THE HANDMAID’S TALE
Episode 13: “The Word”
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
JULY 11, 2018
Sophomore seasons of TV can be a gamble, especially when the source material ran out after the first one. By focusing on filling in the gaps of this unique world and diving deeper into the already established characters, “The Handmaid’s Tale” proves its place as Hulu’s biggest hit yet.
The season finale, titled “The Word,” wraps up the season perfectly, not just by tying up loose ends, some of which were just created last week, but also creating enough chaos that the already picked up third season is set to begin in absolute turmoil.
Eden’s (Sydney Sweeney) execution has shaken both Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and June (Elisabeth Moss). When June presents Serena with a Bible she found in Eden’s belongings, she nudges her to take action in the name of their daughter, so that she can have the opportunity to read and learn from it, which the laws of Gilead prohibits. With the backing of the rest of the Wives, Serena stands in front of the counsel of men, her husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes) included, and pushes for an amendment that will allow their children to study the Bible. Unfortunately, these men want obedient, ignorant women and so Serena is punished by the loss of a finger.
Emily (Alexis Bledel) is completely on edge in the Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) residence. Waiting for her first ceremony with the commander, she conceals a steak knife in her garments. Lawrence, however, does not partake in ceremonies. Instead, she uses the knife of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), stabbing her in the back and kicking her down a flight of stares. Lawrence rushes Emily out of the house and into a car, where they drive away. Emily hs a nervous breakdown with the thought of what will happen to her.
The dynamic the Waterford house between June, Nick, and Rita has gotten to a place that is enjoyable to watch, as they have a fun, quiet banter among the three of them, speaking frankly about Nick and June’s love affair and the baby they had together. This leads to the biggest reveal of the episode, after a fire breaks out across the street, Rita shows up telling June that she can get her and the baby out of Gilead that night. Fred grows suspicious and finds June and the baby gone, but Nick puts his hand on his holster and tells him he ought to stay inside. Serena runs into June during her escape but is persuaded to let her go, saying her goodbyes to the baby.
In what turns out to be an Underground Railroad of Marthas, June escapes through the backyards of all the commanders, ending up in a field, holding her baby and looking at a photo of her other child, Hannah. The vehicle with Lawrence and Emily shows up along with a prisoner transport, signifying their escape from Gilead. Instead of leaving, June gives Holly to Emily and tells her to call her “Nichole,” the name Serena had given her. June stays behind as “Burning Down The House” by the Talking Heads starts playing.
Many series would dive into the second season by inundating you with brand new characters, but “The Handmaid’s Tale” shines in its restraint and subtlety, only introducing what it needs to stay fresh. It primarily focuses on existing characters, simply placing them in new, dark places and situations. Diving into the much talked about Colonies or showing us new horrors like the mass marriage ceremony where Guardians are given underage brides, the mock gallows at Fenway Park, or the execution at the college pool, all of these providing brilliant backdrops for the cinematographers and set designers to thrive.
What doesn’t stay fresh is the repetitive nature of the Waterfords household. Too many times does June come and go, too many times does Serena like and dislike, and too many times does Fred’s moods swing one way or the other. When set in a single household, these characters grow dull. It is the bombing episode or the abandoned newspaper office episode or the Waterford’s trip to Canada that truly make the show feel original, capitalizing off the source material brilliantly.
With Aunt Lydia wounded, Fred seeing Nick’s true colors, Serena’s loyalties wavering, Emily free, and June on the loose yet again, next season is already shaping up to be a completely different experience.
July 11, 2018
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
Wendy Hallam Martin