The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaids file quietly in two red rows toward the Putnam house, where yet another of Gilead’s creepy-ass ceremonies is taking place. Do they give out handbooks for this shit? What am I saying? Of course they do. Commander Putnam is reading some scripture from Genesis about handmaids and their children coming forth, which Janine and Mrs. Putnam are supposed to act out as part of the big baby hand-off.
Formalized rituals and bad interpretations of millennia-old texts have a way of conferring a certain legitimacy, or worse, holiness, on all manner of fucked-up shit. In this case, the institutionalized rape of women and the theft of their children! Janine is supposed to come forward and “give” the baby to the Putnams, a gesture that is laughably awful. It’s just another version of the Commander asking June if she’s “excited” about Jezebel’s, another way of demanding that women feign pleasure about their exploitation, and pantomime their consent. But there can be no real consent when you have a gun to your head, and Gilead is a gun at the temple of every woman who lives inside it.
For a moment, it seems like Janine won’t let go of the baby, until Commander Putnam nods and smiles at her and she softens. Janine, you may recall, believes that he’s in love with her and is going to run away with her, so she hands over the baby thinking it’s all a ruse, rather than a real good-bye. As she exits the Putnam house between columns of Handmaids showering her in Praise Bes and Blessed Bes, she takes June aside. “Don’t be sad,” she whispers. “He’s coming for me.” We all have lies that we tell to ourselves.
As Janine speeds away to her next rape house, June catches up with Alma — the handmaid who somehow knew the Mexican delegation was planning to trade for fertile women — and floats a very dangerous word: mayday. Alma says she has simply no idea what June is talking about, but takes her aside at the store later and admits that she’s with the resistance. They have an assignment for June, one that requires her to go back to Jezebel’s and pick up a package from the woman at the bar. Tonight.
It’s interesting to see June make a beeline for the rebellion, particularly since she was so quick to decline when Ofglen tried to recruit her. She wasn’t that type of person, she said at the time, but so much has changed. Not only has she learned how to break the rules, getting embroiled in separate illicit dealings with the Commander, Serena Joy, and Nick, but she’s learned that Luke is alive. This, more than anything else, seems to have changed her, given her hope. When Moira insisted at Jezebel’s that there was only one way out of Gilead for them — a hearse — June pushed back with almost naïve optimism, saying they were both going to get out alive. She doesn’t know how, exactly, but as she told Nick in the last episode, there are worse things than ending up on the Wall. Maybe that’s what Ofglen meant when she said that no one was this type of person until they had to be.
June is becoming a hero, although this form of heroism has an unfortunate cost. This specific act of espionage requires her to seduce the Commander — to convince him that their last creepy role-play sex trip to a brothel was just so thrilling that she can’t wait to go back. She discovers, to both her relief and disgust, that she’s good at it: “I just can’t stop thinking about our little adventure,” she says, after coyly flirting her way into his study. “It was just so exciting to dress up for you.”
It’s some spectacular acting from Elisabeth Moss, pretending to be a woman who’s doing a solid bit of pretending of her own. The Commander takes the bait, and soon they’re in the car back to Jezebel’s, June laughing and teasing on his arm while Nick watches through the rearview mirror. He knows something is up when the Commander says he’s glad she “suggested an encore,” but what can he say?
“Are you happy?” the Commander asks June. “Beyond,” she gushes. It’s all the same self-serving fantasy for him: that she simply could not be happier than when she’s pleasing him, and that he is a true humanitarian for letting her. When they arrive, the Commander bypasses the bar and takes her straight to the room. “Did you like that?” he says later, after he finishes. “Mmm, yes,” says June. He tells her that she doesn’t have to be quiet here. “You can be free,” he prods, because nothing says freedom to a sex slave like being told to more convincingly fake an orgasm.
He also has a surprise for her: He knows why she wanted to come back to meet someone. “What do you mean?” she asks, her voice thready and frightened. He brings in Moira — a.k.a. Ruby — adding grossly that he “knows her too.” He’s clearly angling for a threesome, but eventually gives up and takes a shower after forcing June to say “thank you” like an unappreciative child who has just been given some candy.
Moira is highly displeased that June is back at Jezebel’s, and even less happy to hear that she’s gotten into the spy life. Since June can’t get down to the bar herself, she asks Moira to get the package, but she isn’t having that either. Moira tells her to “go back home and do what they say,” and suddenly their roles from the Red Room are reversed: The woman willing to lose a hand to write mean graffiti about Aunt Lydia on the bathroom stall is telling June to accept her fate, while June, the one who begged her to stop, is ready to risk death in a high-stakes resistance operation.
The change isn’t lost on June, and she is furious. What happened to the woman who told Janine to keep her shit together, who promised June that they’d get out of there someday and find Hannah together? What happened to the fearless badass who stole an Aunt’s clothes at shiv-point and marched them both out of the Red Center while ordering guards around? “What is wrong with you?” she says in a sotto voce scream. “Moira, do not let them grind you down. You keep your shit together. You fight.” Moira declines and leaves, and suddenly June has nothing: not the package, not Moira, not even the memory of the friend who was always ready to stick it to the Man. Just another sad, horrible night of prostituting herself for absolutely no reason.
The next morning, Serena Joy shakes June awake because of course someone needs her, someone always wants something from her. She gets driven to the scene of a standoff, where Janine is on the edge of a bridge with her baby. Seems that she escaped from her new posting, made her way back to the old Putnam place, and is now screaming at Commander Putnam about all the secret kinky sex shit he convinced her to do, all the lies he told about how they would be a family. June gets sent in as the hostage negotiator, trying to talk Jeanine out of exiting Gilead through the only door she can find. Instead, she invites June to join her on the swift, vertical journey out of hell: “It can’t hurt very much. Just for a second. And then we’ll be free.” June says she can’t because she still has a daughter out there whom she plans to find, and tells Janine that she has to give her daughter a chance too. “All of this, it’s all gonna be over one day. And everything is going to go back to normal.” Is this the lie June tells herself now?
It’s the same line she told Moira, and Janine doesn’t seem to buy it either. But she hands June the baby anyway. “Bye,” she says, like she’s leaving a party, like they’re going to see each other a hundred more times, and throws herself off the bridge. This place has taken Janine’s freedom, her grasp on sanity, her eye, and now her child. The only thing that she can take from them now is herself.
Later, Commander Putnam gets arrested for his handmaid sex crimes, and when Serena Joy tries to comfort his wife, she’s quick to bring up how Commander Waterford is no saint either. “We all know what happened with your first handmaid,” she sneers. “Men don’t change.” Which is how we end up with Serena Joy storming through the halls of her house on the warpath, opening the door to the Commander’s study. What will she find inside: a dress in June’s size? An earring? A long blonde hair that isn’t hers?
I’m sure we’ll find out how this will fuck up June’s life in the finale next week, but not before we experience one brief moment of joy. When June goes to the butcher store, the man behind the counter says he has a very special cut of meat (wink-wink) set aside for Commander Waterford, which turns out to be the package from Jezebel’s, passed through the resistance by Moira herself. “Praised be, bitch. Here’s your damn package. xoxo Moira.”
We cut to Moira back at Jezebel’s, pulling a long, pointed bit of metal out of a toilet and yelling to a john that she’ll be right back. We close on her grinning wildly, covered in blood, behind the wheel of a stolen black car and speeding away. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.