We’re getting close to the end of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale, and I have to say, we still have a long way to go in terms of any real plot movement. Will next week’s finale be a jam-packed action romp? (Not likely.) A perfectly contained, Big Little Lies-style conclusion, where all the plotlines are tied up neatly, impossibly, in one hour? (No, because this show has already been picked up for several more seasons and will likely be reserving some of its material for the future.) So please don’t tell me it’s going to build to one huge cliffhanger.
The episode begins as the handmaids line up to wish Janine well as she departs for her new family, having successfully birthed a child for the last one. We know this isn’t going to go well, and so does June. After Aunt Lydia packs Janine off into the back of a red van, June calls out: “Does she seem alright?” Um, she definitely does not seem alright, June. Janine is rocking her full-on delusional crazy smile, because she’s positive that Warren, her last commander, is going to spirit her and her baby away to Canada under cover of the night. (So when the red van drops Janine off at her new house in the next scene, she seems less sure about all this.)
After Janine is sent off, June finds Alma, the fellow handmaid who is involved in that resistance group Mayday we keep hearing about, and tells her she wants to help. Good for June! It only took her like four episodes to make this decision. Unfortunately, Alma ices her. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says, and sends June packing.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Putnam, the woman who now is mother to Janine’s biological daughter, is taking a little stroll with her new baby and Serena Joy. This baby does not like Mrs. Putnam, and I don’t blame her; she comforts the child by shaking her like she’s a bag of fried chicken. Not to mention, she has the nerve to complain to Serena Joy about the hardships of parenthood. Serena Joy is not here for that.
As I type this recap, I realize there’s a lot of walking around in this episode—even for The Handmaid’s Tale, a show that is already 90 percent walking around. In this scene, June’s heading to the market with Ofglen—the new Ofglen, remember—and listlessly agreeing to Ofglen’s preposterous claim that she’s jealous of Janine’s big new house, when Alma approaches and takes her aside for a private chat on an empty street corner. Of course, what could be more conspicuous than two handmaids having a private chat on an otherwise empty street corner, but whatever. Alma says she couldn’t talk previously because there were too many eyes and ears around, but she does have an assignment for June from the resistance. June must return to the Jezebels club (last week’s sketchy sex hotel) and pick up a package from someone—that very night.
“How?” June asks, bewildered. “I don’t know, figure it out,” Alma says, not suffering any fools. Alma’s kind of mean, but I like her.
That night, June waits in the commander’s office, hoping to trick him into going back to the club with her. And let’s be real, it’s not that hard, because June is apparently as good an actress as Elisabeth Moss is; after some heavy breathing and coquettish smiles, the two are back in the car on their way to the club, with Nick behind the wheel. Nick is not loving this, but the commander is. He’s riding high on this little boost of apparent desirability—flirting shamelessly with June, and mocking “no fun” Nick. (He’s got a point there, anyway.) June is playing along, and seems to be at least partially enjoying the opportunity to burn Nick.
They arrive at the club, but June’s plan has a hitch—the commander doesn’t feel the need to wine and dine her like he did the first time they came here. This time he wants to go straight up to the room and get down to business. “I thought we’d have a drink at the bar, like last time,” June says. The bar is where she’s supposed to pick up the package. “Maybe after, if there’s time.”
Nick, watching sullenly from the corner, warns the commander to be careful. They planned the trip so quickly, he says, they don’t know who they might run in to. “You’re a good man Nick, always looking out for me,” the commander says.
Hmm. Do I sense some foreshadowing?
Back at the house, Serena Joy is sewing a little blanket by a crackling fire. She finishes up and places it in a little box—a box full of pristine, never-worn baby clothes. She gets all teary, and then heads downstairs for a cup of tea. Rita, the house’s Martha, joins her; she heard Serena in the kitchen and mistook her for the commander coming home hungry. “He’s in his office,” Serena Joy says. There’s an awkward pause. Sure. They both decide to go with it, but Martha does offer Serena Joy something with “a bit more flavor” (booze) than chamomile tea. Serena Joy invites Rita to join her for a drink. Did Serena Joy know Rita lost a child? He was 19 when he was killed in the war. Serena Joy did not know. “I’m humbled by your son’s sacrifice,” she says. So close to a bonding moment, these two!
