Previously, on The Handmaid’s Tale: June picked out some godmothers, and Team Awesome faced the Waterfords in Canada and won, with the help of Nick and that package of letters. Here’s my recap for episode 9 if you missed it!
Spoilers be damned. If you haven’t seen it yet, take advantage of the following spoilers to prepare yourself for the emotional onslaught of episode 10. See it as an opportunity to brace for impact. In some ways, nothing happens this week that hasn’t happened before, but this one still felt like like getting punched in the heart.
I usually try to make a few inappropriate jokes to lighten the mood, or at least include some gifs that might make you smile after you’ve endured the Hardest TV Show To Watch. But I am struggling this week. Partly because of the horrible rage of the first half, but probably more because of all the ugly-crying I did during the last 15 minutes. Full fat, projectile tears, breath stuck in the throat, proper sobbing. Pretty much like this:
But let’s come back to the weeping later, and instead start with the rage. June’s last words in episode 9 were ‘Fuck that,” and this is her motto for the first part of the episode. She is done pretending that she and Serena can be friendly. She is done acting like the submissive handmaid for Fred. Unfortunately, none of this really gets her anywhere.
The Birth Day That Wasn’t
Last time we saw a Birth Day was all the way back in Season 1, with Janine giving birth to Angela — who is doing well now! Hooray! This time, the whole neighbourhood is heading over to the Waterford house. The Marthas are hard at work; the Commanders are having a bro-fest with not-at-all symbolic cigars; the Wives are doing their stupid pretending thing, with Queen Serena looking properly happy for the first time, and the handmaids are gathering at the business end, ready to do some cheerleading under the watchful eyes of Aunt Lydia. June resigns to it with a roll of the eyes. “At least this is the last time I’ll have to get in to that fucking bed.” More on that later.
But “false labour fools the best of us.” June is smug; she has more time to plan, and she’s made the Waterfords look like numpties. Serena is furious. Was she just really looking forward to this all being over? Or is she livid because she feels humiliated? She wants the doctor to induce, and he refuses. This is a woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants: the baby, and June out of that house. Remember a few episodes back, when they were kind of friendly? Seems like a long time ago now, huh? Aunt Lydia and Creepy Doctor keep singing the praises of the ‘natural way’, though as we realise later, the word ‘natural’ can cover a world of ills. This part of the episode really established both motive and method for Serena’s transformation back to Ice Queen Bitch later on. Speaking of which…
A Tale Of Two Rape Scenes
If anyone else thought that the title this week, ‘The Last Ceremony’, would just refer to the opening scene with Emily and the ritual of the birth, then HEY! Come and join me on the bench marked ‘Sweet Summer Children’.
We’ve seen the Ceremony countless times, but not one like this, with Emily’s Commander, Roy, dropping dead shortly after ‘completion’ and Emily taking the opportunity to issue Handmaid Justice to his groin. Refusing to get help using the handmaid catchphrase was also a stroke of genius. It was basically like saying, “I’m sorry, I’m just an ‘ambulatory chalice’. You wanted me to exist purely for this purpose. You didn’t want me to be a person. So no, I won’t be running around the house trying to save the life of the man who just raped me.”
Emily will be off to a new posting then, and Janine’s on hand to deliver some of her trademark positivity. “Maybe it won’t be as bad this time.” Emily looks like she gave up a long time ago; not even the idea of Moira as a symbol of resistance and hope works for her. She still looks unwell. Please let her live long enough to go on a killing spree before the end.
The state-sanctioned rape of the Ceremony was paralleled with the ambush rape of June. We had the same voiceover, the same awkward and gross sounds of the man’s heavy breathing, the same close focus on the handmaid’s face, the same cutaway shots to the Wife’s face. Whereas Roy’s wife wore an expression of impermeable piety, Serena had the decency to cry. That’s the last time I say something even remotely nice about Serena though.
