Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 3, Episode 6: “Household”
Directed by Dearbhla Walsh
Written by Dorothy Fortenberry
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Unknown Caller” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Under His Eye” – click here
The Marthas pray for the “child of Gilead” who’s been stolen. June (Elisabeth Moss) lives in an exhausting existential limbo, hoping her baby and Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) are okay, hoping Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) either sees the light or that her and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) get “hit by a fucking truck“— both methods bring the same result. At home, she hears plans for an upcoming Washington, D.C. trip from Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). She has to go, while the Waterfords and Gilead plan to pressure Canada further into helping them repatriate baby Nicole.
A chilling image of New America: the Washington Monument is now a giant cross looming over the landscape, a massive signifier of Church + State in the United States removing all doubt of any separation. June quickly sees how D.C. is a worse version of Gilead. Handmaids wear coverings over their mouths, along with the regular Handmaid garb. The Waterfords are guests in the capital of High Commander George Winslow (Christopher Meloni) and his wife Olivia (Elizabeth Reaser). All the while June struggles to understand Serena’s actions.
“Blessed are the silent,
for only they will hear
the voice of the Lord.”
Fred talks with Commander Winslow about “the images” they’ll release for the world to see. The Waterfords witness how many children— a.k.a rape babies— the Winslows have gathered as a family, a wonderfully diverse brood of kids from infants to near young adolescents. While it might otherwise be a sweet family image, to June it’s a horrific glimpse of a misogynistic dystopia. Worse, the promise of babies pulls Serena deeper away from the Handmaid.
That night, June meets Ofgeorge (Kirrilee Berger), who removes the silencing mask she wears all day to reveal her mouth has been clamped shut by body modification piercings— she literally cannot speak. Terrifying thing to witness. Next morning, the Handmaids prepare for whatever ceremony Fred has planned. Meanwhile there’s a nice surprise for June. She gets to see Nick (Max Minghella) again, briefly touching hands. Like a cool glass of water for her in the midst of all that harrowing authoritarianism.
Later, June and Serena speak alone. The Handmaid tells her: “Our girl deserves better.” They’ve seen the face of a hyper-Gilead, and it’s even more brutal than Gilead itself. Somehow it’s not enough to rip Serena from her perspective.
The Canadians are having the Swiss conduct interviews with the Waterfords. Fred and Serena are both shocked the delegation wants to speak with June by herself. The Swiss actually use her real name. “I am the child‘s mother,” June tells them. She wants Nicole a.k.a Holly to remain in Canada. Not as easy as making the request. The Swiss have no idea about the power structure of Gilead, so they need more info. June offers to get a Commander / former Eye— Nick— to talk.
Will he be able to help? Or, will this plan be thwarted?
In the night, Nick comes to see June. She tells him about the Swiss. He worries the government has their “own agenda.” She knows the reality, and tells him this is his chance to “be a father” to Holly. The only question is whether Nick is truly a good man, or if, when the chips are down, he’ll allow the misogyny of Gilead to taint him wholly.
The next day, the Swiss say Nick is “not to be trusted,” and he’s shipped off to the front lines in Chicago. He’s… done things… in service of Gilead— he was “a soldier in the Crusade.” Again, any thoughts of rebellion go down the drain for our Handmaid. Not just that, it’s a deep betrayal for her, to realise the man with whom she’s had a child didn’t only have a passive hand in the formation of this evil nation state. He fought for this, and he’s been rewarded with a command of his own.
June gets a mouth covering of her own to wear, delivered by Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). She asks the older woman a frank question, getting a frank answer. A tiny glimpse behind the veil of all that internalised misogyny. All the years of being beaten down, of being used to subjugate other women, wears on Lydia’s face, behind those eyes. She’s a horrific woman. There remains a deep pain inside her. This scene between these two is one of the most emotional moments of The Handmaid’s Tale, to see Lydia show genuine human emotion and compassion towards June.
Still, the Handmaid’s strapped into a collar— symbolic clothing to show obedience.
At a destroyed Lincoln Memorial, June removes her silencing garment to talk with Serena. The Handmaid rages at her for playing a part in endangering Holly / Nicole. She’s disgusted by Serena’s inability to genuinely love. “You will always be empty,” she says. A double-edged sword, given the wife is barren. But it’s true. Whatever bond these women shared for a moment in time has been irrevocably erased.
June is, once more, on her own in so many ways.
All the while she must play the part— go along, stay quit, kneel, and serve.
“Do you want us to all
to be silenced?”
A devastating episode, full of upsetting American iconography turned into full-on Gilead propaganda. One of the more unsettling chapters of The Handmaid’s Tale. It also signals things to come, and how it could all become much, much worse.
Whatever comes next is sure to be intense.