Episode 10, The Last Ceremony, plays out like an extra intense episode of a nighttime soap opera, with the characters letting their masks slip far enough to reveal their true feelings, whether it’s safe to do so or not, and various schemes, evil and otherwise, playing out. When those masks slip, the characters see themselves and each other for who they really are, and it’s not pretty. The end of June’s pregnancy and the change in circumstances that it will bring has everyone on edge, making them distracted enough to make serious mistakes that can’t be undone.
The episode begins with Emily preparing for the Ceremony, the handmaids’ reason for existing and monthly
rape fertility routine. June’s voice narrates the ways that the handmaids’ typically cope with the regular, ritualized rapes, mainly through dissociation. They pretend they aren’t connected to their bodies, they pretend that the man is nothing more than a bee pollinating a flower, they take their minds somewhere else. There are undoubtedly handmaids who plan their revenge during these moments.
Emily looks as pinched and unhappy as she has since she came back from the colonies. She winces in pain a few times. Her current
serial rapist Commander doesn’t look so good as he works his way through the act. He’s becomes uncoordinated and stumbles away once he finishes. Moments later, he collapses on the floor. His wife goes to him, then yells at Emily to run for help. Emily, still on the bed in the position her captors left her in, says, with only a hint of snark in her voice, “The chances are better if I lay on my back.”
The Wife is flabbergasted and runs to get help herself. Emily gets up, kicks the Commander in the side, then stomps on his crotch, hard. You almost wish he’d survive the heart attack for a few days just so he could feel the groin injury.
Excellent cold opening. We’ve seen Emily murder two people already, one with poison. Could she have slipped something into the Commander’s food or drink, or even into her vagina? She praised the bomber last week, so we know she has murder on her mind.
Poisons really aren’t hard to come by. They grow in the yard, they live in the kitchen and bathroom cupboard, or the garage. With Emily’s biology background, she could make a career out of quietly poisoning half of Gilead.
After the title card, the screen goes directly to a shot of butchered animal heads, probably either dogs, sheep or goats, ready to be eaten. June waits at the meat counter while Alma and Brianna gossip about the Commander’s death in the background. One of them heard that he died while he was still inside Emily.
That. That right there. That kind of gossip is why Serena wants so desperately to get June out of the house. The Waterfords have many dirty little secrets that Serena wants to keep the other wives from hearing about: That her husband whipped her, that he took the handmaids to Jezebels, that he slept with other women at Jezebels, that the baby isn’t Fred’s baby, that Serena broke the rules and did Fred’s paperwork for him. Under normal circumstances June isn’t a malicious gossip and can be trusted not to spread those kinds of rumors. Most of them are dangerous to her as well. But all Serena sees now is another woman who threatens her home and family and who potentially has the power to take everything from her. She saw what Janine did to the Putnams by having a mental breakdown. In Serena’s mind, all it would take is for June to feel spiteful one day for her to spill her guts to someone else. Once the rumors start spreading, there’s no taking them back.
Serena could cultivate June’s further friendship and loyalty to keep her from talking, but the whipping humiliated Serena in front of June, and Serena can’t forgive June for witnessing it. Serena can only punish Fred so much, but she can punish June all she wants. So there will be no understanding and compassion between June and Serena for the time being.
Back at the grocery store, Emily keeps her distance from the other shoppers. She doesn’t respond to the rumors.
June wanders near Eden and Isaac, who are huddled over the produce. Eden excitedly tells June that she thinks she make a sweet custard pie for dinner tonight. When June replies unenthusiastically, Isaac jumps in to say he thinks a pie sounds nice. Eden turns to him like he’s the sun and says that she might make a bisque or a stew, too. June wanders away, but the young lovers lean together to compare recipes.
Eden is in a completely different show from everyone else.
Actually, on a different network, Eden would be the heroine of this show and the focus would be on freeing her from her loveless marriage to a cold, emotionally abusive man so that she could be with the love of her life, a young Guardian, and make many boring meals for her many children.
But for now, this is a show about grown ups, and June is having contractions. This one passes. She runs into Janine and Emily. Janine says that Emily is going to a new posting soon. Emily is silent. June tells the other two that Moira made it to Canada. Janine is hopeful the someday they’ll all make it to there.
