Is "The Handmaid's Tale" finally beginning to turn the corner from utter despair into something decidedly more positive? Okay, probably not, but it at least seems to be setting the stage for some dramatic shift to the status quo, or planting the "Seeds" of change, if you will, with this aptly titled episode.
It's a good thing, too, after last week's downer took any last glimmer of hope we had and stomped it into a pulp before setting it on fire and launching it straight into a black hole. What we're saying is it was pretty dark watching the Gilead machine systematically break June (Elisabeth Moss) down until she was just Offred, the blank-eyed breeding sow.
That's how she spent much of this episode, too, blandly going through the motions of life in this hellish society eating her prescribed meals, enduring Aunt Lydia's (Ann Dowd) regular checkups, and even going on strained walks with Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).
Much of this series has been presented through the ongoing narrative of June's inner monologues, the titular "Handmaid's Tale," but June's voice went silent at the end of the last episode, settling into a monotonous repeat of "We've been sent good weather," one of Gilead's countless empty platitudes. That voice stayed silent throughout this hour as well, even as her despair deepened when she started bleeding vaginally.
By the final moments, June was back, though, and no longer talking about the weather.
The seed that was planted in June was the literal seed that was planted in June. After enduring silently all the signs of an impending miscarriage, June finally collapsed in the rain. It was Nick (Max Manghella) who found her, and just in time, apparently. By the next scene, June was in a hospital and a heart monitor was registering the strong heartbeat of her baby, having survived whatever was happening with her body.
We were worried when June started spotting, but grew downright terrified when it looked like she was blankly sitting in a pool of her own blood. Without that monologue to guide us, we couldn't fathom what she was thinking, looking across that sea of red. Why wasn't she telling the Waterfords? Or even Aunt Lydia?
Honestly, we're not sure if we would have, either, as who knows the consequences for a Handmaid that loses a baby. Surely she would be blamed for it, and we've seen what kinds of punishments Gilead likes to dole out.
After discovering that the baby growing inside of her -- Nick's baby -- was still alive, June rediscovered her voice. Only she no longer spoke inside her head. She spoke aloud so that her baby could hear her. This had to at least be in part because Serena had earlier emphasized the importance of the baby hearing her voice, considering the plan is for the Waterfords to take the baby and raise it as their own while June is shipped to another family to breed again.
Now we don't know how the baby felt about things, but we were thrilled to hear the words coming out of June's mouth. "You're tough, aren't you?" she said to her baby. "Now you listen to me, okay? I will not let you grow up in this place. I won't do it. Do you hear me? They do not own you. And they do not own what you will become. You hear me? I'm gonna get you out of here. I'm gonna get us out of here. I promise you. I promise."
It's such an important line, "They do not own what you will become." June had resigned herself to this world, but the thought of subjecting her child to it is something she cannot bear. Especially after watching a group of young girls married off to Gilead's "most valuable guardians," one of which was Nick. Thoughts of her other daughter -- already in the care of another family and not yet of age -- must also be weighing on her, but if they are, they were not addressed here.
Thus far, Nick has gone along with the madness of this world, at least on the surface, with very little question. He's done his part to help June feel more comfortable, and even went so far as to try and help her escape Gilead, but for the most part, he's been lying low just to try and survive. Of course, the life of a driver isn't nearly as hellish or degrading as that of a handmaid.
This week, though, Nick was thrown into the fire when Mr. Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) -- in his own seething jealousy -- orchestrated a way by which to "reward" Nick. He tried to promote him out of his household, but when that failed, he instead had him married to a child bride in a new ceremony.
With child birth at the center of this society, it's important to start breeding as soon as possible. Nick, though, was clearly uncomfortable upon being married to a girl whose face he didn't see until the ceremony was completed. And now, he was expected to quickly impregnate her.
Serena stole a few moments with the new bride, Eden (Sydney Sweeney) to try and mentally prepare her for what was to come, and as always, we're not quite sure what to think. She tells the young girl that it is okay to love your husband and for sex to be a pleasant experience for both the man and the woman, which seemed to be news to Eden, who parroted that lust was a sin. It would appear that Gilead has reverted to the notion that sex is for procreation and the woman should take no joy in it. By telling Eden otherwise, Serena is staging her own mini revolution.
Serena has been a bubbling cauldron of rage since we first met her. With moments like this one with Eden, and her almost motherly affection for June, it would seem she is just about ready to boil over. She was utterly flummoxed when she saw Aunt Lydia patiently taking notes about June's health and pregnancy with a pencil. In Gilead, a society that Serena helped build, it is forbidden for women to write.
"Special dispensation for Aunts. More of a burden than anything," Lydia told her dismissively. It would be anything but a burden for Serena, who gave up everything for Gilead. She helped draft the laws by which Gilead would rule, but perhaps didn't think they would necessarily apply to her. And yet they did, and she has been relegated to second-class status ever since.
While the men enjoy the fruits of her labors -- in every way imaginable, as we saw one of their whorehouses last season -- Serena has been expected to be content to shut down her mind and play the happy housewife. Her opinions are no longer valued because she is merely a Wife, and yet Fred is a small man driven by petty jealousies and insecurities.
Don't get us wrong, Serena is still a terrible person, as she helped design this dystopia and her treatment of June has been horrid at times. But in a way, she's become a victim of her own oppressive and nasty vision. But that doesn't mean she isn't starting to see that the execution of that vision maybe isn't quite as ideal as she'd imagined. And that could make her useful in facilitating change in the revolution that has to be coming.
It is coming, right? If not, then why are we watching? We need to see this world toppled, sooner or later!
Meanwhile, in the Colonies, Janine (Madeline Brewer) may turn out to be the worst thing that ever happened to Gilead. We can see the men quickly regretting the decision to send her there. Pairing her fiery passion and capacity for facilitating hope with Emily's (Alexis Bledel) keen mind and seething rage at the society that literally took away her ability to enjoy intimacy, they could be the most dangerous pairing since Batman and Robin.
On the surface, it might seem silly that Janine focused on the flowering weeds growing out of the wasteland they are forced to dig into -- we still don't know if this digging serves some purpose or is just mindless punishment, but the latter seems pointless even for Gilead -- but those flowers are a symbol. Beauty and life can flourish anywhere, so long as it is willing to fight through the ugliness to find the light.
Janine represents that light and it quickly proves infectious. There is a lesbian couple that met in the Colonies. One of them is dying because that's what you do there. You work and then you die. But what if that wasn't all?
Thanks to Janine's inextinguishable light, she convinced the women to get married in a private little ceremony. She even offered some of the flowers she'd found as a bouquet. Shortly thereafter, the sicker of the two women died, and Emily couldn't see the point of any of it.
"We're cows being worked to death and you're dressing up the slaughterhouse for them," she shouted at Janine. But Janine knew different. She had given that woman a moment of happiness before she died. And she had given her still-living wife a glimmer of happiness that may yet burn inside of her. For the women who gathered around the little ceremony, they got to witness a moment of genuine love, and normalcy. That's worth fighting for.
It may not even be a spark yet, but at the very least, Janine has planted a seed. Narratively speaking, something has to come of this Colony storyline or we wouldn't keep coming back to it, and we wouldn't have two of our strongest characters there. This is all going somewhere, and we bet Janine is at the heart of it.
She is the seed that could not be broken and now, in the wastelands of the Colonies, she will grow into a mighty force that may well topple an empire. Maybe she's not crazy after all. Suddenly, we're not quite so miserable watching this show.