Travel isn’t what it used to be, now that most of the US has become Gilead. If there’s one thing we learn in Smart Power, it’s that the people on both sides of the US-Canadian border miss the easy tourism relationship they used to share. Fred tries to blithely assume that the relationship will return to normal very soon, but the gay diplomat he’s speaking to disabuses him of that notion very quickly. The situation only devolves from there, as the Waterfords and Gilead manage to p*ss off the nicest country in the world so much that they’re thrown out of Canada, with angry protesters at the airport following them right up to their plane.
I really wish the Canadians had thrown them in the Canadian gulag. They might have had to build one just for Fred and Serena Joy, but it would have been worth it. Why hasn’t the UN been able to bring them up on charges as war criminals yet? Why aren’t the refugees in Little America speaking out? Surely Gilead deserves to be sanctioned by the international community for human rights violations, if nothing else. They don’t seem to have much trade with the rest of the world, or good relations with powerful countries to protect them from punishment.
I guess there’s no international “Believe the women” movement happening in this universe, at least until the end of the episode. We can only hope that Moira and Erin have found their true calling, and find a way to keep the attention on Gilead’s abusive practices.
If episode 8 was about longing, episode 9 is about disappointment and facing reality. No one gets what they want, expectations aren’t met, circumstances are reduced, consequences must be accepted. It’s an episode full of lost princesses, as if the movie Enchanted met Alice in Wonderland then got high with Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Our feisty princesses spend the hour making plans and considering options, but they don’t even know which universe they’re living in half the time. Is it the universe where unwomen are brought back from the dead and bring their babies back from the dead? Or the universe where wives who have saved their husbands from unfounded charges of treason are whipped for not obeying their husbands? The universe where a plucky Jezebel can jump in a car, make a run for the border, and somehow make it to freedom? Or the one where refusing to murder a friend will get your tongue cut out? Or another appendage maimed or amputated? Every decision is high risk, now that Gilead and the Waterford home have become unstable and unpredictable, and more often than not, the result will be disappointing, if not disastrous.
June sits in her own little corner in her own little room, all alone in her own little chair*, a scifi Cinderella with two princes who would desperately love to rescue her, and contemplates her reduced circumstances. Like Cinderella, she’s beholden to a family that hates and manipulates her, using her at will, keeping her from the life she was meant to live and the family she was meant to have. But, also like Cinderella, she has no other options due to the oppressive society she lives in, and like Blanche DuBois, she is dependent on the kindness of strangers and enemies. At least she has her chair, and her window, and she can go outside for walks with armed guards watching her. Her life is as good as that of prisoners in maximum security prisons, most days. In Gilead, that’s not something to take for granted.
Rita interrupts June’s “reduced circumstances” meditation to call her downstairs for a family meeting. Fred announces that he and Mrs. Waterford are traveling to Canada, since the bombing has left Gilead with an opening for diplomacy. Since Nick is traveling with them, a new guardian, Isaac, will be taking care of the women and the house. He’s very young and looks like a true believer, in that he doesn’t have a pleasant glance for either Rita or June.
Fred, practicing his growing paternalism, orders them all to be on their best behavior. Nick and June stare intensely at each other as he leaves the room, in a way that seems dangerous when other people, like Isaac, can see them.
Fred finds Serena in her greenhouse, working with her baby plants. She’s having an outbreak of gray mold and doesn’t want to leave her seedlings at this crucial moment. Or leave June during the third trimester.
Or go anywhere with her physically abusive husband. Fred insists that she has to go, because Canada thinks the women of Gilead are oppressed and voiceless. They need to see a strong Gilead wife. He throws in a personal plea, a bible quote, and squeezes her arm. She cringes at his touch and is disgusted at the rest, then cries for a moment after he leaves. But only for a moment. Serena Joy Waterford does not wallow.
Fred made that entire speech without a hint of irony. He’s truly settled into his role as a politician.
Eden brings Nick homemade chocolate chip cookies as a goodbye present. These are extra special because chocolate has become a rare delicacy in Gilead.
