After a couple of episodes that gave us glimpses of hope (the skeleton of a resistance, Nicole being united with Luke, Emily escaping), we’re back to the bleakness that we’ve come to know from The Handmaid’s Tale. But the darkness in this episode is very different from the terrors of earlier in the series. The earlier graphic brutality and tortures have become the subconscious undercurrent of this story, and now so much terror is simply implied—the fear itself seems to be just as effective. All it takes is Aunt Lydia to appear on screen, for example, and, like Pavlov’s dog, we respond reflexively. I sure hope that foundation of fear is enough, because I don’t think I can stand to see any more mutilations.
This episode does offer some familiar reminders of Gilead’s brutality though, like public hangings and detention centers, but the story is now focusing on the more subtle, behind-the-scenes elements of the regime—where the cracks might be. We see that Lawrence is in a position so powerful that the leadership comes to his house to meet, simply because he doesn’t like to commute to the office. It seems strange, in so many ways Gilead reminds us of Nazi Germany, but the big difference is there doesn’t seem to be a single leader in Gilead. It runs by committee, so it’s really hard to get a sense of where someone like Lawrence, or even Fred, fall in the hierarchy. Still, it’s clear Lawrence is very important, a fact that is not lost on June, who is determined to find a way to make use of his power and position.
But Lawrence isn’t going to make it easy on her, as he continues his cat-and-mouse game-play with her, constantly probing and testing her. She is determined to find a way in with him, though, knowing she needs allies with power to succeed in her long game, but, like a chess game, every time she makes a move, he makes one just a bit better. Unlike Fred, Lawrence is not easily manipulated, and June has her work cut out for her.
Meanwhile, Serena is sinking into her own despair while she’s at her mother’s house on the coast. It doesn’t help that her mother is as cold as the climate, so Serena goes to the one person who can understand the pain she’s feeling about losing Nicole: June. When Serena comes to visit her, June sees it as an opportunity. She tries to convince Serena to help with the resistance, help all the other mothers who had their babies taken away. What makes this scene so powerful is the clear torment that Serena is in and the depth that Yvonne Strahovski gives her. Strahovski and Moss have a chemistry that is impossible to define as their characters’ relationship is complex and so intertwined, you see them fighting to not get sucked into each other’s abyss. And yet they know that the other is their own key to survival. They both need each other and their reluctant bond is by far the most fascinating element in the series.
As for Lawrence, June continues to try to find the wedge that will crack him open, but instead she realizes he’s just as good a manipulator as she is. When she calls him out on the fact that he only does occasional good deeds so he can sleep at night, he takes her for a drive to a detention center, where thousands of women are about to be sent to certain death in the colonies. Pick 5 to save, he challenges her. “I thought you might enjoy being useful for once,” he sneers. While initially horrified by his request, she again finds a way to make the best of a terrible situation as she selects five women who could be beneficial to the resistance: an engineer, a lawyer, a journalist, an IT tech and a thief. Useful, indeed.