The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Episode 6: First Blood Recap

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It’s the click heard round the world. Or, round Gilead, for now. Gilead continues to dig its own grave, creating handmaids with nothing to live for, who literally can’t be forced to answer questions, even under torture. Who better for Mayday to keep working with, when the other handmaids thought they’d been abandoned completely, than the handmaid who’d had her tongue cut out? The symmetry of it is utterly perfect. Ofglen2 was the one handmaid who started out wanting to be there, and Gilead couldn’t even keep her loyalty. Their system radicalized her into a voiceless suicide bomber instead.

But Ofglen2’s moment comes at the end of an episode full of moments, and she won’t be the only hardened soldier in this army. Let’s give them all their due.

The episode opens on Dr Donnie giving June an ultrasound. The baby looks fine, despite the subchorianic hematoma that caused the hemorrhaging. June and Serena are both relieved. Serena wonders if June should take estrogen to prevent another hemorrhage, but Dr Donnie thinks they should wait to see how June does. He asks if there were any complications with June’s first pregnancy. She replies that Hannah came two weeks early, which Donnie judges close enough to term to be acceptable.

Then the doctor notices that “Serena’s” baby has become active. Serena opens the screen blocking June from the monitor, and offers to let her see the ultrasound image. June is moved by the sight of her baby.

June is ready to go home from the hospital that afternoon. Rita gives June a big hug. Serena orders her to make June a smoothie, but June says no, it’s too hard on her stomach. Rita tenses up, waiting for Serena to slap her in June’s place. After a tense moment, Serena suggests that June have some soup, instead. June accepts. Eden offers to help make the soup.

Serena has set June up in the sitting room so that she doesn’t have to climb the stairs while she’s recovering. Nick finds her there and tells her how worried he’s been. He promises to come see her during the night, but she brings up Mrs Blaine, and wonders what Eden’s bedtime is, anyway? Nick reminds June that he had no choice about his marriage. June says that they have to be smarter now. They both admit that they think about being together with the baby as a family.

Rita brings in June’s soup and they jump apart. Nick asks where his soup is, in a teasing way, and Rita tells him to ask his wife. June smirks.

Fred and Lydia marvel over the progress being made on the construction of the new Rachel and Leah Center. Lydia is thrilled that they’ll be able to process so many more girls. Girls who will have babies. Not women.

Then it’s time for Lydia to suck up to Fred. She tells him that even though he has a difficult wife and handmaid, she knows that he’ll handle them just right.

Now that he’s had his ego stroked, Fred has it torn back down by Commander Pryce, who’s unimpressed with the construction progress, and concerned the center won’t be ready for the opening ceremony in 2 days. Fred reassures his fellow commanders that the opening will be dazzling.

It’ll be memorable, that’s for sure.

Eden tries to make conversation with Nick over dinner in their apartment. She’s desperate to make him happy, but he’s not a big conversationalist at the best of times. She finally makes her intentions obvious when she sits next to him, tells him that her mother taught her ALL about marriage and that she knows what God expects of her. He flees the apartment on the pretense that he’s going outside to smoke.

The poor kid is probably left wondering if she should give up or chase him around the room. Since she has nothing else in her life, failure is not an option, even though she was white knuckling the chair as she offered herself to Nick.

June beds down on the couch, while Serena settles in on the chair next to her so that she’ll be available to take care of June if necessary. June is sure it won’t be necessary, but for once Serena has something she can do to make herself useful, and she’s darn well going to do it. June has trouble getting comfortable, and Serena promises she’ll try to get a pregnancy pillow.

Serena wants so desperately to be part of this pregnancy. She lets down her guard for a moment and asks June what it’s like to feel the baby inside her. June offers to let Serena feel her belly. Serena is awed by the experience.

She remembers back to a pre-Gilead college speaking engagement. Before she goes out on stage, Fred micromanages the wording of her speech. The audience can be heard booing and jeering in the background. Serena’s assistant comes to get her, and the crowd becomes even nastier as she’s introduced, yelling sexist and other slurs. Serena can’t get more than a few words out, and can’t be heard over the irate students who don’t want her there anyway. Within a minute or two, a school official drags her offstage. With no sense of irony at all, Fred argues that she has the right to speak, because this is America. 👿 Fred has no shame.

