Aunt Lydia’s pumped, Fred’s pumped, we’re all pumped for this week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. Tara Ward recaps episode six of season three.
The Handmaid’s Tale loves a good prayer situation, and this week we had them coming out our ears. Let us bow down before the TV gods and pray this is the episode that gives June all the answers she needs, that Nichole remains safe in Canada, and that the Waterfords come to their senses about almost everything. Or, as June puts it, “may they both get hit by a fucking truck”. Forever and ever, Amen.
The Waterford household were on the move, travelling to Washington DC for a week of public prayer as part of their ‘Save Nichole from Democracy’ campaign. Washington DC is a city that’s officially hit the ‘hardcore’ level on the dystopian hellhole ranking system, where handmaids must stand in designated areas, men and women ride separate escalators, and some women are permanently silenced. Yep, handmaids’ mouths are wired shut, their lower faces covered with cloth.
Oh, the horror. Take me back to the Lawrences’ basement and chuck on some Leo Sayer disco hits, ASAP.
But a change is as good as a holiday, and the excitement of the trip quickly goes to everyone’s heads. “I’m pumped!” says Aunt Lydia, who loves an escalator more than she loves a fully-charged cattleprod. “That’s what they used to say! Are you pumped, dear?” Forget about June, what about old mate Fred? “We’re off like a herd of dusty turtles,” Fred reckons, and never a truer word has been spoken.
Team Waterford stay at the home of Commander Winslow, a powerful man who lives in a ginormous mansion with his gazillion kids. Sure, one or two is fine in these crazy times, but six is just plain greedy, you arseholes. “Are they all yours?” Serena asks. “Who else’s would they be?” Mrs Winslow replies. Where’s that fucking truck, when you need it?
Things are tense. Serena suspects Fred has his own political motivations for this trip, while June’s absolutely steaming that Serena’s gone back on her promise to give Nichole a better life. Their time in Washington is one orchestrated show after another: stand here, look here, pray that we shall always remain this pumped about living in hell. All they want is for Canada to send back the fruit of someone else’s loins, so this whole mess can go away quietly.
Speaking of going away quietly, look who else jumped aboard the escalator ride to Hades.
“Nice girl like you, in a place like this?” Nick asks June, but for crying out loud, now is not the time. Nor is it the time when you’re having a sneaky pash in the Winslow’s bushes, or when you’re being sent to the war front. Gilead is a fun-free zone, and someone needs to tell Fred to put that stuffed lion away immediately. No fun allowed while women’s lips are sewn shut, thank you very much.
Fred’s campaign seems to be working, and the Swiss government agrees to act as a neutral negotiating party. In a shock move, they ask to speak to June alone. “I am the child’s mother,” June tells them. “I want her to stay in Canada.” June strikes a deal: if she persuades Commander Nick to spill secrets to the Swiss, Nichole stays in Canada. Job done, June reckons, and leaves with the smile of a woman hopefully hiding 400 Toblerones under her cape.
Any joy we felt over June’s negotiating powers quickly disappears when she discovers Nick let her down. A Swiss delegate tells June that Nick is not to be trusted. “I don’t think you know who Mr Blaine is,” she says, and it turns out Nick was a soldier in the Crusade. Nick helped Gilead become what it is today, and June realises she has nobody left to trust.
You know it’s bad when you turn to Aunt Lydia for support. This was a beautifully tender scene between two exhausted and lonely women, and then June asked Aunt Lydia to tighten her mouth gag. This show makes my head hurt, but in an incredible way.
It’s final prayer time, and June and Serena have it out in front of a ruined Lincoln Memorial. “I should have put a ring in your mouth the day we met,” Serena spits at June, ignoring the fact she wears a ring on her fourth finger that silences her just as much. “You will always be cruel, small and empty,” June replies. “I should have let you burn while I had the chance.” Abe Lincoln said nothing, because 1) he has also been silenced by Gilead and 2) he is made of stone.
The only person who won’t shut up is Fred, who’s loving himself sick as he leads the women of Gilead in prayer. The episode ends with thousands of handmaids kneeling silently before him, while he bangs on about the power of a man filled with virile arrows. Fred is pumped, big time. This was one hell of a holiday, but in the wise words of Aunt Lydia, “I can’t wait to get home.”
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