THE HANDMAID’S TALE
Episode 4: “Other Women”
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
MAY 10, 2018
Over the course of a full season, and now well into the second season, we’ve come to know June/Offred (Elisabeth Moss) as one personality type. Her “fight the system” attitude pushes through in this dystopian future and rightfully so, as this is how I am sure many viewers come to think they’d react in this particular situation. But last night’s episode, titled “Other Women,” is setting out to change that dynamic and I believe this will benefit the series ten-fold.
After venturing to the outside world of Gilead for the past few weeks, June is back with the Waterfords, and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) is not letting June out of her sight, barging in on bath time and supplementing her breakfast with inedible protein-vitamin shakes. Dowd plays this role to perfection and even lines that could seem laughable are delivered with a mix of grace and heartless demeanor. June’s ventures outside and ultimate return to the Waterfords have made her even more quarrelsome, staring down both Lydia and Serena on multiple occasions, almost begging them to do something to her. At the beginning of the episode, June is chained to a bed in a basement, exactly like the pregnant Handmaid Ofwyatt from the first episode of the season. Aunt Lydia tells her that after she has the baby, June will be executed, but that Offred has a chance to redeem herself.
A constant exclamation uttered during this episode was “how long until this person snaps?” So many of the characters seem like they are on the brink of a mental breakdown and I mean this as praise to the actors for being able to push their characters to that edge. Obviously, June is facing mental strain, forced to live in this world that seems upside down to what she is used to, with no way out. She is being forced to carry this baby knowing full well that once she gives birth she will have to hand it over to the cruel people that partake in this backwards society. On the other end, Serena (Yvonna Strahovski) looks like she’s about to snap mentally as well, forced to live with this woman that she knows was sleeping with her husband, forced to put up with her because she’s carrying the baby that she wants so badly. In a way, she’s just as much a prisoner in this world as June is. The episode centers around a baby shower thrown by the Wives. Clothes and toys are brought out for June’s baby, but are given to Serena, as it will ultimately be her baby. June takes offense to this around every corner and lashes out verbally as she feels the need. If not for Aunt Lydia, Serena may have full well gone over the edge, and still might. But Lydia reassures Serena that June means absolutely nothing and they should simply focus on the baby. Nothing highlights this sentiment more than when Serena comes into June’s bedroom at night, without knocking, and lays to talk to the baby in June’s belly, completely ignoring that she’s even there.
June, eventually, has a minor mental breakdown when she and Aunt Lydia go for a walk by the river. Lydia points to a man that has been hung by the neck and tells June that she knows that person. Lydia reveals it to be the bread truck driver, who reluctantly picked up June in the previous episode, “Baggage,” and stowed her at his family’s apartment before she got skittish and ran away. She tells June that the man’s wife has become a Handmaid to pay for her involvement and her little boy, whom June had an interaction, is sent to a family that is more fit to take care of him. And this, Aunt Lydia painstakingly points out, is because of June. And the whole episode echoes this point. The flashbacks of the episode look back to when June was approached by Luke’s (O.T. Fagbenle) wife after June and Luke started seeing each other, ultimately breaking up their marriage. Her involvement with Luke ended up ruining another person’s life, matching the episode’s theme. Also in the episode, we get a glimpse at Alma’s (Nina Kiri) scar from when Aunt Lydia burns her on a stove in the season two premiere episode. We also find out that Ofglen No. 2 (Tattiawna Jones) has had her tongue cut out. All of these actions were due to the Handmaids standing against Aunt Lydia when told to kill fellow Handmaid Janine in the season one finale, all of which, to some extent, was instigated by June.
The realization that June set these horrible things in motion, again, to some extent, sends her on a downward spiral, that leaves her begging the Waterfords to keep her and submitting to the rules of Gilead, going as far as to avoid Nick (Max Minghella) at the end of the episode, repeating the same phrase about the weather over and over again. This will definitely change the dynamic of June’s character for the time being, ultimately allowing us to dive into the character development of the some of the other characters. June has always been headstrong, so it will be interesting to see what kind of episodes come out of her blindly complying, especially after all the characters have gotten used to her abrasiveness. Top that off with that fact that her pregnancy is a ticking clock and once she has the baby, you have to wonder what kind of punishments await her. Because although Aunt Lydia spoke as though she could turn her fate around, I also wonder if Lydia isn’t just telling her that to smooth out the upcoming ride.
May 9, 2018
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
Wendy Hallam Martin