Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 8: “Jezebels”
Directed by Kate Dennis
Written by Kira Snyder
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Other Side” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Bridge” – click here
After last episode’s revelation where Luke (O-T Fagbenle) discovers June a.k.a Offred (Elisabeth Moss) is alive, we go back to Gilead with her, as she also knows her husband isn’t dead. She keeps going back with Nick (Max Minghella), she regrets that Luke’s memory is fading and she’s becoming “faithless” by the day. She accepts it isn’t a “fuck you to the patriarchy” like she imagined, but rather a genuine, budding relationship between the two. What happens when/if Luke is back in the picture? Likely, all that love June has for him will flood back. But what about Nick? I wonder how he actually sees her, if he believes she’s his property or if he sees her as a human, someone he can love.
Well, we go back to before the fall of American society, and see Nick in his previous life. He wasn’t exactly excelling, bouncing from one job to the next. A career counsellor named Andrew Pryce (Robert Curtis Brown) takes him out for coffee, they talk about Nick’s path since the economy took a hard downturn. Then they talk of the Bible briefly, of the problems facing America which are getting worse. This is where Nick’s first introduced to the Sons of Jacob, a group to whom Pryce belongs. Ah, the road ahead is opening in all its grim glory.
Back at Gilead, Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) shaves Offred’s legs. Usually this is done by the women, supervised so that they don’t commit suicide instead of shaving. However, something more intimate is happening here, and an odd tenderness in Fred is visible. I don’t like feeling that he’s human, because essentially he is not. He’s a monster. Part of what unsettles me in this scene is his monstrosity, juxtaposed against the small, intimate gestures he shows to Offred while she beautifies herself.
What’s most important? We see that, when it comes to his personal life, Fred is a hypocrite. He believes in the doctrine of Gilead, until it suits him not to and he’s got a woman around he likes to fuck. His misogyny shows more than ever. He likes to have his cake, and eat it, too. He doesn’t actually believe, he uses the authoritarian nation-state to empower his misogynistic whims.Fred takes Offred out on a date, while Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) is away at her mother’s place. So the Commander takes her for a drive, showing her sights she’s not usually privileged to see. For the first time in so long, she’s out past one of the many security checkpoints of Gilead.
Commander Waterford: “Past the gateway, wives aren‘t even allowed; women aren‘t allowed.”
Cut to Nick again, before the fall. He drives Pryce, Waterford, other Sons of Jacob around, as they formulate their plans. They talk about the “violation” of the fertile women, how to brand the misogyny appropriately. Moreover, we see how these men don’t totally believe, they use Bible verse and the spectre of religion to bend women to their will. On top of everything, Nick didn’t push back. In a time of economic anxieties, he chose to be employed over being human. Like the infertile wives allowing other women to be existentially – and often literally – slaughtered, Nick is complicity as much as any other man.
Present day. Fred takes Offred in for a romantic evening at a strange private club where men in suits lounge with half naked women, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” playing in the background. A surreal experience, going from the handmaid society to this den of iniquity. More and more, the very foundation of Gilead proves to be shaky, barely even there. Not that there was ever legitimacy to its horror, but at least before there seemed a righteousness about Gilead, in all its savagery. Now, we see the hypocrisy of the male gender bursting through the seams like never before. And it’s not sitting well with Offred. Especially not when she spies Moira (Samira Wiley) from across the room, smiling, sitting for drinks and a smoke with important men and dressed almost like a Playboy bunny.
The two women meet in the washroom quietly. Moira is devastated for having left her friend at the train that day, though June knows it wasn’t her fault. While she’s not in the position the handmaids are in, Moira isn’t out of the clutch of the patriarchy. Although it’s hope. Bittersweet hope.
The last woman who held the position in the Waterford house where Offred is now committed suicide. She hanged herself in her room. Found by Rita (Amanda Brugel) and cut down by Nick. What’s most interesting is how after they send the body off, Serena berates her husband in hushed, angry tones: “What did you think was going to happen?” She knows of his misogynistic needs, his extra time with the handmaid serving him. At the same time, we see how this world in Gilead is wearing Nick down. Perhaps he’ll end up proving himself worthy eventually, by not allowing June the same fate as the previous handmaid.
One of the more disturbing moments: a man in a dark elevator vigorously licks the maimed stump of a previously punished handmaid, then scuttles away with her after June shows up. Yikes.
Back awhile ago, Commander Pryce instructs Nick in his duties as an Eye in Gilead. He must report on his own Commander. We see another Commander being led shakily into a building, having apparently slept with his last two handmaids; going off the rails. Something we know is happening back at the Waterford house.
Present day once more, Serena gets home from visiting her mother, and the place must return to its previous state of secrecy. At the same time Nick and Offred’s burgeoning relationship comes to a halt, he appears to have chosen duty to the patriarchy over human emotion. She tries appealing to his better sense, the humanity underneath. Not sure if there’s any left.
Serena brought a little present from her childhood home for Offred. A locked music box with a tiny ballerina spinning inside. There’s a desperate connection wanting to grab hold between the infertile wife and the handmaid forced into breeding for the patriarchy. I can’t see it playing out well, not for them both, or for either of them. Yet I can see Serena does care, even the slightest, for the Waterford’s handmaid. She also knows more than she lets on.
Offred: “A perfect gift. A girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone else opens the lid. When someone else winds her up. If this is a story I‘m telling, I must be telling it to someone; there‘s always someone, even when there‘s no one. I will not be that girl in the box.”
What I DO know? June ain’t taking this all lying down. She refuses to be the victim and each episode brings us closer to her power exerting itself. How, we’ll have to wait and see.
Every episode is just fantastic. One of my most favourite television series’ to ever be, maybe. I just know this Margaret Atwood adaptation is fantastic. Next up is titled “The Bridge” and it’s our penultimate Season 1 episode. Buckle up.