Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and the Missus (Yvonne Strahovski) set out to enjoy a lovely trip to Canada on "The Handmaid's Tale," but when some truths emerged, things took a decidedly ugly turn.
Granted, things are very ugly in Gilead, as we've witnessed for for the past two seasons, but a carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign has tried to keep the rest of the world in the dark as to the humanitarian crisis that exists in the former United States. By the end of this hour, though, it looks like the truth is finally starting to emerge and there are going to be difficult times ahead for the new nation.
All everyone ever talks about in association with "The Handmaid's Tale" is Elisabeth Moss, but that's underplaying the powerfully restrained performance of Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Waterford, the co-executor of the Gilead nation now trapped within the very rules she created.
This season, the layers of her life have been peeled away bit by bit, revealing the complex inner turmoil she struggles with in her daily existence.
It's done a lot to explain her occasionally brutal relationship toward Offred. She cannot lash out at her husband, as she built a patriarchal world that stripped away her right to protest anything he might say or do, and so her frustration has only one direction to go, and Offred bears the brunt of it.
"Show Them a Strong Gilead Wife"
Either Fred Waterford is delusional about the mental state of his wife, or he doesn't care. The latter is more likely, as his arrogance and the arrogance of the patriarchy has only grown in recent episodes. That hubris will likely be his undoing, and we wouldn't be surprised if it came from Serena. It has been a very long time since she has looked at him with anything like love.
And yet he expected her to go to Canada and play the dutiful wife, putting on a fake face for the world that she loves her new subservient life. And once again -- as we were screaming at our screens -- she fulfilled her wifely duties and did just that, all the while bristling underneath. We know this is the society she helped create, but doesn't she just want to scream?
Scratch that, we know she just wants to scream. She's done it before. She is dying under the yoke of Gilead oppression, and yet at every turn she bites her tongue and endures. Last week, she endured being beaten. This week, she endured the stares of the Canadians, the disdain in their eyes and she endured even when that turned to venom by the close of the hour.
It would appear that Serena is determined to quash her own frustrations and do what she intellectually believes is right for Gilead. Emotionally, it's very difficult, and she realizes that the biggest temptation for her to defy is June (Moss). It's always June. And so, she declares quite detached -- this is her defense mechanism, after all -- that June will be leaving the Waterford house immediately after the baby is born.
Handmaids are supposed to stay with their babies until the child is weaned, but Serena is within her right to do this, and the sooner she can get rid of June and focus on the child she's always wanted, the sooner she'll have the distraction she so desperately needs from her ongoing misery.
As for June, the declaration only puts a timeline on her own defiance. She has no idea how she can possibly free herself from this situation, but she feels more urgently than ever that she must, and for the show's narrative, that timeline is key to keeping things fresh and interesting.
There are four episodes left in the season, and she is in her third trimester. All of these artificial deadlines tell us we're headed toward a collision of significant events, and this week's major development should hasten our arrival there. And considering the glacier-like pace of the show at times, a swift boot in its pace doesn't hurt.
For the first time since the series premiere, we got a larger sense of how the war played out. The United States still exists, though it is a fraction of what it used to be. While in a bar in Canada, Serena was approached by a man named Mark, who represents the U.S.
He told her he could get her on a plane to Honolulu, so we're going to guess a divide somewhere in the middle of the country (which is where the wasteland called the Colonies is. The U.S. either has Hawaii and the West Coast, while Gilead controls the East, or at the worst the U.S. is Hawaii now.
As for the more specific implications, Mark clearly knows who Serena is and who she was in orchestrating Gilead. He knows she's a talented writer, so what a coup it would be to get her story out there. Clearly, the U.S. is still working toward the downfall of Gilead and the reunification of the nation. But what does Serena want?
As always, the answer remains murky. Her true desires and motivations remain the least clear among the entire cast, which makes her the most fascinating character. She stole the cigarettes and matches Mark left behind, and considered the Hawaii motif of the matchbox when she got back home, but she ultimately threw it in the fire.
It's much like she retreated to her bristly stiff-upper-lip self after Fred humiliated and beat her in front of June last week. She is dying breath-by-breath in Gilead, but at least partially doing so willingly ... for now.
With her fate uncertain, June started planning for the future of her child. While she largely took a backseat this episode, when we did see her she was doing what she could for the sake of her unborn child. First, she declared Rita (Amanda Brugel) a de facto godmother to the child. As the Waterford's Martha, she shouldn't be going anywhere soon.
Then, she took an even riskier gambit, by approaching Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) with her concerns. Granted, after watching Fred beat the living crap out of Serena with a sort of sadistic glee, her concerns about the safety of her baby aren't completely unfounded.
The most surprising result, though, was that she actually got Aunt Lydia to let down her own guard momentarily and reveal something about her past life. She was once godmother to a child, and that child died. "It wasn't my fault," she bristled after June apologized for the loss.
"Maybe You Can Get Them Out"
The implications of Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) confronting Fred with a picture of June haven't even begun to reverberate. Serena saw the pictures, and the look on her face showed tremendous guilt. Some part of her knows that what they're doing is wrong, but she's been able to justify it by compartmentalizing June as unworthy. Now confronted with her enraged husband, the whole thing becomes that much more real.
But the more tangible and bigger development from this was that Nick (Max Manghella), who proved himself to be a totally decent dude by the end of the hour, went and found Luke and not only gave him a status update on June's condition and situation, he also gave him the stack of letters from Handmaids and the other oppressed women of Gilead.
This proved an even bigger move than anyone could have anticipated, when the letters got uploaded to the Internet. By the next morning, all of those stories were out there and the Waterfords were ejected from Gilead in disgust.
"I don't know how you live with yourself. It's sad what they've done to you," one of the Canadian leaders (a woman) tells Serena as they're leaving. It is sad. And while Serena gives a demure response, there was more than one very weighted beat before she did. The words resonated. Serena is a kettle so close to boiling. And yet she threw the matches away. She is fighting her own outrage at a situation she created.
June remains the hero of the story, and we'll continue rooting for her and now both of her children to escape the clutches of Gilead, but we're also rooting for the collapse of this totalitarian regime, and at least some semblance of a redemption arc for the show's most complex and interesting character.