New alliances are struck as the status quo in Gilead is perhaps permanently shaken
“Our republic is under siege,” goes perhaps the most important line at the midpoint of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s second season. In the wake of last week’s stunning, deadly act of resistance, “After” is an episode dedicated to outlining how things have changed and will continue to change: New alliances are struck, characters shift locations, and new, quieter subversive acts promise that Ofglen’s game-changing rebellion won’t mark the end of the resistance. It may even usher in a whole new era of activism.
This is not a plot-heavy episode of The Handmaid’s Tale; rather, it’s composed primarily of sequences, beginning with the mournful funereal opener, which finds the surviving handmaids, all clad in black, grieving those who died in the bombing. A distraught Lydia leads the ceremony, fighting back tears as she makes pronouncements like, “I was sure I could give you a world without violence — without pain. It’s all I ever wanted.” (Yeah, about that…) Rumors are that more than 30 handmaids died, though June is alive and well, left to navigate an uncertain new landscape.
By “uncertain,” I mean even more deadly than usual: Gilead resembles even more of a police state than usual here, panicked over how such a large-scale attack could be carried out. As June and the handmaids drive along a residential street, they see individuals hanging from trees, guardians scattered on snowy lawns with guns arrogantly displayed. Marthas are senselessly being killed in broad daylight, murdered for even the slightest hint of resistance. And there’s a new sheriff in town: Commander Pryce, we learn, died in the explosion, leaving the relatively hot-headed Cushing in his place.
Cushing is on a mission to get to the bottom of the terrorism by any means necessary. Commander Waterford has survived, but narrowly, now bed-ridden and looking frail; Serena and Nick are by his side, but the latter is suddenly an eye without a head, his boss having perished. Cushing’s suspicions immediately turn to the Waterford household — and particularly, June’s foiled escape plan from earlier this season. He realizes rather quickly that someone inside must have helped her get as far as she did; in a distressingly tense scene, he quizzes June on whether Fred could’ve been involved and where his allegiances truly lie. June maintains the “kidnapping” charade, but barely, and he sees through it. “You can trust me,” he says, most untrustingly. “If your house has been infected with terrorists, I need to know.”
June visits the commander in the hospital later before reconvening with Nick outside the room. She indicates to him that Cushing isn’t going to give up investigating, a reminder that he’s in serious danger. But with the commander out cold and Gilead so heavily policed, their options are especially limited. June has no choice but to catch up with Serena and jointly assess how they can move forward. Back at home, they have a slightly more relaxed back-and-forth than what we’ve come to expect of them, and Serena freely bashes the new security head without June even having to bring him up. “Ray Cushing will be the death of us all,” she cracks, to June’s surprise. June explains to Serena exactly what Cushing asked her when he stopped by unannounced. “You need to answer his questions very carefully,” Serena responds. “Make sure that he understands the truth.” June then notes that Cushing killed Ofglen’s entire family; with a man this brutal, lying and stalling may not be an option. (Recap continues on Page 2)