Politics were front and center on this week’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE, but not in the way they normally are. It’s wasn’t the classic feeling that the world of Gilead reminds us of politics today, and that there is nothing more political that a woman’s body. Of course, all those themes were still present, but this episode embraced politics in a much more literal way, showing us the actual dealings of Gilead, focusing on Commander Waterford and Serena’s involvement and how they presented themselves. Though the episode was an interesting new perspective, something felt off about it; it seemed like a different show than the one we have been watching for half a season.
“A Woman’s Place” revolves around a Mexican ambassador coming to visit Commander Waterford for an unknown trade deal. The first sign that something is a bit odd about this comes when Serena lets Offred know that she will be joining them to meet the ambassador, and that she better say the right thing. The second sign that something is odd is the big one: Ambassador Castillo is a woman. Cue gasp. This reveal takes Offred by surprise, as it does the audience, and she flusters over her words a little. One would think that if Serena really wanted Offred to give good answers, she would have warned her about the gender of the ambassador. But where would the fun be in that?
Ambassador Castillo, with her bright pantsuit, and her having rights, is remarkably out of place in the Waterfords’ living room. Even more out of place is the way she talks to Offred, essentially questioning her as if being a handmaid was a choice. The Commander and Serena egg her on from the sidelines and Offred gives a weak answer about how she is doing good work. Then, the kicker. Castillo asks Offred if she is happy. It’s almost too on the nose, too idiotic of a question, the tension too high, but Elisabeth Moss once again crushes it, as she manages to get the lie of her happiness through her teeth.
The rest of the episode rotates around the ways that Gilead, the city, and the Commander change for this trade visit. This throughline is interrupted only a few times, the first being for the almost love triangle that Offred is in, though most love triangles involve a lot less fear. After last week’s actually consensual sex with Nick, he can barely keep his hands off of her. Additionally, the scrabble games with Waterford have gotten more intimate, as he requests a kiss from her, and she complies. It’s a power move from both of them, and it’s yet to be seen who has the upper hand, but there is no way that either of these men will end well for her.
The other interesting thing that sways from the main plot is the flashbacks. As opposed to flashing back to Offred, as we are so accustomed to, this week takes us down the tragic past of Serena. Her and Waterford were always pious, even when their marriage had real love and desire in it, as shown in a scene where they scramble to get each other’s clothes off, while still praising that it be fruitful and for Him. Later, it’s revealed that Serena was an author, and wass working on writing about the idea that we are all too familiar with, that women need to remember their place as childbearers. Of course, we all know those ideas really take off, but Serena herself is trapped out of the sphere of influence because, as she wrote about, it is not “A Woman’s Place.” This story leaves the viewer torn between sympathy for Serena, given that she was shut out of a man’s world, but it’s overshadowed by contempt for her. What else did she expect? She had a powerful hand and taking down her own gender, so it’s hard to feel sorry for her, even though her situation is such a tragedy.
In the present, she helps host a party for Castillo, one that showcases Gilead, but more importantly the handmaids. Serena makes sure none of the girls with bruises are on display, as they must make a good case for their trade. At this point, it’s becoming all too clear what this trade will be, and as one of the handmaid’s spells it out for Offred, “they’re trading us.” Of course they are. What else would it be? Why else would Castillo inquire as to Offred’s happiness? Though not shocking to the viewer, this news stabs Offred in the heart as she realizes her lies might be a reason for her and the other handmaids to be bought and sold like cattle.
These realization leads the hands down best scene in the episode. Castillo comes by to give Offred a gift, thanking her for their talk. Offred hesitates a moment, and then tells Castillo that she lied. That she is dreadfully unhappy. She gets raped every month. The show, and the character, finally using the word “rape” was a powerful moment, letting the world know just how terrible the situation truly is. Of course, even with that entire speech (Elisabeth Moss is again impeccable), Castillo is not convinced. Her city has not had a child in six years, and they don’t care about the humanitarian costs. It’s crushing. The world’s quest for children will permit them to destroy human lives.
Just as the episode is about to end on a bummer of a note, Castillo’s assistant is left alone with Offred and reveals out of nowhere that her husband is still alive. There has been no build up at all for this twist, and there is no knowing how legitimate it is. Much like a lot of this episode, it feels out of left field, not in sync with the rest of the story. It would be great if Luke was alive, but it doesn’t feel like the same tone of the bleakness of the rest of the show, feels more like blockbuster science fiction. And if anyone is going to be alive in a plot twist, it better be Moira. But only time will tell, if Luke is alive, and if the show will keep down this new path or return to the subtle rebellion of previous episodes.
Season 1, Episode 6 (S01E06)
The Handmaid’s Tale airs Wednesday on Hulu
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor