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The Handmaid's Tale: Household

What a lovely day for a trip to Washington. Be sure to pick up your handmaid at baggage claim before you leave National Station.

Visually, this episode was stunning, the always amazing photography even more striking when applied to the perversion that is now DC. Seeing the Washington Monument transformed into a giant cross made me sick to my stomach. The desecrated Lincoln Memorial was even worse.

The unspoken word throughout this episode was "slavery." Lincoln freed the slaves, but slavery is back, in the form of all of those thousands of handmaids at the reflecting pool praying for the return and enslavement of yet another girl baby. It was an appropriate place for June to confront Serena with her betrayal, and that was a powerful scene. A despairing June walking up to that dead monument and leaning up against it made me cry.

Serena doesn't have a plan, after all; she simply changed her mind when she saw baby Nichole at the airport. It was clear that Serena was seeing baby Nichole in Gilead like the Winslow children having a tea party in their luxurious nursery surrounded by adoring Marthas, while June sees baby Nichole enslaved and maimed like the permanently silenced handmaid, Ofgeorge. Sick cultures tend to get sicker, and DC is hard core. June was shocked and nauseated when she saw the rings closing Ofgeorge's mouth. The next morning during the photo op at the "wings" statue, Aunt Lydia pulled down the mouth covering and saw the rings too, and I could swear she was shocked.

They're doing something interesting with Aunt Lydia this season, aren't they? When she first noticed the red mouth coverings that the D.C. handmaids were wearing, she said admiringly, "The devotion!" as if the handmaids had chosen to wear them as a tribute to their role and to God. She didn't realize that this new fashion accessory was designed to hide those rings until the photo op. When Aunt Lydia brought the mouth covering to June for the prayer at the Memorial, June asked her tearfully, "Do you want us all to be silenced?" and Lydia said, "No. No, I don't." Lydia seems to believe in Gilead most of the time, but I think the harsh reality is starting to wear on her. I think she's grown to care about June as a person. And maybe she'll do something horrible to June in the next episode. It's hard to tell.

(While I'm talking fashion accessories, how about the veil covering the top half of Serena's face while June was wearing a piece that covered the bottom of her face? Serena and June are two sides of the same coin. They are both slaves in Gilead, just at different levels.)

At home with the Winslows

The title of this episode is "Household." The household in Gilead is a sick construct, an imitation of actual family life. Fred Waterford's household doesn't really include June any more, except when he "borrows" her from Joseph Lawrence. And the Winslow household features six stolen children, which was jarring.

High Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni) is clearly hot for some commander-on-commander action. Poking his rear end in Fred's face could have simply been a pool-playing accident, but the shoulder caress made his intentions clear. Part of me finds the idea of Fred as a powerful man's sex toy karmic. How much does Fred want power? Enough to become a "gender traitor?" Hard to tell what Fred was thinking. He carefully placed the cues back on the pool table, but his face was in shadow.

And so much for Nick

The Canadians have asked a neutral party, the Swiss, to intervene in the Nichole custody battle because Gilead is a black box to the rest of the world, what happens in it is unknown, the Gilead government is a mystery. Unfortunately, the Swiss and the Canadians are afraid of Gilead's power. That's not good.

I thought Nick was going to be the answer to, well, something. But no. When Nick "stood in" for Fred in the camera shot, he joked quietly with June, "Nice girl like you in a place like this" and surreptitiously touched her hand, that felt like the old Nick, the one that contacted Luke. When he dropped by the Winslow house to say an illicit goodbye to June, she begged him to save their daughter, to see the Swiss mediators. But Nick appears to be a master of compartmentalization. June has made assumptions about Nick that were wrong – he was, and he is, a soldier of Gilead. The way he strode through the train compartment of soldiers like a Nazi commandant was a shock.

As we've been told more than once, men won't be coming to the rescue. The women will have to rescue themselves.


— Of course, this episode was filmed in Washington, DC.

— The "handmaid claim" was a red circle of carpet surrounded by escalators going in three directions. Again, stunning photography. And did you notice that the parallel escalators were gender specific?

— Olivia Winslow (Elizabeth Reaser) loved Serena's book, and told Serena that it "saved" her from a life in corporate law. Is a High Commander's wife open to the Resistance? Probably not.

— When June was interviewed by the Swiss mediators, they gave her a glass half-full of water. No irony there.

— Luke gave June's cassette tape message of love and confession about Nick and Nichole to the Canadian government. That felt like a betrayal. It gave me a turn.

— There were caged birds in the Winslow house, because there is never too much symbolism.

— Serena isn't wearing her wedding ring and she's not sharing a room with Fred.

— This week's interesting music cue: "Every Day" by Buddy Holly as June was leaving the Swiss.

— I'm going to mention the current administration's march toward more misogyny and isolationism, and move on.


June: "I pray for Serena. May she find her way back. May she see past her broken heart and remember that Nichole is better off where she is. May she convince Fred to let things lie. Or may they both get hit by a fucking truck. I'm honestly down for either."

Aunt Lydia: "They don't stand for disorder. Not in the Capital."

Fred: "And we're off! Like a herd of dusty turtles."
How jovial. This is all normal, guys.

Winslow: "We have to be judicious about the images we release to the world."
You know, I'm starting to think some real publicity about what's going on in Gilead might make a genuine difference.

Serena: "I should have put a ring in your mouth the day that we met."
June: "I should have let you burn when I had the chance."

Four out of four… mouth rings would probably be too pat. Artificial tea parties, perhaps?

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Awesome A-game review! You caught so many telling details that I will get only after a rewatch. With a rewatch it's so much easier to pick up the how of where an episode is going after seeing where it's been.

    A very important episode because it brings the larger world into the show a bit more. It won't go too far that way. That's just not Atwood's style, and I think the show runners will respect that. In Gilead home is where the hate is. It's important though to learn that Gilead is a black box to the rest of the world. Can't wait for the lid to be ripped off. By women.

    The stapled mouths were almost too much to bear, much worse than ISISed Lincoln. I hope that is a plot point to be revisited later and not just sensationalism. Even worse than seeing ofgeorge's face was seeing all of those handmaids lined up by the Reflecting Pool knowing what was underneath the covers. Gilead's face to the world!

    Fantasy: Fred's sudden flair for BS PR, and the staples are two plus two. If they are dumb enough to do a live show to the world, four would be all those handmaids ripping down those coverings.

  2. milostanfield, thanks so much! I had the same thought about a live show with a big reveal, but would Gilead be so stupid when they're trying their best to appear like a sane, albeit crazy religious country?

  3. If June had been with the other handmaids, I think she might have pulled down the veils, even if it meant getting sent to the wall. While it would be horrific enough under any circumstances, it's even worse when you consider that they're also forbidden to read and write. I also thought it was striking that Lincoln was literally cut off at the knees.

    One thing that really struck me though is how much less important Waterford appears to be in the show than in the book. Though I guess in the book, June's world is so small that Commander Waterford's might seem all-powerful, even if he is just a big fish in a small pond. Though now that I think of it, it was Serena who was immediately recognizable to June, not Fred. And Serena seems to be well known in the show as well.


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