The Handmaid’s Tale as a series tends to follow certain patterns.
So, maybe this time I want to discuss something else.
So, here’s the thing: we’ve seen over and over again that Offred/June will get some glimmer of something that makes her life somewhat bearable, and then something else about the religious hypocrisy that is Gillead will step in and drag her right back down again. If she ends one episode with a hopeful feeling, that feeling will be dashed before the next one is finished. We had two full episodes of her being free and loose, piecing together snippets to see where the conspiracy that created this dystopia came from or meeting brave people who resist as much as they can. Heck, just learning Nick wasn’t exactly on board with the very agency he belonged to counts for something. So, really, she was bound to get caught, get sent back to the Watterfords, and generally made miserable again because the people who run this society are such sadistic bastards covering what they do with religious piety.
So, really, we know Serena Joy will not be pleased to see her disobedient Handmaid again. We know there also isn’t much she can do about it so long as Offred is pregnant. At least, not directly to Offred. Other people can be punished. We’ve already seen that. Should we be surprised another Handmaid had her tongue cut out for defying Aunt Lydia? Not really.
Instead, I want to take a moment to say that Elizabeth Moss and Ann Dowd are freakin’ amazing in their respective roles. Anyone whose seen Mad Men knew that about Moss. Much of what she does here involves silent defiance, and Mad Men was a series that required its cast to convey a lot of stuff with silence. Her face says she isn’t at all repentant or cowering. Sure, she went back to the Waterfords to avoid execution after the baby’s birth, but for much of this episode that doesn’t mean she has to cower. Then, when she learns the fate of the family that sheltered her (presumably since she is only shown one body and his head is covered), she breaks because she is told that was June’s fault and Offred isn’t to blame.
Deliberately telling her she’s two people? And it somewhat works? This is why this society is so awful.
As for Dowd, she’s one of those actors I’ve seen in many different kinds of roles, but she absolutely owns Aunt Lydia. There are so many hate-worthy people in Gillead, but here’s a woman who not only works to cow other women into submission, but she doesn’t (unlike Serena Joy) seem to show even the slightest bit of regret over anything she does. Oh, she says she does, but that’s a lie. She thinks she is doing the right thing, and as she seems to have moved in with the Waterfords, overseeing every move Offred makes, and making sure she breaks the defiant Handmaid, seeming to succeed by the end of the episode, well, let’s just say if something awful happened to Aunt Lydia, it would be difficult to feel at all bad for her. That’s a testament to Dowd, who isn’t always so unlikable in her roles.
Anyhoo, the status quo seems to be reset for now. That shouldn’t last more than another episode or two, but this is already a soul-crushing show that is somehow compelling all the same.