June begs Emily not to give up, because she will see her son, who is safe in Canada, again. Emily says that she’s not his mother any more. June says that of course Emily is his mother and she loves him. Emily asks if June thinks that Emily’s son can feel her love? June replies that yes, she does. And at least Emily’s son is free and waiting for Emily with Emily’s wife. Before June can say more and it can get ugly, she has another contraction.
Emily stares at June and looks sick, but Janine notices and calls for help.
June is brought back to the Waterfords’ in an ambulance. Nick is outside waiting, and rushes to get June out as soon as it parks. He gently helps her down to the street. They look into each other’s eyes and he asks if she’s okay. She says she is, and he begins to walk her up the stairs, both arms around her to guide her safely.
Eden also rode home in the ambulance, and was standing in the doorway behind June. Nick didn’t even notice her there. She was invisible. Nick and June smile lovingly at each other as he helps her up the steps. Eden stands at the bottom and stares at them with a dull look on her face. Isaac stands behind Eden and watches her.
Serena comes racing out the front door, pushes June and Nick apart, and kneels in front of June’s baby. She puts her hands on June’s belly and quotes the bible at the baby, then excitedly tells Offred that they did it! “This is the will of God, and we shall rejoice and be glad in it.” June looks at her with bitterness in her eyes and says, “No one knows the things of God.” She and Nick walk away to continue making their way up the stairs.
The Commanders and Wives, even the econo wives and Guardians, have no clue what life is like for the handmaids. They refuse to acknowledge that they don’t just rape the handmaids. They also abduct their children as part of “normal” life.
June changes into her nightgown, and goes into the master bedroom, where she will stay while she goes through labor and delivery. She thinks, “At least this is the last time I’ll have to get into that f**king bed.”
It’s probably a good thing that the characters can’t see the foreshadowing in their stories.
She takes a moment to commune silently with her baby, then the moment is gone when Aunt Lydia and all of the handmaids in the district arrive for the birth. Janine kneels in front of June’s belly and tells the baby it’s time to come out. The handmaids bring in all of the necessary accessories for the birthing process. Aunt Lydia gets right in June’s face and takes control, hustling her over to the bed. Suddenly, June is back in Gilead and this process has nothing to do with her at all.
Downstairs, the district is gathering to await the blessed event. Rita and the neighborhood Marthas prepare for a party. Fred hosts his fellow Commanders in his study. Commander Putnam tells Fred that Angela has gained 6.5 ounces, praise be. Young Commander Horace has been promoted upon the news of his WIFE’S pregnancy. That’s right, wife. A handmaid’s pregnancy wouldn’t have been worth a promotion. As a matter of fact, Horace hopes that all future commanders are blessed in the same way that he has been, with a fertile wife and no need for a handmaid. Yes, he meant it the way it sounds, and no, he wasn’t just being insensitive. That was a warning.
Or maybe he meant that he hoped all of the infertile old bags would suddenly get pregnant, not that the old Commanders would make way for a crop of virile young studs. Fred winces at the thought and moves on to a new conversation.
Speak of the devil,
Commander Pryce Commander Grinnell, the anti-Pryce of aging Commanders, walks in and gives Fred a big hug. Then he starts talking handmaids with Fred, dissing his own current handmaid as being no fun at all while he rapes her, and wondering how Fred’s little cutie is in the sack. Commander Grinnell will be in the market for a new handmaid soon and has his eye on Offred.
Fred suddenly realizes that June will be leaving after the baby’s born, and sleeping with another man not long after that. He realizes how not okay with that he is. He’s been possessive of her all along, so I’m surprised it took him this long to figure that out. I thought he already had designs, or at least fantasies, of replacing Serena with June, who, in his fantasy, would be able to have intelligent conversations with him, be a sex kitten, and never ever outshine him.
Serena is in her nightgown, glowing
with pregnancy hormones, looking happier than I thought it was possible for her face to actually fold into. She’s surrounded by the other wives. It’s finally her turn to pretend to be in labor.
