A trip to Washington DC opens June's eyes to "the silent" and brings her and Serena to the brink of war.
"The Handmaid's Tale" is not so much a show you watch but rather something you experience that lingers with you and haunts the corners of your minds. This week that rings especially true, as the "Silence" will not soon be departing our mind's eye.
It turns out that things can and may yet get much, much worse for June and the other Handmaids; a lesson she learned during an eye-opening -- and mouth-closing -- trip to Washington, DC, where the Gilead leadership has made a few modifications.
For one, the Washington Monument has been fashioned into a giant cross, while the Lincoln Memorial remains an absolute mess with the top half of Lincoln missing altogether. We got the idea that it's been about five years since Gilead came to power, based on a comment from the Swiss, which shows how quickly society can be rewritten once you turn that corner into allowing atrocities.
And Gilead is not just allowing atrocities, they're continuing to develop them. In fact, the latest tactic employed in Washington is so shocking and barbaric that even Aunt Lydia -- who gleefully abuses her charges in the name of the Lord -- was taken aback.
Below are the moments from "Household" that we won't be able to forget any time soon.
"Blessed are the silent, for only they will hear the voice of the Lord," June overhears, but it's far worse than it may appear at first. All of the Handmaids wear mouth coverings when out in public and none of them speak at all.
It's not just discipline, as June finds out in a scene right out of a horror movie when the Handmaid she's staying with turns to her to reveal rings through her lips, sealing her mouth closed. We're not even sure how the poor girl eats.
June was warned the capital takes discipline and order more seriously, and this is indicative of that for sure. It's also indicative that they no longer really even see the Handmaids as people. Early on, it was pushed that this was a duty these women could do as part of their household.
The Handmaids of DC seem to be treated more like livestock than human beings. It's a wonder they're still living in the same house as their families, though that could change, too. Human atrocities against other humans often begin with systematically dehumanizing your target, and this is just another step in that direction.
It was telling that Aunt Lydia seemed genuinely horrified by the rings when she saw them on a Handmaid's mouth whose covering had slipped. And she genuinely cried when June asked her toward the end of the episode if she wanted to see all of her girls silenced. "No. No I don't," Aunt Lydia told her sincerely. It would seem there is such a thing as too much for her.
It's probably too much to expect Lydia to become an ally to June, but she could use one right about now as the one she thought she had has fully turned her back on her, and the other one she thought she had may not be who she thought at all.
It was a huge bit of world-building to get June alone in the room with the Swiss delegation that has offered to mediate the return of Nichole from Canada. What we learn is that Gilead seems to horrify the world, but they are such a military might that they must move delicately if they want to avoid all-out war, which does seem to be the goal at this time.
June managed to negotiate an aggressive deal with the Swiss to keep Nichole in Canada in exchange for access to Nick, who is a Commander now and could help them fill in their information blanks, like how Gilead is structured and how decisions are made. Apparently, Gilead is doing a very good job of keeping their activities and methods a secret.
It's great to see the show acknowledging that there is a much bigger story than just June's quest to free Hannah and keep Nichole out of Gilead. What's happening there is atrocious and certainly something that should be condemned on a world stage. But politics is every messy, as Nick warned June before agreeing to a meeting with the Swiss, and what's right isn't always what's done.
That's why it was especially heartbreaking when her deal completely fell apart because Nick just wasn't a viable option. Now, our question is how did the Swiss not already know all of this about Nick. They heard the tape June sent to Luke and they did all their research on her and even knew that Nick was the father of the child.
So why did they not already know they couldn't work with Nick before meeting him? Or perhaps he was very candid and open with them, telling them things he was a part of that disturbed them to the point they shut it all down. But even then, it apparently wasn't enough to honor their deal with June or stop the ongoing negotiations on behalf of the Waterfords.
But it was the coldness of the woman when she told June that negotiations would continue because they couldn't work with Nick that resonates. Nick was right. They don't care about June or her baby. They have their own agenda and it no longer aligns with hers so she is effectively dismissed. Nice.
It's been hinted at since the first season, but we really, really need to know what Nick did before he became a driver. If he was really a hero to Gilead during the revolution, then why was he not made a Commander then? Why was he made a driver and only elevated to Commander recently?
And what does he do now? We've never seen a Mrs. Nick and this week we saw him on a military train getting the full salute from every soldier there. It was a short scene, but a powerful one that showed how much respect and/or fear he generates among these men. Why would that man subject himself to life as a driver? Was it punishment for what he did during the war?
