Pregnant, imprisoned, and with a deeply broken spirit after nearly tasting freedom, June -- who now willingly answers to "Offred" - drifts through this week's Handmaid's Tale, "Seeds," with frightening detachment. But a teeny bit of much-needed hope still manages to peek through the misery.
Since the beginning of The Handmaid's Tale, our perspective on the show's onslaught of horrifying, outrageous events has been filtered through June's eyes. With the benefit of her wry, raw, perceptive voiceover, we've gotten deep insight into her ordeal, and been privy to her thoughts when, as is often the case, she's forced to act completely the opposite of the way she's feeling. Outwardly, she's meek and calm, while inside, she's telling us exactly what she thinks. "Seeds" shows us an exhausted, guilt-ridden woman who's defeatedly succumbed to the Offred persona that Gilead has forced her into - stomping down her true June self. And while June is a chatty, honest narrator, Offred has no inner voice. Offred dwells in silence.
It's eerie not to get that voiceover, and the quiet is an effective way of making The Handmaid's Tale feel more disturbing than ever. Some very dark stuff is going on with Offred - so dark we're completely shut out of her thoughts. Of course, given all we've seen her go through, we can guess at what's going on in her head. And we also get some very gruesome and private visuals as to what's going on with her body -- specifically, an apparent pregnancy complication that causes a worrisome amount of bleeding. She doesn't mention it to anyone, especially Aunt Lydia, whose cursory "check-ups" aren't really medical visits for Offred's benefit, but an excuse to drop by with frequency to make sure Serena Joy is behaving herself. Though everyone agrees Offred is acting strangely, nobody beyond Nick -- who's shocked to see her burning the precious letters that Mayday smuggled to her last season - can see how badly she's breaking down.
There's something off with Offred.Photo: George Kraychyk (Hulu)
Oh, but it's about to get worse. This is Gilead, after all, where rock bottom is always actually a false bottom that a person can still fall far, far below. Nick and Offred's relationship has never been without complications, but things are about to become tangled beyond all repair, even before the arrival of the baby they conceived for the Waterfords.
We've seen Serena Joy disdainfully noting the spark between Nick and Offred (a spark she encouraged, lest we forget, for her own selfish reasons). After she drops some hints, the Commander, who was already feeling some insecurities of his own, inquires about having Nick transferred to a new post... uh, let's call it a "promotion"... somewhere as far away as possible? His boss, Commander Pryce, has another solution: finding a wife for the young Guardian. Now, "Seeds" is full of Serena Joy snark - hating on Naomi Putnam's parenting skills; hating on Offred for not generating small talk; hating on some random Handmaid's unattractive nose, even - but her casually-framed invitation for Offred to join her at the "pray-vaganza," a terribly-named event that's headlined by a mass wedding, featuring Nick getting hitched, is maybe her most sinister moment ever.
Offred's face, when she realises what's happening, is more evocative than any voice-over could ever have been; there's horror, sadness, and then a freakishly serene half-smile. Again, no narration. In fact, the sound briefly drops out completely as she raises her hands to applaud with the crowd. Offred zombie-walks back through the Waterford house, where the molecules have shifted into even weirder dimensions now that Nick has a child bride living with him, and discovers that the trickle of blood that's been leaking from her throughout "Seeds" has gotten steadier. We don't see how she gets outside, passed out in the rain in her red-stained underwear, but fortunately Nick finds her before it's too late.
Child brides in opaque veils, meeting their Guardian husbands for the first time at the altar.Photo: George Kraychyk (Hulu)
When Offred awakens, she lifts her hospital gown and realises that the baby has somehow survived its recent ordeal. Suddenly, we see her snap back to reality for the first time this whole episode. "You're tough, aren't you," she murmurs with admiration, before making a solemn vow to the fierce life insider her that they're going to get out of Gilead once and for all: "I will not let you grow up in this place... They do not own you. And they do not own what you will become."
Hell yeah. JUNE IS BACK.
- We see that Aunt Lydia is allowed to take notes while she's examining Offred. A woman, applying a pencil to paper, to write words? Obviously this insanity is not allowed in Gilead, but there's "special dispensation for Aunts," she explains to Serena Joy -- a former best-selling author who can't conceal the twinge of envy that flickers beneath her disapproval.
- Nick's new farm-girl wife is barely a teenager, but she's been specifically groomed for the role of being a dutiful spouse. You have to wonder: Is that what Gilead does to all its girls now? Will June's daughter, Hannah, someday face the same fate -- or will she become a Handmaid in the house of one of these young wives instead?
- Offred's falling apart, but at least she and her baby have access to real medical care, and (eventually) June's resilient spirit comes bubbling up. In the Colonies, Emily's also falling apart -- including, but not limited to, her teeth -- but her "all is lost" attitude (which is understandable given the circumstance) softens thanks to Janine's influence... but that's just for half an instant. Much like Offred's face at Nick's wedding, however, Emily's haunted face as she watches yet another cart of dead bodies trundle past telegraphs more pain than any words could ever capture.
- The Colonies once again remind us that no matter how grim things in Gilead can be, well, at least the ground isn't spewing out literal toxic fumes. That said, there was still way more joy in the wedding between the two fragile, near-death Colony women than anything contained in that spooky mass wedding in Gilead.