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The Handmaid's Tale - The Other Side & Jezebel's - Review

Once again, I must apologize for doing a double review. This show is so good, it really should have thousands of words devoted to each individual episode! However, this review will still attempt to do justice to this beautifully acted, written, and directed show.

The Handmaid’s Tale “The Other Side” was directed by Floria Sigismondi with a teleplay by Lynn Renee Maxcy, whose other credits include Covert Affairs. This is a wonderful episode that nonetheless breaks completely from the novel. It is once again a beautifully cinematic episode.

The episode takes us right back to the opening scenes of the series and June (Elisabeth Moss) and Luke’s (O-T Fagbenle) flight from the city – only this time we find out how Luke is still alive. He had his own gun – which he clearly wasn’t comfortable with – and we find out later in the episode where he got it from. He is, in fact, shot. He remembers Hannah and June from what will turn out to be recent history.

He’s being transported in an ambulance that then goes over an embankment. It turns out that being strapped into the gurney saves his life – at least from the crash. You have to wonder why they are even taking him back to the city – likely to make an example of him by hanging him on the wall. He gathers what he can from the ambulance and then goes back after June and Hannah.

Luke comes across June’s backpack and Hannah’s (Jordana Blake) bunny and knows they had to have been taken. He goes looking for help or shelter and finds what seems to be an abandoned town. He eats something and then pretty much passes out.

We flashback to how they got out. June thinks that they should have left sooner – when Moira did. June seems a lot more nervous than Luke. They meet up with Whitford (Tim Ransom), who knows June’s mother. It seems that she’s a doctor. It turns out that Hannah isn’t merely asleep – they’ve drugged her. Whitford insists that they give him their phones, which he destroys, and then takes the backpack – the only things they brought. Luke insists that he take the photo albums. When Whitford says that all three have to get in the trunk, Luke is almost ready to say no to the whole thing, but again, June insists and the three cram themselves into the trunk.

When they hear sirens, June starts to panic and Luke calms her down. It turns out to be a good thing that they are crammed into the trunk when they are stopped. It looks like the whole thing is up, when they are stopped at a checkpoint and the trunk opens. The guard owes Whitford a favor for taking his sister to the prom!

Whitford sets them up in a cabin. Luke wants to know what’s next, and it seems like there’s nothing next when Whitford tells Luke that there are all kinds of patrols between there and the border. Whitford tells him it’s not safe for the lady. Whitford gives him the gun we saw earlier – and a 10 second crash course on how to use it! Whitford tells Luke he’s going to Canada to get them Canadian passports. Luke insists that he’s got VISAs, and Whitford tells him that US passports aren’t worth anything anymore.

Luke is rudely awoken in the present by two women kicking him and wanting to know where his unit is because he’s wearing a Guard jacket. He tells them about the accident and that he’s not a guard. The leader of the group – Zoe (Rosa Gilmore) believes Luke when she sees he’s been shot, and she insists that they take him with them.

The group consists of an army brat, two strays – Zoe and Erin (Erin Wray) – a gay – Peter (Ben Lewis), and a nun – Christine (Kim Roberts). They don’t actually know Erin’s name as she hasn’t spoken since she was found. It’s clear from the red ring on her ear that she was a handmaiden, however.

Luke has a sweet memory of Hannah and June making pancakes which is juxtaposed with Erin having a PTSD nightmare of her past – no doubt of her time as a handmaiden. They tell Luke about the “training centers” and the rumors of them rounding up the fertile women.

Luke’s flashbacks show the three enjoying the lake outside the cabin despite the cold. They are startled by a dog – and its owner with a high powered rifle. It’s another beautifully shot scene as the little family is caught out in the open, literally stranded on the water at the end of the dock. Joe (Shane Daly) introduces himself but the others pointedly don’t, scurrying back inside as soon as Joe leaves.

Luke tries to get them to stop the bus so that he can go back to Boston, but they won’t. They know he can’t get back – and even if he did, he’d be killed. Erin shows him kindness and gives him a drink.