This was all Serena’s doing. It was her idea; she was the one euphemistically talking about the ‘natural’ way to bring on labour. So euphemistically that I was merrily Janining along (yes, that’s a verb now), not noticing the huge red flag until June sat next to Serena on that “fucking bed”. Serena was the person that June repeatedly appealed to, not Fred. Serena was the one June thought could put a stop to it. It was Serena who betrayed her trust, not Fred. Serena was the one who would hold down a heavily pregnant woman, so her husband could rape her, all because she was embarrassed by Braxton Fucking Hicks.
That is not to say that Fred gets a free pass here. He is the boss. He could have said no to Serena. He was the one actually doing the deed. He wasn’t just keeping his wife happy, he was punishing June for that conversation in his study. He was reminding her of her place.
All this violence, because of wounded pride. I expected it from Fred. I feel let down by Serena. I was hoping for a redemption arc for her. Now, she doesn’t deserve one. She deserves Handmaid Justice.
I don’t know why this scene shocked me so much; we have seen this happen so many times in the show. And it’s always rape. Even the silent, apparently compliant Ceremony is rape. We have even had a handmaid explicitly object before, back in season 1, episode 9 when Janine went to her new posting. Is the show establishing degrees of rape? Degrees of awful? Or is it because even though consent under duress isn’t consent, it still feels worse when there is explicit, repeatedly verbalised refusal of consent? Should it feel worse? Has the Ceremony become ‘ordinary’ for us? I’m going to come back to this later on, but for now, let’s get to the ugly-crying part of this week’s recap.
“Oh, My Hannah-Banana…”
So Fred’s arranged a little treat for June. Is it guilt? Or just another display of power? Having been burned by naivety earlier in the episode, I had a moment where his line, “You deserve this,” sounded threatening. But I think it was probably his desire to present himself as benevolent, to make her grateful after everything he’s just done to her. And that kind of makes it worse again. Notice though, he’s doing this behind Serena’s back. When he tells Nick, “Don’t let anyone else see you,” it’s clear that he is putting himself at risk. How do we feel about Fred getting in trouble? Hmmm, let me think…
The first scene of the entire show was of Hannah being taken away from June, and this week’s reminder, after all the terrible news about children being torn from the arms of their parents, was already a pain in the heart. This wasn’t the child we thought June would be saying goodbye to this week. But this was beautifully done. June struggled to balance everything she needed to do; she had to tell the truth in a child-friendly way, while not frightening her. She wanted to be remembered, but she also needed to protect her daughter from the brutality of Gilead and keep her safe.
Little Hannah is the cutest little poppet. She’s so brave. She didn’t understand what happened to her parents, and felt abandoned. She waited for them. At least this time, they both got to say goodbye.
It’s a fleeting visit, though. Seconds after Hannah leaves with her Martha and their guard, another car pulls up. June hides in the abandoned house, and Nick offers a vague, unconvincing cover story. When it doesn’t work, he’s bundled into the car, and their car is taken too. YOU HAD ONE JOB, NICK!
What The Chuff Is June Going To Do Now?
During the reunion, was anyone else just yelling at Nick and June to take out the guard and run away with Hannah together? Make a break for the border? They would have a short time before anyone missed them. Sigh. Instead, we have a heavily pregnant June — carrying a 9 pound baby, by the way — all alone in an abandoned house, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter. It looks bad, but remember, moments like this never pan out into grand action.
It won’t be long before Fred notices that they haven’t come back. Literally, a couple of hours at most. The first place he’ll look for them is the place he sent them. So I suspect this cliffhanger will last for a matter of moments before she’s back in that damn house again. I’d be happy to be wrong, but I don’t see June setting off on a snowy hike to Canada.
Conspiracy theory alert: Did Fred set Nick up? Have all the jibes about Nick being the ‘real father’ taken their toll? Probably not, as he still seems to trust Nick. And he wouldn’t put June at risk so close to the birth. UNLESS — HE’S TRYING TO SAVE HER! HAHAHAHAHA YEAH RIGHT. Though that would be a twist none of us saw coming…
Crime & Punishment: Gilead Edition
Even in Gilead, what Fred and Serena did to June this week was a crime. Even in Gilead. Handmaids are not concubines; they are not to be used for pleasure or whims, and raping a pregnant handmaid, thus endangering an unborn baby, is pretty much the worst crime. By Gilead’s standards, it was also a perversion of the Ceremony. Citizens have been punished for this: Warren lost his hand last season for adultery, and the guy beaten to death in episode 1’s Particicution was sentenced to death for raping a pregnant handmaid, whose baby died. In the book, a Wife was hanged for attacking her pregnant handmaid.