Her blissful fake labor is interrupted by Lydia, because June’s labor has stopped. Oops, it’s false labor, which can fool anyone. Lydia suggests that they time the contractions the next time. Then Lydia visibly tries not to laugh at Serena and how upset she is that she can’t stamp her feet and make the baby come out of June NOW!!
June apologizes for not being in labor, but doesn’t seem sorry at all. Dr Donnie examines June and says that her cervix is closed and 0% effaced, meaning that it’ll be a while before labor starts for real. Serena insists that June be induced. Today. Both the doctor and Lydia shoot her down. Because of the bleeding, this is a high risk birth, and chemicals wouldn’t be safe. The baby is already measuring at 9 lbs, so in another week, they might reconsider induction.
In the meantime, Lydia suggests foods and activities that can stimulate labor, like mango salad and vigorous walks. Lydia assures everyone that the baby will be born soon, and Offred will be off to a new posting. Serena says that she wants Offred to be moved to a new district. June agrees, saying it’s probably for the best if the two of them don’t ever see each other again.
Late that evening, Offred meets Fred in his study. She wants to make a special request of him. She starts out by bringing up that Serena is sending her away. Fred says, “And that’s not what you want?”
It’s an opening, and June misses it. Fred is hoping that she’ll want to stay with him. If she asked, he’d bend or rewrite the rules so that handmaids can do a second tour of duty with the same Commander. She would get to stay with her baby. They might have a second child together. Who knows what could happen in the future. It’s cliché for nannies to become second wives, and he might just need a fertile wife soon. Sharing her with Nick might not be looking so bad right now.
But June just got news of Luke and Moira. As she’s about to give birth, she’s naturally thinking of her first child. She’s been mentally preparing to give this child up for 9 months. And Fred didn’t actually make an offer, so she misses the very subtle cues that she might have caught if she were in top form.
She flatters Fred, telling him he’s been very kind to her, and he’s going to be a father soon. She let’s him touch her belly. But then she asks for the wrong kind of help.
June: I’ve already lost a child. I’m about to lose another one. It would help if I could be moved to my daughter’s district. Please, if it is at all within your power to do that.
Her tacit rejection, which she didn’t even know was what she was doing, hits Fred like a blow. He hits back.
Fred: Who are you to tell me what’s within my power?
He walks away.
June tries again, promising she’d never go near Hannah.
Fred becomes irate, saying that he’s been too indulgent with her, and throws her out.
June: I shouldn’t have expected you to understand. You have no idea what it is like to have a child of your own flesh and blood. And you never will.
And with that, she enters Serena Joy maneater territory, which, as we know, requires punishment.
There is another layer to this discussion, which gives Fred his plausible deniability. She’s broken the social contract which says that handmaids are parents to no one, ever, and children belong to whoever the government gifts them to. Their memories of what came before aren’t important. She claimed both Hannah and the new baby as being her own children in that conversation. Handmaids have probably been maimed for making similar statements.
I’m not criticizing June or agreeing with Fred here, just explaining what I think happened in the study scene.
Fred joins Serena in the Greenhouse of Death so that they can complain privately about their situation. At first they feel powerless, but slowly they realize how far they’re both willing to go to get the baby out of Offred right this minute. Serena talks Fred into trying “the most natural way” to induce labor, which for some reason the show is very coy about. What they mean is they want to try the universal method of having sex to induce labor.
June talks to her baby some more, then Rita tells her that Serena has summoned her. Rita assures June that she’ll tell the baby about its birth mother.
Serena is sitting on the bed in the master bedroom. She invites June to sit with her. When she takes June’s hand, June becomes suspicious. When Fred walks in and locks the door, while Serena begins clutching her wrist, tight, she knows what she’s in for, and starts to struggle and argue. Serena insists, over and over, that this is what’s best for the baby, that they have to do this, and that the natural way is best.
I’m not sure what parts of bleeding and high risk birth Serena missed. The doctor was quite clear that June needs to be careful. Pretty sure an act of violence perpetrated on the mother and the child is going to be harmful. Between the physical blows and the stress hormones, the baby’s environment just got a whole lot more toxic.
