“A Woman’s Place”
Oppressive snow falls gently upon majestic Gilead as handmaids are forced to wipe the blood off the walls and dispose of the hanging bodies before a trade delegation from Mexico arrives. Why are handmaids required to do this menial labor? They have plenty of strong arms and bodies, but the handmaids (chosen for their precious fertility) have to do this grunt work? I get tired of the endless praise heaped on the actors, particularly Moss and Strahovski. Either reviewers don’t know great performances, or they’re on the production’s payroll. Sometimes they do good work, but not all the time. As I’ve said before, Moss is best in scenes before the purge, but most of the time, she plays June like a frightened yellowtail in shark-infested waters. Strahovski plays Serena as though she knew June in high school and has hated her ever since. No, they’re not always good. In this episode, Strahovski gets her chance to shine. I suppose every character (even down to menial Rita) will get an episode eventually, but here we’re supposed to feel sorry for poor Serena and what she tried to do. She briefly flashes on a time when she and Fred made passionate love. Of course they have to quote Bible scripture to each other while they knock boots, but what are you gonna do?
In the present, they bring June in to talk to the Mexican trade delegation. She lies to them she chose to become a handmaid. The delegation appears to view handmaids as we would view the Amish: how cute, how quaint! The leader of the delegation, a woman, asks June if she is happy. She stammers. One would only have to examine Fred’s determined gaze to know that she is not happy, but understanding body language seems to be at a premium as much as kindness. The leader of the delegation brings up Serena’s book, A Woman’s Place, a treatise of “domestic feminism,” as well as the fact that women are not allowed to read the book. Fred is furious this woman was invited to the dinner in the first place, what with her questions, and Serena, for the first and (by my count) only time, brings up the idea of “bad optics.” I wonder how many times the phrase, unintended consequences pops up in Serena’s lexicon? In happier times, Fred and Serena make for a cute couple. They go to the movies and plan the revolution. The attacks will start in three weeks and then glory to God, Gilead will become a reality! It is here we learn it was Serena’s idea to make fertility a national way of life, although her antiquated notions of womanhood prove unpopular with progressives. It seems like her ideas were more in keeping with increasing the population, and less about terrorism and destruction, but I don’t care. She’s still a willing part of this madness, and for that she must pay.
The handmaids are to be paraded before the Mexican delegation like so many beauty pageant contestants, but Serena does not want the badly beaten and bruised handmaids up front with the rest of them. Bad optics, you see? One-eyed batshit crazy Janine protests until Lydia promises to give her a whole tray of desserts. I have to believe the delegation is not buying this pious attitude. The fear in their eyes and the violence in other eyes is enough proof for me, even if I wasn’t privy to the rumors. I suppose it’s sad for Serena that she was not permitted to aid in the creation of a government, but intellectuals don’t know any better, do they? I’ve said before this is the story of women willfully and deliberately participating in their own annihilation. June learns from her traveling companion that Mexico wants to trade with Gilead for handmaids because there must be some secret sauce that enables successful pregnancies. This is really strange. This is medieval bartering or some such nonsense. As Serena unpacks and moves into her beautiful new stolen home, she realizes she has nowhere else to go in her life because all of her responsibilities, goals, and dreams have been thrown into the trash along with her book. Before the Mexicans pack up and take off, June tells them the truth – that she was abducted, that she is raped, that she is abused. The delegation can do nothing for her, but I have to think this would hamper trade negotiations. Before they leave, one of them tells her Luke is still alive and that he will pass a note to him during study hall. This is a pretty good episode that nonetheless fails to evoke any pity in me for Serena.