Serena Joy bristles under the oppressive regime she helped create, while June pushes too far again and a rebellion rises.
Things are finally happening on "The Handmaid's Tale," or at least they're going to be soon. To this point, we've seen Offred bristle under the control of Gilead and even attempt to affect her own escape. But this world isn't going to be taken down by one handmaid alone. It needs an army for revolution. And every revolution needs a spark to kick things off. This one just got it.
It took the better part of the episode to get to that moment, but before we did we got to once again see the softer side of Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) attempt to emerge. Easily the most complex and conflicted character on the show, Serena helped create this hellish world but apparently didn't fully realize that she, too, would fall victim to it simply by being a woman.
We've seen over the course of two seasons little rebellions from Serena, clearly bristling under her inability to write or read or do any of the things that were her passion before the men of Gilead usurped power and control over the United States. This week, to really drive home just how restricted her life has become, Serena was the subject of our flashback sequences.
VIVA LA REVOLUTION
It's ironic -- but not unintentional -- that the flashbacks centered around the "first blood" struck in Gilead's rise to power. Serena and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) were greeted with hostility while attempting to speak at a university. Serena did finally stand her ground and fight her message. The catalyst used to usher her party into power was the fertility crisis, and we finally got some hard data on that.
"The rate of healthy births has dropped 61 percent in the past 12 months!" Serena shouted into the crowd. She tried to express that this is the biggest crisis the world is facing, and everyone -- women in particular -- has a duty to do their part to ensure there is a next generation. It's a common tactic seen over and over again, as a political party rides a certain emotional issue straight to victory at the polls. Get your constituents thinking about that one issue they have a visceral response to and they won't worry much about the rest of your plans. Political manipulation 101 there, and we've already seen it over and over again in our own history.
A revolution needs a spark, and for Gilead that may well have been the "terrorist" that tried to assassinate either Serena or Fred. Serena took a bullet in the hip, which explains the cane she sometimes uses. It only emboldened her, and while we haven't seen it yet, it's possible the assassination attempt may garner sympathy to her and her cause. We've yet to see how Gilead rose to power, but this would seem to be a pivotal moment.
Strahovski continues to give a monumental performance as the complex and bristling Serena Joy. In the present era, we again see her softening toward June (Elisabeth Moss), but it is in the tiniest of moments, and June simply can't help pushing her luck. It's as if she hasn't yet fully grasped just how angry Serena is overall in her life, and yet she's also not going to simply overturn the apple cart. We get the sense that Serena isn't quite sure what she wants to do about her station in this new life, even as she supports the overall edicts and values of Gilead. Or does she still?
One of the joys (pun intended) of watching Strahovski's performance is that we're never quite sure where her head is at at any given moment. She is the character who is most difficult to read for viewers, as well as June. This week, June thought she had Serena in her corner, and felt bold enough to beg to see her daughter Hannah.
To this point, June had been staying in the drawing room during her recovery from last week's scare, and Serena had gone so far as to invite her friends over and engage with them on a trip down memory lane of restaurants they'd all enjoyed in the prior world. But June, as she does, pushed too hard and too fast, letting her emotions get the best of her.
She did it with the nice man who was supposed to pick her up from the sign warehouse by forcing him to take her with him after the next safehouse had been revealed as exposed. Had she waited to allow the underground railroad work, June might well be in Canada. But she's overeager and impulsive, railing against her lack of control. She's much like Serena in that regard, which could be why she makes Serena bristle so. Unlike many of the other Wives, Serena is just as frustrated at being forced into this subservient role to her dolt of a husband.
On the other side of things, we see the importance of indoctrinating people at a young age into a new social system. We see it all the time in various social organizations around the world. Children are raised within the laws and edicts of a certain social construct and so they embrace that as their world and their reality. It's especially effective in an oppressive society like Gilead because there are no other worldviews to even compare against.
Nick's (Max Manghella) new wife is all of 15 years old and fully a believer in the message of Gilead. Because of her conviction, Eden (Sydney Sweeney) has already taken control of their new marriage. It's not because she's a dominant personality but because she appears to be fully indoctrinated into the philosophies and belief systems of Gilead. This means when Nick is uncomfortable sleeping with her because she's basically still a kid, she worries he may be a "gender traitor."
She even tells June she can't wait for Nick to come around because "it's our duty to God" to procreate. Finally, June warns Nick that if he doesn't, Eden might well turn him in and he'll find himself hanging on the wall. When he bristles at the thought, June shoots back, "You have to f-ck somebody you don’t want to? Poor thing." The show uses foul language sparsely, but when they drop it in there, it's definitely used effectively. After all, f-cking somebody she doesn't want to is the whole point of Offred's existence anymore. That and giving birth to a child so that someone can immediately take it away from her and raise it as their own.
Even the act of sex is nothing like we've seen on the show before. There is a strategically placed hole in a bedsheet and it is through this that a couple should procreate. After all, this is duty, not pleasure. Certainly, Eden took no pleasure in the act and didn't even move. Afterward, she simply said, "I can’t wait to see if it worked. If not we’ll just keep trying." The poor child has drank the Kool-Aid and asked for seconds.
VIVA LA REVOLUTION II
Because of this, it is essential that revolution happens now, before the next generation of fully-indoctrinated youths come into their own. The longer a new system has to entrench itself, the harder it is to overthrow. While we don't know yet how it happened, Ofglen may well prove to be the catalyst of the handmaid's revolution, and we are here for it.
It's about damned time we start to see some fight in this world. Gilead may be a brutal and powerful regime, but they are not infallible, and they are not invulnerable. It's hard to say yet what will come of Ofglen's sacrifice, but blowing up the new Red Center while it was filled with Commanders was certainly a huge move.
It's probably too much to hope that this was a coordinated attack across multiple cities, so we'll have to simply hope that the handmaids and their inevitable allies within the city can perhaps reclaim Boston. Even if this act of rebellion gets quashed, word of it will spread. It can still be the spark of revolution, even if it ultimately fails, because it proved that Gilead is not impervious to harm.
A handmaid got her hands on a detonator, but she couldn't have laced the new Red Center with explosives herself. This was a coordinated attack. Perhaps the first of many. Let the war begin. After sixteen episodes of darkness and despair, we're ready for a little hope!