[Okay, this is the last straw. Gilead really is an absolutely unlivable place, if they don’t even have chocolate any more. What kind of nasty, brutish lives are these people being forced to live?]
Nick cares as little about the cookies, the separation, or the goodbye as he does about anything else concerning Eden. Another piece of Eden’s soul is crushed as he walks away. (If you think this is hyperbole, you have never been a teenage girl,)
Serena visits Offred’s room to say goodbye to the baby. She talks directly to the baby, with her hand on June’s belly, calling it “my love”. June promises that they’ll be fine and wishes Serena a safe trip. As she’s leaving the room, Serena turns to Offred and, speaking in a soft voice, informs her the she’s decided that Offred will be leaving the Waterfords as soon as the baby is born. She thinks they’ve all had enough of each other and it will be for the best.
June almost swoons for a moment, but recovers. She tries to argue that handmaids stay until the babies are weaned, but Serena’s mind is made up. With that surprise attack accomplished, Serena leaves for Canada.
Luke, Moira and Erin watch the Gilead contingent’s arrival in Toronto on the news. Though his name hasn’t been released, Moira obviously recognizes Waterford and points him out to Fred. This is the first time Luke’s seen the man who’s holding his wife hostage and raping her every month. He gets up close to the TV to get a good look at Waterford, and suddenly becomes more steely-eyed than we’ve ever seen him. Erin and Moira both look disturbed, probably reliving their own rapes.
The audio from the broadcast:
[Female Reporter] Security was tight today at Toronto Pearson International Airport for a historic occasion. The first visit to Canada… The identity of the official, seen here with his wife, has not been made public, nor has his agenda for the visit. Here is political reporter Brent with more. [Reporter Brent] Trade will almost certainly be a topic of discussion. Our economy is still recovering from the loss of the former United States as trading partner. Another long-hoped-for-goal is calming tensions along the Canada-Gilead border. A lot of work to be done there, and today marks a promising start. [Female Reporter] Thank you, Brent. A spokesperson for the American government in Anchorage expressed deep disappointment at Canada’s perceived normalizing of Gilead and its controversial, even retrograde policies.
Moira and Luke go straight to Rachel Tapping at the American Embassy, but there’s nothing she can do. Despite Fred’s many horrific crimes, it’s not their country, so they don’t have the power to arrest him. Anti-Gilead protests are planned, which Rachel encourages them to attend. Moira asks, “What’s the point?”
It sounds ridiculous to tell serial rape survivors and long term prisoners, who’ve been the subjects of physical and mental violence and even unwanted, disfiguring surgeries, that they should stand in the street with signs and yell at their abusers. It certainly won’t affect Fred. It might raise international awareness. But this seems like commentary by show on the insufficiency of words yelled into the void, and marches in the town square, to make real changes when faced with tyranny and the appeasement that Canada is considering in this episode. Actions and risks need to be taken if change is going to be accomplished. (I say this as a blogger yelling words into the void.😜)
The Waterfords are brought to their hotel by motorcade, with a police escort. No one notices or cares. Serena takes in everything she sees outside the window. She’s looking at the life she left behind, and also seeing new and different scenery, probably for the first time in years.
At the hotel, Fred is introduced to the delegation he’ll be negotiating with. One member is gay, and misses visiting the States. Fred hopes that the diplomat will be able to visit Gilead before long, but the man doubts he’ll feel comfortable visiting anytime soon.
Serena stands slightly behind Fred and is left out of the introductions. Fred and his hosts walk away, leaving Serena’s tour guide, Genevieve, to introduce herself. She hands Serena an agenda of cultural activities for the day, which uses pictures rather than printed words. Serena’s face is a masterpiece of complicated emotions. Oppression doesn’t seem as bad when it’s applied to everyone and you’re at the top of the pecking order. Being the only one who has to dress and be treated like a child isn’t so great.
