The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Episode 7: After Recap

This episode deals with the aftermath. The aftermath of Ofglen2 Lillie Fuller’s suicide bomb, the aftermath of Commander Pryce’s death and the power vacuum it leaves, the aftermath of Gilead’s tyrannical policies and the resulting reduction in fertile women, the aftermath of Gilead’s purges, the aftermath of Luke and June’s marriage. Sometimes there is a resolution or at least a sense of closure, sometimes there is not. The deaths from the suicide bombing will likely haunt Gilead for a long time to come.

“After” begins with the funeral of the handmaids who died as a result of the bombing. It’s a beautiful spectacle, as the handmaid ceremonies tend to be. The handmaids wear red and black, with red veils completely covering their faces and tucked into their collars, keeping them anonymous and vaguely horrifying. They walk in formation to the cemetery, and surround the caskets, which are laid out in a circular formation. Seriously, if I didn’t know better I would have thought I’d accidentally clicked on a horror movie that includes a cult of creepy young women.

Aunt Lydia says the prayers over the fallen, while the handmaids repeat the phrase “We remember them” after each line. Eventually, the women remove their veils.

Aunt Lydia: I wish I could give you a world without violence. Without pain. That’s all I ever wanted. And in their names, dear lord, we remember them. Of ryan, Ofleo, Ofhal, Ofzev…

Even in death, the handmaids are dehumanized, remembered by patronymic names that will be passed on the next handmaid within a few days, leaving these women anonymous and forgettable. After Lydia says each name, the handmaids kiss their veils, then hold them to the closest casket. They rotate through the circle until all names have been called.

In the van on the way home after the funeral, the handmaids remember what little they knew about the victims. No one knew them very well, or knew their names, not even the real name Ofglen2. Delores reports that 31 handmaids died, and 26 commanders. Not surprising, since the commanders probably got better, faster medical care, while the handmaids were left until last.

The Eyes are purging the area of suspected rebels, leaving at least one body hanging in front of every house as the handmaids drive home. It’s clear from the bodies that no one is safe. There are bodies of wives, Marthas, and husbands hung for all to see.

Commander Fred is in the hospital in critical condition, slipping in and out of consciousness. Serena sits with him. When Nick comes in, the two take a long look at each other, but Nick doesn’t go to Fred, or ask how he is. He speaks only to Serena. Nick offers to take care of Fred’s paperwork for the day, then to take Serena home so that she can freshen up. She refuses for now.

The Gilead Command B Team, Cushing and Putnam, come into the room. Putnam is so excited that he can’t wait to share the news that Pryce is dead. Nick looks like he wants to drop through the floor and has to turn away, which Putnam notices. He asks if Nick knew Pryce well, but Nick has to deny it. What happens between the Eyes stays between the Eyes.

Cushing has taken over Pryce’s security duties, which, if I’ve read the tea leaves correctly, means that he has total control of Gilead while Fred is down. It seemed like before the bomb Pryce and Fred were the most powerful commanders and were always jockeying for position.

Cushing makes threatening innuendos disguised as religious platitudes to Serena and Fred, getting right up in Fred’s face. He might be the creepiest character this show has ever had. He makes it obvious that he intends to use the bombing as an excuse to fulfill his personal agenda, while there’s no one to stop him.

Putnam’s enjoying being the sidekick to the big man.

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Out in the Colonies, there’s a sunset, a wind storm, and some glorious cinematography going on. The unwomen are walking home from the fields in the evening when a couple of cars speed up and stop beside them. Several women, including Emily and Janine, are forced into the cars, which drive away.

In Canada, Little America has gotten word of the bombing. Expats are rushing to the refugee center to find out what is known about the bombing so far. All that the refugee center knows is that a bombing happened and several women, including handmaids, are dead, along with several high-ranking officials. Luke turns around to leave after he hears the news, asking Moira for her dinner order. She’s shocked at his blasé attitude about June’s survival. Luke says that he knows June isn’t okay, but he has faith that she’s alive. Moira tells him that’s not the same as knowing. His face falls, and he leaves.