Joe showing up on the dock has convinced them they need to leave. They pack up the car and June sees the gun. She insists on Luke showing her how to load it. When Joe shows up at the door, she points the gun at Joe, but he’s come to warn them. He knows they’re from Boston and the authorities are looking for them. He tells them to stay off the main roads and that Whitford is dead. Joe tells them that he’s got a friend who will meet them at the border.

The bus that Luke is on is somewhat ironically from the Scarlett Woods Assisted Living Center. There’s red again – and of course, the men of Gilead think they are assisting the women to live – certainly, they have no room for choosing how to live themselves. Christine wishes Luke luck in finding Hannah and June, and he’s still determined to go back to Boston.

Zoe takes Luke to the nearby church and shows him that it is full of people hanging from the ceiling – this is what they do to people who fight back. She tells him that if he goes back, he’s going to die. There are people in Canada who can help him get Hannah and June back.

By the time Zoe and Luke, whom she’s convinced to go to Canada, arrive at the boat rendezvous it’s suddenly night. Peter says they need to hurry. There’s a rumor that they are starting to patrol with drones. The boat captain (Marvin Kaye) won’t take Luke until he pays – with the drugs he stole and his wedding ring. They’re attacked and Zoe is killed. Erin and Luke manage to get away.

The narrative jumps ahead by three years to “Little America” in Toronto, Canada. So we finally have a timeline for the rest of the story too. Luke and Erin are still together and she makes a face when he tells her he had to get tea – there’s no coffee due to rationing, so clearly not everything is fine even in the north! There’s a nice shot of the CN Tower in the background. Erin still clearly has problems as she generally just sits in her apartment all day.

Luke gets a call and goes to an appointment. We see him walking down a long corridor that is plastered with pictures – “have you seen this person” type pictures. He meets with Rachel (Krista Morin), who asks her assistant to get them coffee – clearly the rationing isn’t as bad here… Luke is caught off guard when Rachel asks him point blank if he knows a woman named June Osborne. He tells her that she’s his wife, and she hands him the note that June wrote for him. Luke still has the same broken glasses and is overwhelmed that June is alive. The note only says that she loves him, but it’s enough to give him hope – and it’s the same hope that June is now feeling, knowing that Luke is alive.

The Handmaid’s Tale “Jezebel’s” is with a teleplay by Kira Snyder and directed by Kate Dennis, whose other credits include Rescue Me, Secrets & Lies, Offspring, and Preacher. Snyder’s other credits include Eureka, Alphas, and The 100. Once again, this episode features flashbacks to another character’s past – this time it’s Nick (Max Minghella) – that help to shed light on both Gilead and Nick’s motivations.

I love the opening monologue in this episode from June. She knows Luke is alive, and she knows what she’s done. She really has no hope that she’ll ever be able to see Luke again, but she still regrets her lack of loyalty to him as she sits in bed with Nick beside her asleep. She wishes that her story were different and showed her in a better light. Yet, she started the affair with Nick in order to take back some agency. I’m curious to know if Luke moved on with Erin – not that two wrongs make a right, but if you think the other is dead, is there a reason to feel guilty for trying to find happiness?

June considers herself to be a weakling. But she’s come back to Nick on her own. She wants to know him and memorize him because she’s sure that even this small happiness won’t last and that Nick, like Luke, will fade from her memory. She doesn’t think that what she’s doing is rebellious or a “fuck you to the patriarchy” – yet it is on one level. It’s not wrong to want to feel good and to refuse to be alone. Those are things that Gilead takes from women – look what they did to Ofglen.

June doesn’t gain any real insight into Nick in this episode, but we sure do. The flashbacks show how he came to be involved in Gilead and what his real role is. We see him at a job placement service. Andrew Pryce (Robert Curtis Brown) is his counsellor – and you have to ask yourself, how does this guy – Pryce – end up so high up in the fabric of Gilead? A question for another day perhaps, or the fact that he’s in a perfect position to pick off the most vulnerable in society – those most likely to be fed up with the system. At any rate he’s taken Nick under his wing for whatever reason, yet Nick is unable to hold down a job. I loved that even his wardrobe is the opposite to the black we're used to seeing him in.

