Previously, on The Handmaid’s Tale: June went to D.C. with the Waterfords; Fred got cosy with a High Commander; June tried to bargain with a Swiss lady, and Nick got promoted from Nearly-Pointless to Actively-Terrible. Way to go, Nicky! Ugh. Here’s my recap for episode 6 if you missed it!
This week: June goes on a quest; Moira and Emily become BFFs; Serena goes house hunting (Gilead-style) in D.C. — and Aunt Lydia unveils a new mass execution device. Fun times! Spoilers are ahead, so run away now if you want to avoid them, but if not, let’s dive into episode 7, ‘Under His Eye’, aka A Tale of Two Salvagings.
We’re back in Boston, and we open with Aunt Lydia’s new toy: the Widowing Fork, a development of the symbolic rope that handmaids used to hold onto at Salvagings, to signify their complicity with an execution by hanging. The Fork is also a cleaner and more efficient form of Particicution than beating someone to death with their bare hands. So that’s something! We’re told there have been 4 mass-hangings this week. It seems like the district-wide Salvagings threatened way back in episode 3 have finally come to pass, and the handmaids are being used as Gilead’s official “Holy Instrument.” (Is it too soon for a Holy Hand Grenade joke?) There are other signs of Boston getting even more unpleasant as well: ‘veils’ are starting to appear…
June’s getting more and more reckless, drawing the ever watchful gaze of Aunt Lydia. She pressures Frances, the Martha from the Mackenzie house, in public, to try and set up a meeting with Hannah. Ofmatthew is keeping a close eye on her as well, but June is too caught up in her scheming to notice. Once she has a way to see Hannah, she recruits an unwitting Mrs Lawrence to be her cover, a move that seems highly risky and even cruel. If there are any Nice Ones among the ruling class, Mrs Lawrence is one of them. Probably. But she’s vulnerable and unpredictable. Commander Lawrence keeps her hidden away not for selfish reasons but to keep her safe. Lingering on the bridge, for a moment we wonder if she is suicidal, and then she reveals that she has bipolar disorder. When she was younger, she wanted children, but Joseph didn’t. She mentions, almost in the same breath, that her condition was difficult to manage, that they were always adjusting her meds. And so, a little more light is shone on the Lawrence household. We might have hoped that Commander Lawrence refused to ‘perform the Ceremony’ out of a disgust for the practice, or out of respect for his wife, but perhaps it is just as simple as not wanting to have children at all. The ambiguity continues with him, but this episode is a nice opportunity to get to know Mrs Lawrence anyway.
In episode 2, Mrs Lawrence deftly saved the day when June and the Marthas were panicking. She is more capable than many give her credit for. She is almost excited to take part in an adventure with June, when June confesses the real reason behind their walk. She trusts June to take care of her. But June is (understandably) distracted by the prospect of seeing Hannah. She puts Mrs Lawrence in danger, and thereby risks the fury of Commander Lawrence — whose only emotional responses so far have been connected to his love for his wife. She also misses the glaring warning sign; the Guardian, who Frances said could be trusted and would be on duty at the school, is not there. It has only been a few hours since she spoke with Frances. ‘Oh crap’ moment, number 1.
At the school, Mrs Lawrence does well at the first test, but away from June, she starts to panic. June is frantically stumbling around the perimeter, trying to listen for Hannah’s voice inside, when she is fetched by a Guardian. Mrs Lawrence uses June’s real name in front of the Guardians, in a momentary slip. By the time they get home, she calls her Ofjoseph again, but it might be too late. June manages to avoid a telling off from the Commander by deflection, saying that Mrs Lawrence “came alive” outside, but I’m not convinced June had any other motive in mind for this than saving herself and making excuses for having manipulated her into coming along. This was the least stealthy plan in the world, and it didn’t work. This doesn’t bode well. ‘Oh crap’ moment, number 2.
As it turns out, Gilead moved fast. Really fast. Within hours, the Mackenzies had been moved, Frances was arrested, and presumably, Guardian Parker was removed from his post and punished as well. Now, Hannah is further away than ever. Not even Alma’s Commander knows where they are. Hannah is gone. Frances is up on the platform, ready for the handmaids to work the Widowing Fork. June has to kill her. Gilead put Frances on the scaffold, not June. But it was the result of June’s scheming. And they both know it.
Remember last week, when I said that maybe Aunt Lydia’s help is not something you want? This is what it looks like. And Aunt Lydia’s accomplice was Ofmatthew.
“You should be thankful. Your temptation’s been lifted. (…) I saved you. We saved you.”