Serena and Fred force June into place and hold her down, while she struggles and begs them to stop. Fred says the bible verse that goes with the ceremony as he penetrates June. He’s more aroused than he is during a normal ceremony. June eventually dissociates and becomes almost catatonic.
When Fred is done raping June, he puts his clothes back together and leaves without a word or a backward glance. Serena looks horrified, as if she’s finally realized what the ceremony actually is, but she doesn’t make a move to stop it or make anything any better for June. As soon as Fred is done, she too gets up and walks out without a word or even a glance at June.
Neither of them can deny that this was a violent rape, rather than a natural way to help the baby be born. They may deny it on the surface, but in their hearts they both understand the crime they committed, and that the ceremony has been a crime every time its happened.
June is left lying on the bed, in the position they dropped her in, unmoving and unseeing. She’s gone deep inside herself to get away from this monstrous violation.
Serena, who is supposedly so worried about getting her healthy baby, doesn’t help June get up, doesn’t help the nine months pregnant woman clean up, doesn’t check to see if the violence has caused any new bleeding or other symptoms. Her cold heart is focussed on herself, and June might as well be left for dead in a back alley for all that the Waterfords care about her in the aftermath of the assault. They don’t even ask Rita or Nick to check on her.
It makes you a little scared for what they’ll do to a child that looks like a combination of Nick and June, two people they’ve gone out of their way to punish in creative and emotionally manipulative ways.
Eden, who has been in the kitchen helping Rita, helps out further by taking out the trash. Isaac slowly appears from out of the darkness behind her. She senses his presence and turns around. They say a soft “hi” to each other and move in closer. Then they slowly take each others’ hands and lean in to kiss, as if they are under a spell. Eden will tell Nick later that it’s her first kiss. They keep kissing and making out for a minute.
Nick comes out onto the deck of his apartment and sees them, but just watches them with a bemused look on his face while he smokes. After a minute, Eden notices Nick and runs away from Isaac, up into the apartment she and Nick share. She follows Nick in, falls onto her knees, and uses prayers/bible quotes to beg for mercy. Nick isn’t fussed at all about his wife making out with someone else, though. This is the final blow to Eden’s ego and sense of propriety. She questions why he doesn’t care that she’s cheating on him, why he never touches or kisses her, what’s wrong with him? Then she figures it out. It’s the handmaid, June.
Eden: You like her. Why do you like her?
Nick: You’re not making any sense.
Eden: Just tell me.
Nick: Eden, I would never get involved with a handmaid. It would be suicide.
Eden: So you just don’t love me?
Nick: Look, I’m sorry.
Eden bursts into tears. Nick sits and drinks and looks uncomfortable. He asks her to please not do that (cry in front of him).
Nick was staring up at June’s room when he went out to the deck the night before. All of his emotional energy is wrapped up in June, the baby, and navigating Fred’s vindictive temper.
The next morning, Fred finds Offred in her room. She sits on the bed in fight or flight mode and never acknowledges his presence. He sits on the other side of the bed with his apology face on and tells her he’s prepared a surprise for her that he thinks she’ll like.
So, he’s one of those abusers. The next day he’s all sorry and contrite, trying to make it up to the victim, promising it will never happen again. As long as she reads his mind so that she knows exactly what he wants.
He takes her down to the car and puts her in the backseat, alone. Nick is waiting to drive her. Fred hands Nick an address and tells him to have June back in three hours. The people at the address are expecting them.
Fred tells June, “You deserve this,” and kisses her on the forehead. Like Serena after her beating, June cringes away from his touch. Fred admonishes Nick not to let anyone see them, then sends them on their way. Nick is hella confused. He turns to look at June, but she’s glassy-eyed and silent.
Does Fred mean that June deserves this as compensation for her suffering, or as further punishment for her misbehavior?
As they drive, Nick tries to get June to tell him what happened, but she won’t talk.
They drive out into what used to be the expensive, upper middle class suburbs, and stop at a McMansion that’s currently closed up for the winter. Snow covers the ground. They walk inside slowly, Nick hovering protectively close to June. Inside, another Guardian appears and tells June to come to the back of the house. She can have ten minutes with the person who’s back there.
