The Handmaid’s Tale: (S01E06) “A Woman’s Place”

This week’s episode brings in people from outside Gilead. It’s a delegation from Mexico, come to negotiate a trade deal. They want to see Gilead and the Gileadians are looking forward to showing it to them, or at least, the parts they consider fit for public consumption, which is why we see the Handmaids scrubbing the wall clean of blood after the bodies have been removed.


Offred is summoned to study, where the Commander is with his guests, and much to Offred’s surprise, the ambassador from Mexico is a woman. Hey look, it’s Zabryna Guevara, playing the ambassador, Mrs. Castillo! (I still miss her character on Gotham.) She asks Offred if she’s happy. Offred says she is. Of course, what else could she say? Serena Joy comes to the study door and invites everyone for hors d’oeuvres, but she doesn’t come into the room. I wonder what she thinks of Offred being in the room. Fruits and vegetables are prominently featured at the cocktail hour. (What are people drinking? Somehow, martinis don’t seem very Gileadesque. Wine maybe?) The Wives, in a quiet group on the side, don’t seem to be eating or drinking anything at all. They also aren’t speaking, until the ambassador asks them directly how they feel about Gilead. Even then, Serena Joy is the only one who speaks, and she toes the party line like a good little Wife, all the while sending Fred anxious glances. And we learn all kinds of interesting things about S.J., like the fact that she was a published author. She wrote a book entitled ‘A Woman’s Place. A book. Meant to be read by women. I’d say there’s irony there, and so would the ambassador, who points out that her book helped create a society in which women can’t read her book. Zing!


Flashback to pre-Gilead Serena Joy and Fred. He’s just come home and S.J. is arranging flowers. Yeah, this isn’t Gilead yet, but they’re definitely moving in that direction. They go to the movies and S.J. tells Fred that she wants to write her second book about fertility and reproduction and basically the whole Handmaid concept. Fred gets a text. The attacks on the government are planned. So they were in on it. Well, I guess you’re only a terrorist if you lose the war? Winners write the history books.


The following evening is a reception for the delegation, and the Handmaids will be allowed to attend. Except for the ones missing an eye, or a hand, or with some other permanent disfigurement received as punishment for transgressing one Gileadian sin or another. Again, the Gileadians only want the delegation to see a carefully curated Gilead. The other Handmaids enter the room where the reception is taking place. It’s a beautiful space, and Offred looks up at the painted ceiling. I think it reminds her of staring up at the painted ceiling the in Waterfords’ bedroom during the Ceremony. The reception starts with Serena Joy speaking and asking the Handmaids to stand because they are honoring them tonight, and then the doors open and a group of small children come in, all dressed like Prince George or Princess Charlotte. They are the children born with the help of the Handmaids. Offred can’t figure out why they are getting so much attention when another Handmaid, Alma I think, enlightens her. The Mexican delegation don’t need fruits or vegetables, they need babies. They are there to trade for Handmaids of their own. Just when you think Gilead couldn’t get any worse, it does. I am very curious what the Mexico is going to give Gilead in exchange. Any ideas?


Flashback: we see Serena Joy not being allowed to speak at a meeting, because she’s a woman. Amazingly, she has helped create Gilead, she was as much of a believer as Fred, but she orchestrated her own obsolescence. She built her own prison. That is her punishment and her burden. S.J. is a complicated character. When she speaks of ‘reproduction as a moral imperative,’ I doubt she ever imagined anything like the Ceremonies. Yvonne Strahovski pretty much nails the complex range of emotions that S.J. suppresses in this episode.


The next day, the ambassador and her assistant arrive at the house and see Offred. They give her a box of Mexican chocolates as a gift, and she blurts out the truth of what happens to Handmaids. But even though the ambassador says she is sorry, she can’t help Offred. Her city hasn’t had a live birth in six years. They need Handmaids. The Commander arrives and takes the ambassador to say goodbye to Serena Joy. Offred and the ambassador’s aide are alone, and there’s a bombshell! He knows her real name! And he says Luke is alive! And he can get a message to him!


Other things:
– Did anyone notice that the ambassador wore pants even to the dinner party?
– The Handmaids with disfigurements were not allowed at the reception; do you think they did the same thing with the children? Were children with any kind of handicap also not allowed at the reception?
– Why were the Handmaids tasked with scrubbing the blood off the wall? Are they the street sweepers and garbage collectors too? Does Gilead not have people to do this kind of thing? The Handmaids seemed an odd choice.


Choice quotes:
“Never mistake a woman’s meekness for weakness.”

“This is our fault. We gave them more than they could handle. We put so much focus on academic pursuits and professional ambition we let them forget their real purpose. We won’t let that happen again.”

“My country is already dead.”