The Handmaid's Tale: "Smart Power"
June 13, 2018 6:57 AM - Season 2, Episode 9 - Subscribe

The Waterfords embark on a diplomatic trip abroad; Serena faces the temptation of life outside Gilead; Luke and Moira grapple with survivor's guilt; Offred seeks support from allies.
posted by Bibliogeek (39 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A) Please light scenes. Please. PLEASE.
B)Please light faces.
C)Please actually light POC faces. Like, at all.

Why is this such a consistent problem with this show? AGH.

What I loved about this episode, and the show in general, is how they keep coming back to the importance of names. What we choose to call ourselves and what others call us MATTERS. Language has power; power to hurt and power to heal. As a person who spends a lot of time thinking and dealing with language, it delights me to watch a show that spends so much time also thinking about the power of words.

"We believe the women."

*fist pumps and incoherent shrieking*
posted by Bibliogeek at 7:06 AM on June 13, 2018 [12 favorites]

I agree with quite a lot! I loved this episode where everyone says his name and where handmaids begin to talk without holding anything and everything without fear of retaliation. There is a lot of unspoken in this show and this episode is a milestone in the solidarity that takes hold and the strength that represents this solidarity little by little.

And yes it lacks light definitely!
posted by Wiserwood at 8:02 AM on June 13, 2018

God, this episode was just so good. Waterford's face when he saw Moira. Serena reading her agenda and it was all pictographs, not writing. The connections with Rita and Aunt Lydia over the care of the baby. Every woman in this world is trapped, even the ones who were complicit, and they know it.

And the real life connotations of the trade agreement with Canada, even though this was filmed so long before the recent G7 debacle, just made me wince.
posted by h00py at 8:20 AM on June 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Re: The lighting problem. It's not just this show, I've noticed a lot of recent shows are just so literally dark in supposedly low light scenes. Supernatural, Arrow, Legion, 3%, etc. It's a recent development with TV shows and I don't like it! I have two monitors here at work, and when I eat lunch at my desk I tend to watch a show, and one monitor is noticeably just brighter than the other, and I have to keep watching a show on that one just to see anything, but then in brighter scenes the coloring is all weird so I have to drag the window to the other screen.
posted by numaner at 9:03 AM on June 13, 2018

This episode was so good at just empowering the anti-Gilead ideas.

Some notes that you might have missed if you didn't watch with captions:
- When Janine was speaking but the camera wasn't on them yet, the caption named her as Ofwarren. But I'm sure she's not back with the Putnams.
- During the news report on the Waterfords arriving in Canada that Luke and Moira are watching, they confirmed that America is now based in Alaska, or at least the central American government is in Anchorage. From what the "diplomat" said to Serena, I guess they might only have Alaska and Hawaii, and whatever islands we have as territories now.
posted by numaner at 9:07 AM on June 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

RE: Lightning
I did not have any problems making out what was happening on the screen in these past episodes.
I suspect they use little light on set to try and achieve a more naturalistic/realistic look. There were problems with showings of Solo were people could not see peoples faces at all in some showings, which was due to wrong projections and the low light cinematography the DP chose to go with. I think a similar thing is happening here.
posted by Megustalations at 9:31 AM on June 13, 2018

I have a feeling that those of us with lighting issues are watching on tablets or computer screens, and cinematographers are watching on widescreen HD screens and can see everything perfectly.
posted by Karmakaze at 10:55 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am definitely watching on a laptop (with the brightness all the way up)...did anybody watch it on a TV and still have problems with the light levels?
posted by Bibliogeek at 12:23 PM on June 13, 2018

I watch this and Legion on a widescreen HD TV and find them both to be far too dark in many scenes (unless I am in a completely dark room and even then sometimes it can still be hard to make out).
posted by elsietheeel at 12:45 PM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I have no problems with the light . I'm watching it on my gaming PC with a fancy monitor, so maybe that helps ?
posted by Pendragon at 2:19 PM on June 13, 2018

I watch this using my Roku and television, and if it's the scene in the bar that gave you problems, the one between Nick and Luke, it was dark and lit mostly with red light, but I could see Luke's face well enough on my TV screen. Certainly could have been better lit, but the name of the bar was The Comrade, and I'm guessing the red lighting was a theme.

