Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 7 of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2. Catch up with our weekly reviews of previous episodes here. Not seen Season 1? Click here to see where you can watch it online.
Commander Waterford made it. Let’s get that out of the way, in case you had hopes of Ofglen’s attack bringing about some karmatic justice. But her bombing of the Rachel and Leah Centre did take out a devastatingly large number of people – just 26 commanders, in total. Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, it also cost the lives of 31 Handmaids – because even in the fight for freedom, the lives of those being held captive are still collateral damage to be tolerated.
It’s particularly cruel and haunting, then, that a service in memory of those Handmaids should not be an underground tribute, carried out by their sisters in secret, but a Gilead-led, official affair, with Aunt Lydia as the master of ceremonies. “I wish I could give you a world without violence, without pain,” she tells them, as they gather around red coffins and wear red veils – a crocodile tear of a funeral, one that’s entirely insincere in its brainwashing propaganda. Underneath it, the chilling reminder: even in rebellious chaos, Gilead will maintain its appearance of order.
The names read out, of course, are their given, Handmaid titles, burying them under a false moniker in a move that ensures their oppression continues beyond the grave. Indeed, we take a trip outside of Gilead this episode to see Luke and Moira reacting to the news of a bombing inside the cut-off state – and in Little America, the bodies caught on camera are tragically anonymous. And so Moira flicks through the piles of photos manually to find out whether her partner, Odette, is among the dead.
We’re not sure where those photos came from, but we’re pleased nonetheless to see Samira Wiley back on our screens, and she becomes the focus of the flashbacks this episode, as we find out more about her own relationship with Odette. Poignantly, and all too fittingly, it’s a bond that started with a baby, as Moira became a surrogate, before handing her child over. (Scenes with June helping Moira through the pregnancy are also a welcome chance for Elisabeth Moss to act happy for a change.) It’s only months later, when they cross paths again, that they find a shared attraction.
Rebecca Rittenhouse and Riley have instant chemistry, so even though we only briefly see their fledgling romance take flight, the eventual discover of the unnamed Odette in the photo still carries weight – Wiley, who broke hearts in Orange Is the New Black, is a master at acting agony in close-up, and director Kari Skogland (who has helmed everything from Vikings to The Walking Dead) doesn’t miss the opportunity to showcase it.
The idea of not remembering the identities of the dead lights a fire in June, who realises that nobody knew Ofglen’s real name. And so she begins to tell other Handmaids her real name, which sparks a small chain reaction of other Handmaids whispering their names to each other – a tiny glimpse of an uprising taking shape. It’s overhead by Eden, who remains enthusiastically unhappily married to Nick, but any worries there are outweighed by the joy of seeing Emily and Janine make it back to Gilead alive. Ok, they’re shipped in from the Colonies with several other former Handmaids because there’s now a shortage of fertile women to enslave, but there’s hope they might yet join in with the brewing revolution – a better position to be in than out in the Colonies dying from toxic radiation. The cheer of their reunion with June (who shares her name with them) is tinged with pathos, as Janine continues her confidence in God watching over her, bringing her back to safety because he has a plan to use her in Gilead.
Gilead also takes steps to recover from the emergency by appointing a new leader in place of Commander Pryce, who was killed by the bombing. His replacement? Commander Cushing, who decides to take control of matters by executing vast numbers of people. It’s grim display of authority, with bodies strung from trees and others shot down in public. It’s a tactic destined to stir more anti-establishment sentiment, but also one that highlights how close to the edge Gilead has become. Indeed, his tactics have very the opposite of the desired effect on June, or even Serena.
They end up in his sights when Cushing corners June to question her about her disappearance. She sticks to the official narrative (that she was kidnapped), but he doesn’t believe her – and with Commander Pryce making no secret of killing families where necessary, it becomes obvious that he’s looking not to bring June to heel, but to oust the Waterford family while Fred’s incapacitated. Nobody puts Serena’s household in the corner, though, and while June plays dumb expertly, Serena is even more expert at calculating how to outwit her new enemy.
And so the pair seem to team up to see off this threat: Serena uses Nick’s knowledge to determine how to forge a warrant, setting up Cushing for arrest by the authorities under suspicion of apostasy and treason. It’s a baller move from her, and one that’s fascinatingly complex: on the one hand, she wants to save her household, and her husband; on the other hand, she wants to reclaim some of the authority she lost when Fred and the other men in power ousted her from the society she gave birth to; and on yet another still, she’s somehow moving to wipe out the patriarchal system that perverted her utopian society.
June, meanwhile, is just as intriguing in her motivations, as she agrees to proofread the documents Serena has written. There’s a thrill to being given a pen by Serena, the instrument forbidden for women (and especially Handmaids), but there’s also no real solidarity between them. June may drop in a casual “Right now, the baby needs Twinkies!” like a joke between friends, but she’s just as keen to make sure that her enemy is one she knows, rather than one she doesn’t, especially when she has leverage over the Waterfords with the baby inside her. Serena, meanwhile, is no doubt already eyeing up June not as an ally but as a potential scapegoat. The seeds of unrest are being sown. What the harvest will be is not yet clear. Blessed be the fruit.
Episode 7 of The Handmaid’s Tale is available on All 4 until 31st July 2018. New episodes are broadcast on Channel 4 on Sundays at 9pm.