The two women go to a greenhouse, where Serena mentions her own garden. The guide asks if gardening is a common hobby for the Wives, then asks if she’s used the term correctly, which is marvelously condescending in its attempt to be politically correct. Was she implying that they might just as well be called slaves or chattel? Serena politely inquires about Genevieve’s hobbies, but Genevieve is a workaholic and doesn’t participate in much that Serena could relate to. Really, she’s very involved in her JOB, because she’s very wrapped up in her WORK, since she has a very time-consuming CAREER. When she’s not WORKING, she prefers to READ. Then, as the icing on the cake, Genevieve brings up the dreaded knitting, and Serena has to fake having a passion for it. Serena is not having a good day. It’s hard to find much sympathy for her.
June and Janine walk to the market, escorted by Isaac the Boy Guardian. They talk about Janine’s hope that Naomi will let her see Charlotte again, and the coming of June’s baby. Janine is shocked when she finds out that Serena is going to separate June and her baby as soon as the baby is born. She stops walking and becomes emotional. Isaac orders her to be quiet and keep walking. Janine talks back at him, even telling him to, “Suck my dick!” He calls her an unwoman and hits her, hard, with the butt of his gun, knocking her to the ground. He forcibly drags June back home and away from Janine, who’s still lying on the pavement, injured.
I’m moved by all of the respect Gilead has for women and the care that it takes to ensure their safety. Especially the handmaids, like Janine, who could be pregnant. I can’t imagine why they need armed guards to escort women everywhere, other than to stop escape attempts by every single woman in the entire country. The women are certainly in no danger from these sweet, respectful men. 😱👿👀🎯💣
Serena returns to her hotel, and stands in front of the elevators waiting to go up to her room. A mother and her young daughter stand near her, also waiting. Serena is dressed in her full Commander’s Wife regalia, and the little girl can’t stop staring. She asks if Serena is a princess. The mother tells the daughter to stop staring, but Serena is warm and friendly, telling her it’s fine and complementing her daughter.
When the elevator comes, the mother refuses to get into the elevator with Serena. She recognizes Serena for what she is: Not a princess, but an Evil Queen who probably has a poisoned apple or 2 hidden under her cape. She’d love to turn the fair maidens of Toronto into her victims, just as she did with all of the women of the continental US. Inside her head, Serena currently thinks of herself as a princess and damsel in distress, but she’s a powerful witch and queen to the rest of the world, and one who’s cast a wide and powerful spell. It’s fascinating to watch her come out on the other side of getting the dream she wished and planned for.
But her excellent adventure is far from over. She needs a drink after that encounter, so she leaves the elevators and heads to the hotel bar. I’m not sure it’s totally proper for a Wife to drink in public, especially without a suitable male chaperone, but Serena really doesn’t give a f**k about the rules at the moment. As we know, one of the benefits of being upper class is being able to break the strict rules of Gilead and get away with it.
Good thing Isaac isn’t with their delegation. I don’t think his thinking is so flexible.
Serena bellies up to the bar and orders a glass of white wine, because of course she does. A good-looking, cheeky man bellies up right next to her, prominently places a pack of cigarettes on the bar, then ostentatiously lights one, and asks if she wants one, too? Someone did their Serena Waterford research and has been waiting for their opening.
The bartender regretfully informs the man that smoking isn’t allowed in the bar. Oops. How was the man supposed to know? It’s only been the law for 25 or 30 years now. Serena declines the cigarette and moves to a seating area. Her admirer follows.
He introduces himself as Mark Tuello, not a member of the press, but a representative of the American government. America still exists, in the form of Alaska and Hawaii, at the very least. Mark’s job is to help people. He could help give Serena a new life by putting her on a plane to Hawaii within an hour, for example.
Serena is thrown off-kilter by such a direct offer, out in the open. She does enjoy verbally sparring and lightly flirting with Mark though. It’s probably the best conversation she’s had since the US government fell to Gilead. And his offer becomes harder and harder to refuse.
Mark: You’d never have to go back to Gilead.
Serena: I’m afraid I didn’t pack for the beach.
Mark: You could tell your story, in your own words. You write it, and we will publish it.
Serena: A Commander’s Wife would make excellent propaganda.
Mark: A well-spoken Commander’s Wife.
Serena: Do you really think that I would leave my home?
Mark: People often leave their homes in search of a better life.
Serena: So far all you’ve offered me is treason and coconuts.
