Airing on Channel 4, Sunday at 9pm
Writer: Kira Snyder
Director: Kate Dennis
Essential Plots Points:
- Offred is in bed with Nick. She’s wide awake, horribly aware of what she’s doing now she knows Luke’s alive. She knows she’s there because it feels good but she doesn’t know how she feels about that.
- And then we’re in the past, and It’s Nick’s turn. He’s at the Unemployment Office having washed out of yet another job. He gets into a fight with his adviser and another unemployed man and is thrown out.
- His adviser follows him. And buys him a cup of coffee.
- His adviser, Mr Pryce, is a recruiter for the Sons of Jacob. And in one of the most chilling sequences so far, we see the beginning of Nick’s radicalization.
- Offred returns home. Waterford is in her room. He asks if she’s up for a little excitement. And of course it’s a rhetorical question,
- Waterford shaves her legs for her (Handmaids are ‘not to be trusted’ with razors after all).
- He gives her makeup. And clothes. They’re going on a date. And, of course, Nick is driving them…
- They go through a checkpoint, with Offred disguised as Mrs Waterford (Complete with fake ID). Waterford is smiling, giddy. Offred is terrified.
- In the past, Nick is driving Waterford and the others around. It’s a secure meeting and the moment that the Handmaid concept is brought into being.
- Waterford brings Offred in through the back entrance, describing her as ‘contraband’/ He gives her a pair of earrings and then ‘White Rabbit’ starts playing.
- They’re at Jezebels,a sex club. Handmaids and women in various stages of undress draped across countless party officials. It’s intoxicating, surreal,dangerous.
- And in the middle of it all is Moira.
- Offred excuses herself and finds Moira in the ladies room. Who promptly bursts into tears and hugs her, apologizing for abandoning her.
- They get a bare 2 minutes before Moira is ordered back out on the floor. Offred sobs with relief, laughing as she lets it sink in. Her friend’s alive.
- Nick is running a black market trade downstairs; booze and hair dye for drugs. His contact is a Martha, a former chef and an occasional lover of Nick’s.
- Back out on the floor, Waterford is put out that Offred took so long. She wraps herself round his arm and, mollified, he takes her upstairs. Nick watches them go. And flashes back to find the previous Offred, hanging from the ceiling of her room. Her body is taken away and a seething, furious Serena Joy spits ‘What did you THINK was going to happen?’ at Waterford.
- In the present, Waterford is drinking and paranoid, talking about purges in other districts. When Offred asks why he brought them there he replies ‘I thought we could just be…together.’
- Offred weeps as Waterford, not caring or seeing, begins to strip her. After he’s raped her, and fallen asleep, Offred dresses and creeps out of the room to see Moira.
- She finds her downstairs. Moira explains that she was captured trying to get out of the city. She was arrested, deemed a ‘corrupting influence; and given a choice; work at Jezebels or the colonies.
- She’s given up, accepting that Jezebels is as good as it gets until she dies.
- In the past, Nick briefs his adviser, now Commander Pryce, on the indiscretions of one of the men at the Handmaid meeting. He assures Nick that they’re going to clean up Gilead.
- In the present, Serena Joy arrives home. Nick studiously avoids talking to Offred, until she confronts him. Newly focused on his work, he tells her they can’t do this anymore.
- She begs him to tell her about him, to help her know who he is. He tells her it’s too dangerous, and Offred, who faces death every minute of every day, disagrees. She argues that at least this way someone will remember her.
- Finally, far too late, he tells her his name and where he’s from. She spits ‘Under his eye, Guardian Blaine.’ and leaves.
- Serena Joy stops her on the stairs and gives her a present. A music box she had as a child. Offred smiles, thanks her and leaves.
- That night, Offred carves YOU ARE NOT ALONE into the wall of her closet.
There’s a massive amount going on this episode but it all revolves around one central idea; the truth. From the moment we see Offred in Nick’s room everything that happens is about Gilead not as it tells itself it is, but how it truly is.
For Nick that’s a last chance. Max Minghella has been the one under served cast member so far and he gets more to do here. It’s chillingly effective stuff too, as we see Nick radicalized by Commander Pryce. Nick is an angry, directionless young man. He believes he deserves more than he’s got. All Pryce does is point him in the right direction and, in doing so, lock him on the outside forever. As an Eye, Nick’s job is always to observe. The moment he influences events is the moment he’s crossed the line and the massive pressure put him on to not do so is one of the show’s most successful B plots so far.