Moira stares at the wall of the missing, and remembers back to when she was considering being a surrogate mother for a couple from the UK. They were offering to pay her $250k. With the money, Moira could pay off her debts and start a web development business.

She went through with the pregnancy, and had a supercute, young, female doctor. We’re shown flashbacks of events throughout the pregnancy- an ultrasound, a childbirth class, Moira giving the baby up to his father and adoptive mother. June and the doctor are with her in each flashback.

In the first flashback, June worried that Moira might get too attached to the baby, then encouraged Moira to get attached later on. Weird. In another, June playfully complains that Luke is like an infant after Moira accuses June of flaunting her perfect marriage. Despite herself, Moira is a little sad to say goodbye to the baby, and June teases her back into laughter.

Moira stops the refugee center administrator, Rachel Tapping, to ask for help finding out about another, unrelated death. Rachel takes her to a file room and points to rows of huge binders. They contain photos and any other information the refugee center has of unidentified bodies killed by Gilead. The many navy binders contain adults, the half-dozen or so white binders contain children.

Moira is overwhelmed, but she sits down at a table and begins to leaf through page after page of photos showing people who were killed in cold blood by Gilead. She’s looking for her fiancée, who was rounded up and murdered in one of the early dyke purges. Moira is sure that her girlfriend is dead, but she needs the closure of finding out what really happened, and knowing for sure that she’s gone.

She looks through binder after binder, well into the night. Luke brings her dinner, and tells her that Odette wouldn’t want her to put herself through this. But Moira needs this, no matter what Odette would have thought or wanted. She wonders what she’ll do if she doesn’t find Odette in one of the books, and Luke says, “Welcome to my life.” Moira responds that she’ll never be in the hipster wanna be fashion zone that he’s in.

Commander Cushing visits June at home while Serena is at the hospital. He orders Rita from the room so that he can be alone with June. This is so improper that Rita doesn’t know what to do with it, but after a moment she leaves. He proceeds to speak in threats and innuendos, make sick jokes, tries to get June to incriminate herself for running away while telling her that she can trust him, and tries to get her to incriminate Fred as a terrorist. When she sticks to the story she’s been telling since she returned from her walkabout, he slinks over and puts his hand on her belly while creepily looming over her. He says that her house has been infected by terrorists, and he needs to know who they are.

Yeah, this episode is a horror movie. Even more so than most episodes.

June is rescued when there’s a commotion out in the street. Cushing goes out to investigate. The Guardians have stopped two Marthas. One puts her hand in her cloak to retrieve her pass, and one of the Guardians shoots her twice, killing her. She lays in the road, bleeding out.

June watches the whole thing from the window, for the first time understanding how serious things are without Fred or Pryce’s relatively steady hands at the wheel. Bad as Gilead was, it could still be worse.

Still spooked, June is taken to visit Fred in the hospital. She becomes even more spooked when she sees his condition, and realizes that he’ll be unable to protect her or himself from Cushing. Serena is shaking from the shooting as well.

Serena brings June to the bedside so Fred can touch her belly. Fred perks up enough to say that June’s gotten bigger, giving away that he’s felt her belly before. Serena decides that it’s time for June to go home. June is still distracted by her visit from the executioner Cushing, and doesn’t even notice Fred’s slip. Fred goes back to being in a stupor.

June walks past Nick and another Guardian in the hospital corridor. He finishes giving orders to the Guard, then catches up to her, and pulls her behind a partial wall made of frosted glass. So, slightly private, but not really.

They are quickly in each other’s arms, both emotional messes. June breaks down over the shooting of the Martha, then gives him the bad news that Cushing is after them, meaning after her to turn in Nick as the person who helped her escape. He promises that he won’t let anything bad happen to her. She says,” What about you?” They make out in the hall for a minute, while I shriek at them that anyone could see them!!