June walks toward the room, not knowing what to expect. What she sees is her daughter Hannah sitting on the floor with a Martha. June begins to cry and runs to Hannah, throwing her arms around the young daughter she hasn’t been allowed to see in years. Hannah is overwhelmed, and hides behind the Martha.
June keeps talking to Hannah, calling her by her name, but the Martha explains that the child’s name is Agnes now. After a minute, Agnes asks if June’s head was hurt in the escape. June says she’s okay, she jut went to sleep for a while. Then Agnes wants to know if June tried to find her. June says that she and Luke both tried very hard. Agnes says they should have tried harder. She has new parents now.
June says it’s okay to be mad and asks Agnes about the people who adopted her. They’ve been good to her, and have “only” hit her twice for being bad. Given Gilead’s love of corporal punishment and domestic violence, it’s probably a very good sign that they’ve only considered Hannah’s behavior to be “bad ” twice in three years.
Then Agnes brings up June’s pregnancy, and the rules for handmaids and their babies. We haven’t seen enough children to know if Agnes’ pink clothing means that as the daughter of sinners, and born out of wedlock, she’s on track to become a handmaid herself. June reassures Hannah that she will always be June’s baby.
Hannah’s Guardian interrupts them to announce that they have to go, right now, and he drags Hannah away. June follows, begging for another moment. She kneels in front of Hannah and tells her that she’ll always be her mommy, and that she and Luke will always love Hannah. Both June and Hannah are crying now. Hannah has fully remembered who June is, and gotten past her anger to see the mother she lost.
June tries to cram a childhood worth of advice into 1 minute. She tells Hannah to enjoy her life, to love her parents, and to keep herself safe. June asks Hannah’s Martha to love Hannah, and to protect her for June, since June can’t be there. The Martha is crying, too, and promises that she’ll take care of Hannah.
Hannah asks if she’ll ever see her mommy again, and June tells her that she’ll try. They hug and say “I love you,” then Hannah is dragged from June’s arms. As they leave, the other Guardian tells Nick to stay inside.
June is on the floor, weeping and listening to Hannah’s cries. After a minute, she can’t take it any more, and goes outside to her daughter. Hannah runs back to her and they hold each other again.
June tries to send Hannah off on a positive note, leaving her with a good memory of her mom, which must take every bit of strength June has inside of her.
June: I need you to go now, okay? I need you to be brave, ok, baby? So what you’re gonna do, is you’re gonna take your Martha’s hand, you’re gonna get in the car, and you’re gonna go home. Come here. I love you. [Kisses Hannah a few times.] Now go.
Hannah goes quietly to the car, which quickly drives away. It’s snowing, hard. June is on her knees in the snow in the driveway, emotionally devastated.
Elisabeth Moss is winning another Emmy.
The rape scene was hard to get through, but this was worse. Most parents would choose torture over losing their child. June thought she’d be happy to get to see Hannah, but she didn’t think through how hard it would be for them to lose each other again. If nothing else, at least they’ll have this moment to remember as the last time they saw each other, rather than when the Guardians kidnapped them both. At least Hannah will have a better understanding of what happened to her parents, and June has seen that Hannah is still healthy and okay.
And she got to designate a new Godmother for Hannah. She also can describe the Martha and knows Hannah’s new name, which will be helpful details when she hopefully tries to rescue Hannah someday, and/or if she can get the network of Marthas to help her get more information.
Nick holds and comforts June while she cries, giving her the emotional support he was unable to give Eden. They hear a car approaching, and, since they officially aren’t supposed to be there, Nick rushes June inside and insists that she stay hidden. He goes back outside to meet whatever is coming.
Two Guardians pull up and ask Nick what he’s doing there. He says that he’s checking on the Commander’s house, since it’s empty. Everything looks good. The Guardians accuse him of lying, saying no one is supposed to be there. Someone pulls a gun, and the three men fight over it.
Nick is shot in the scuffle. The Guardians, who almost seemed to know he’d be there, react like they weren’t supposed to hurt him, or at least not that much. They toss him into their car as fast as they can, then drive away, taking both cars. They’re very keen on hiding the evidence that either they or Nick were ever there.