[Treason and Coconuts definitely has to be the title of her eventual tell-all memoir.]
Mark, dropping the bombshell he actually came here to deploy: Gilead blames the fertility crisis on women, on their sinfulness. We see the problem more often originating with the men. Some of the best scientists in America have been working on fertility for years. And they’ve made some progress. Now think of it. A baby of your own. And freedom.
Serena, smugly: I have a child on the way.
Mark: That’s not your child.
Serena, now flustered: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
Mark: I’m sorry. I meant no offense.
Serena: If you had done better research, you would know that I would never betray my country.
Mark: I thought you already did.
Serena dismisses him, now that she’s been forced, yet again, to face the truth of who and what she is and the reality of her situation and mistakes. He leaves the door open for another meeting, and leaves his cigarettes and matches on the table near her. The matches just happen to be from a bar in Hawaii, should she ever need to contact him.
So, the American government has made progress with the infertility crisis beyond raping women every month and hoping for the best. Turns out the scientific method might work better for problem solving than trying to guess what Gilead’s twisted version of the biblical god wants. Who knew?
Only everyone who uses the brain their gods gave them.
Still shaken, Serena keeps the cigarettes and the matches.
Isaac and June return home without the groceries. Rita points out that the baby still needs to be fed, no matter the cause for them not completing the shopping. She hesitates, then decides that she’ll make something for dinner using dried beans.
Eden, as oblivious to the world outside of herself as always, is excited that her strawberry jelly has set. Isaac rushes right to her to ask questions about her project, get spoonfed by her, and give her as many compliments as possible.
June watches Rita as she begins to prepare the beans, and has a revelation. Isaac scornfully tells June that it’s time for her nap, then goes straight back to his conversation with Eden. June is preoccupied with Rita, AND DOESN’T PAY ATTENTION TO ISAAC AND EDEN. She undoubtedly thinks that Isaac doesn’t matter, just like Nick thinks that Eden doesn’t matter. Never underestimate your enemies, a man with a gun, or one with a little power.
As June floats out of the room to go take her nap, she asks Rita to bring her some warm milk. When Rita brings her the milk, June explains the real reason that she wanted to see Rita alone in her room. Since she’ll be leaving her baby immediately after the birth, she wants Rita to be its Godparent, someone to look out for the child and show it love and kindness, even when the Waterfords are at their most dysfunctional. Rita reminds June of how powerless she is in this world, but promises to do her best for the child. Both women are crying by the end of the conversation, but June is relieved to know that she’s leaving her baby in good hands. A benevolent godmother can make all the difference in the world to a child.
The Waterford’s hotel is surrounded by protesters, many of them holding large photos of loved ones who are being held hostage in Gilead. When Fred, Serena and Nick arrive there after an engagement, Luke is front and center with a poster-sized family photo of June, Hannah and himself. He breaks free of the crowd and security, yelling to get Fred’s attention.
They have a brief conversation, in which Luke tells Fred exactly who he is, and that he plans to make Fred play someday for raping his wife. Fred, of course, denies everything, even though he sees the photo. He pretends to take the high road and acts like the accusations Luke makes about Gilead’s practices are all lies, when everything Luke says is the truth.
But most importantly, Serena and Nick also see Luke and the photo. Serena, the superior married woman of faith, has a husband who is unfaithful, ignores her, whips her, degrades her, humiliates her, and denies her every basic human right he can get away with. June, the adulteress and sinner, has a husband who is still waiting and fighting for her and their daughter after years of separation. June had a happy, close-knit family unit, the thing that Gilead prizes above all else, and yet Gilead tore it apart. But they couldn’t kill it. The members of June’s family still love each other and want each other back, despite what Gilead has done to them. Serena’s husband treats her like a prop for his business interests.
Nick is forced to confront the fact that June really is married to a husband who loves her and to see the child she has with her husband. That was all unreal to him before, stuck in their small world and just trying to survive.
Back in their hotel room, Fred tells Serena about his day: “We made progress this morning. Border security’s on the table, maybe even extradition of illegal immigrants.”