Then there’s Handmaid Justice. Marisa Tomei’s character was murdered by Emily, and her crime was accessory to rape. Whether it’s at the hands of the system or a vigilante, the Waterfords could face the death penalty for what they did to June this week.
The sticking point? The word of one woman is not enough.
Here’s what could happen. June could tell Aunt Lydia and request a visit from the doctor. Aunt Lydia knows that Fred has been violent before. Their testimony in addition to June’s might be enough to get the Waterfords in trouble. Fred and Serena could lose everything. But June would still lose her child — this time to strangers.
Would Handmaid Justice be more satisfying? At this point, I’m not sure anything other than the handmaids going full Kill Bill, or Luke and Moira arriving in a helicopter with huge guns, will be enough.
Remember this tantalising image from the Season 2 trailer?
Back in the predictions post, I wondered if this was Serena and Fred. Let’s be honest, that was probably wishful thinking,. But let’s use what we have learned so far to do some more educated guesswork.
We’ve seen a number of punishments already: Hanging, Particicution, mutilation and exile. We’ve not had a drowning. Does this mean that the crime is so unusual it required a different punishment? There are other weights at the bottom of the pool, so it’s not that unusual. Is this a private execution rather than a public one? Some of the punishments listed above have been relatively private as well. Is this a ‘choose your method’ situation, like the Duke of Clarence being drowned in wine in Richard III? Is it the dawn of a new, harsher era? Is the time of Judd still a possible threat? Does it happen elsewhere? I’m pretty sure this can’t be a sneaky punitive attack on refugees in Canada because of the crosses on the sides of the pool. Keep those fingers crossed though. If Luke and Moira die, I will riot.
There’s always a chance that this is a flashback, in which case, we have no chance of guessing it. But let’s weigh up the potential candidates. It literally could be anyone, but here are the ones that I think are the most likely:
Fred and Serena: If they dig up all the rules these two have broken, you could see why they might face an extraordinary punishment. Behind the scenes, maybe Fiennes has had enough, and perhaps Strahovski is not planning to return once she’s had her baby IRL.
Nick and June: These two have done some things! Adultery, rebellion and treason, for a start. But would they kill off the star? Doubtful. It would be the Ned Starkiest Ned Starking ever, if so.
Nick and Eden: Adultery, rebellion, treason again — albeit rather harsh on Eden, but does anyone care?
Isaac and Eden: That could be a really costly first kiss… Maybe Nick will set them up to get rid of them. Brutal, but efficient. Or maybe the two of them go on their own crime spree. Eden’s not happy, she’s got a gung-ho guy on her side and she’s angry with Nick and June. There’s motive there. Plus, no-one really cares about either of them, so that’s a bonus!
Place your bets in the comments!
If you’re going to pretend to give birth, at least take your tights off, Serena.
One of Fred’s fellow Commanders has got his eye on June. Could this be her next posting?
“Who are you to tell me what is in my power?” Er, Fred, she didn’t. She asked if it was possible. Just because you’ve got a non-birth to add to your list of embarrassing cock-ups!
“I’ll tell the baby about you.” You don’t say much, Rita. But you say the right things.
I’ve skimmed over the Nick and Eden thing, because, ugh, Eden. But COME ON, NICK! MAKE A LITTLE EFFORT! This is how you should have done it — with 3 truths and a little white lie: “I’m old enough to remember how things were before Gilead. And back then, it was against the law to be involved with someone as young as you. I can’t say I love you because I don’t know you well enough yet. It’s going to take some time.” Instead, you went for the technically true in part but evasive “I would never get involved with a handmaid. It would be suicide.” Eden is more perceptive than you thought. BE BETTER, NICK! YOU ARE MEANT TO BE A SPY WORKING UNDERCOVER! HOW ARE YOU SO RUBBISH AT LYING?
There are only three episodes left for season 2! The ordeal is nearly over!