Which leaves June all alone, in an unheated, abandoned house, nine months pregnant, with no one expecting her for hours, having just watched her boyfriend/baby’s father be shot and kidnapped.
It’s Choose Your Own Adventure time!
I’ve seen people referring to the men who shoot and take Nick as Eyes, but closed captioning has them labelled as Guardians, so I’m going with that.
They don’t act with the confidence of Guardians, either. Guardians always show up, know what they’re doing, and do it. They don’t bother to ask questions, because they don’t need to. Their word is law. These guys freak out when they shoot Nick:
Guardian 1: You’re lying. No one’s supposed to be here.
Scuffle over gun and Nick is shot. The Eyes would have had more and better training. Two should have been able to take down Nick.
Guardian 1: Sh*t! Come on! Get him in the car! Get his keys!
Guardian 2: You got him?
Guardian 1: Follow me.
Their voices sound scared, and they can’t get out of there fast enough. They leave so quickly that they don’t even bother to search the property, even though the other vehicle’s tire tracks should still be visible in the snow and probably some footprints as well.
This was not a government sanctioned operation. This was someone either acting against Nick or acting against Waterford. It wasn’t orchestrated by someone very high up the food chain, because they didn’t use experienced operatives. My guess is that Isaac either wanted to scare Nick into being a better husband to Eden, or he was planning to get rid of Nick, but not out in the open where anyone could see.
But we’ve seen some of Gilead’s finest leaders be really stupid before, so it could be one or more of them. Maybe there’s a small rebellion going on amongst the younger, anti-handmaid guys, and they’re planning to use Nick to discredit Waterford somehow. Maybe someone figured out that Nick is the baby’s father. Maybe whoever took Nick knows about his dissatisfaction and wanted him on their side. Oops. Or maybe Nick has some enemies based on his former status as Commander Pryce’s favorite. Maybe it has something to do with the letters. They make excellent blackmail material.
Behind closed doors, the aunts work very hard to psychologically and physically torture the handmaids into submitting to rape as if they don’t mind it. When Fred and the Commanders created the Ceremony, they knew it was necessary for the Wives to have this branding and ritual, and to be a part of it, in order to overlook what they could easily see as their husbands’ cheating every month. The aunts work hard to brainwash the handmaids into believing that the monthly ceremony and the children they conceive for others to raise are their only purposes for living. The blessing and curse of the ceremony is that its ritualized nature allows the handmaids to mentally and emotionally prepare themselves each month for what could otherwise be a deeply traumatic act. Once the handmaid is pregnant, there are more humiliating rituals to be performed, designed to dehumanize her further and weaken her sense of self, until she barely sees herself as a separate entitity from the family she lives with. This is all done slowly and carefully, with the trappings of religion and government authority, so that the handmaid doesn’t feel as if she has the will or the right to interfere.
But the faux, impromptu rape ceremony, done without warning, without government or medical sanction, without the full trappings of the ritual it mimics, rips the mask off of the lies that all of Gilead’s “ceremonies” hide behind, and shows the true, ugly face behind them. June didn’t have time to come terms with what was happening and take her mind somewhere else, so her true, unfiltered reaction came out.
Serena watched as her husband was able to have vigorous intercourse with a woman who was begging him to stop, showing that he’s a monster who’s capable of raping a begging, fighting, screaming, crying woman. He could have stopped at any time and said “enough”, but he didn’t. Serena held down another woman, as she was raped, a woman who was fighting back and begging, a woman she knew, a woman who had helped her during a difficult time very recently. Both Serena and Fred thought it was okay for their baby to hear its adoptive father raping its birth mother while its adoptive mother held her down and told her to accept it.
This is the reality behind the ceremony every month, and behind every child born to a handmaid and given to the rapist and his accomplice. They are all children born of rape, torture and captivity. What will that mean for those children? Growing up and watching the handmaids, knowing that their birth mother was one, knowing that they came from that kind of pain and suffering, knowing the evil that their parents did so that they could be born? These are the sorts of situations that create the child monsters in horror films. Now Gilead will have an entire nation of children, then teenagers, then adults, who know they are the product of these heinous situations.
