In the “Worst Person in Gilead” sweepstakes, a new figure appears to have stepped up in contention for the crown. Let’s break down this particularly deadly installment of The Handmaid’s Tale, “Under His Eye,” landing in the wake of last year’s shocking confrontation, in five key moments.
The bleakness of “Under His Eye” doesn’t take long to settle in: The episode opens on the handmaids lined up along ropes, with Aunt Lydia chanting for them to pull in unison, and prepare the execution of traitors. As one character notes, this is becoming even more routine in Gilead of late. And so we watch handmaids pull. We watch people place their heads in the ropes. We watch them hang. And we watch the handmaids disperse.
In the aftermath, at the grocery store, a ruse is created so June can catch up with the Martha caring for Hannah. As promised last season, the Martha is looking out for her. But June — perhaps because of the awful event she just went through — wants more. She wants to get to Hannah. “I just came from my fourth hanging this week,” June tells her. “Do you think it’s going to get better?” Reluctantly, the Martha confirms where Hannah attends school and gives her the name of a guard who will help her. The plan is set in motion. But a key moment in the cinematography — we see Ofmathew, that Gilead-loyal handmaid with whom June had just had a heart-to-heart, watching them suspiciously.
Emily and Moira bond
This week we get to peer into the other side of the global debate over baby Nicole’s fate: in Canada. Emily, inevitably, is being interviewed by the same Swiss committee that June tried (and failed) to make a deal with. She is being asked difficult questions — about when she stole the car and bolted, about stabbing Aunt Lydia “in the back” — and Emily struggles at the thought of Sylvia standing behind her, listening to all of the seemingly terrible things she’s done. But after the interview is completed Sylvia expresses total understanding. “You don’t have to deal with this on your own,” she tells Emily. Emily walks away.
Indeed Emily’s PTSD is one Sylvia can’t quite get on the same level with. But fortunately, Emily does find a friend who’s lived it, too, in Moira. The two meet in a coffee shop, where they trade stories of their old lives — Moira cracks, “How do we not have a gay in common?” after realizing that despite knowing some “Harvard girls,” Emily is familiar with none of them — and then decide to head to a protest together, where they get in the face of a public official over Nicole’s fate. The sequence is visceral. Moira goes at him along with the crowd, but then Emily gets into it, passionately, shouting about June’s sacrifice and why Nichole had to be brought into Canada. Eventually, both are arrested. In jail, they reflect together, more.
How is June going to get to Brookline on this particular afternoon? Certainly not by herself. So she hatches up a plan — she’ll trick Eleanor Lawrence to take her. June walks into her room to deliver tea, where we get a closer view of Eleanor’s dysfunction: Curtains drawn, lights out. June persuades her to “take a walk.” “I’ll be with you the whole time — I’ll make sure nothing happens to you,” June assures. They walk along their neighborhood’s sidewalks, at one point running into Mrs. Putnam — Eleanor makes one too many comments about her “relief” that her baby is not “dead” — and later having a heart-to-heart, with Eleanor disclosing her bipolar diagnosis and feelings of loss over not having a child. June realizes Eleanor is one of the good ones, and decides not to lie to her; she admits she was using her to get to Brookline, and understands if she wants to turn around. But Eleanor wants an adventure.
They go — all the way to Brookline, taking the train, walking right up to the school. But when they arrive the guard that the Martha had promised would help them isn’t there. Eleanor does some quick thinking with the man manning the grounds: “I’m Commander Lawrence’s wife,” she says, before saying she’d been promised a tour. They let her in — but not June. As June skirts the perimeter, hearing Hannah’s voice and crying tears of joy, she’s suddenly pulled back toward the entrance — where Eleanor is, again. This time she’s flustered, evidently unwell. June asks if she wants to be taken home. Eleanor says yes. Back at home, Joseph gives June a stern look — as, finally, we come to understand the Lawrence spouses’ dynamic a little bit better.
Serena Plots a Move
Serena and Fred are still staying with the Winslows in the wake of last week’s epic blowout. And Mrs. Winslow is pushing for the Waterfords to move to D.C. full-time. She shows Serena “one of the few, unrestored houses left” — complete with a newspaper on the kitchen table! — which is a perfect space for them. “I’ll think about it,” Serena says. Fred, meanwhile, is dealing with more creepy come-on behavior from George — as well as some resistance at bringing home Baby Nichole. It’s politically expedient, he tells Fred, to keep Nichole in Canada for now, giving Gilead more leverage.
But talking with Serena later over a romantic dinner, he tells her that his loyalty is to her, and bringing the baby home. She’s very moved by this. They go out dancing later, where Serena is called to socialize among Mrs. Winslow and her friends — and Serena finds them immediately appealing, a bit less formal and mannered. She dances with Fred later, the whole ballroom watching. Here’s a chance at a reset for these two that’s starting to look irresistible. But as June told Serena last week, she’ll never be able to just run away from what Gilead has created.
A Stinging Betrayal
We end where we began — at a hanging, with the handmaids lined up, ready to carry out God’s “duty,” as Lydia so twistedly spins it to them. But before the victims of the day arrive, June hears that the Mackenzie family has gone without a word. And then, suddenly, Hannah’s Martha appears before the handmaids, sobbing. She is to die. As Lydia tells it, “No sin is more vile” than her trying to help get Hannah back to her birth mother. Someone, in other words, talked.
We have to watch the killing, again — the picking-up of the rope, the Martha placing her head in the noose, the fateful pull. It’s an absolutely devastating sequence. As the handmaids again disperse, June stares one last, long time at Lydia before racing ahead of the handmaids. Suddenly, a voice. “You should be thankful.” It’s Ofmathew. “Your temptation’s been lifted. June turns around to her in a confused rage. Ofmathew continues, saying that Lydia had told her to watch June. “I saved you — we saved you.” June takes off her bonnet, staring for a long time. Then she loses it. “You saved me?” She cries out. She grabs her by the throat and holds her down, against the bridge. “You f—ing bitch,” she screams. At last June is pulled away by the other handmaids. But the damage — the betrayal — has been done.
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