Spoiler alert: this recap is for people watching The Handmaid’s Tale, series two, on Channel 4 in the UK. Please do not add spoilers from later episodes.
Well, now what’s Offred going to do? We know she doesn’t evade capture for long, because there’s a series three. Has this knowledge irked you as much as it has me?
Back in gauzy, sunlit hell, Emily gets a happy finish to the appalling ordeal of the Ceremony when her commander, Roy, drops down dead just after ejaculating. In voiceover, Offred tells us how the women endure these monthly rapes. Her talk of bees and flowers barely disguises the bitter rage. As Roy falls to the ground, clearly in cardiac distress, Emily watches dispassionately, saying she really can’t help as she’s supposed to lie on her back afterwards.
Before leaving the room, she stamps on his lifeless nuts. Good. Have one from the sisters, Roy. In the market, as she remonstrates with Emily, June feels the contractions start. Nick takes Offred into the Waterford house as the snow falls and the two smile at each other, knowing their baby is coming. Eden is literally left out in the cold.
Serena kneels in front of Offred, for all the neighbours to see, and prays over her belly. Lydia arrives with the local handmaids and starts barking instructions while Serena, dressed in a white maternity smock, is in genuine bliss, her face totally at peace for the first time.
Offred’s “I’m sorry, Mrs Waterford” when false labour is diagnosed couldn’t be less sincere. Serena looks humiliated and June pays her back generously for demanding she leave after the birth. In the scenes leading up to June’s rape, the growing sense of dread is hard to stomach. The Waterford’s Macbeth-like pact culminates in a horrific assault on the handmaid. I don’t want to watch any of it. I don’t think we needed to see it, but the director has other ideas.
Serena and Fred lock eyes over a terrified June and he penetrates her. Serena holds her wrists and June goes into her own head, thinking about bees and flowers again. She’s not there. It’s not her flesh. But her face tells us she is. I think it’s the worst bit of the whole series.
Eden’s infidelity with Isaac seems extremely unlikely. A God-fearing girl so brazenly snogging a guard in a well-lit courtyard – it doesn’t add up. However strong youthful hormones might be, adultery is severely punished in Gilead and she is a married woman. But snog him she does, just in time for Nick to see. “Don’t you care? Why don’t you care?” she entreats Nick afterwards. She knows he’s sweet on Offred and she’s raging. She cries and tries to stop the noise with her hands.
After the rape, Fred is, perhaps through shame and guilt, inspired to offer June an olive branch and arranges a “surprise” for her. These people really are sick with their own power. Although seeing her beloved daughter again is everything June wants, the way it is given is gut-churningly awful.
In the big, empty house in the snow, dust sheets flicker in the wind and all is white and shades of pale grey. “Ten minutes,” she is told as she turns to see a pink-cloaked Hannah playing on the floor. She breaks and runs to her, but Hannah is afraid and hides behind the Martha/Agnes. Traumatised, she doesn’t remember her mum at first. This is Trump’s caged children, forgetting their parents. I stopped for a cry here. This week and last have been unexpectedly hard watches.
The reunion with Hannah was horribly affecting. How could she send her back to her Martha? How could she bear to hear Hannah say: “I have new parents now”? Hannah’s tears come as she says in a small voice: “Mommy.” They are ripped apart again. Is this worse than not seeing one another?
Another car pulls up, shouting, a confrontation. One of them is shot. Is it Nick? The car drives off with all of them on board and June is left alone, clutching her stomach and terror-stricken. She’s alone in the show, a red shape against the grey and white.
The sound of music
No kick-ass musical signoff this week, just the howling of the arctic wind and the chirrup of birdsong as June’s future hangs, once more, in the balance.
Blessed be the fruit. May the lord open.
The reunion and severing of the mother/daughter bond and the rape of June takes this almost off the top of the chart. But if we have to pick a number – 10.
Under his eye
- When Fred hands out cigars, he congratulates an official who has a pregnant wife. Significant that some women still conceive naturally, without a handmaid.
- During a brief scene in Fred’s office, June all but tells him the baby isn’t his and flounces out after he rejects her plea for a posting near to Hannah. Literally the only tiny stone she has left to throw.
- In the study with the men, none of them are talking about the PR disaster that was the visit to Canada. Are they just being polite because they’re in Fred’s house?