How about the chemistry between those two crazy kids, though? That was intense and amazing. I don’t see how they will ever be able to have a happily ever after together, but I sure want them to.

Serena comes home late that night, to find June in the kitchen having a snack that she wishes was twinkies. Serena tells her that Fred will recover. She also tells her about vacationing with Ray Cushing and his wife before the war, and what a jerk he was even then. She doesn’t think being in charge suits him.

June looks Serena in the eye and describes Cushing’s visit to her earlier that day, making sure Serena understands the stakes. Serena says that Fred wouldn’t let anything bad happen, so June has to point out that Fred isn’t there to stop anything right now. Serena has been so involved with Fred that she hasn’t realized the extent and seriousness of Cushing’s actions. She’s aware now that everyone in the household is at risk. Cushing executed everyone in Ofglen2’s household, even though it’s unlikely that any of the rest of them had anything to do with the bombing.

Nick arrives home that night to find Serena lurking alone in his apartment. The first thing he does is ask if she’s destroyed poor Eden already where Eden is. Serena tells him that Eden is too sweet to make a satisfying meal with Rita visiting the family who lost their Martha. Serena wants to know if Nick knows how to write out arrest warrants. Nick can help her with the process, but the warrants will need Commander Fred’s signature. Serena shows her fangs and says, not to worry, that won’t be a problem at all. Neither brings up who the target of the arrest warrant will be, but I think we can guess.

During Moira’s last flashback, it’s 6 months after her baby, Gavin, was born. He’s living happily in the UK with his parents, who sent Moira a recent photo. Moira runs into her doctor while she’s out buying a bottle of wine to bring to dinner with Luke and June. They chat, then they flirt, then the doctor tells Moira that she doesn’t have to call her doctor any more. Her name’s Odette.

After staying up all night looking through binders, Moira finds Odette’s photos among the dead. She’s in a group of three bodies. Moira had wanted to know if Odette died alone, and apparently she didn’t. But it was still probably a terrifying death. It looked like they’d all been shot as they ran or in front of a firing squad.

Moira cries and mourns for Odette, letting out the grief and uncertainty she’s held inside for years. Despite what Luke thinks, she’s better off having this closure instead of always wondering if Odette was a prisoner somewhere and if there was something she could have done to help her.

Commander Cushing pulls up to the Waterford house to have another chat with the ladies, but before he can open the front gate, the Eyes and Commander Putnam stop him. He’s under arrest and being stripped of his command for crimes against the Divine Republic. The Eyes have brought overwhelming evidence of apostasy and treason against him.

Nick watches from the front steps, Serena’s at the door, and June is at the window. June has a small but determined smile. Serena looks steely and satisfied. Nick looks at his two women, and looks vaguely amused and terrified. Do not threaten these people or their baby.

At the market, Eden is excited by all of the choices she has for Nick’s dinner. June rolls her eyes. Janine, dressed as a handmaid once again, barrels into June and hugs her. So many handmaids were killed by the bomb that Gilead is running low on fertile sinners. They had to bring some back from the Colonies to replace the lost handmaids. Janine says that God has a plan for both her and Emily. Maybe a different plan for each of them.

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June looks over toward Emily and nods to Janine. She goes to her old shopping partner and greets her, then tells Emily that her name is June, since she never got to tell her before. Emily is moved by June’s confession. June turns to the handmaid on her other side, and introduces herself, the handmaid responds that her name is Brianna. Brianna was one of the handmaids who came to lunch. Brianna moves on to introduce herself to other handmaids. Others have noticed, and before long, the handmaids are all moving between each other, whispering their names, and chatting a bit. One, Delores, was named after her grandmother.

Eden silently watches all of this. It’s not clear whether she can tell what they’re saying or not, since they’re whispering behind their wings, but you’d think she’d catch a stray name here and there.

After no one knew Ofglen2/Lillie Fuller’s name, despite her brave sacrifice, and Gilead buried the fallen handmaids with their patronyms, rather than their real names, taking away their personhood, these women want to reclaim their names and identities before it’s too late. They want to remember and know each other and to be remembered.