Over at Janine’s new digs, it’s ceremony night—and Janine is not having it. The new couple can’t understand why she kicks the commander off of her mid-“ceremony” and runs to the corner to scream and cry. Crazy Janine might actually be the sanest person in this universe, now that I think about it. “He’s coming for me!” she sobs, of Warren, who is obviously not coming for her.
Speaking of problematic sexual encounters! June is letting the commander have his way with her at the hotel room—all in the service of getting this package from Rachel at the bar downstairs. But afterward, when she again suggests going for a drink, the commander calls her out: “I’m not dumb,” he says. “I know why you wanted to come back here.” Uh oh. He knows she wanted to meet someone, so he “made arrangements.” There’s a knock on the door, and Moira shows up. Well, that’s not who June had in mind, but she’s happy to see her anyway. Moira, on the other hand, is pissed. “What the f— are you doing back here?” she asks, as the commander goes to take a shower. June explains her mission, and then Moira gets really pissed. “Just go home and do what they say,” she says.
But for June this is all about her daughter Hannah, not herself. She joined the resistance so that she could one day go find her. And in fact, she reminds Moira that Moira once said they would find Hannah together. “You promised, you f—ing pinky swore. Or don’t you remember?” June asks, before repeating Moira’s own words. “Do not let them grind you down, you keep your f—ing shit together, you fight.” Moira’s not buying it. She leaves in a huff and June breaks down in tears. This mission was a bust.
That night, June is back in bed at home when Serena Joy wakes her up in a panic: “Get dressed, quick.” Janine has run away from her new family, stolen her baby back from the Putnams, and is now standing on the ledge of a bridge with the baby, ready to jump. When June arrives, she attempts to talk her down. “Change is coming,” she says. “There’s hope.”
Personally, this seems a little premature. I mean, June has been in the resistance for all of a day, and already she’s peddling hope? Janine seems similarly unconvinced, so June rolls out a more powerful argument: Janine has to do what’s best for her daughter—to “give her the chance to grow up,” and Janine, reluctantly, agrees. She gives the baby to June. Then she jumps.
Sadly for Janine, she’s not actually dead. We see her in the hospital, hooked up to some machines, while Aunt Lydia sits in the corner. “May the Lord keep you in his mercy, you stupid girl,” she says. Just when I thought Aunt Lydia was getting soft!
Janine isn’t the only one who will have to pay for her actions: In the next scene, Serena Joy and Mrs. Putnam watch as Commander Putnam gets carted away in a black van for having had the illicit relationship that led Janine to believe he was in love with her in the first place. “Hopefully he’ll only receive an admonishment,” Serena Joy says to Mrs. Putnam, as the two women watch the van drive away. The baby, as usual, is screaming, and Mrs. Putnam has no idea what to do with her. “Why don’t you worry about your own husband?” the dreaded Mrs. Putnam snaps. “We all know what happened with your first handmaid. Men don’t change.”
Over at the butcher shop, meanwhile, June gets a little surprise: An extra package along with her weekly ration of meat. She grabs it and rushes out, giddy. At home, she opens the note: “Blessed be, bitch. Here’s your damn package. Xoxo, Moira.” June sinks to the ground, crying tears of joy. There’s hope for her and Hannah after all, it would appear. And much as Moira complains, it looks like this mission is what she needed, too—because the next thing we know, she’s tucking a blade into her sleeve, killing a client, and then driving away, blood-covered, in his car. “Hang on, sugar, I’ll be right there.” How Moira will singlehandedly spring June and her fellow handmaids from their Gilead oppression, I have no idea, but whatever’s in that package had better be good. Until next week!
Margaret Atwood, Elisabeth Moss, and the Women of The Handmaid’s Tale
From left: Margaret Atwood, Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, Ann Dowd, Madeline Brewer, and Yvonne Strahovski.
Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and consulting producer of its Hulu series.
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