The Handmaid’s Tale (S03E06) “Household’

We open with a kind of dreamy, soft focus, slow motion shot of falling snow.  Murmuring voices pray for Nichole’s safe return.  June voiceovers that she hopes Serena will remember why they sent Nichole to Canada.  Or that both of the Waterfords are hit by a truck.  She’s cool either way.

Quite a bit happened in this particularly harrowing episode, most of which takes place in Washington DC, which is like all the worst parts of the Gilead we know, plus a few new horrors we don’t, all distilled down into one unspeakably grim place.  June travels by train, accompanied by Aunt Lydia, and they arrive in Union Station, which has been rebuilt to reflect the new Gileadians sensibilities.  Separate escalators for men and women, (because a lot of shenanigans happen on escalators in the public, amirite?) and an assigned spot for Handmaids to wait for their Commanders.  It’s literally their spot, a giant red round spot on the floor where they kneel and wait to be claimed, kinda like luggage.  (And that folks, if how you correctly use the word ‘literally’.)  June is curious why the other Handmaids she sees have a kind of half mask covering their lower face and neck.

The Waterfords, accompanied by Rita, arrive claim their baggage.  Fred is brisk, Serena cold, and Rita happy to see her.  The Waterford household then head for the Winslow house, where they will be hosted for the duration.  Commander Winslow is a very high ranking commander and the house reflects that.  It’s not so much a house as a mansion.  Commander Winslow is not enthusiastic in his welcome (Christopher Meloni!!!) but he thaws considerably when an adorable little girl races in.  It’s their daughter Polly, followed by several more children, and a woman carrying a baby.  It’s Mrs. Winslow (Elizabeth Reaser!!!) who is much friendlier than her husband.  They have six children, which by Gileadian standards basically makes them the Duggars.

June will be roomed with Ofgeorge, she’s told, as she’s shown to the Handmaid’s room.  She is getting read for bed and chatting to the quiet Ofgeorge, who is also getting ready for bed.  June says something and when she doesn’t get a response, looks inquiringly at Ofgeorge.  Ofgeorge turns around, and all of us, not just June, learn the shocking reason for the half masks.  Ofgeorge’s lips are stapled or pierced with metal rings or something horrific that prevents her from opening her mouth to speak.  Handmaids in DC are, it would seem, silenced.  June is completely shaken by this.  I know she is, because I’m completely shaken by this, and I’m not a Handmaid trapped in the ever-worsening nightmare that is Gilead.

The following day, they are filming one of the appeals that are part of Operation: Get Nichole Back.  It’s carefully orchestrated and the shot filmed so that June is right in front of the giant wing statue.  Nick arrives to see them; it seems he was sent to Washington to await his orders to go to Chicago.  Aunt Lydia also appears, and decides to see what a Handmaid has under her mask.  She looks as unnerved as I’ve ever seen Aunt Lydia look.  There are Handmaids in a circle, ready to kneel on cue in (silent) prayer.

I wonder what they are thinking.

The Winslow’s nursery is like the nursery for the king’s children in a fairy tale.  Fabulous art hangs on the wall and there’s an actual tree, as well as lots of toys.  I’d bet a lot that the tiny toy tea set is sterling.  Because why wouldn’t it be?  Serena tells June that seeing Nichole changed everything.  Well no, it didn’t, June points out.  (Seriously, I blame Luke for a lot of this.  He had one job…)

The Canadians, reluctant to offend Gilead (who dumped a lot of things about America but hung on to the military, I guess,) has asked the Swiss to open an inquiry.  That involves talking to everyone in the household alone.  Even June.  June promptly takes charge of the interview, telling them to send out anyone not actually in the panel.  She cuts a deal, saying that if she can produce the real father, who is now a Commander, to give them intel, will they keep Nichole in Canada.  They agree.  No, it doesn’t go as smoothly as you might hope.

Buddy Holly is singing ‘Everyday’ while Fred and Winslow are bonding in a manly man way, in the billiard room with whisky and cigars.  (Disclaimer: I’m not positive about what’s being drunk or smoked, but that’s kind of the gestalt of the scene.). Winslow has suddenly become super-chummy.  He asks Fred to call him George, and talks about him maybe being promoted and moving to DC.  Fred is honored, but begins to look slightly uncomfortable, as the scene unfolds, and it’s not hard to see why.  Despite all the accoutrements of manly man of manliness, there is a definite gay vibe coming from George.  The weirdness is broken when Polly once again races into the room, asking them to have a tea party with her.  They accept.

Wow, the Winslows were both corporate attorneys?  How do you just turn that off?  Especially Olivia, having to be a Commander’s Wife, a role that requires subservience.  Not really in a corporate attorney’s skill set.

That night, someone is waiting outside for June.  It’s Nick, who is less than enthused by her plan, though he reluctantly agrees to it.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t go well.  He does as June asks but it seems his background makes him unreliable in the eyes of the Swiss delegation.  Well, he’s a Commander.  What did they expect?  June is forced to face the fact that she fell in love with a Gileadian, with all that that implies.  But when she learns this the next day it’s too late to face him.  After waiting around for however long, Nick has conveniently gotten his orders to the front in Chicago.  He’s gone.

Aunt Lydia entrees June’s room with a box containing the Mask of Horrors.  She tells June she has to wear it, but can’t quite meet June’s eyes.  June is in tears at the thought of having to wear it, and Aunt Lydia comforts her, then helps her put it on.

This video involves a cast of thousands. Handmaids line the Reflecting Pool on the Mall.  The Waterfords and June stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (the statue of Lincoln has been destroyed) and in the distance, the Washington Monument has been turned into a giant cross.  Fred begins a prayer, and the Handmaid’s kneel as one Handmaid, a sea of red.

The credits roll as you hear wind and a flag snapping in the breeze, but no voices.

Okay, I found the episode dramatic, but somewhat uneven.  Nick being in Washington is a huge plot contrivance, which was a definite weak spot.  The reveal of what was under the masks was shocking, and they did it in a way to maximize the shock factor.

Which brings me to questions.  Lots of them, and the more I think about it, the more questions I have.  Why the rings?  Are the removable?  How to they eat?  Do they live on a liquid diet?  Do they have some kind of super-smoothie for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive?  And what about dental hygiene?  Tooth decay can cause all kinds of health issues.  And how do they keep the holes themselves from becoming infected?  Why do this when the Handmaids could just be gagged?  A gag would have the same effect, but would be much simpler, easier, safer, cleaner, and really just in every way better.  I really don’t get it.  Please feel free to comment if you have any thoughts.


Other things:

– The Handmaids seem to have their own train cars, with red curtains on the windows (which were pretty tacky, to be honest.)  How much traveling do Handmaids generally do?

– How many Handmaids were the Winslows allowed?  Those children were definitely from more than one mother.

– Was I the only one who snickered when Fred asked Nick to be his body double?  Oh Fred, if only you knew!



“Oh, I’m pumped!”

“Get in bed with the government, it’s not so easy to get out.”

“That’s nice.  The silence.”  “You could return the favor.”