The return of Janine and Emily means that Gilead needs each and every one of them. They’ve survived humiliation, pain and maiming. Gilead has killed so many handmaids that they can’t afford to kill any more of them. There’s nothing left that Gilead can do to them that it hasn’t already done. It has no real power over them any more, and they’re starting to realize it.

The bomb didn’t just destabilize the country by hitting the government. It also empowered the handmaids by making them too valuable to kill, and giving them something to rally around.

At the refugee center in Little America, the lost handmaids are given their names back. Rachel Tapping reads the names of the dead, and shows a photo of each from her life before. They know that Lillie Fuller, aka Ofglen, was responsible for the bomb. Odette’s name is read with the others, since she’s now been identified and can be removed from the binders. Moira finds a photo of her and Odette together to add to the memorial display outside the center.

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As June is going upstairs to bed that night Serena calls her into Fred’s office. June is confused, and quickly closes the door behind them, since neither is allowed in the room. Serena has document packets laid out with various security orders that she hopes will get Gilead back on the right track, after Cushing’s Reign of Terror. June is still confused. She asks if the orders are from Fred, but Serena ignores her. She asks June to confirm that she was an editor before the war. June says that yes, she was. Serena asks June to read over the drafts of the security orders. A frisson passes between them. Serena waits to see if June will call her on her hypocrisy. June looks at the thick packet of papers that will take her hours to read and slowly walks over to the desk.

She says, “I’ll need a pen.”

Serena could not look more satisfied. June fondles the pens on the desk for a moment before choosing one. Serena settles into the desk chair, while June sits on the couch. June clicks the pen to get started, in a callback to the trigger on Lillie’s bomb.

Who rules the world?


 

Within 24 hours, Gilead has gone from relative peace to a suicide bombing to a violent purge. Commanders Pryce and Waterford may have been/be oppressive tyrants, but they were running a stable government. Without them, and the balance provided by the yin and yang of their opposite temperaments, Gilead has quickly fallen into violent disarray.

Even when Fred recovers, he won’t be able to replace the sense of stability provided by Pryce’s steady hand. Their relatively liberal and conservative styles complemented each other, and kept Gilead moving forward, but at a reasonable pace. Pryce was a strict enforcer of the laws, and obviously went too far when it came to the common people, but he kept the government functioning. Lillie, and then Cushing, destroyed too much of the structure for Fred to step right back into business as usual.

The effects might not seem huge at first, but Lillie has given people permission to fight back in ways large and small. Fred doesn’t have the manpower and loyalty at the top that he once did, and Gilead doesn’t have the fear and respect from the people that a dictatorship depends on.

I believe Aunt Lydia when she says she wanted to give her girls a world without violence and pain. She’s a true believer who’s working toward a greater good. She believed that the strict structure that Gilead provided for these wayward women would protect them from themselves. They wouldn’t be able to give into their sinful urges, and in time, she thought the handmaids would come to appreciate the peaceful, Godly life they’d been provided with.

The bombing has rocked Lydia to her very core. She didn’t see the signs of this magnitude of betrayal in Lillie at all. She hadn’t let herself see how unhappy the handmaids truly are. Not one of the handmaids that Lillie warned yelled, “BOMB!” instead of running to save themselves and each other. To a woman, they ALL agreed with her act, at least on some level.

Lillie’s grenade may have killed more handmaids than commanders, but I suspect that was a conscious choice on the part of the Commanders and the medical community. When the ambulances, paramedics, and emergency rooms were overwhelmed, and they had to triage cases, the commanders most certainly got the first and best care, and the handmaids most certainly went last. The severity of their injuries would have had little to do with the order of treatment or level of care. Waterford got the best Gilead has to offer, as soon as he got to the hospital. Handmaids got exhausted medical students after waiting for hours or days. The ones who died probably did so while waiting for treatment.