I’m guessing that after watching Angela almost die because she’s the product of a misused handmaid and what amounts to an affair, after losing high status commanders and valuable fertile women to a woman with a bomb who couldn’t take the handmaid’s life any more, and after having their important Canadian trade deals sabataged by the stories of abused handmaids, the Gilead higher ups have started to sour on the idea of handmaids.
Pryce was already trying to weed out men like Fred, who take advantage of Gilead’s oppression of women to oppress and abuse them even further for his own selfish pleasure. The next step would be to specifically promote the fertile, as they are doing, and to fill out the lower ranks entirely without handmaids being involved. Then, among the old guard, encourage early retirement or find reasons to execute them. Either way, force them to step aside. The current power struggles are helping this phase along.
All of these changes might require Gilead to loosen its rules on who among the fertile women is acceptable and who is a sinner. Maybe their church needs to become more like the Catholic Church, and create ways that sinners can do penance so that they can be forgiven for their sins. Then the adulterers could be eligible to remarry. After all, technically Emily and June were never married, according to Gilead’s rules. They could declare that giving birth to a child as a handmaid puts you back in God’s favor, and free those women up for marriage.
Then, in the future, run the Rachel and Leah Center more like a surrogacy and adoption center, rather than placing handmaids with families. Apparently none of the kids belong to the older Commanders anyway, so the Ceremony has always been a brutal waste of time. One way women can be forgiven their sins can be through surrogacy, for couples who are infertile. But there have to be other ways, like serving as nurses or Marthas or doing prison time or community service.
All of this sort of crazily assumes Gilead evolving before its overthrown. Tyrannies do go through stages, and sometimes strict religions water down their rules to become accepted by the mainstream. The history of the Mormons/ Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the territory/state of Utah is a great example of this. It would be much more interesting to see Gilead slowly change because they want to be accepted by the wider world and because their current structure isn’t sustainable in the long term, than it would be to see them toppled by a war. There’s much more character growth, intrigue, and drama to be had if Gilead’s own people decide to change than if they’re bombed out of existence.
Let’s face it. Sooner or later, the lack of chocolate will get to the people of Gilead, and they’ll force the government to do what it takes to convince the international community trade with them again. Living in God’s grace is great and all, but not if you have to live without chocolate for the rest of your life.
Nick’s introduction to June’s official family is complete, now that he’s met Hannah. He sacrifices himself to keep June safe at the end of the episode, as I always knew he would, but this situation may be salvageable if the guards who arrested him were telling the truth.
The bigger issue long term is the guilt Nick must feel for being complicit in the rise of Gilead and the separation of June’s family. With Commander Pryce dead and his commitment to Gilead eroded, I don’t think Nick has much to live or work for other than June and her freedom. I’m very worried that he’ll decide to sacrifice himself to bring her family back together.
He’ll die quietly performing some heroic grand gesture that June will barely notice, until 6 months later when she realizes that he was the one she should have stayed with, not Luke. Meanwhile, Luke and Erin will have fallen in love, and he’ll leave June anyway, because she’s attached to too many painful memories, plus she cheated on him. Luke won’t get the irony of this turn of events.
I don’t understand why Nick and June don’t make a run for the border when Fred sends them, alone, to a random address. They don’t know it’s to see Hannah, and the Canadian border is only a four hour drive from Boston. By the time anyone started looking for them, they could be most of the way there. It would take them longer than 4 hours using backroads and being careful, but if it were me, I’d rather throw away the handmaid’s red, wear my undergarments and Nick’s coat until we could find some other clothes, and go on the run, instead of having the baby be born in the Waterford house. They are already outside the inner city circle, which has to be the hardest check point, and they must have some kind of vague day pass from Fred. They aren’t going to get another opportunity like this, alone, together, with a car and permission to drive for a few hours.
Especially after Nick is taken.