June wakes up in the middle of the night and sees Serena asleep on the chair. She goes to the kitchen to get a drink of water. Fred is having a snack, so June chats with him. She wants to know if he’s mad at her, since they haven’t talked in months. He says that he’s busy and offers her a snack. She refuses, but hovers close to him. They both use a certain tone of voice when talking about Serena that makes them sound like co-conspirators again, even though they don’t say anything specific.

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I didn’t notice how disturbed Eden looks until I saw the still.

The next morning, Eden approaches June as she’s putting away her bedding. Eden’s having a melt down because Nick isn’t paying enough attention to her. She’s sure that he thinks she’s ugly and doesn’t want her. June tries to reassure Eden that Nick is just getting used to the idea of being married before trying for a baby, but Eden’s been taught that they shouldn’t wait. God requires children NOW.

Eden is worried that Nick is a gender traitor and will never be able to perform the act or father her children. June’s head nearly explodes. When she recovers, she tries to convince Eden that Nick really, definitely isn’t a gender traitor.

It hadn’t occurred to June or Nick before now that Eden could be dangerous in her pious innocence, but the Salem Witch Hunts were driven by teenage girls in the beginning. Overzealousness among the supposedly innocent is dangerous. Be careful what you teach your children to believe.

Serena interrupts the conversation by calling June in to lunch. She’s invited a few other handmaids over as a surprise for June, including Ofglen2. This would be the women who blame June for the punishment they received for standing up to Aunt Lydia when they refused to execute Janine.

Serena directs the event like a children’s playdate, complete with filling each plate with food for the girls . She tries to draw the handmaids into conversation, starting with Ofglen2. When she eventually figures out why Ofglen2 isn’t answering her, she stares at Ofglen2 in horror. I think the handmaids started to become real people to her in that moment, and she finally realized how horribly they’re treated.

Up until then, Serena had been fine with the way the handmaids are dehumanized and had even helped create and continue the methods. She’d never been faced with the reality of their lives beyond her personal handmaids, who she could rationalize away as disobedient and manipulative, and who she’d never punish in a way that would leave permanent marks. That would make her abusive, after all.

Being forced to confront the very specific way that Ofglen2 was maimed hits Serena right where it hurts. She’s forced to see how intent on silencing women Gilead is. Serena only had her writing voice silenced, and her ability to speak in public. She can still influence her husband and her friends, who can influence their husbands. So far, she’s been able to fool herself into thinking that’s enough, because it’s God’s will. But no sane person can think that it’s God’s will to cut out a woman’s tongue. She’s starting to understand what Nick meant when he said that there is no one looking out for June.

Serena encourages the handmaids to discuss whatever they would on their walks. Someone brings up the weather, the only sanctioned subject of conversation, aside from prayer. In order to distract from the awkward Ofglen2 situation, June asks if anyone remembers one of her favorite brunch spots. The only other person who was a regular at Magnolia’s is Serena, which establishes that she and June are actually equals in any fairminded society.

June feels the baby kick, and asks Ofglen2 if she wants to feel it for herself, as a way of including her in the conversation. Soon the other handmaids join in. Serena slips out of the room, just as the women all agree that the baby is a girl.

Lydia and the Commander are sure that it’s a boy.

Serena repots seedlings in her greenhouse and remembers more of her speaking engagement. As she and Fred were leaving the venue, there were more students protesting throughout the building and outside. Fred encouraged Serena to stop and speak to them again. She yelled over their jeers as she tried to get through to them.

Serena tells the students that they’re spoiled and privileged, and need to accept their biological destiny or mankind will become extinct. She says that the rate of healthy births has dropped 61% in the last 12 months.

By the time they reach their car, Fred and Serena feel like this stop on her speaking tour has been a success, since they got the attention they were looking for. Then a gunman fires at them, shooting the assistant in the chest and Serena in the abdomen.

