This week’s episode, Jezebels, was an emotional low for many characters. And the holy Sons of Jacob showed their lowest side – while I know there are truly good religious people in the world, none of them seem to be represented in The Handmaid’s Tale. As opposed to the episode a few weeks ago that was entitled Faithful, this one could have been called Faithless – which is how Offred is feeling. Faithless – and hopeless.
After the emotional high of learning that Luke was alive, two episodes ago, she’s realized that it doesn’t really make a difference – she can’t do anything about it. Instead, she’s still stuck in Gilead, being increasingly demeaned by a progressively scarier Commander. “Luke is alive. I stretch out my arms to him, but he slips away. Like a ghost at daybreak. And I’m left, here. He’s fading, day by day, night after night. He recedes, and I become more faithless.”
Faithless, in the sense that she’s willingly returning to Nick, “time after time?” Or that she’s losing faith – in herself, in Luke and in the world? Perhaps both. But none of it is good for her. How can she hold on, when she has no anchor to lock on to?
I was a little surprised at Nick’s backstory – I had him pegged as possibly former military. But a midwestern displaced steel worker? That was interesting. Do you think he couldn’t hold a job because of his temper? Or does he have a temper because he’s feeling like a loser? But he keeps coming back and trying to find something new. Worthy Path Career Counseling? Big shining tip-off here. The employment counselor, soon to be revealed as Commander Price, understands guys like Nick – displaced, despairing, lost – and recognizes that he’s ripe for recruitment. And when Nick is able to recognize that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” isn’t actually in the Bible? DING DING DING! Maybe not Commander material, but he’s young, fit, and ready, psychologically, to be very grateful – and therefore loyal. But does he believe? That we don’t know yet.
Of course, like everyone else in this story, Nick’s faith is tested, by his interest in June. Did the previous handmaid’s suicide affect him? Does he understand what the women are going through? Does he care much? But now it’s become personal, and the woman he’s falling in love with is being treated as property by a man that he may be having less respect for. The big question is – what will he do about it?
The flashback glimpse into pre-Gilead is interesting. Employment counselor Price is now high up in the planning, and seems to have a slightly more rational view than the other man, Guthrie. Price advocates for treating the women well. Guthrie has no interest in women’s welfare. Waterford says they have to get the wives on board with the idea of the Handmaid surrogates, but Guthrie doesn’t see that as any kind of issue. And it’s here, in the back seat of a car driven by – huh, Nick – that The Ceremony is born.
I had a horror movie “don’t go down in the basement!” moment when the Commander was sitting on June’s bed, as she returned from her tryst with Nick. UH OH! Will he be able to tell? Does he already know? And you could tell, that’s exactly what was going through her mind. You could almost see it – beating, Colonies, Luke will never find me. And the confusion she must have felt while he shaved her legs, gave her makeup and watched while she put it on – and then when he pulled out that cocktail dress and shoes!
He’s been grooming her for this – with the beauty magazines, the liquor while they played Scrabble, the inappropriate touching during the Ceremony, and finally, that creepy kiss in the study. It’s all been leading up to something, but do you think she had any idea what? Besides the weird little moments, she’s had no idea that behind the holy holy facade was a sewer, an institutional whorehouse. As they walk into what seems to be a hotel, Offred says, “I thought these kind of places were forbidden.” “Um, officially…” Waterford says. “Unofficially?” “We turn a blind eye. Everyone’s human, after all.” Every man, he means. Certainly women are considered less than human.
And what a place! Female repression at its finest. “All women who couldn’t assimilate,” Waterford tells Offred. “Some were working girls before. Sociology professor over there, lawyers, CEOs, journalists. I’m told you can have quite a good conversation with some of them, if what you feel like is talking. We’ve got quite a collection. They prefer it here.” Ok, I can hear you all the way from here – what an ass! Women are only objects, and that object isn’t just a walking womb – it’s the parts above the waist and below the neck, as well. How appropriate was “White Rabbit” being played as they walk through the lobby? Offred’s fallen down the rabbit hole, for sure, into a psychedelic house of horrors.
And it’s obvious that Offred is both sickened and fascinated – half-dressed when she’s gotten used to modesty; seeing women in gross parodies of the Handmaid costume. But she’s not offended by the women – it’s the men. The men who pretend to be pious, who destroyed an entire country so they could create a new one on a Biblical, extremely religious base. She knew already, from experience, that they had absolutely no regard for women as people, and here it is, proven to her.