Family is one of the themes of this episode. Gilead is all about the idea of families, and is now working toward showing favoritism toward the men who are fertile and have fertile wives. Fertile wives will, on average, be younger and more attractive. That means that the Commanders’ families/children are their own, and they won’t be as likely to participate in scandalous affairs and break ups.
It also means that all of the pesky issues that come with reluctant and rebellious handmaids, such as bombings and interrupted trade negotiations, can be forgotten. It means that some of Gilead’s more obvious human rights violations can be swept under the rug, since in most cultures, men have traditionally had the right to rule and discipline their wives as they see fit. While countries have been sanctioned by the international community over racism and the treatment of children, I don’t remember trade ever being affected by the treatment of women and girls, especially wives.
Episode 9’s uproar was a lovely fantasy, but, as we have seen this year, rape and the sexual assault of women are generally not allowed to interfere with business and politics, whether they are on a local or a global scale. The only exception to this that I can think of off the top of my head was the requirement that Mormons give up polygamy in order for Utah to be granted statehood. However, in Utah Territory women had the right to vote, but gaining statehood took that right away for several more decades, so I’m not convinced that the US government really had the Mormon women’s best interests at heart.
This episode and episode 9 also focus on the family relationships of the characters, both biological and found families, and the people who are absolutely not families. Janine, Emily and June are like sisters. Emily, her wife and son were a family, but Emily is convinced that her son won’t remember her, and that the things she’s done have changed her too much for her to be his mother again.
The Wife at Emily’s current posting expected her to react like family when the Commander collapsed, because the Gilead upper class live in a bizarre fantasy world where they lie to themselves and pretend that the handmaids want to be there and are grateful for their charity, or at least should be grateful.
Serena and Fred will never be a family, no matter how many children they steal. They will be two desperately unhappy people living in a house with children they abuse. Serena had the potential to be a good mother, long ago, but it’s hard to imagine now.
June spent the last two episodes creating family for the two children she is losing. Luke, Moira and Erin are family. Luke, June, Moira and Hannah were a family, but Hannah may now be lost forever. June and Moira are sisters. Nick, June and their baby are a family, but they are in grave danger.
Eden and Isaac could be a family.
The Putnams are not a family, but Charlotte and Janine are.
I feel like Emily is on the verge of becoming the Gilead version of the Winter Soldier, with improvised weapons stashed everywhere- all over her room, the house, her walking routes, her person. Imagine how much weaponry could fit under all that fabric. It’s the perfect outfit for an assassin in hiding. She probably grabs anything she finds that can be turned into a shiv. One of these days, she’ll pass out some sleepytime tea, arm the Handmaid sisterhood, and they’ll kill all of the Commanders at once, then the Wives, then the guards, all in their sleep, before anyone figures out what’s going on.
How to best watch this emotionally taxing series:
Listen, I’m with you. I find it a really challenging show to make and watch over and over again, because a lot of it is stories of a terrible place. A character like Offred [Elisabeth Moss], what makes her triumph so miraculous is the fact that [her circumstance] is so horrendous and awful. It’s so gut-wrenching. So in one way, her heroism is measured against the terribleness of the locale that she’s been posted in.
But I would say my advice to people is, one at a time. We very, very much did not write a show to be binged. Not that you can’t, but people who say that they binged it — I think you need a lot of scotch in a baby bottle and a blanket for a while.
We’re certainly not trying to make it impossible to watch. You don’t want it to turn into torture porn. We followed the same rule that Margaret followed, which was what happens to our characters, especially the women, isn’t something that hasn’t happened to women or isn’t happening to women right now.
I always see it in terms of, what do I have to show to tell the story, and don’t show anything more if it’s something terrible.
We don’t use [the terrible] as entertainment. The entertainment part of it is the character triumphing.
Potential future seasons:
Given the rich, very dynamic world Margaret set up, there really is no shortage of possible stories. There’s international elements, there’s political elements, beyond just the personal. There’s all these flashbacks of how Gilead came to be.
Also, when you start to get into the practical arc of a place like Gilead, if eventually it does fall, I would love to see that. And I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see the Nuremberg trials with the Commander [Joseph Fiennes] and Serena Joy [Yvonne Strahovski].
Images courtesy of Hulu.