When another job applicant gives Nick a hard time for taking too long, Nick is quick to anger and get in the guy’s face. He’s clearly brave and not afraid to fight. Nick punches Pryce in the face by mistake, and Pryce’s response is to take him for lunch. We learn that Nick’s entire family worked in the steel works, and when it closed, his brother, Joshua, crawled into a bottle, his father only got a quarter pension, and Nick has struggled to find work.

There’s a nice throw away in which Pryce says “as the good book says, idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” – and while Nick agrees with the sentiments, he immediately calls Pryce on the fact that it’s not in the Bible – so clearly they are both familiar with the Bible and Nick shares that with the leaders of Gilead. Nick says his brother takes off, sometimes weeks at a time, and Pryce is ready to see that Nick is not meeting a work schedule because he’s busy with family-stuff. He tells Nick that he’s “a good soul.”

Pryce asks what Nick will do now and takes the opportunity to see his reaction to his “philosophy.” It’s no wonder God has turned his back on a society that only cares about profit and pleasure, it’s no wonder there are no children. And that statement is reinforced by a long shot of the diner that is devoid of children. Nick suggests that there’s nothing you can do about it. Pryce tells Nick about the Sons of Jacob – they have chapters in 30 states and he leads one of them. He invites Nick to a meeting and suggests there might be a job in it for him. He sees that Nick is struggling with being alone – and it’s a beautiful call back to June’s words about not wanting to be alone – Pryce tells Nick that he’s not alone, and that’s how they recruit – and brainwash – the men.

June returns to her bedroom, only to find the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) waiting for her. He calls her his “fair little one” like she’s a child – it’s both demeaning and creepy – as is the fact that he’s simply waiting in her bedroom – but then he owns both her and her room. He suggests that they can do something more exciting – and I loved her responding “Monopoly?”

However, Fred has something a lot more exciting in mind. He’s clearly got an entire range of fetishes. He shaves June’s legs – normally, she only gets to shave them once a month with Rita (Amanda Brugel) waiting outside the bathroom so she doesn’t kill herself with the razor. He then watches as she puts on makeup, and he’s got a lovely – if tarty – cocktail dress and high heels for her to change into. He tells her that she looks beautiful. I’d say a bit too much rouge – but then the idea is for her to look like a whore – or at least like she’s playing a part.

His final touch is to take her hair down. And that in itself is an interesting symbol. Arguably, every time she’s had to have sex in the ceremony and even when Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) brought June to Nick, her hair has been up. It’s when she willingly goes to Nick and when she has sex at Jezebel’s with Fred, her hair is down. Yet, arguably, does she ever have any choice with Fred, or does he simply want to believe that this is something she’s choosing?

Nick drives the two of them. Fred tells her that Mrs Waterford is visiting her mother – and that’s why they can sneak out. She is disguised in Serena Joy’s cloak – or at least the cloak of a wife. She’s clearly uncomfortable in the car, and Nick is clearly not happy. When Fred asks her if she’s not enjoying herself she makes an excuse, and he explicitly tells her that she’s not herself this evening – she’s playing a part: “tonight, you aren’t you.” And yet, she’s never herself with him.

When then get to the river, June must hide because no women are allowed past that checkpoint, crossing the Charles River into Boston. Nick and June exchange glances in the rear view mirror.

The next flashback is to Nick driving Waterford, Pryce, and Commander Guthrie (Christian Lloyd). This is a fascinating scene as we see the “branding” of the handmaidens born. Pryce honestly sounds like he thinks he’s doing God’s work. He insists that they “must treat these girls in a godly fashion despite the moral stain from their lives before.” What moral stain? They have taken every woman because she is fertile. If he really felt that God was punishing those who couldn’t have children, shouldn’t the fertile women be the ones He isn’t punishing?

Guthrie isn’t interested in the “window dressing.” He wants efficiency and says that all the fertile women should simply be rounded up and impregnated. Pryce is aghast – that makes them concubines! So what else are the handmaidens – a rose by any other name and all that!