The scum wants to force Canada to send the refugees back to Gilead. They came to Canada seeking asylum, not as illegal immigrants. It’s also up to Canada to determine whether they’re staying in the country illegally or not, not Gilead. Only the most tyrannous countries stop their citizens from leaving at will. If Canada grants them asylum, they are in Canada legally, even if they left Gilead illegally. Two different countries, two different sets of laws. This was a common situation during the Cold War when refugees defected from behind the Iron Curtain, especially the Soviet Union, which frequently wanted its athletes and artists back. Gilead wants its fertile women, and men who could be drafted as soldiers.
Nick finds Luke getting drunk in a nearby dive bar. Luke recognizes him as one of the Commander’s men, and tries to get rid of him. Nick explains that he knows June, and she’s pregnant, but otherwise okay. He unfortunately has to give Luke the public story that the baby is Waterford’s, though I doubt Luke would be much comforted by the truth, either. The news almost breaks Luke again, and he tries to toss Nick out of the bar.
Then Luke realizes that this is an opportunity to send a message to his girls and to find out how they are, possibly the only one he’ll get until Gilead is overthrown. He catches up to Nick an asks about Hannah, but Nick doesn’t know anything, Nick pulls out the Mayday packet of letters and says it’s for Luke, from June. He asks Luke to get them out.
Luke asks who Nick is. Nick replies that he’s just a driver. Then Luke asks Nick to look out for June. He wants Nick to tell June that Moira made it out and is living with Luke now, and that he loves her, and will never stop, no matter what.
Nick promises to tell her, and gives Luke his first name. They shake hands, then Nick leaves. Nick gave Luke his real name, which scares me, should someone decide to question Luke about the letters.
I thought they were going to end up crying in each others’ arms for a minute there. Both Max Minghella (Nick) and O-T Fagbenie (Luke) were incredible in that scene. It’s too bad they won’t have more scenes together. I’d love to see them egging each other on to fight to save their woman and children, then getting drunk by the fire at night.
Aunt Lydia measures June’s belly to check the baby’s growth rate. Isaac has ratted June out to Lydia for her backtalking the day before, but both women put it down to pregnancy hormones making June forgetful of the rules. June promises it won’t happen again.
She does explain to Lydia why she was feeling forgetful, though. She tells Lydia about Serena’s decision for her to leave the Waterfords as soon as the baby is born, and says that she wants the same thing. Aunt Lydia allows that it’s the mother’s prerogative to do what she thinks is best for the baby, but is clearly shocked that Serena wouldn’t allow the baby to have the benefits of breastfeeding when infant mortality is such an issue.
June continues, saying that children need a safe place. Lydia is strangely defensive, replying that she knows what children need. Next June asks if anyone had ever asked Lydia to be a Godmother, before the war (Gilead doesn’t do Godparents). Lydia tells her she’s being insolent.
June: This baby is going to come into this house very soon, and in my experience, any man who would hurt a woman, would hurt a child.
Lydia: What are you saying?
June: I’m saying… I’m saying this baby needs protection.
Lydia: I would never ever allow anything to happen to a baby.
June, relieved: Praise be. Aunt Lydia, thank you.
Aunt Lydia nods, then picks up her things to leave. She stops at the door and says, “I was Godmother to my sister’s child. He died when he was 4 days old.”
June: I’m sorry.
Lydia: It wasn’t my fault.
As she leaves, Lydia looks haunted. June stirred up something huge inside her. Whatever happened to her nephew has left her determined that no other baby will meet the same fate, if she can help it. The baby’s death may not have been her fault, but she blames herself for not preventing it. And now she just had another close call with Angela.
Is Angela’s close call supposed to be a signal that she can’t protect the babies, even though she wants to, or does it mean that she’s alert to potential problems now, even in the “best” households, and will be watching more closely? Or both? Will she pass on June’s warning to the other aunts?
Luke, Moira and Erin sit at their table with the letters spread out in front of them, telling the stories of woman after woman forced into becoming a Martha or a handmaid. They are horror stories of torture, rape, murder, kidnapping, extortion, child theft and more, told in the women’s own words and handwriting, on whatever scraps of paper they could find, giving them an immediacy and authenticity printed legal documents could never accomplish.