Remember when June said that if they didn’t want the handmaids to become an army, they shouldn’t have given them uniforms? Well, they also shouldn’t have taught them to withstand torture. By responding to every event, no matter how large or small, with extreme measures, they’ve toughened up their handmaids into an army to rival any nation’s.

These women have all survived trial by fire. In June’s case, it was the gunfire when her plane to Canada took off. In Janine and Emily’s cases, it was the chemical fire of the deadly contamination in the Colonies. For the rest of the living handmaids, it was the literal fire that burned their arms as punishment for defending Janine. Lili/Ofglen2 willingly died in her fire in order to take as much of Gilead with her as possible, and destabilize the rest.

June, Emily and Janine have all made a trip to the symbolic underworld and come back forged into someone stronger, closer to the pure essence of themselves. June is the symbol of strength and determination in the face of insurmountable odds, of never giving up. Emily is the symbol of righteous anger that seeks vengeance against the wicked. As I’ve mentioned before, Janine is the symbol of life, warmth, and hope, the things they’re fighting for. They protect Janine because it’s the same as protecting themselves.

Serena and Lydia are waiting in the wings to find their way to the side of justice. Serena would be the symbol of intelligence and strategy, but something went terribly wrong. Lydia should be a mother or grandmother/crone instead of an Aunt, but, though her intentions may be good, she doesn’t understand yet how harmful her actions are to the women and children of Gilead, even though those are the people she’s dedicated to protecting. Eden is a symbol of youthful promise gone wrong. Rita is a classic invisible woman, marginalized and, for the moment, not fighting it because it keeps her safe.

Lydia definitely cares about her girls, but the question is, how much? She’s aligned herself with Gilead, with enforcing the rules of the oppressor, rather than just living by those rules. We don’t know anything about Lydia’s background yet, other than that she used to smoke, so we have no idea of what her motivation was to become an aunt, or what the qualifications are for the aunts.

Presumably prospective aunts have to convince someone that they’re pious. Being an aunt gets a middle-aged woman out of becoming a Martha or going to the Colonies, and it’s the least restrictive role for a woman, so you’d think it would be a coveted position. But it also requires the woman to be willing to dehumanize, torture and even maim other women, so it’s not for everyone.

I’ve seen speculation that Aunt Lydia may have had a daughter of her own who she lost to drugs/alcohol/teenage pregnancy/rape or some of the other sins that she now tries to stamp out of handmaids. That’s as good a theory as any. It could’ve been Lydia herself who was the victim, or Lydia could have worked with victims as a social worker or in an emergency room. It seems as though she must have some personal exposure to the damage caused by some of the sins she’s so intent on stamping out, to make her so passionate about protecting her girls.

I think Luke prefers to live in a world where he doesn’t know anything about June, Hannah or Gilead for sure, and he doesn’t have to face anything difficult. Not June and Hannah’s enslavement, not the rapes and violence they face, not the possibility of the their deaths. If he doesn’t know, he can tell himself that there’s nothing he can do to help, just like the resistance leader on the bus told him right after they were separated. If he knows the conditions he’s abandoned his child to, he can’t continue living his comfortable life in Canada. He’ll feel compelled to take some kind of risky action.

Moira won’t be comfortable living that way. Once she’s fully healed and rested, she’ll make her way closer to the border and work with the resistance, or start her own underground railroad.

Ever since Orange is the New Black, I’ve been impressed with Samira Wiley’s unbelievable range as an actor. This episode really gives her a chance to shine. She has that uncanny ability to switch from adorably cute and smiling, to filled with spiteful hate and anger within a moment, then the next moment she’ll be helpless and sad. She’s been criminally underused so far this season. Hopefully finding out what happened to her fiancée will galvanize her into action against Gilead, and we’ll spend more time with her and the Gileadean Resistance, a portion of the story that the narrative has neglected so far.

Samira Wiley won the “Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series” Primetime Emmy for this episode.

