Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 2, Episode 6: “First Blood”
Directed by Mike Barker
Written by Eric Tuchman
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Seeds” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “After” – click here
“By His hand” the baby’s okay inside June (Elisabeth Moss), says the doc. This relieves Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) to a certain extent. She doesn’t realise that the mother of the child is hardening her resolve every new day, every next day of pregnancy, if nothing else but for the sake of that baby they’re bringing into the world.
At the Waterford home, things have changed big time. Nick (Max Minghella) is married, yet he was forced, he cares about June. And June knows they can’t sneak around like they did before. His marriage to Eden (Sydney Sweeney) complicates things even worse than they were already. Not to mention the ethical implications of their marriage for him. Not sure how old Eden is, but she’s quite young. Too young.
Elsewhere, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) chats up Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) about the volatile “dynamics” between wife and Handmaid. He’s busy with other things, a new building being constructed and all the politics of Gilead. He meets with some of the other Commanders, including Cushing (Greg Bryk) and Pryce (Robert Curtis Brown). It’s clear some of the men are tiring of Fred, they don’t seem happy with him or his work, nor do they feel too good about all the stuff that went on in his own house.
The relationship between June and Serena Joy isn’t really volatile at the moment. Although I loathe her mostly, Serena’s sadness at being infertile is often truly tragic stuff. It gets worse the longer the pregnancy goes on for June, as her belly grows. Because Serena doesn’t know the feeling, she wishes she did, and it burns her up inside.
Let’s skip back, to before Gilead. Serena and Fred work on a speech together. They’ve been working hard to get their “policies and ideas discussed in the mainstream.” Does it sound familiar? Kinda could be the so-called alt-right (aka neo-Nazis and white supremacists in khakis) today. Serena is there on a campus to discuss ideas about A Woman’s Place. She’s taunted as a fascist, a “Nazi cunt,” then someone throws something on the stage and she’s ushered out. This scene is HAUNTING, because it’s exactly the climate right now in the US, this could’ve been ripped out of a headline in the newspapers.
At night, June goes for a glass of water, running into Fred in the kitchen. She asks if he’s mad at her, he’s distant since her return. They have an unusually nice chat. I wonder, though, if his religion is slipping. Not that he was ever actually righteous, he was a hypocrite, still is. But there’s something about his demeanour that’s altered significantly.
There are other worrisome things happening. Eden worries about Nick not wanting to be with her physically. Instead of thinking of anything else, she’s curious if he’s a gender traitor. Damn. She tells all this to June, which makes me believe she’ll try to tell Nick he has to sleep with his new wife, for all their sake. What a mess.
An awkward get-together over at the Waterford house – Serena arranges for some other Handmaids to come visit with June. They try talking about normal things, though what’s normal anymore? The Handmaids all stand around, feeling the baby move in June’s belly. This is a power move by June, as all the fertile women bond over the movement of the baby and Serena feels the odd woman out, leaving them all alone. Serena Joy goes to the greenhouse, where she plants, re-pots, and tends to plants. This little garden is the only place where she can feel the happiness of giving life to another organism. No matter how many women she helps subjugate, she’ll never be fertile again.
Back to the wild campus. Serena yells out at the protesters, giving off the typical white blonde woman lines that you’ll hear from Tomi Lahren or Ann Coulter or whoever else. She screams about “biological destiny,” and she’s paving the road for all that subjugation to come in Gilead. It’s all about misplaced rage, really. She wants to force other women to do what she can’t do, in the name of survival of the species. Fred champions his wife as a “truth teller.” Then, as they get into a limo, shots ring out. Serena is hit in the hip by a bullet.
June seethes with rage after Serena won’t let her see her daughter, even for five minutes. She then goes angrily to Nick, telling him he has to sleep with Eden or else be turned in as a gender traitor, hung on the wall dead. Ironic to see him say he it’s “not fair” to have sleep with her, both for his and her sake, while June’s been raped her entire time in Gilead – even her relationship with Nick is forced, out of necessity. And so he goes to bed with Eden that night.
In the greenhouse, Fred talks with Serena, who’s pissed off over June and her requests. In the midst of their conversation we jump back to Serena in the hospital, recovering from her shooting. She and Fred go over another speech, talking about terrorism against them and saving America. He blames himself. She tells him: “Be a man.” Again, Serena is emblematic of the women who aid in perpetuating toxic masculinity. This sends Fred to find the shooter, to kill the woman he loves, and then kill him, too. Misogyny, toxic masculinity, and violence – a brutal, chaotic cyclone.
In the night June gets a visit from Fred. He’s there to “keep the peace” in the house. He brought pictures of her daughter, Hannah. A way of allowing June some sort of happiness, despite her wretched conditions. Or, y’know, maybe he wants to try a bit of pregnancy rape. She rejects it, and he goes without a fight. Now they have a shared secret once more.
The new centre has opened, under Fred’s supervision. Commanders and Handmaids and Guardians are gathered in celebration. Commander Pryce gets a frantic visit from Nick, asking to be reassigned and for June to be protected. Oh, shit. This might stir up something nasty. Speaking of nasty, Serena gets worse at home with June. She’s teaching Eden to become a proper Commander’s wife, passing on the internalised misogyny to an entire new generation. June uses the unborn child inside her as the only bargaining chip available in such desperate times.
Commander Waterford gives a speech at the new facility. He blathers on about a “moral world” they’re restoring, replenishing the Earth full of God-fearing children to inherit it. The Handmaids all line up. Only Ofglen #2 (Tattiawna Jones) has her own ideas. She’s strapped with a suicide vest. She rushes into the building and detonates as the Handmaids flee. Jesus. Christ.