Moira is frustrated that the package she risked smuggling out of Jezebel’s was just a packet of letters. She was hoping it was explosives that could really make Gilead go boom. Erin looks at her, and says, “This could go Boom!” I’m so glad Erin has finally started to talk.
The next morning, Fred and Serena are met with outright hostility by their Canadian hosts. They are told that the diplomatic meetings are over and they should go directly to the airport. Fred asks what changed.
He’s told that the packet of letters was uploaded to the internet overnight, and the public outcry has been overwhelming. The Canadian government can no longer justify normalizing relations with Gilead. Canada believes the women.
The hotel is surrounded by angry protesters yelling and brandishing signs saying “My name is (insert woman’s name)”. Serena looks like she’s in pain. Fred looks as arrogant as ever. As he leaves, he calls the leader a coward. One of the Canadian women tells Serena that, “I don’t know how you live with yourself. It’s sad what they’ve done to you.” Serena replies with a quietly bewildered, “Go in grace.”
The crowds line the drive to the airport, and throw things at the Waterfords’ car. Fred complains that the Canadians can’t even control their own people.
Remember when Fred used to complain about freedom of speech violations? He’s a total opportunist, using whatever moralistic argument will get him what he wants. What he wants most is power. He latched onto Serena Joy because her plan would give him power, and her charisma and strength would be enough to get them to the top of the heap. Once they got there, he ditched her, and now punishes her for being more talented than him in every way.
Except he still actually needs her at times like this. He knows it, and resents her for it. He’s also now squashed her so far down, and spread the myth of the docile Gilead wife so effectively, that she can’t just jump back into her old persona, hop out of the car, and convince the crowd that those letters are a lie like she might have been able to do before the war.
Moira, carrying her giant “My Name Is Moira” sign, steps right up to the Waterfords’ car and looks straight in Serena’s window. She looks Nick, Serena and Fred each in the eye for a good long time. It’s obvious that Nick and Fred know her, and it won’t be hard for Serena to guess how. Moira says out loud to Fred that her name isn’t Ruby. Fred finally looses his arrogant demeanor. Serena scoffs at him.
The refugees gather together to celebrate their victory and cheer when the Waterfords leave Canadian airspace empty-handed. They sing America the Beautiful together, remembering when their homeland still strove to stand for the ideals it was founded on.
The Waterfords slink home late that night. At the top of the stairs, Fred turns to Serena and says, “We’re lucky in a lot of ways, aren’t we?” Serena says, “Yes, we are,” probably to get rid of him. Then they part ways, retiring not just to separate bedrooms, but to rooms at opposite ends of the house, possibly in different time zones. Serena may have booby traps and alarms set up in the hallway between rooms. Fred really doesn’t get that they are estranged, but Serena is shouting it pretty loudly.
She unpacks her Wife clothing and puts it away, quite clearly loathing the very sight of them. When she finds the matches from the Hawaiian Mai Tai bar left for her by Mark, she throws them in the fire, trying not to cry as she watches them burn. That’s the kind of contraband that could get a girl sent to the Wall, and she’s not ready to give up on being the mother of June’s baby yet.
Nick goes straight to June’s room, where she’s already in bed, though not asleep. He tells her that the letters from Jezebels got out into the world and made a difference. Then he tells her about Luke and how he confronted the Commander, got the letters out, and asked Nick to convey messages to her. June is overcome with happiness to hear that both Luke and Moira are safe and together, and that Nick saw Luke with his own eyes. She knows for sure now that two of her three people are safe and together.
Nick leaves so that Eden won’t start to wonder where he is. Before he goes, he tells June that he loves her, and kisses her on the cheek. As always, she doesn’t say it back. He has an air of resignation as he leaves. She barely notices that he’s gone.
June reflects that Moira is Hannah’s Godmother. Knowing that Moira got out gives June hope that it’s possible for her to get out too, maybe even before the baby is born. She resolves not to placidly accept her situation.
That was an odd ending. I feel like we’ve been here before. But how is she going to escape at 9 months pregnant if she couldn’t at 3 months? She definitely can’t blend in, or move quickly.
