It’s this season’s penultimate episode, Gilead visitors. How are you feeling so far? The journey into this world has been both addictive and scarily relevant (go back and re-Google all the politically-hued pieces timed to the show’s debut; I’ll wait right here), and it does feel like we’re building to a boiling point.
Janine’s reached her threshold for what she can take: This place broke her. And it broke Moira too, for a while, but it now looks like she’s raising another glass to the revolution. (Hamilton probably doesn’t exist in the Gilead, but let’s pretend just for a second: “Raise a glass to freedom…”)
What happens when a handmaid fulfills her “sacred duty” and bears a healthy child? Another ceremony, one where she must give the baby she bore (conceived, let’s remember, as a result of government-sanctioned assault) to her commander and his wife. There’s a show made of her bowing to them, and the wife — not the man, of course, never the man — bowing back in a sign of equal respect. After she reluctantly hands the baby over, she exits the house for good, walking past a parade of her fellow handmaids as she goes to depart for her next posting. She spots Offred in the line, gives her a hug, and tells her friend that “he’s coming for me.”
Not the most reassuring of sendoffs. “Does she seem alright, considering?” Offred asks Aunt Lydia, who responds that our girl is “tougher than you think.” She takes Janine to her new home, where she’s no longer Ofwarren and is now hereby known as Ofdaniel.
As the handmaids disperse from the sending-off, Offred whispers to fellow handmaid Alma that she wants to help with Mayday. Alma plays dumb but brings it up again later when they’re away from potential eavesdroppers. There is something the resistance wants Offred to do: go back to Jezebels and help smuggle out an important package. Never mind how they know she was there last week, or what contraband they want her to take, but Offred agrees to try.
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She goes to the Commander’s office that night and puts on a whole show of saying how nice it was when they went out on their “little adventure,” how exciting it was, and how much she enjoyed the thrill of getting there and what that they did after. He takes the bait and suggests they go later that night, after the rest of the house goes to sleep. Easy enough? Once Offred leaves, though, the confident facade crumbles — she gasps, the coy smile falls, and you see how scared she really was to try to con him. But they do get that encore, with Nick transporting them. Once inside, the Commander tells Nick they won’t be long — they’re just going straight up to the room this time. That doesn’t fit with Offred’s plan, so she asks if they can get a drink at the bar, but he remains noncommittal, and then annoyed when she asks again after they have sex. (Side note on that: After they finish, he tells Offred she doesn’t have to keep quiet when they’re at Jezebels, and she “can can be free.” Free is an interesting word choice here, considering Offred’s total lack of control in this world.)
He says he knows why she wanted to come back here — it’s to meet someone, and he’s already made the arrangements. He’s not wrong, but he’s got the wrong jezebel. When he opens the door to their room, in walks Moira. “You saw her the last time we were here,” he says, referring to her as Ruby and noting he “knows” her too. “I thought you’d welcome this little reunion.” After emphasizing they’re not that kind of friends, he makes them both thank him for this little get-together and leaves them to talk while he goes to shower off. Moira demands to know why she’d come back and risk herself for some little spy games. The package Alma asked for could be anything, she points out — a bomb, anthrax, who knows — and she refuses to help her get it. Offred is shocked at her friend’s reaction: The woman who carved messages of hope into walls and was brave enough to escape the Red Center has lost all hope. “Do not let them grind you down,” she tells Moira. “You keep your f—ing s— together. You fight.”
“I was doing all right until I saw you again,” Moira replies, and walks out the door, leaving a distraught Offred behind for the Commander to take back home.
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Back at Chez Waterford, Serena Joy isn’t asleep; she’s making baby clothes for the child she so desperately wants and sneaking down to the kitchen in search of some hidden-away alcohol. Rita thought it might have been the Commander coming back, and Serena doesn’t seem to question it when she says her husband is home in his office. Rita offers to make tea but then suggests what Serena was actually looking for — booze — and they have a drink together. They discuss Mrs. Putnam, Janine’s former mistress, who complains her baby keeps her up at night but should be happy to even have a baby at all. Rita reveals she had a son who died in the war. He was only 19 years old. He died to build this world, and now mistress and “Martha” are both trapped in it. When the Commander does come in later that night, she doesn’t question where he was. And Offred crawls into her own bed, consumed by old memories of Moira and Hannah and Luke until she’s roused by Serena Joy, who pulls her out of bed and says to get dressed quickly.
It’s because of Janine, who is very much not well despite what Aunt Lydia may have insisted. She’s still expected to fulfill her handmaid duties, and while her new mistress seems kind, it also appears she really drank the Gilead Kool-Aid. “We’re in this together,” the mistress tells Janine, inviting her to scooch between her legs so they’re ready for the Commander. When he does come in, they both ignore Janine’s cry of protest and get straight to it, the wife smiling at her husband as if this were the most romantic thing in the world. (At least Serena Joy barely hides her disgust.) Finally, Janine can’t take it anymore and bolts up, crawling into a corner and crying and later bolting for the Putnams.
That’s why the Waterfords, Putnams, and Aunt Lydia needed Offred: Janine took her daughter and ran to a nearby bridge, where she’s standing close to the edge holding the infant, refusing to get down, and accusing her Commander of adultery, saying she did every perverse thing he wanted because he promised he, Janine, and the baby would be a family together.
Aunt Lydia pleads with Offred to reason with her, and she tells everyone to give the two of them some space. She assures her that she’s not crazy, but begs her to come down — she tells her that change is coming, and one day this will all be over. They’ll go out drinking and do karaoke and watch the sun come up. Janine considers this. She looks at the water again and offers Offred a different alternative — to jump together — but Offred says she can’t because of her daughter and tells Janine she needs to do what’s best for hers. “You have to give her the chance to grow up.”
Janine kisses the little girl, hands her over to Offred, and asks her to make sure the baby knows she loves her. Offred agrees, and then Janine plunges into the water. The fall doesn’t kill her, but it leaves her in a coma. Aunt Lydia, not surprisingly, has no sympathy for this poor woman’s terrible circumstances.
Janine’s accusations against Commander Putnam, however, do seem to have some consequences. He’s taken away by officers, and Serena Joy tells her friend that he’ll hopefully only receive an “admonishment,” and she won’t suffer any further consequences. Mrs. Putnam doesn’t like the implication that she could be blamed for her husband’s infidelity (though of course that’s a possibility here) and tells Serena Joy to keep a closer eye on her own husband. “We all know what happened with his first handmaid,” she says. “Men don’t change.” That, finally, sparks enough suspicion to send Serena Joy home to look in her husband’s office. But what will she find there?
And all’s not lost for Offred’s foray into espionage. When she goes to the butcher, she’s given a mysterious package along with the day’s meat, and a note inside shows she reignited Moira’s spirit — she’s jumped ship from Jezebels, but not before getting Offred whatever she was trying to smuggle out. “Praised be, bitch,” it says. “Here’s your damn package.” Praised be, indeed — there’s a rebellion brewing.