It’s Fred who says that the wives won’t accept Guthrie’s way and they won’t succeed without the wives help. Pryce suggests that the wives should be there during the act – it would make it less of a violation. WHAT?!?!? Less of a rape to have someone else watch? Forcing the wives to watch is like raping them too.

Waterford seems to straddle the other two, providing a bridge between religion and business. He agrees with Pryce that there is scriptural precedence, but he also points out that “act” isn’t the best name from a branding perspective. Let’s not forget his trade deals – it’s about economics. And it boils down to being no different than the world of pleasure and profit that Pryce bemoaned to Nick early in the episode. The men are simply keeping both pleasure and profit for themselves. It’s Waterford who suggests “ceremony” and Guthrie agrees that the wives will “eat that shit up.”

They drop off Pryce and Guthrie, and Waterford apologizes to Nick for Guthrie’s “blasphemous” mouth, excusing it because he’s a great field commander – and Guthrie took New York. Nick, like any good driver – says he didn’t notice. Any good servant should be seen and not heard – and hear nothing. Waterford asks Nick his opinion about the handmaids, and Nick says that Waterford is right – it’s better not to form attachments. It’s better for everyone.

In the present, the three enter Jezebel’s from the back entrance – June is contraband after all. Fred removes her cloak and hands it to Nick who is clearly appreciating June’s new outfit. And once again, the show makes a perfect music choice as “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane starts playing as June finds herself falling down a rabbit hole as she enters Jezebel’s – it’s clearly the pressure relief valve for the men, but an even more horrific ending for the women. June, of course, has no idea what’s expected of her.

When June mentions that she thought this kind of place was forbidden, Fred tells her they are, but they turn a blind eye. Everyone is human after all. He completely fails to see that he does not treat everyone like they are human – including June and Serena Joy – but especially the women who are essentially slaves in Jezebel’s. When June asks who all these people are, Fred tells her about the men, and she has to clarify that she meant “the women.” Some of them were “working girls” before, but he points out a woman who was a sociology professor and then lists lawyers, journalists, CEOs – the women who wouldn’t “assimilate” – who wouldn’t obey mindlessly and submit. And then June’s mind is blown as she sees Moira (Samira Wiley) across the room. She’s wearing rabbit ears - there's the song reference again - and clearly chatting up a man.

June follows her to the washroom, and the two have a tearful reunion. Moira apologizes for leaving June at the train, and June forgives her and brushes it off. Moira is sent back out onto the floor – she’s a working girl after all – but tells June to find her later on the Mezzanine level.

We get a look at more of Nick’s duties. He’s exchanging illegal drugs for the “working girls” to numb their pain with legal drugs so the wives can dye their hair. He asks why they wanted ketamine (a horse tranquillizer), and Beth (Kristen Gutoskie) tells him that some of the men have Sleeping Beauty fantasies – YUK! But the women will also spike the men’s drinks and then go through their phones – working for the resistance or the Eyes? Nick confirms that he is an eye – if there was still any doubt – by thanking Beth on their behalf.

It’s clear that there is something between the two of them because she knows him well enough to realize that something is bothering him. He’s brought her fresh basil from the garden. She promises to make him pasta with her famous pesto – clearly she was a cook before. Nick brushes off her advances, but it’s clear they’ve had a relationship – or what passes for one.

Nick watches as Fred takes June up to a room. He flashes back to the memory of Rita screaming and him having to cut down the former Offred who had hanged herself. Did Fred bring her to Jezebel’s too? It may help to explain why no one has wanted to get close to June.

        As they take the body away, Serena Joy leans in to Fred and snarls at him, “what did you think was going to happen?” Is she simply seeing this as the inevitable consequence of forcing them to be handmaids or does she know about Fred’s other excursions – assuming the other Offred also went to Jezebel’s. Nick clearly thinks that Fred is responsible as he glares at him too.

In the room, Fred complains about work to June. He feels like there’s a target on his back even though no one has made a move yet. She commiserates that she supposes that’s what happens when you’re the boss. He remarks that she really understands him. She knows how to play him anyway. And that is what he wanted – for her to play a part.

