Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 2, Episode 8: “Women’s Work”
Directed by Kari Skogland
Written by Nina Fiore & John Herrera
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “After” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Smart Power” – click here
June (Elisabeth Moss) is working as an assistant to Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), up in the office doing real work, as it once was before Gilead. The two women genuinely bond a bit, discovering they have things in common. It’s interesting to see them in this situation. There’s a relative sense of freedom. However, it’ll get back to normal soon— Commander Fred (Joseph Fiennes) is returning from the hospital, a little worse for the wear but well again.
The whole Waterford house welcomes their Commander back, from Rita (Amanda Brugel) to Eden (Sydney Sweeney), and, of course, June, albeit reluctantly. The dynamics continue shifting. There’s also Eden and Nick (Max Minghella), whose marriage is awkward and tense and unpredictable.
I’m curious, with the little gift left on June’s bed— are we going to see a new relationship bud between June and Serena? And, is there going to be a point where Serena comes to her senses either way?
Heading to the market, June comes across Janine (Madeline Brewer) again. The two of the discuss the merits of Alien v. Aliens briefly on the way. They also talk with Emily (Alexis Bledel), or, she talks to them. Janine talks of a good posting, and Emily reiterates to her: “Being raped is not a blessing.” Hopefully Emily doesn’t do anything dangerous, because she seems at the end of her rope.
A siren goes off. Everybody kneels, as an ambulance goes by. The worry is for the Putnam baby. Word spreads, and when Janine hears it she’s scared. Remember, that’s her child. And this sets the poor girl off, scared for the baby to whom she gave birth for those Gilead rapists. It’s left to June to mediate, so that Janine doesn’t cause too much trouble. Only she starts to feel, more and more all the time, she’s becoming too much a part of Gilead, losing her humanity.
That night, June gets a visit in her room from Serena. They talk of the sick Putnam girl. Nobody knows what’s wrong with the baby, and they fear she’ll only get worse. Serena suggests “bending the law” could help. The state isn’t using all available options. So, Mrs. Waterford asks June’s opinion. Yet another stepping stone in whatever kind of connection these two are forging.
Makes me scared, all the same. If Serena does come to her senses, if she starts rebelling against Gilead, there could be grave consequences. Regardless, she was part of the whole conception/construction of this state. Would only be proper she helps to undo it. BUT, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s see what happens. At the moment she’s at least beginning to notice the widening divide between herself v. the state + herself v. her husband.
“That’s one of the things they do— they force you to kill, within yourself.”
By request of June, Serena Joy convinces the Putnams to let Janine go up and see her child in the hospital. This doesn’t please the wife particularly— the husband believes God would want them to allow it. On top of that, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) thinks it will only put the Handmaid in a fragile mental state again, vowing to blame anything bad that happens as a result on June. Perfect. Underneath the negatives, it’s a further sign, once more, Serena’s morality is undergoing a transformation. Of some kind.
Because she also has a Martha, Dr. Hodgson (Karen Glave), brought from out of bondage in Gilead to do her job again, to help save the baby. Yes, it’s all under duress, but it signifies that shift in Serena. Slowly, surely, she’s coming to accept there are things more important than the white fascist state she helped her husband build and the vague words of God.
After everything, the baby’s unable to be helped. Everyone has to accept the grim reality. And it’s not easy for any of them, least of all Janine. The Handmaid gets to say goodbye to her child, kiss her one last time.
Back at home, Fred’s not pleased. He’s been poking around up in June’s room, and he likewise heard about the Martha brought in as a doctor. He’s a hypocrite, because he doesn’t like his wife bending the rules on her own— only for him. He finds some of the work June helped Serena edit, too. Big no-no in Gilead, women writing and reading and having agency. Commander Waterford has punishment in mind for his wife. He leans her over a chair, then proceeds to belt her across the lower back and ass, forcing June to watch.
June checks on Serena during the night, but the wife takes on the physical and emotional toll all alone. “We should‘ve known better,” laments June to herself, remembering there are no safe places in this world from men, they infect every space and place in which they exist. While men are afraid of getting rejected, women are terrified of getting murdered— gender is, sadly, not a level playing field, so disparate between men and women and so many of the former simply can’t see it, totally blind to the horrific reality.
The next morning, Aunt Lydia finds Janine with the baby, and the baby’s all better, back in good health like new. Everything is right again. If only but for a fleeting moment. This doesn’t change the Handmaid’s standing. Thankfully it helps the child.
A heartbreaking and brutal episode, as if there are any other kind for The Handmaid’s Tale. There are new, exciting things happening amongst all the horrifying things, as well. Can’t wait for the next episode.