Luke’s complacency is difficult to watch, and it’s tempting to agree with June’s mother that she shouldn’t have married him. But her mother and Moira are two intense women. June had strong, ambitious, determined people around her to match those qualities in herself. She probably needed Luke’s easygoing calm when they were living a normal life, and had the world remained normal, they would have been fine as a couple. The problem is, June was much more of the driver and decision maker in their relationship, while Luke was the rock who provided support. Without her, he’s frozen into inaction, and is holding his breath, hoping that if he doesn’t look too closely, nothing bad will happen.

That’s an annoying trait in an ongoing crisis situation when you need to be rescued, and you need someone to get angry, and worried, and take action, now. Moira may spur Luke into action, or he may still refuse to budge.

Nick is currently functioning as June’s rock, with his “still waters run deep” personality style of calm on the surface over hidden intensity. He’s able to keep things light when she’s spiraling and pull her back out of it, but he’s risked everything for her more than once. He’s proven that he can handle the hard stuff too, without turning away, making him a much better fit for the person June has become.

I think Luke still hopes that he and June will be together again someday. I don’t know what June thinks. If it were me, I can’t imagine being able to be with a husband who kept running the other way after our daughter was taken, then lived in peace and comfort for years, while doing nothing, knowing what was happening to our child. I wouldn’t be okay with being left behind myself either, but I’m a grown up. I’d be trying to get myself out, just like June.

It’s leaving their little girl behind in that world that’s the deal breaker for me. I was okay with him leaving at first, since he was injured. But he’s never tried to join a resistance movement, never formed or joined an underground railroad, seems to barely keep up with the news. I’m not saying he has to sneak back into Gilead. I’d just like to see some evidence that he’s doing something to help overthrow them or get people out of there.

Luke is a great guy in many ways, but there’s a reason they showed us how easy it was for him to walk away from his first wife. They’ve shown us many other times that he’s not great with empathy, like when Hannah was crying and he only cared about how tired he was, or when June started losing rights, and he couldn’t understand why it bothered her so much. Luke isn’t good with commitment, especially sticking around for the hard stuff.

At this point, his experiences and June’s experiences are so different that there will be a huge gulf between them. They’re both different people now, and they’ll both have things to blame the other for, since she’s had a love affair and a baby with someone else. If he’s waiting for her, instead of waiting for Erin to be ready to sleep with him, that’ll get awkward. I personally don’t think she should be blamed for anything she does while in Gilead, since it’s all while she’s enslaved and trying to survive. But her husband might not be able to help feeling differently.

Moira’s baby, Gavin, went to live in the UK, so he should be safe from Gilead’s clutches. In the book, the Jezebels were forcibly sterilized, but I don’t remember them saying that in season 1, so Gavin may or may not be the only child she’ll ever be able to have.

While we’ve never seen Moira’s fiancée, Odette, before, she’s been mentioned in two previous episodes. In the pilot (S1 Ep1) Moira tells June that Odette was rounded up in one of the “dyke purges” and sent to the Colonies. Either Moira was given bad information, or Odette was killed on her way there. We seen false information circulate before, like in season 1 when Janine told June that Moira had been sent to the Colonies.

In S1 Ep3, “Late”, June mentions Odette to Moira right after they finish jogging. Later in the episode, after every woman’s accounts have been frozen and both Moira and Odette have lost access to their financial accounts, Moira talks on the phone to Odette before she goes home.

Does Serena know now that Nick is an Eye, or did the two of them somehow falsify the evidence they used against Cushing? Maybe he told her he had contacts who could place the evidence? Do the Eyes operate as an independent body within Gilead, outside the rest of the power structure? My impression last season was that Pryce was in charge of the Eyes and he was the only one who knew who they were, but, above and beyond that, Nick was also personally spying on Waterford for Pryce. What will happen with Nick and the Eyes now that Serena is taking steps to solidify Fred’s power?

This is the second time that Nick, Serena and June have worked together to break the most basic laws of Gilead for a common goal. They’re turning into an effective little crime gang.

 

Images courtesy of Hulu.

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