She asks why he brought her there, and he says that he thought she’d enjoy it. That they could just be together. He tells her that they don’t need to be quiet – he assumes that she wants him as much as he wants her. Perhaps a logical conclusion given that she has been flirting with him. But flirting is not consent, and she has no more real choice her than she does during the ceremony.

While Fred is sleeping, June heads to the Mezzanine to find Moira. I loved the shot of her moving down the hallway that looks so much like the hotel hallway in The Shining – and it is a hallway of horrors as she sees all manner of depravity.

Moira tells June that she looks like the Whore of Babylon, and June says isn’t that the point. Moira tells her of her attempted to escape. They never took her back to the Red Center because she was a corrupting influence. She was given a choice – the colonies or Jezebel’s. She tells June it’s not so bad – all the booze and drugs you want and you only work nights. Moira has given up any thought of escape – it’s Gilead, no one gets out.

June tells Moira that Luke got out, but Moira points out that he’s not them – he’s not a woman, he has some agency. We come back to the theme of the episode – being alone. Moira tells June that they are alone. June needs to look out for herself. Moira tells her to go – it’s easier not to have a reminder of their old lives. June refuses to go before hugging her and telling her how much she loves her.

The final flashback has Nick reporting to Pryce on Guthrie who’s being escorted from a black van. He tells him that Guthrie has slept with his last two handmaids – clearly outside the ceremony. Guthrie’s aide has also told Nick that Guthrie was skimming from the transportation budget. Pryce remarks that their best intelligence comes from their plain clothes operatives – like Nick.

Pryce is determined to clean up Gilead. He tells Nick that his primary job is to report on Waterford. He remarks that it’s a sad business with the handmaid and that Waterford needs to act differently with the new one. Is this the beginning of the end for Waterford? What will that mean for June? Where does Nick’s loyalty lie?

Fred greets Serena Joy at the door the next morning. Nick watches as they greet each other. She asks how things were there and Fred tells her lonely. Yet he is able to ensure that he is never lonely. In fact, he’s really the only one to have that kind of agency.

Nick passes through the kitchen with Serena Joy’s bags and won’t return June’s smile. When she tries to talk to him, he shuts her out, even when she asks if she’ll see him later. He tells her that they can’t “do this anymore.” June knows Nick is upset about the previous night, and tries to point out that she had to go – she has no choice. He tries to keep the table between them as she begs him to talk to her. She tells him that she doesn’t know anything about him. She doesn’t know who he is – and this also dovetails back to the beginning and her desire to know him.

She asks him if this is enough for him. To polish the car and maybe get a handmaid pregnant. He tells her that she knows they are being stupid. He feels as trapped as either June or Moira. He tells her that it’s too dangerous. June says that even if they end up on the wall, at least someone will remember her. It’s something if someone cares when she’s gone. And Nick proves that he’s that person by reaching out to her and making the connection by telling her that his name is Nick Blaine and he’s from Michigan. But June shuts him out telling him “Under his eye.” It’s not enough. She knows he’s an Eye – but maybe it’s all he can give.

Serena Joy stops June on the stairs to give her a gift. Once again, June is demeaned by being treated like a child as Serena Joy presents her with the musical jewelry box she had as a child. Admittedly, there isn’t much she can give June for amusement – no books, etc. Yet it’s the perfect gift – a doll that is kept in a box and at the beck and call of others is forced to come out and perform. However, Serena Joy gives June a key to the box. Remember that she can’t even shut the door to her bedroom. The key gives June agency over something. She controls this woman in the box.

The theme playing is Tchaikovsky’s Theme of the Swans from Swan Lake – and of course, it’s perfect. The Swan Queen – Odette – so similar to Offred – has been transformed into a meek and submissive creature by an evil sorcerer. When Odette and her true love decide to die together in order to be together, it frees the other swan maidens. Is Nick June’s prince? We do see her announcing her defiance as the music box plays, carving, “You are not alone” into the closet. She’s determined that she’s telling this story to someone. She maintains that there is always someone, even when there’s no one.

Two more powerful episodes – and only two more before the end of the first season. Let me know your thoughts so far! Any theories as to how the season will end?

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