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In the present day, Serena shows June the nursery. She promises June that she’ll be the best mother she can be. June gives her a wistful smile and thanks Serena for showing her the nursery. Then she tells Serena about the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling of Hannah’s bedroom and asks to see Hannah, even for a few minutes.

Serena shuts down. While June is crying, begging to see her first child and preparing to give up a second child, Serena tells her, “Absolutely not. Get your things out from downstairs. I think it’s time for you to go back to your room.” But this time, Serena is in tears as well, instead of remaining as cold as ice.

June hurries downstairs to gather her things. Noticing she’s upset, Nick follows her and asks what’s wrong. June tells him that for a moment she thought Serena could be decent. All she wanted was to see her own daughter. Nick says that June knows Serena would never allow that, but they’ll figure out a way.

June changes the subject, saying that Nick can’t help her if he’s on the wall as a gender traitor. He has to sleep with his wife before Eden reports him. Nick doesn’t think a 15 year old is a threat, and doesn’t think he can bring himself to have sex with a minor. June has no sympathy for him having force himself to sleep with someone he doesn’t want. As she walks away, Nick says, “I love you.” June replies, “She’s your wife.”

When June gets to her bedroom, she finds that Serena has redecorated her room as well.

Nick and Eden prepare to consumate their marriage as if they’re preparing for an execution. The acts itself is only marginally more enjoyable. They keep a sheet between them that has a special hole in it, embroidered like a buttonhole, for Nick to put his member through so there is no skin to skin contact between them, other than the area of penetration. The whole thing takes about a minute.

Eden says she can’t wait to see if it worked and if she’s pregnant. If she’s not, they can try again next month!!

Gilead hates everyone. I’ve seen a lot of weird sexual stuff, but that sheet is just sad. And it probably chafes.

Hours later, Fred finds Serena still working in the greenhouse, currently creating a bouquet of white roses. When Fred brings up June, Serena tells him that June is devious and greedy because she wants to see Hannah. But now Serena knows it isn’t true, and won’t let herself get away with the lie. She hurts her hand with the rose clippers to punish herself.

Fred soothes her hand, but she claims that it’s better already. Fred says that of course it is, because his wife would never show weakness. Everyday he prays to God to be worthy of her iron strength. He doesn’t say it in a particularly kind way.

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Flashback to the aftermath of the shooting, when Serena was in the hospital. Fred is distraught, but Serena insists they keep working on what they’re writing, despite being in a lot of pain. Serena doesn’t think the police will find her shooter. Fred regrets letting her start speaking in public. Serena tells him to stop crying and be a man. So Fred finds the shooter himself, and shoots the man’s wife in front of him, so the shooter will know Fred’s pain.

An eye for an eye, a wife for wife.

Fred goes to Offred’s bedroom in the middle of the night. She can barely contain her temper at the dangerous intrusion, until he gives her a photo of Hannah. She turns on her new lamp to get a good look at it. He says he’s decided to step in to keep the peace between June and Serena, but then he makes a pass at her. He wants her to pay for the photo with sex. She’s barely responsive, obviously repulsed, but he doesn’t notice. She escapes rape by claiming she’s worried it will hurt the baby. He can’t argue with that, so he leaves, with June still thanking him profusely for the photo.

The new Rachel and Leah Center is ready on time, just as Fred promised it would be. Pryce is impressed.

Nick watches for Pryce to arrive, then catches him for a private talk as they walk into the center. He insists that Pryce transfer him out of the Waterfords’ house. He says he’ll go anywhere, even the front, but he can’t stay in that house any more. Pryce is confused, since Nick was just “issued a woman”. (So romantic.) Nick says that Eden isn’t the problem. There’s a lot he hasn’t told Pryce about Waterford. He asks again to be reassigned immediately, and for Pryce to promise to protect the handmaid. Pryce gives his word.

What just happened? Why does Nick suddenly want to leave June?

Serena sits at the dining table, knitting, while June picks at her food. When June refuses to eat more, Serena has it wrapped for later. Eden comes by, hoping to help Serena around the house. Serena makes some pointed comments about knowing one’s place, then throws her knitting needles on the floor. When Eden starts to pick them up, Serena stops her, saying that Eden is a married woman of faith. The handmaid, lowest of the low in their household, will do it. June slowly gets up and picks up the knitting needles, then politely hands them to Serena.