It certainly suggests Nick did some really bad stuff in his past and he's perhaps doing some really bad stuff now as he heads to the "front line." After all, the resistance continues to fight back and the war is most definitely not over yet.
Nick has been cold and secretive throughout his relationship with June, and yet he does have feelings for her. He even agreed to go and meet with the Swiss. Did he know that he wouldn't be able to help them? Did Serena know about that secret meeting? She didn't seem surprised when June asked about him right after the Swiss woman left the house.
What does Serena know? What does she want? And how far is she willing to compromise herself to have a baby in her arms, even if the future for that baby could well be a silenced Handmaid. Sure, you'd like to think a Commander's child would have a better life, but a fertile woman is a fertile woman. We've seen what they'll do to them now. What about ten, fifteen years from now?
After June bent over backwards to help Serena see Nichole to say goodbye, Serena now says that meeting changed everything and she wants her daughter back. Fred had previously seemed okay with the idea that Nichole was gone, even trying to confirm with Serena that that was what she wanted. Now, though, it would appear Serena may be leading this charge to bring Nichole home, when we thought it was Fred.
The confrontation between June and Serena at the Lincoln Memorial was breathtakingly shot and beautifully realized. June calling Serena small and empty in the vastness of that chamber resonated so much more. Of course, doing so brings fully out the petty and bitter and awful person Serena used to be, which is an unfortunate reset for a character that was showing some growth.
Just when we thought June was making some forward momentum in actually accomplishing anything and making a difference, we seem to be reset again back to square zero, like we're back at the pilot. She has no agency, no plan, no vision and no friends. Where is the hope to keep us and her going?
Serena and Fred continue to not be on the same page, as evidenced when they arrived at the High Commander's house in DC and Fred talked about what a great opportunity this was. When Serena asked for who, he shot back, "Us. All of us." And then finally, "Nichole."
We already know Fred's a monster who puts ambition above all else. And we know he doesn't think of any of the women around him as full people. It's all a game and he just wants to win. Serena helped build this world and put him in power and he cut off her finger as a show of power to all his guy friends.
All of this pomp and circumstance to get Nichole back is a show of power to elevate his career. And now, staying with High Commander Winslow in his house; well it's all about who you know so this is definitely someone you want to get to know.
Fred is a dangerous man because he doesn't care who he hurts along the way. He only cares about himself; a true narcissist. But how far is he willing to go to achieve his dreams?
Everything about the Winslows is mind-blowingly crazy in this world. For one, they have a ton of children, while the community June and the Waterfords live in are crowing and celebrating each individual birth, with many families still going without entirely.
He has a silenced Handmaid, though it's unclear how he's managed his household. His children appear to be of different ethnicities and some appear to be close in age, so is he impregnating multiple Handmaids at once? The rules may be stricter in DC, but it would appear Winslow has positioned himself a little bit above the laws of the land.
That's if he fathered any of the children. There was a very tender and suggestive shoulder touch from Winslow toward Fred while they were playing pool. Later, Mrs. Winslow tells Serena how excited her husband gets when he makes new friends. It sounds like Winslow may be gay and his wife may know about it, which would definitely be in violation of everything Gilead is about.
On top of that, Mrs. Winslow boldly told Serena how much she enjoyed reading Serena's book, even though talking about reading and women reading is strictly taboo. This not only serves to stroke Serena's ego but it also shows her that maybe she can have even more freedom if she were to live in DC.
After the success Fred has in using marketing to get the Swiss to the negotiating table, Winslow is very impressed with him and sees a future for him in DC. Ambitious Fred is all for it, and Serena -- driven only by her desire to be a mother -- sees the sea of children in the household and she is smitten, too.
All of this is terrible news for June, who boldly lashes out at Serena. She's gotten much better at playing along to survive in public and even around powerful figures like Aunt Lydia, but it's a different story with the Waterfords. We'd be worried for her if they ever retaliate at the full extent of their cruelty, but Commander Lawrence's influence seems to be to her benefit.
That said, where do we go from here? We've learned that things are even worse in DC than home and this "silent" tactic could easily begin to spread, making life even more horrific and inhumane for the Handmaids. And with this added atrocity, it's surely only time before more come into practice.
In other words, the clock is ticking and June needs to start moving forward with a plan, any plan. Just do something!
New episodes of "The Handmaid's Tale" air every Wednesday on Hulu.