WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
I’ve been a tad quiet as of late, and that’s because Season 2 of The Handmaids Tale launched in Australia on SBS on Demand on 26 April. And of course, I’ve been tuning in to watch it every Thursday night.
Episode 9 is freshly launched and holy fuckballs, going by everything that has happened in this episode, Gilead ought to brace itself for a hammering.
And here’s the promo for Episode 10:
Episode 9 saw Commander Fred Waterford and his wife, Serena Joy, go on a “diplomatic mission” to Canada. In the wake of Ofglen’s suicide bomb attack on the new Rachel & Leah Centre (colloquially known in Gilead as “The Red Centre”), Waterford is using the incident as leverage to round up what he calls “illegal immigrants” (which are really displaced American refugees who fled Gilead and were granted asylum in Canada), to be returned to Gilead. And, of course, Canada doesn’t want to upset its neighbours.
From the Commander’s first meeting with the Canadian officials, there was an undercurrent of hostility. When the immigration minister says that he and his husband (with his emphasis on the word “husband”) were fond of the United States and travelled there often. Commander Waterford then mentions Gilead’s plans on rekindling the tourism industry and invited the minister to visit again soon, but the immigration minister says coldly, “If we are welcome”, implying to the Commander that he is aware of how Gilead views and treats LGBTI people and how he feels about it. Behind a mask of professionalism, was a whiff of passive-aggression. Yeah, Gilead hates gays, and the immigration minister knows it.
Waterford was insistent on bringing Serena Joy with him so he could parade her around like some goddamn trophy wife, to “show Canada a strong Gilead wife” in Waterford’s words. This decision is probably one that may eventually backfire on Commander Waterford, as we saw from Serena’s reactions when she saw the people going about their day-to-day lives in Toronto. The cracks in her facade really began to show upon seeing Luke Bankole, Offred/June’s husband, confront Commander Waterford, all the while clutching an enlarged family photograph of himself with June and their daughter Hannah. The first seeds were planted for Serena when she was approached by a representative of the American Government (“Which American Government?” she quipped in response), who then began to dangle the proverbial carrot in front of her nose, offering her a book deal for a memoir as a Commander’s wife in Gilead, the packet of cigarettes, that she has a very real possibility of having a child of her own and be free, while hammering home that the fertility crisis that Gilead was so up in arms about wasn’t the problem of female fertility, but male fertility. The last seeds were planted in Serena’s mind when Moira approached the Waterfords’ homeward bound motorcade, thumping her fist against the window and holding up a sign that read “MY NAME IS MOIRA”, and locking eye contact with Serena Joy. Serena was visibly uncomfortable, while Commander Waterford tried his best to pretend nothing was happening.
I’ve seen other reviews of this episode prior to typing this. There’s a few comments and reviews criticising O.T. Fagbenle’s performance in portraying Luke. A lot of the criticisms were based around Luke not being aggressive enough when he confronted Waterford, that he didn’t seem overly concerned with June etc, blah blah blah.
Luke is no doubt dealing with PTSD, survivor’s guilt and all that other nasty stuff that refugees have to deal with after experiencing that kind of trauma. He is dealing with a maelstrom of emotions, and having to live with the prospect that he might not ever see June and/or Hannah again. With the scene at the arrival of the Waterfords’ motorcade at the hotel, there were protesters outside the foyer – a good portion of those protesters were refugees who had fled Gilead. Luke, although he had the courage to confront Waterford and also yell, “You raped my wife!” to his face (only for Waterford to brush it off as fake news), he also knew he had to exercise restraint.
If Luke was alone in a room with Commander Waterford, it would be fair to say that Luke would beat the living daylights out of Waterford for his hand in the creation of Gilead and its impact on Luke’s family and the people he cares about. If Luke had planted a punch in Waterford’s noggin, it wouldn’t augur well for Luke. He would likely have been arrested and, because at that point in time the Canadian authorities were brushing off the atrocities in Gilead as hearsay, there was a risk of Luke being refouled to Gilead. Fortunately for Luke, he was restrained by the guards before he could do anything. His initial reaction to Nick was equally understandable, though he was wise enough to back off from shoving Nick around and cool his head before things escalated. It paid off, with Nick handing him the bundle of letters and learning that June was alive – and asking Nick to deliver a message to June, that he is alive and Moira made it to Canada.
With all the Mayday letters now digitised and uploaded into cyberspace for the world, Gilead could no longer hide their insidious ways from the rest of the world, let alone Canadian authorities – it was not mentioned explicitly in this episode, but they would have known that if they returned the displaced American refugees to Gilead, it would constitute refoulement (and would consequently receive condemnation from the rest of the world, and indeed from the UN, assuming it still exists in this universe).
From Offred’s conversations with Aunt Lydia and Rita, and Serena’s reactions, I’m going to speculate unrest will brew. Aunt Lydia opened up to Offred about being a godmother to her nephew, who then died aged 4 days, which Aunt Lydia then says “It’s not my fault”. All the events in the book are based on real events that have happened at some point in human history. If we do see a revolt against the ruling class in Gilead, I’m willing to bet that it would be led by the women, and Serena Joy, the Marthas, some of the aunts, and certainly the handmaids will be on board – and the idea won’t be too far fetched, as women have led revolts and rebellions throughout the course of human history.