Serena hands the knitting needles to Eden, so that she can practice subjugating others, to prepare for when she has her own household someday. And June needs to learn how to be properly oppressed. “Blessed is the teacher.” After June gives her a slight nod, Eden drops the knitting needles on the floor. June says that she felt a cramp, so she’d better not stoop to the floor. She wouldn’t want to hurt the baby. Serena says, “Of course not.”

She would have been so disappointed if June had meekly picked them up.

Eden, wondering what the f**k that was all about, picks up the knitting needles.

June goes to her room and stares at her photo of Hannah.

Fred makes a triumphant speech at the opening of the new Rachel and Leah Center. The Commanders and lesser male leaders of Gilead sit in front of him, while handmaids line the glass wall on the next level, and stand outside behind the listeners. As Fred is talking about fulfilling their promise to the people of Gilead by providing healthy children, Ofglen2 makes her way into the room. Fred stops speaking to ask someone to escort her back out. The handmaids aren’t supposed to enter the room yet.

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He doesn’t look at or speak directly to her, so he doesn’t notice when she stops in front of the glass to show a grenade to the other handmaids, then arms it. The handmaids who are outdoors run from the building. Ofglen2 turns and runs down the center aisle, toward Fred and the other high commanders. As she runs, her long, lean, athletic figure is revealed from underneath her robes for the first time. It looks like freedom. The grenade explodes, taking the Rachel and Leah Center with it.

XRay Spex speaks for Ofglen2:

Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard.

But I think Oh bondage! Up yours!

 


Why did Nick suddenly want to be transferred out of the Waterfords’ house? Did he see June and Fred in the bedroom window and stop trusting June? Did Fred rape Eden as payback for Nick fathering Fred’s child? Did Fred threaten Nick? Did Serena?

Did Ofglen2 already know she was going to bomb the Rachel and Leah Center when she visited the Waterfords?

What happened to cause such a sudden drop in the birthrate? Was there some sort of accident?

During the flashbacks, Fred tells Serena that she’s a truthteller. This is an episode full of characters facing hard truths:

Serena and June are both forced to realize that neither is a monster, and they have more in common than they’d like to admit. In their previous lives, they might have crossed paths many times, since they worked in the same field and lived in the same area.

Nick and June are forced to admit that Nick’s marriage is real, and could result in children or other consequences. They also admit the depth of their feelings for each other, but acknowledge their futility.

Serena realizes that the handmaids are all normal women, who aren’t so different from her, whose lives and families were destroyed by Gilead. There but for the grace of God go I.

The shooting was a tipping point in Fred and Serena’s marriage. Up until then, he was proud of her, but considered himself her Svengali. After that, it was clear that she was the one with the strength, talent and charisma, and he was riding on her coattails. He’s been making her, and every woman in Gilead, pay for it ever since.

Eden realizes that she’s in a messed up situation, even if she’s confused by the many nuances and headgames. She begins to learn to assert herself.

 

First blood:

Serena’s shooting was likely the first blood in the revolution that created Gilead.

The suicide bombing was the first salvo of the uprising.

Fred’s first murder of a woman.

Eden’s first time with a man.

Serena’s first time feeling sympathy for the handmaids, symbolized by hurting her hand while working with the white roses.

 

Mark my words, eventually Serena will figure out that no one has ever kept up with her like June does, and she’ll give in to their friendship. Once Serena gets her head on straight, she and June will take over the world. Or at least overthrow Gilead, but it’s going to take several seasons. Those two are platonic soulmates. They each give as good as they get in their relationship, and challenge each other more than anyone else in their lives.

However, the fact that Serena Joy can call any banana nut pancakes, the blandest flavor of pancakes ever, “amazing”, makes me question her taste in everything. The liberated omelette with eclectic potatoes sounded like it had much more potential.

This is not a coincidence:

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Images courtesy of Hulu.

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