Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 2, Episode 9: “Smart Power”
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Written by Dorothy Fortenberry
June (Elisabeth Moss) sits in her room, imagining that it “could be an Airbnb,” albeit a creepy one that requiring rape+subservience. She’s in a more vulnerable position than ever, in “reduced circumstances.” A position many women – particularly of colour – have been in over history, time and time again. Gilead’s merely a new configuration of old hatred, misogyny, and power/gender dynamics.
She’s soon brought downstairs to see Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), who’s getting ready for a trip with Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). Diplomatic business in Canada. Guardian Isaac (Rohan Mead) will watch the home while the Waterfords are gone. But June, she just sees Nick (Max Minghella) in his place, wishing he were still there. The actual Nick is headed off to Canada, too.
Meanwhile, Serena’s reluctant to go. Worried about her dying plants/growing baby in the Handmaid. Fred really only needs his wife so that he can prove to Canada there are at least SOME women not being oppressed in their nation-state of Gilead, requiring she fulfil a purpose to fool outsiders about how things truly are inside Gilead.
We see June’s also going to be sent away from the Waterford house after the baby is born. Usually the Handmaid remains until the baby’s weaned from breastfeeding. That’s soul shattering for the expectant mother.
In Canada, the Gilead envoy arrives. On television, Moira (Samira Wiley) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) see footage of the Waterfords. It’s a heavy moment. He and Moira go down to the consulate to argue for Waterford’s arrest. After all he’s a “serial rapist,” among other war crimes considering they frequently execute people in Gilead. Sadly, nothing can be done. Bureaucratic and political bullshit.
What’s most interesting is Serena, watching the outside world pass by as she, Fred, and Nick travel by limo. She sees all the freedom. And just the look on her face, the marvel, shows how deeply she misses a real society, as opposed to an authoritarian state.
Evident tension between Canada and America, punctuated by one deputy minister, Kevin McConnell (José Arias), who no longer feels welcome in the US, in Gilead, seeing as how he’s gay. A brief yet telling moment. Then Serena’s juxtaposed with a woman called Genevieve (Clark Backo), which is itself pretty compelling. We’re watching Serena come up against all the freedom she once knew, that she gave up to help oppress other women in a vain attempt to have a child someday, by any means necessary. Serena also has to endure the stares and judgement of free women in Canada, looking at her with disgust.
On the street, Janine (Madeline Brewer) gets upset in conversation with June, so much so she tells one of the Guardians: “Suck my dick.” This earns her a punch in the face, then June’s carted off by Isaac. At home, June tells Rita (Amanda Brugel) she, essentially, wants her to be godmother to her baby after she’s gone, to show her kindness. Rita offers to do whatever she’s able, considering their conditions. Marthas don’t really have it easy, either. June goes so far as even asking Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) to watch over her coming child, desperately wanting a woman to protect it against the violence of men. Funny: I hate Lydia, yet the conversation between these two here made me wonder if there’s not a deeper, more upsetting story in her past that brought her here.
In a high class bar, Serena runs into Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger), a government representative from America. Things have changed, so there are differing definitions of “American government” at this point. Mark knows a little bit about Ms. Waterford. He’s digging for more information. The man offers her a life elsewhere, that they can send her someplace safely to tell her story about Gilead. She thinks it’d only be propaganda, perpetually attached to the idea Gilead’s still a good, moral idea. Mark explains to Serena there’s been progress in fertility studies— it might be possible for her to have her own child, not the rape baby of her husband and his victim. The longing in her is there, it’s just staying buried for the time being.
At their hotel, the Waterfords are met with protesters. Luke runs out in front of the crowd, yelling at Fred. Commander Waterford only talks about scripture. Pretty intense to watch Serena and Nick each seeing June’s husband, after all they’ve collectively seen/done.
Later, Nick finds Luke at a bar. He hands over that old pile of Mayday letters. He tries to assuage any worries the husband has, as if his wife being raped and impregnated is any comfort. All it does is tear the man apart from the inside. Oh, and Nick forgets to mention it’s actually HIS baby. Christ, this is fucking heartbreaking.
“This kingdom endures forever”
At home, Luke, Moira, and Erin (Erin Way) go through the Mayday letters. They each have their own losses to endure, while witnessing all the loss of others. Moira just wants to blow Gilead up. So, Erin suggests perhaps the letters can function as an ideological bomb.
Next day, the Waterfords are being kicked out of Canada. Turns out the letters were uploaded last night. Canada’s made a decision: “We believe the women.” A perfect moment in the era of Me Too, if only in fiction. Here we watch Serena do a walk of shame alongside her rapist husband. The most bare, truest face of Gilead has now been unveiled to the world. They’re not going to be able to hide so well anymore. On the way out, Fred sees Moira in the protest, coming to realise their nation-state’s not so secure as once thought.
Nick gets back and tells June about the letters being released. One bright spot in a sea of darkness. At the same time, things have changed for Nick, after meeting June’s husband. He tells her about it, and also that Moira’s safe. It’s more hope for her, despite being emotionally tough. Knowing Moira is free gives June a breath of needed fresh air— she understands freedom is possible. Her fight’s renewed.
Wow! One of my favourite episodes this season. Something heavily relevant about seeing Canada and America on two opposite sides of the spectrum, in such vast contrast. Particularly with all the nonsense as of late between Trump and Canada. BUT REMEMBER: Canada is nowhere near perfect, we’ve got horrible history of our own. It’s still an intriguing perspective to see up close in this episode.
Can’t wait for more.