The Handmaid’s Tale Heads To The Past To Reflect On Our Horror-Show Present

The Handmaid’s Tale Heads To The Past To Reflect On Our Horror-Show Present

Imagine walking around on a daily basis with dolls moving on their own, clowns with sharp teeth on every corner, and zombies managing you at work. All the horror you can imagine from that and more is what it’s like watching Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Handmaid’s Tale Heads To The Past To Reflect On Our Horror-Show Present

Things have been going from bad to worse for June. After a brief taste of freedom, she’s not just back in the clutches of Gilead but returned to the same Hell Home she previously inhabited. After a health scare that could have threatened the baby everyone holds so dear, she’d determined to make another great escape. While June is refocused, my hope that “First Blood” would give us some sort of fantastical John Rambo-like storyline was, sadly, not realised.

June had a hemorrhage but the doctor tells Serena the baby looks fine. She’s asked if she had any complications during her first pregnancy and gets to throw a knowing look at Serena. The doctor recommends better communication at home, harmony. LOL!!! June shifts uncomfortably as the doctor talks about “Serena’s” baby, but an olive branch is extended as she opens the privacy shield so June can see the ultrasound monitor.

Rita and Eden are awaiting their arrival back at the Waterford household and we can quickly see there’s a slightly adjusted power dynamic. With Serena more concerned than ever about the baby, June is able to take advantage of the few concessions Serena’s willing to make. Not eating that crap smoothie for one, sleeping in the sitting room for another. Nick checks in on her but she’s resistant to his affections. She’s also got a lot of snark ready to throw at him over the new Mrs. Blaine. More seriously though, she informs him they can no longer sneak around. They’re not at the Boston Globe anymore.

Meanwhile, Fred is overseeing construction on a new Red Center where the next generation of Handmaids will be made to suffer. Aunt Lydia finds him here, “Imagine how many more girls we can process here” — yuck — but she’s really there to chide him on his home life: “You have been blessed with a particularly willful pair.” Even more critical, however, are the other Commanders. They’re not thrilled with his progress on the center. What a stressful life he leads!

The Handmaid’s Tale Heads To The Past To Reflect On Our Horror-Show PresentI have never seen something so uncomfortable. (Photo: George Kraychyk, Hulu)

I have never seen something so uncomfortable.Photo: George Kraychyk (Hulu)

In her current mindset, Serena is being a bit overbearing by sitting up with June as she tries to fall asleep on the couch. They wind up having an unusually familiar conversation about pregnancy and what it was like “before.” Those moments are always some of the most difficult to watch. June even willingly allows Serena to touch her stomach. Is it a new day or an elaborate ruse June’s decided is her new and best course of action?

The most interesting part of this episode was a look back at that “before” but from Serena’s perspective, in which Fred was trying to do a last-minute workshop on a speech she was about to give at a college to promote her book “A Woman’s Place.” The crowd gathered to “hear” it, however, wasn’t quite what she expected. The students were furious and they didn’t even give Serena a chance to get out six words before someone shouts “Nazi cunt” and “fascist bitch.” Fred was indignant, yelling “This is America!” as security escorted them out of the auditorium. It all feels frighteningly familiar.

Before she left, Serena commanded the protesters outside the hall to let her speak. “You want me to stay silent but that is not going to change what is happening in our country,” she said. “You’re spoiled, you’re privileged and you’re living in an academic bubble.” She listed the statistics of the rapidly dropping birthrate and what it would mean for the human race. “Embrace your biological destiny!” After an assistant ran up to tell Serena Twitter is blowing up over footage of her interrupted speech, it seemed like everything was coming up Waterford… until someone fired a gun. The assistant was caught in the chest but Serena got a bullet to her belly.

The Handmaid’s Tale Heads To The Past To Reflect On Our Horror-Show PresentFrom left to right: June (Elisabeth Moss) and Eden (Sydney Sweeney) discuss Gilead duties. (Photo: Sabrina Lantos, Hulu)

From left to right: June (Elisabeth Moss) and Eden (Sydney Sweeney) discuss Gilead duties.Photo: Sabrina Lantos (Hulu)

Back in the present, Eden is struggling to be the perfect wife for Nick. He’s trying to be empathetic to her situation but she doesn’t see anything wrong with her current standing. In fact, she feels blessed, even if she is nervous about “what God expects” of her, namely S.E.X.