But! There in a corner, dressed in Handmaid colors but not a recognizable Handmaid uniform (unlike another woman), is Moira! Moira, who she thought had escaped, and had feared was dead – she’s alive, but a prisoner in this hellhole, undeniably worse than what she left. They use their Red Center trick of meeting up in the bathroom, but even there, they can’t talk. When June finds her later, after a harrowing walk down hallways filled with disconcerting noise – beating, crying, desperate laughter, even an open door where two men are having sex with a glassy-eyed woman in another Handmaid parody – she says that she made it to the Quaker people who were running the Underground, but that the man helping her was shot and killed. And she was taken here, to Jezebels. “You have a good few years before your pussy wears out,” she tells June. “We’re going to find a way to get you out,” June insists.
I know the way. Black van, feet first. Forget about escaping. No one gets out.
June tells her about Luke, but even that’s not terribly hopeful. “Thank God!” Moira says. “But he isn’t us, and he isn’t here. Take care of yourself.”
In order to be able to find Moira, Offred has to let the Commander have his way. As she looks around for him when she returns from the hurried bathroom meeting with Moira, another man approaches and runs a slimy hand down her arm. Cliche much? “I haven’t see you around here before.” Fortunately (?), Waterford shows up and dismisses the man – “She’s taken. Evening rental.” She realizes what’s going on when she sees him with a room key in his hand. In his mind, she’s never been a paragon of female virtue – she’s a whore. His whore. And he’s been leading up to this. But he doesn’t only want to have sex – he wants to talk. Because Serena Joy is too close, knows too much, pushes back, challenges with her intelligence. And who needs that? So you talk to a subservient piece of property. Davidson, the guy who made the move on Offred, is “such a kiss-ass. He goes where the wind blows. I can’t trust him.” And he talks about rumors of purges. “We haven’t heard anything here yet, but I can’t help feeling there’s a target on my back.” All little bits Offred could pass along to the Mayday group – if she can. She makes a perfunctory comment – “I suppose that’s what happens when you’re the boss.” Waterford wants to talk, but he doesn’t really care what she says – as long as she agrees. “You do understand me, don’t you.”
Nick’s looking for information of his own. Down in the kitchen, he trades with one of the Jezebel Marthas – gets a box full of liquor bottles and “Hair dye?” “The wives sure do love their illegal chemicals.” And he gives her a bag full of now-illegal pills – “Oxy, Percocet, speed, pregnancy tests… and Ketamine. What’s that for?” The Martha knows – “some of the men have Sleeping Beauty fantasies” (ewww), and “some of the girls use it too. They’ll spike the guy’s drink, go through his phone while he’s passed out.” Looking for what? Blackmail potential? Is there an intelligence network in the club? But now an Eye knows about it. And what will he do with that info? He’s reeling slightly, you can tell, from bringing June here, knowing what awaited her – he couldn’t stop looking at her as she got in and out of the car – and what seems like a regular offer of sex from the Martha (who hints that she used to be a chef, I think) is turned down.
We get a quick flashback glimpse of what the Eyes do – Nick’s turned in slimeball Commander Guthrie. “Guthrie’s been sleeping with his last two Handmaids, according to his Martha. And he’s been skimming from the Transportation budget,” he tells Price, who seems to have risen quite far from Worth Path employment counselor. What damage could he do to Waterford? Would he?
Returning home, Nick’s hit a low point as well. He tells June that they have to end whatever’s been between them, that it’s too dangerous. Yes, it’s dangerous for both of them – but is that his real concern? Her safety? Or is it his? Or something else, like jealousy? Tainted goods? This is the only bright spot she has left – the pleasure she gets from her few stolen moments with him. And when he won’t say anything more, she throws at him that she doesn’t know anything about him. He’s never told her anything about himself. So to pacify her, he offers his last name and the fact that he’s from Michigan. Does he think this makes up for pulling her lifeline out from under her? Not at all, and she lets him know. “Well, under His eye, Guardian Blaine,” she throws at him.
Another quick flashback is more devastating – the death of the previous Handmaid. The Martha (Rita – the Commander called her that in a very quick moment two weeks ago) finds her hanging from the light fixture, and Nick runs to cut her down. As the family gathers outside to watch the body being loaded into that black van, feet first, Mrs. Waterford hisses at the Commander, “What did you think would happen?” The wives – at least this one – are not on board. It’s a slightly sympathetic moment for her – she’s been an architect of the Sons of Jacob movement, but apparently not a fan of all aspects of how the women are treated.
Mrs. Waterford has one more bit – she gives Offred a music box from her childhood bedroom. Even this little gift, surprisingly given, is a symbol of the oppression the Handmaids are under. “The perfect gift. A girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone else opens the lid, when someone else winds her up.” But Offred – June – refuses to be that girl, and adds to the scratching on her closet wall.
You are not alone.
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