For June, it’s not temptation that has gone; it’s hope. And she is furious. She can’t attack Aunt Lydia, but she immediately goes for Ofmatthew. She is shielded by the other handmaids at first, and then dragged away. Considering how many Guardians are nearby, and the fact they were literally just at a hanging for the crime of “endangering a child”, she gets away with attacking a pregnant handmaid. For now at least…
“Canada needs to grow a pair and tell Gilead to fucking go to hell.”
‘So near, and yet so far’ describes June and Hannah this week, but the opposite is true for Team Canada, who aren’t perhaps as safely far away from Gilead as we might have hoped. Bloody politics, eh? Fred and George
Weasley Winslow gloat about the progress they are making in terms of Canada’s willingness to discuss extradition, which has nothing to do with Nichole; the baby is a means by which to apply pressure, in order to get what they really want. And that includes Team Canada, who, I’m going to declare now and forever, must be protected AT ALL COSTS OR WE RIOT.
Emily faces a grilling about her criminal acts while in Gilead, from Swiss Lady. Sylvia is there to support her, and although she is determined to be supportive no matter what, she can’t help but flinch at hearing some of the things Emily did. Later, when Emily confides in Moira, Moira just says ‘OK’ and holds her hand. Moira is the best. When she assures Emily that they are “good”, she means that they are going to be alright, but it’s also a reassurance that they aren’t bad people, despite some of the things they have done. Unlike earlier, when Emily told Sylvia she was OK, with Moira you get the feeling that she might mean it.
Moira did some great work trying to cheer Emily up as well, firstly with some unsuccessful attempts to see if they had any “gay in common”, and then, by going to a bird-dog protest together, where Emily was able to find her way back to her voice again. They ended up in a cell, but (hopefully) just for a short time. If it helped the cause, it was worth it.
“There is no peace with Gilead.”
Serena and Fred are still in D.C. and seem to be enjoying themselves. Serena is getting schmoozed by Mrs Winslow, who shows her a huge “unrestored” house. As they stroll around admiring the rooms, they ignore most of the evidence of the people who used to live there. It could have just been abandoned, of course, but considering all the mess and smashed glass, it looks more like evidence of a struggle. Mrs Winslow shrugs and thinks that “Baptists” used to live there, so we can assume they were rounded up for heresy. None of that matters to Serena, because she’s seen a nursery, and Mrs Winslow casually referred to them having bunk beds for the “kids”. Serena is terrifying enough in pursuit of one child, and now her new friend is nonchalantly suggesting children in the plural. Yikes.
With June far away, and their dreams tantalisingly close, the Waterfords are feeling smug, so it’s time for a date night. Serena is far smarter than Fred, and she’s accurately figured out the political situation for herself, but Fred seems to successfully fob her off because she wants to believe he will get Nichole back soon. As they go to their fancy (boring) party, it’s the closest they have ever been in the show. They are on top of the world here; Fred’s new chum is delighted with him, and Serena is a hit with the Real Housewives of
Stepford D.C. They celebrate with a (rather flat and lacklustre) Viennese Waltz, with just enough random Tango moves thrown in at the end to suggest they will be getting jiggy with it later…
Callbacks and references
These were a little thin on the ground this week, but we got some big discussion points instead. Up first, it’s the crimes cited at the Widowing Fork. One woman was accused of “mistreating” her baby — by apparently leaving the infant to cry. Frances was accused of “endangering a child” — which in this case only meant conspiring to let her mother see her. One particular news story this week may have made this episode resonate even more, and it seems Margaret Atwood agrees, as she tweeted this link yesterday:
The Handmaid’s Tale comes to life in Alabama. Women must heed the warning | Zoe Williams https://t.co/thFxnz0iFy— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) July 2, 2019
It really is coming true, isn’t it?
It isn’t really a surprise that Gilead isn’t great at treating mental health conditions and disorders. Mrs Lawrence struggled to manage her bipolar disorder pre-Gilead, and we can be fairly certain that she doesn’t have access to medications anymore, or there would be little need to hide her away at home. What do we think Gilead’s official stance would be? Is Mrs Lawrence afforded any protection because of her status? Is she at risk of being sent to the Colonies because she is unwell? Is there a black market supply of medicine? Has June doomed her by exposing her to Naomi Putnam and the Guardians?
Next time, it’s a long-anticipated look at Aunt Lydia’s backstory, yay! And we’ve passed the halfway mark, so let’s have a little singalong to celebrate! All together now: Oh, we’re halfway there! Whoa, killing with a prayer. Take a breath — we’ll make it, I swear! Whoa, will Canada grow a pair?
Header Image Source: Hulu