June has a conversation with the new Mrs. Blaine and it quickly becomes clear her loyalties lie with Gilead (as if there was any doubt). She’s worried her husband isn’t attracted to her and June tries to make her feel better about it. But Eden feels their “duty to God” is a ticking clock and they must procreate immediately, but there’s more to her fear. “What if Nick’s a gender traitor,” she asks June, who quickly realises the danger in Nick forgoing a sexual relationship with this young girl. She would report him to Gilead, no doubt about it.

Serena shows off her new nursery to June and attempts to open up emotionally about motherhood. June takes it as a sign to pull some more emotional strings but takes it a step too far when asking to see Hannah. An irate Serena revokes June’s special privileges. Nick finds her immediately afterward, where she tactlessly informs him he better have sex with his 15-year-old wife before he winds up on the Wall. She insists, “I can’t lose you, do you hear me?” So. He does it. Nick has sex with Eden through a hole in a sheet after they have said prayers together.

The Handmaid’s Tale Heads To The Past To Reflect On Our Horror-Show PresentJune doing what she can. (Photo: Sabrina Lantos, Hulu)

June doing what she can.Photo: Sabrina Lantos (Hulu)

Meanwhile, June finds Fred having a midnight snack in the kitchen. They haven’t had a “real” conversation since she’s been back. June is playing the long game here, though, and needs to make sure she’s in his good graces once more so she takes on the overly familiar tone most other Handmaidens wouldn’t dare to get him to respond positively. And he does. “Pregnancy suits you.” Yuck.

Fred seeks out June later in her old, but newly refurbished, quarters to bring her a photo of Hannah. “It’s good to see you happy again,” he says, before trying to get into bed with her. She’s able to talk her way out of the disgusting situation by citing worry about the baby, and of course he’d never risk the child. To bookend that, June gets Serena’s quiet fury the next day. As Eden walks in on their tense conversation, Serena takes the moment to make an example of her knowing her place in the household. To further the point, she throws a knitting needle on the floor and tells June to pick it up, which she does. But then Serena tells Eden to throw one as well — “Blessed is the teacher.” June watches it fall once more and calmly states, “I felt a cramp.” It’s the one excuse she knows Serena can’t deny, especially in front of Eden.

Commander Pryce meets Fred at the new Red Center, ready to make its triumphant public debut. They’re trotting out Handmaids for the show, too. Nick pleads with Pryce to get him out of that Hell Home. “There’s a lot I haven’t told you about [Fred],” he says, cryptically, and asks Pryce to protect the Handmaid, which he agrees to. Speaking to a rather large group of Commanders, Fred officially opens the new “Rachel and Leah Center” while the Handmaids watch from just outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. Ofglen, whose tongue was cut out after she spoke up following June’s rebellion over Janine’s treatment by Aunt Lydia last season, casually exits their lineup to enter the building. Fred assumes she’s confused, but Ofglen dramatically raises her hand to the remaining Handmaids showing a trigger, signalling for them to run because she’s about to become a suicide bomber and blow the Commanders to kingdom come. And she does just that.

The Handmaid’s Tale Heads To The Past To Reflect On Our Horror-Show PresentFrom left to right: Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), Eden (Sydney Sweeney), June (Elisabeth Moss) in a standoff. (Photo: Sabrina Lantos, Hulu)

From left to right: Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), Eden (Sydney Sweeney), June (Elisabeth Moss) in a standoff.Photo: Sabrina Lantos (Hulu)

Assorted Musings:

  • I’m wondering when/how Aunt Lydia’s luck will run out. She’s been very forward with the Waterfords but we haven’t really seen this relationship in other households so it’s tough to judge whether or not her pointed comments are normal for Gilead or not.
  • Fred grasping a giant kitchen knife during his conversation with June was a nice (read: terrible) subtle touch to the overall danger in the household.
  • Serena setting up a surprise brunch for the local Handmaids, June’s “friends,” was hilarious. There’s some reminiscing about “the time before” and… let’s just say awkward brunch is awkward.
  • “I never should have let you start speaking in public,” says a distraught Fred while Serena lies in the hospital (in the past), wondering if the police will ever catch the man who shot her. She tells him to “be a man” and the next thing we see is him murdering the shooter’s wife right in front of him. Hmm.
  • I know myself and pretty much every other woman who’s written about this dang show has said it over and over, but I’d really love it if the events weren’t so horrifically close to our current political climate. Serena’s flashback really drove it home once more.