For Gilead, the truth is as close to reassuring as we could hope for. This chaste, martial theocracy is none of the above. Sex clubs are rife, the concept of purity of relationship is non existent and even the moral authority the Sons of Jacob claim for themselves comes with a back door. It’s reassuring in that none of these people are the blood-soaked ideal they hold themselves to. Its terrifying because Gilead is a nation of hypocrites and it still carries out a hundred atrocities a day in the name of the faith it pays lip service to.
For Moira, the truth is she’s given up. Her life is going to be short but it’ll still be longer than if she’d been shipped off. Her plot this episode is the most interesting one because she occupies the literal and metaphorical middle ground between Luke and Offred. She escaped but not quite far enough. She serves but with a little more freedom than Offred. It’s almost as though leaving Offred on the train platform broke her and her guilt has led her to settle. It’s early in this plot but if that is the case, it’s yet another brave narrative choice as well as another reason behind Gilead’s success. Everyone breaks, like Nick said weeks ago. A lot of people, we suspect, break where Moira does; choosing enough of a life to tolerate over a certain and protracted death. It’s not cowardice, but rather someone pushed past their breaking point. Which is what Gilead is based on.
And finally there’s Offred. Who, this week, finds out that almost nothing she’s done has mattered. Nick breaks the relationship off so he can go back to being a better Eye. Waterford is no longer content with the Ceremony and wants her any time he chooses and Moira never escaped. The show’s bravery in Offred not being angry at her friend for that is one of its best moments so far and its also the only thing that goes right for her this episode. Trapped between the ideological purity of Nick and the rank hypocrisy of Waterford, Offred is more objectified than she’s ever been before.
Earlier in the season, that would have broken her. But Offred is different now. Equipped with the message from her predecessor and with the gift of perspective, she sees Gilead for what it is, not what it’s told her it is. Gilead is a nation state of hypocritical criminals, terrified men intent only on their own gains. There’s a legion of them, and their amorality is terrifying. But they aren’t gods. They can be manipulated and worked around and once again Offred scours a little more of a space for herself in this world this episode. It’s notable that she finishes the episode sitting up in her closet where previously she’d always lain down in there. She has work to do.
That’s the truth that unites everyone this episode; events are bigger than every individual here. But where Nick and Waterford find refuge in a command structure, Offred finds it in a legacy of individualism. She isn’t the first Offred. She may not be the last one. But one day, someone will be. And she needs to know she isn’t alone. That isn’t a victory but it is peace, and few fictional characters have ever earned that peace more. Now, the really interesting question becomes what she’ll do with it?
- The first time we see Offred her hair is down, and she’s in Nick’s house. It’s a very clear callback to and subversion of every time we’ve seen her in her own room at the opening of an episode. Likewise that final shot of her.
- The power dynamic around shaving Offred’s legs is massively nuanced. Handmaids can’t use razors unsupervised because they’ll kill themselves. Waterford shaves her legs for her and from his point of view it’s a kindness. From her’s, it’s another prison.
- Offred in her nun-like Handmaid outfit wearing makeup is one of the most powerful pieces of visual shorthand for the hypocrisy of Gilead the show has done to date.
- The sight of Waterford and his colleagues working out best to brand industrialized, society-wide rape is possibly the most horrifying thing the show has done so far.
- There’s at least one plus-sized woman at Jezebels and a notable amount of women of colour. The show’s most consistent criticisms have been focused on its portrayal of these two groups. This doesn’t balance it out, but it’s a start. Here’s hoping the show will build on that in season 2.
- Offred walking down the corridor, listening to the screams and sounds of blows being struck as the workers at Jezebels do what they’re forced to do is nightmarish. Also distinctly reminiscent of The Shining, as is the whole Jezebels sequence.
- ‘Act may not be the nest name, from a branding perspective.’
- ‘Everyone’s human after all.’-Hypocrisy really is the currency of Gilead.
- ‘A perfect gift; a girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone else opens the lid. When someone else winds her up.’
- Nick remains a slightly weak link. Max Minghella is great but Nick is so reticent and reserved we don’t have much of a read on him even now.
And The Random:
- Kate Dennis has directed for GLOW, Preacher, Suits, Fear The Walking Dead and others. She’s also one of the directors on Amazon’s new version of The Tick which we are super excited for.
- Kira Snyder is a producer on both The Handmaid’s Tale and The 100. She’s also written for both shows as well as Alphas, Eureka and was one of the writers on Pacific Rim: Uprising.
- Robert Curtis Brown, who is so very creepy as Pryce this episode, has quite a storied career. He’s appeared in The Mentalist, Veronica Mars, Code Black, Hawaii Five-O, Perception and many more.
Review by Alasdair Stuart