SMART POWER (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
Oh, Canada. Are you too inclusive? Do you respect totalitarian regimes too much? Have you not taught your children about staring and assuming that people are princesses? The Waterfords take a little diplomatic jaunt to our neighbor to the north with mixed results. Meanwhile, back in the manse, Offred does some shit? I don’t know.
Serena tells Offred that she will be out of the house as soon as the baby is born. There is no protocol, per se, but in general, the Handmaids stick around for a few months to breastfeed the baby. Serena has had it, though, and she wants Offred out on her ass ASAP.
Let’s stick to the Waterfords first. Devil Fred and Serena are set to go to Canada, hoping to secure diplomatic relations with the country. Serena really doesn’t want to go, because her husband beat her with a belt, is a total devil dick, and she’s afraid of missing Offred’s glorious third trimester. She protests to Fred, and he tells her to shut up--he needs her to be a strong and beautiful example of the flower of Gileadean womanhood. Off the two go to Canada, with beetle-browed Nick (now with twice as much brooding) in tow.
Their reception in Canada is a bit Gemini-ish. The functionaries sent to greet them do a pretty good job showing this two-faced take on Gilead. While the main guy is super nice to them, one of the other people is ice cold, referencing the vacations he used to take to the good old US of A with his partner, you know, back before the whole executing gender traitors shit started up. Fred bares his teeth at him and tells him they are working on their tourist stuff. The woman in charge of handling Serena gives her a schedule of pictograms, and Serena’s face is pricelessly disappointed. In the car to the hotel, Serena seems to be soaking in the normality--people in all different clothing, couples making out on the street--just like it used to be. But when she gets that pictogram schedule, she’s reminded that she’s not a part of this real life.
Speaking of the Gileadean’s reception in Canada, a mass of protestors stand outside. Who should be there but Luke, holding a picture of his now destroyed family. Luke knows that June has been subjugated by the Waterfords, and he breaks through the cordon to take a weak swing at Fred and throw his picture in their faces. It is neither his best nor his worst work. All in all, Luke does a pretty good job in this episode. I will point out, though, a problem that one of my dear friends (shout out KP) has with Luke. He is always all about June, and hardly ever remembers to think about Hannah. He’s like not in the running for Father of the Year, this guy. Most of the time, he seems to have forgotten he is A FATHER at all. (I will stop making in-jokes now.) One might think that he would be like: my daaaaauuuuughter! But instead he is very Borat about it all. (My wiiiiiife!)
Nick feels bummed about the fact that he has been railing this dude’s wife on the reg. That will come up later.
Serena gets to tour a greenhouse with her handler, who tries to make conversation about hobbies, Serena’s love of knitting, and how she’s so happy she gets to work instead of sit around like a bitter, barren sellout like some other person who does look good in her teal and Melania stilettos. Serena is feeling like a woman out of her depth, and she eventually sneaks away to the hotel bar for some Riesling. (GROSS, BITCH). Anyway, a very handsome and nonchalant gentleman bellies up to the bar, orders some brown liquor, and lights up a cig. Let me tell you, my eyes about popped out of my head. I thought: people can smoke in bars in Canada?? It truly is a land of freedom. But no, don’t worry, the bartender tells him to put it out. He does, nonchalantly, and then just beams out that patented CIA sexy charm at Serena.
She makes him for a journalist, but he’s so much better than that. He’s a sexy ass spy for the United States of America, and he is here to recruit Serena. He offers her a baby of her own, a beach in Hawaii, and a pack of delicious cigarettes. He’d probably go down on her, too, if that would seal the deal. (Even blow jobs are illegal in Gilead, so you know there’s no cunnilingus to be had. They probably cut out your tongue for it.) All she needs to do is turn on Gilead and all of this can be hers. She rejects treason and coconuts (this is the best line that has ever been uttered on this show, I love it, I want a tattoo of it). Sexy spy guy shrugs and leaves the cigs and matches.
Nick skulks into the bar where Luke sits, drowning his sorrows in Molsons. He’s like, hey guy, I rail your wife constantly. She almost killed me with sex overdosing. No, he doesn’t say that. Instead, he tells Luke that June is pregnant and basically okay. Luke remembers he has a daughter and asks, but Nick doesn’t have that information. He gives Nick a packet of letters from women in Gilead. Luke is drunk and might want to a) fight Nick, b) cry on his shoulder, c) kiss him just a little bit? But he gets it together and takes the letters.
Back at the hotel, Devil Fred is crowing over how well the negotiations are going. Hell, they might get to extradite asylum seekers! I’m like: Jesus Christ, Canada, grow some ovaries.
Luke takes the letters and he and Moira look them over. As Chekhov would say, boomski goes the bombshell. They publish the letters, and the next morning, Canada has definitely cooled to those completely fucked up monsters of Gilead. There will be no trade deals, and get the fuck out of the country. On the way out, protesters surround the car, and Moira makes eye contact with Fred, holding a sign with her real name. Fred rants about how they can’t even control their people.
Let’s check in on the boring house, shall we? Devil Fred has installed a new Guardian in the house, and he is young and super fervent. He follows Offred and Janine on their walk, and when Janine gets mouthy, he smashes her with the butt of his rifle and drags Offred away. Offred decides to go around and collect godmothers for her baby. She starts with Rita, who I love but never talk about. I love Rita so much. She is a treasure. Rita is like, I’ll try, but I literally have no power here. But I’ll look after the kid as best I can. Offred also approaches Aunt Lydia about it, and she’s like: why are you trying to trick me? But then she remembers she loves babies and gets on board.
Eden, Nick’s baby bride, makes Jello and uses it to flirt with the new Guardian in front of Rita and Offred. Rita is giving Jim Halpert level face to the camera at this. Facially, she’s like: can you believe this shit? Rita hates Eden and I love it.
When the Waterfords return, Nick tells her that he saw Luke and told him that she was basically okay. And then Nick tells her he loves her, and Offred, for the second time, is like: cool. Cool story, bro. (I like this, too. There is no love here.)
Serena fingers the matchbook from the Hawaiian hotel for a minute, then throws it into the fire. I’m sure the CIA was bummed their bug burnt up. So I guess she’s not ready to be redeemed at this juncture. What does the show want? Does it want us to feel bad for her? It’s kind of hard when she’s telling Offred to hurry up and shit out that kid and hit the bricks. And yet, her arc must be moving toward something. Mustn’t it?
Serena is, of course, always the symbol of the price of hubris. She thought she could create this monstrosity and not be damaged by it. She is, and always will be, the figure that stands in for the ways that women of privilege (WHITE WOMEN OF MEANS) think that they can cheat the system that is built on oppressing the people below them. These are the women who voted for Trump. Who turn their eyes away from institutional racism and sexism because they’ve never experienced it, having been cushioned by their income and color. The bottom line, though, is that they end up just as oppressed as everyone else, it just takes longer. And I’d like to think it has a special sting.
It’s easy to talk about the patriarchy, and the ways that it will get women in the end, regardless of status. But I think you could apply this to all of us--the things we turn our eyes away from, whether it’s climate change or disgusting and draconian immigration policies, or the slow whittling away of healthcare (both reproductive and just, like, regular), police brutality, or the erosion of civil rights. Eventually these things will touch everyone, man and woman, rich and poor, black and white. Well, maybe not the rich as much, but still.
I find it hard to believe that Serena will wake up and cast off her chains. She’s not going to Thelma and Louise with June. But she is going to be ground down by the same bastards.