Nick is the forgotten hero of this episode. He singlehandedly saved that packet of letters from destruction when June had given up, kept it in his quarters even after Eden moved in, still kept it after she saw it, and had the presence of mind to bring it to Canada. Then he was smart enough to see an opening when he saw Luke, somehow found Luke, and took a freakin’ giant risk by meeting with him and giving him the letters.
Because of Nick, the Canadian-Gileadian negotiations were sabotaged, the entire world knows what’s going on in Gilead, there are probably families who recognize their loved ones in those stories and now have some idea of what happened to them, and June’s own family can sleep easier at night. His actions likely bolstered Mayday’s confidence and spirits, which will reinvigorate their work. He gave hope to everyone fighting to end Gilead. Eventually, word will spread among the Marthas and handmaids that the world knows what’s happening and is starting to care.
And he took a huge personal risk to do this. In fact I’m very worried about his safety now. Those letters passed through many hands to get to the Waterford household. Any of them can help pinpoint how they might have gotten to Canada. Luke, Moira or Erin might be stupid and say something to someone who turns out to be a Gilead spy. All they need to do is tell one person who they got the letters from, and it can eventually get back to Gilead. If anyone connects Nick’s name to that package, he’ll be tortured, then go straight to the Wall.
But the biggest issue is that Eden saw the letters very recently, and might even have read them. If someone else on the Waterfords’ security detail tells Isaac what happened, and he tells Eden, she’ll remember that Nick had them. True believers like Isaac and Eden wouldn’t hesitate to turn Nick in. And getting rid of Nick would coincidentally allow them to be together. Win-win for the kids.
Remember how Fred told Serena that the rest of the world thought women in Gilead are voiceless? Remember how pre-Gilead, Serena could shout down a crowd without even using a microphone and get her ideas heard? I bet Serena does, too. But now, she is voiceless.
Now, the voices that are heard are the voices that were silenced, but still kept fighting. The voices that managed to write notes on scraps of paper that miraculously made their way out of Gilead, and the voices of the refugees who walked across the border after risking their lives to escape, who write their feelings on protest signs, are the voices that matter outside of Gilead, thanks to Nick, June, Moira, Erin, Rita and everyone else in Mayday who passed the notes along and kept them safe.
Fred wanted absolute political power and absolute power over women, he wanted only the most powerful men, like himself, to be able to break the rules at will, and he wanted a tyrannous, patriarchal, militaristic regime that allowed no compromises. He’s got it. Now that his wish has come true he’s starting to see the consequences play out.
It’s true that Serena was Fred’s co-conspirator in creating Gilead, but the worst of Gilead’s structure and traditions were created by the men. The rape ceremony, the prohibitions against women working at all, reading and writing, or having a say in anything at all- those were never part of Serena’s vision. They were forced on her, like everyone else, after they’d been discussed and decided on in meetings she wasn’t invited to. She’s been a good Wife and presented a united front, but this isn’t what she wanted.
This is the episode I’d choose to turn into Handmaid’s Tale’s musical episode, if they were ever crazy enough to do one. I could score it with songs from various shows right now. A little Hairspray for the protests, star-crossed lovers and the fun that is Canada, some West Side Story for the teenage star-crossed lovers, Les Mis and Spring Awakening for the oppressiveness and sexual/relationship torture, plus the general darkness and certainty that everyone will die by the end. Maybe Catch Me If You Can for the traveling criminals. Serena can have a moment by her fireplace singing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina or Memory. You know she was hoping they’d ask. She needed a broken diva song and Fred needed a moustache-twirling villain song this episode.
Returning to the Cinderella imagery, June’s princes are both in a bit of a tight spot, preventing her immediate rescue, no matter their good intentions. One inadvertently placed himself in exile and until now has considered himself powerless to help her. The other is a prince of the realm, but he doesn’t have the power to break the spell that’s on Cinderella, or to take on her evil stepfamily, though he has made brave, but failed, attempts. He recently lost his fairy godfather, so his own position is at risk.
June’s fairy godmother must have taken the train to Canada before the war began or maybe was declared an unwoman and sent to the Colonies, her influence is so completely absent. Or it might be Aunt Lydia, and she has a spell on her, too. That one is a tough call. There’s a lot of Sleeping Beauty going on in this story, too, and sooner or later some people are going to wake up and remove Gilead’s veil from their eyes.
Anywho, back to reality and leaving metaphor behind for the moment, when is Rita going to get her own episode? The Marthas have to have their own network that must be hella functional for all kinds of great things and keep all kinds of amazing secrets, while also passing all kinds of gossip and material goods around. Rita is clearly educated, very intelligent, and always taking in everything that happens around her.
If Mayday is acting in Gilead, it’s acting through the Marthas, who stay in each household for years at a time, stand quietly in the corner of rooms while important people have conversations, and generally disappear into the background and get forgotten about. They can’t get pregnant, so no one cares who they fraternize with. The wives are happy to share Marthas as necessary for special occasions, so they socialize and work together constantly, besides neighborly visits to borrow a cup of sugar or bottle of bleach.
They would make the perfect spies, who would then occasionally recruit unhappy handmaids for specific tasks that a Martha can’t accomplish. I’m waiting for Rita to eventually rip off her headscarf and reveal that she’s been the Black Widow of Gilead all along.
Eden is a bit of a Rapunzel, stuck up in her tower, all alone. Isaac appears to be auditioning for the role of the prince who will save her from her lonely life of solitude. All he needs to do is appreciate her cooking and want have sex with her. Gilead sets the bar low.
While I’m glad Nick is so loyal to June, he’s not being fair to Eden at all. She didn’t ask to be born a girl in Gilead. She has no options here but to keep trying to gain his favor or to try to get rid of him in some devious way so that she can get a new husband. She’s fertile, young and pretty. If she doesn’t figure out that she can do better and how to make it happen, another admirer will figure it out for her, since women are in short supply.
The failure to thrive story just illustrated that people need love and affection. But Eden isn’t a helpless infant. She’s a self-absorbed teenager who’s going to get what she needs, one way or another. Gilead teaches people to take care of themselves and to get rid of potential enemies before they can strike. Nick, who’s frequently stuck between Serena and June, should know better than to underestimate Eden, but that’s exactly what he’s doing, along with just plain mistreating another human being. If nothing else, she deserves his compassion and friendship since she’s so alone and she’s his responsibility, like it or not.
I wish we knew more about Serena’s infertility. They implied that it was caused by her gunshot wound damaging her internal organs, but they’ve never confirmed it. In the book, the Commanders and Wives were mostly just too old and had been exposed to too much radiation during the war. The show seems to have done away with the radiation storyline, and they lowered Fred and Serena’s ages by 20 or 30 years. We’ve been told very little about the environmental causes of the infertility crisis, other than that they exist.
We still don’t know if Serena has assumed she’s infertile because she hasn’t gotten pregnant, if she was told a specific cause of infertility related or unrelated to her shooting, or if she might have viable ovaries that would allow her to have a child of her own using modern methods. Maybe she should give Nick or Dr Donnie a go and see what happens. She could tell Fred it’s a blessed miracle if she gets pregnant. 🎉 🥂
I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of Mark Tuello and his talk of coconuts and treason. He had potential love interest in a murderous love triangle written all over him. The whole thing with her keeping the cigarettes and matches, then throwing the matches into the fire, was straight out of a film noir. Serena was born to be the femme fatale in a film noir love triangle, let’s face it.
Plus, I’m betting they won’t waste Sam Jaeger and his chemistry with Yvonne Strahovsky on a one-off. I think that was a set up for future story lines, either when Erin, Moira and Luke get more involved with speaking out publicly, the American government starts trying to actively move against Gilead, or something more happens between Serena and Mark.
Mark was intelligent, confident, and absolutely not threatened by everything that Serena is. He encouraged and enjoyed her using her wit. I think she’d forgotten that was possible.
PLEASE let him be the spymaster that she feeds information to when she switches sides. Flirting through coded notes would be perfect.
*From “In My Own Little Corner”, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
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