was put in jeopardy.
The routine in Gilead hasn’t change one bit. Aunt Lydia’s constantly cracking the whip, from morning to the moment June lays her head on the pillow at night. June finds out that Rita (Amanda Brugel) is no longer of any help, either. There are so few options left at this point, the helpful friends dwindling more by the day. Although Nick (Max Minghella) is around, unsuspected of having a part in trying to get June out of that place. It’ll definitely be harder after the initial attempt.
Of course there’s a baby shower. Only it’s for Serena Joy, not the actual mother of the child. So pathetically sad to watch the wives play a part in subjugating the Handmaids just so they can have children again. Not even a twisted way of keeping the human race going, only a vanity project fuelled by misogyny. But it’s excellent to see June taking her jabs where she can from time to time. Later, she finds out that Mayday’s not helping Handmaids anymore currently. More than that June is discovering there’s a wave of guilt in her wake, after the whole incident with Janine (Madeline Brewer). Women were punished harshly.
The weirdo baby shower continues with more inane, archaic ritual-type ceremony. Just another way to convince themselves that what they’re doing is right, that it’s a tradition. Like so many traditional practises out there lurching into modern day. June and Serena joined in a ceremonial binding. A kind of spiritual transference.
“Let the little children come to me. For such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Flashback. June gets a visit from Luke’s (O-T Fagbenle) wife, Annie (Kelly Jenrette). It’s a vicious little moment. Likewise it’s a vicious return of memory for June, who’s currently undergoing a much worse, more violent – both physically and mentally – version of conflict with other women. Such an unfair comparison. However, it’s only natural because she’s thinking about the repercussions of her latest slight against other women. And she’s feeling so much of that guilt, like she did back when Annie confronted her.
Aunt Lydia takes June down by the river. She’s got something to show her – it’s the man who helped her, hanged, a hood over his head bearing the mark of Islam. His wife is placed in servitude as a Handmaid, and their child’s fostered to some new family. More guilt for June to take on her shoulders. “You chose for them,” Lydia scolds. And she makes the Handmaid bear every bit of the fault. At the same time, she’s trying to break June back down into Offred, dehumanising her entirely with swift, heavy blows.
That evening, June gets on her knees and begs to come back into the home again. She has to debase herself, so she can be debased by the Waterfords and Gilead. It’s not as if this is a historical uniqueness: all of this has happened to women of colour before, as slaves (et cetera), they were made to feel grateful for the pitiful, inhumane conditions in which they were held against their will. I can see the patriarchy of Gilead soothing the Handmaids by comparing their situation to that of slavery, as if one’s more desirable than the other. More heaps of internalised misogyny.
Can June survive the additional suffering she’s taking on with all this guilt? Or, could this be what breaks her spirit in Gilead finally, after so long? Hard to tell. Though I have faith in her hidden strength.
“Seeds” is next time.