THE HANDMAID’S TALE
Episode 5: “Seeds”
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
MAY 18, 2018
How do you show the person who has been so loyal to you throughout the years that you value them? In the Republic of Gilead, you gift them with an arranged marriage to a barely teenage girl freshly ripped from her family to partake in ritualized sex practices in order to bear children because that’s all women are good for.
As expected, June (Elisabeth Moss) has gone full Offred, to which we got a glimpse of at the end of the last episode, “Other Women,” when she kept repeating the same line about the weather over and over again. She has completely shut off. Her only responses to Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) are “Yes, Mrs. Waterford” and “No, Mrs. Waterford” and that is particularly satisfying because it is driving Serena mad. Her husband, Fred (Joseph Fiennes), is too preoccupied with work to talk to Serena either, which seems to be making her stir crazy to the point where she’s not even hiding her ill-feelings from Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). Lydia presses the issue with Serena, reminding her that it was no small feat to break Offred into submission.
What this ends up leading to it the strangest twist in “The Handmaid’s Tale” saga yet. After a walk with Offred, Serena is approached by Nick (Max Minghella). He’s worried about Offred’s mental state and Serena takes exception to being approached in such a manor. Serena let’s “slip” to Fred that Nick was so concerned. This strikes a nerve with Fred and the next scene we see Fred and Commander Pryce (Robert Curtis Brown) discussing the possibility of promoting and relocating Nick. As we know that Pryce and Nick have some sort of connection, possibly that Nick is supposed to be keeping tabs on Fred, Pryce offers an alternative.
In yet another ritual, Nick and about twenty other Guardians are gifted with wives. When these wives enter, they are wearing veils that cover their entire face. When they raise their veils, they are revealed to be barely teenagers. The ceremony concludes with an exchanging of rings and bringing the new wife home. This particular reveal makes your stomach drop, a testament to the writing and direction building this perfect moments and allowing for a twisted revelation that carry the show into darker territory.
Elsewhere in the world of Gilead, we revisit the Colonies, where Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) and Janine (Madeline Brewer) reside. The “unwomen” are shown suffering and dying in their sleep from working in a smoky gravel pit lined with bio-hazard warnings everyday. The sores on their faces fester and Ofglen even pulls out a bloody tooth from her mouth while washing herself. However, Janine, who just showed up, has a new found optimism after surviving her jump off the bridge from last season. Every ugly flower in the hillside or romance blossoming between dying “unwomen” has her seeing the brighter side of life, stating that God has a plan for her. Ofglen tries to get her to see the reality of their situation, that they are just cows in a slaughterhouse, but Janine’s ignorance ends up challenging Ofglen’s own views and, by the end, she, too, is trying harder to remain optimistic.
Ofglen’s situation comes across so dismal. It is impossible to see her getting away from the Colonies intact. If she physically gets out of there, she still has to deal with the mutilation of her genitals and whatever lasting damage is being caused by this bio-hazard material that they work near. Sadly, I also feel like Janine is being set up to be the martyr that projects these women into action, as she’s trying to be a light in a dark place and that usually leads to nothing good.
While all of this is taking place, Offred deals with her new submissive demeanor. She tries to burn the stack of letters she received through the rebellion group Mayday last season, but before she can burn more than a few, she is stopped by Nick. She also finds blood in her underwear, to which she basically ignores. Elisabeth Moss shows her best performance of the series thus far, as she blends into the crowd, becoming just another emotionless face. Her ability to repress all her emotions combines beautifully with some special camera framework, especially present in the young wife ceremony.
Both Offred’s and Nick’s storylines culminate following that wedding ceremony. After the wedding ceremony, the Waterfords welcome Nick’s new wife, Eden (Sydney Sweeney), to the household. Serena makes it clear that Eden is consummate the marriage with Nick that evening. As he approaches his quarters, Nick finds Offred laying in the rain, bleeding. We conclude the episode in the hospital, where a fetal heartbeat is shown, meaning the baby has survived. Serena runs to find the doctor while we see that a one-way glass mirror is surrounding the hospital room with armed guards patrolling outside. Offred hides under her blanket, alone in the room, to tell the baby that she will not let the baby grow up in Gilead and that she will find away to get them out of there.
Unfortunately, that means the impressive new side to Moss’ performance, the submissive Offred, only lasted one episode. Hopefully she uses it as more of a weapon in her arsenal moving forward, to be used to pass through Gilead undetected because, as we know, ruffling feathers doesn’t really do her any favors. Even though she was bleeding, I had a strong feeling the baby would pull through. For starters, we have no idea what they do to Handmaids who have miscarriages. Whether this is blamed on the Handmaid or not and whether this deems them unfit to bear children in the future has yet to be seen. Secondly, as stated in the previous episode, Aunt Lydia expresses that June is to be executed after the baby is born unless she proves herself worthy. Had the baby died, I have a feeling June would have been executed not long after.
Credit must be given to the writers, who are producing the strongest season yet. Often when writers run out of source material, the product loses some of its luster, but these writers have done an excellent job of diving even deeper into this radical future. Along with that, the characters are jumping off the screen, which real motives, real desires, and real personalities. The tone of the series rivals anything airing right now, with its dystopian future infused with a creepiness never before explored. This episode, in particular, rolls out those ideas to an even bigger degree, as now they are sexually exploiting children. As graphic as this show can get, there is a line that should not be crossed and they are tiptoeing ever so closely to it.
May 16, 2018
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
Robert Curtis Brown