It’s no accident that this week’s episode features Jefferson Airplane’s Alice and Wonderland-themed “White Rabbit” — there’s no rabbit hole for Offred to escape through (if only!), but she’s brought into a new facet of this strange new world. Curiouser and curiouser, indeed.
Offred is still continuing her affair with Nick, which is more complicated now that she knows her husband is out there, alive. “I wish this story were different. I wish it showed me in a better light. In a different story maybe I wouldn’t be such a f—ing weakling,” she thinks to herself, sitting up in Nick’s bed. She wants to memorize him, and laments that she didn’t with Luke, because he’s fading away in her mind.
Speaking of that sex with Nick, she’s frank about what it means to her. It’s not a rebellious act, a middle finger to the patriarchy. “I’m here because it feels good,” she tells us. “And because I don’t want to be alone.”
When she sneaks back into the house, the Commander is sitting on her bed. He wants to branch out beyond their usual Scrabble game and do something “different” — it doesn’t mean Monopoly, but does require shaving her legs, something she’s normally only allowed to do once a month and with someone waiting outside (because, you know, razors). He shaves her legs with proficiency that makes her think he’s done this before, and he also gives her makeup and a sparkly cocktail dress for their excursion. “Tonight, I’m taking you out,” he tells her. Notice that it’s not an offer.
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Serena Joy is away visiting her mother, so they can leave the house without her knowing. He gives her one of his wife’s blue traveling cloaks to put over her illicit outfit, and they set off with Nick in the driver’s seat. When they get to a checkpoint, the Commander instructs her to lift her hood so she can pose as Mrs. Waterford, which works without incident, and then when they get to the river she has to bend down completely — no women, not even wives, are allowed past that point. Over the Charles River and presumably in Boston, or what used to be it, they enter a building through a back entrance. Inside is the Jezebels of the episode’s title, a lounge/gentlemen’s club with men drinking and chatting with women who are definitely not wives or handmaids. There’s even a football game on TV. Places like this, Waterford says, are technically forbidden, but unofficially, those in charge turn a blind eye. Which makes Offred an Alice in a very-much-not-Wonderland.
The men there, he tells her, are senior officials and foreign visitors. The women, however, are those who “couldn’t assimilate” into Gilead. Some were sex workers previously, but others are academics and professional women — he points out a former sociology professor and notes others were CEOs or journalists. This is what’s left for them. “They prefer it here,” Waterford assures her.
As Offred takes it all in, the world stops: Moira is there, across the room. She sees Offred, excuses herself, and walks off to their old meeting spot: the ladies’ room. Their reunion is an emotional one — Moira apologizes for leaving Offred at the train; Offred is so glad Janine was wrong about her being dead. Offred explains how Waterford snuck her in for the night, which Moira says the men do sometimes (“just another s—ty power trip,” she deadpans, hitting it right on the head). She has to get back to work, but they promise to find each other again later.
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As that’s all happening, Nick is in the kitchen talking with a Martha, who trades him bottles of booze and additional contraband (hair dye!) for other illicit goods — prescription drugs and pregnancy tests. He also brought her fresh basil, from Mrs. Waterford’s garden, but turns down both her offer to make him pesto (she was a James Beard nominee in her former life, apparently) and her attempt to kiss her. It seems they’ve done this before, but tonight he’s more interested in watching Offred head off with the Commander.
Just where did Nick come from, anyway? For the third week in a row, we have flashbacks that aren’t Offred’s. Nick hails from Michigan, where he can’t seem to hold down a job — and there don’t seem to be many to have, based on the filled chairs in the employment office he visits. After Nick gets in an argument with another man and is escorted out, the career consultant takes him for coffee to find out more about his life. Turns out, it’s a story that will sound familiar to many — when the local steel mill shut down, he and his father were both out of work, and Nick had to take whatever jobs he could find. “It’s hard making it in a society that only cares about profit and pleasure,” the man tells him, before offering a way he could help make things great again: There’s a group called the Sons of Jacob that “wants to set things right — clean up the country.” Nick should to go a meeting, he tells him, because he might like what he hears, and there could be work in it for him, too.
And there is work, driving around the Commanders as they make their plans and overhearing them sort out the logistics of the “handmaid situation.” One proposes rounding up all the remaining fertile women and forcibly impregnating them, but Commander Waterford argues that the wives would never accept that, and their support is essential to putting this new hierarchy in place. The other man traveling with them asks if the wives should be there for the “act,” noting there’s scriptural precedent for that. Waterford, though, thinks “act” could use a better name, for optics purposes. Three guesses what they land on. (Here’s a hint: It’s the Ceremony.)
That’s the first time Waterford meets Nick, but it’s obviously not the last. Later, another Commander tells him that, as a plainclothes operative for the Eyes, his job will be to report back on Waterford. Being posted inside that home means he was there when their previous handmaid died by suicide, and he stood outside with the Commander and Serena Joy as her body was taken away. (Serena Joy, it seems, is at least somewhat aware of her husband’s extracurricular activities. As they stood outside, she whispered, “What did you think was going to happen?”)
Back in the present, in a private room, the Commander tells Offred about rumors of purges in other districts and the worry there’s a target on his back, before answering when she asks why he brought her here. “I thought you’d enjoy it,” he says, kissing her neck and moving his hand between her legs. She remains still as he touches her, but a single tear runs down her face — it’s yet another assault from a man who has total control over her, a situation where her consent is meaningless.
Later, she sneaks out and finds her way down to Moira, who is able to talk with her now that her night’s work is over. After she got on that train to Boston, Moira tells her, she was able to connect with an underground network — the “Femaleroad,” just like it was called in Margaret Atwood’s book — trying to smuggle handmaids out of the country. When she was caught, the people with her were killed, and she was given a choice: go to the colonies, or work here at Jezebels. Pragmatic or hopeless or both, she tells Offred it’s not so bad — she’ll have three or four years before she “wears out,” and there are drugs and decent food. When Offred tries to convince her to escape again, noting that Luke got out alive, Moira points out that they’re not likely to be as lucky. “We’re alone, June. Just take care of yourself,” she tells her friend.
Offred, Nick, and the Commander head back home in time for Serena Joy’s return, and Nick tells June privately that they can’t see each other anymore. Offred tries to explain she had no choice but to go with Waterford the night before, and confronts him when he won’t respond to her — is this life enough for him? Is it what he wants? He argues that what they’re doing is too dangerous, that Offred could end up on that wall she passes by. Offred replies that at least someone would remember her here, and care about her when she’s gone. For her, that would be worth it.
She walks off, but Serena Joy stops her before she can head up the stairs. She brought a gift back for Offred — a music box she had in her childhood bedroom growing up, which opens with a key and has a ballerina twirling to a tune. It’s a fitting gift, Offred muses later: “A girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone else opens the lid. When someone else winds her up.”
But this one has a message to leave behind, carved into the closet wall like the manta she found there before — You are not alone — and a new mission for herself as the episode ends with an amazing shot: Offred staring towards the camera, framed by the closet door, a woman refusing to be closed in.
“If this is a story I’m telling, I must be telling it to someone,” she says in voice-over. “There’s always someone, even when there’s no one. I will not be that girl in the box.”