*fist pumps and incoherent shrieking*

AMEN! Finally, some victories for the good guys. So many devastating lines in this one : "I would never betray my country." "I thought you already did." What a great parting line. Moira reclaims herself, not needing "Ruby" any more.

Oh, that Canadian Minister who refused to be diplomatic to Gilead; I loved him. It was chilling after the first day of talks when Waterford mentioned border security and said something like, there might even be extradition of illegal immigrants. Those who make it out aren't safe until Gilead is gone.

I loved the storytelling in this episode -- June has just watched the Putnams nearly kill their baby with neglect. The dialogue doesn't directly reference that, but June is trying to make some connections between other women for the baby, knowing that she'll be gone.

What I loved about this episode, and the show in general, is how they keep coming back to the importance of names.

When June barely got out, Yes, Mrs. Waterford, it was so clear how it stung Serena to hear that. "Mrs. Waterford" isn't a role that feels comfortable to her anymore. And, that look of barely hidden disgust that Strahovski manages when she turns away from the commander at the top of the stairs.

What did Aunt Lydia mean when she said that the death of her godson wasn't her fault? Because once she said that, I totally assume it was her fault.
posted by gladly at 7:49 PM on June 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

I assumed she meant it's God's will, which is what she's always preaching. But I am kind of glad I suppose that all these women within the system are willing to help June.

10 bucks says Eden won't survive the season, as in written out of the story. Or if she stays, she'll be the new antagonist that everyone will have to contend with, similar to how the Waterfords are now.
posted by numaner at 12:33 AM on June 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

What did Aunt Lydia mean when she said that the death of her godson wasn't her fault? Because once she said that, I totally assume it was her fault.

To me it was an immediate callback to "Her fault, her fault, her fault," the chant that Aunt Lydia led the 'girls' in at the Red Center. Every handmaid has, in the eyes of Gilead, a hallmark sin that led them to their current fate and defines their place in Gileadean society. The death of her godson may very well be Aunt Lydia's -- I don't necessarily think she had anything to do with his death, but it marked her and may be part of her motivation to be such a malevolent force to bring healthy children into the world by any means necessary.

All of season two thus far has felt like fanfic to me, very much not in keeping with the tone of the book or season one, but this episode brought it all back for me. Elisabeth Moss's acting in the last scene was unbelievable.
posted by telegraph at 11:29 AM on June 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

They can try all they like and I still don't feel even a little sorry for Serena Joy.

I am curious why the American refugees are in Canada and not in the parts of America that aren't Gilead.
posted by jeather at 3:15 PM on June 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

I took Aunt Lydia's comment to mean that she would protect June's child - that she was competent to serve in the role of godmother, despite what happened to her nephew, as further evidence that she wouldn't let a child come to harm if there was anything in her power to stop it.

I may just have to suspend my disbelief, but why did the letters have such a strong impact compared to the stories of Moira and Erin and surely many other people who made it out and can attest to the conditions? The emotional pull that the letters are from people who are still trapped? Or something about the publicity of it?
posted by milkweed at 4:51 PM on June 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

This episode. Holy shit. “America the Beautiful.” “We believe the women.” I just have all the feels right now.
posted by olinerd at 6:29 PM on June 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I suspect that the refugees are in Canada because that’s where they crossed the border, arriving penniless without jobs or connections. They have been making a new life and clinging to hope that the loved ones they left behind might also escape. It would be difficult to start all over again by relocating to Alaska—where no doubt the government is very poor and unable to help as much as Canada.

Last week’s beating of Serena haunted me. I was beaten as a child and I will never willingly allow that to happen again. I believe her to be stronger than Fred which makes it so much worse. I could see the longing for clothes and phones and the freedom to walk by yourself and go where you want. I just kept thinking “You’ve brought this all on yourself, you stupid bitch.” For a few seconds I thought she might actually run. Her life in Gilead is not that great even though she is a commander’s wife. But I guess to run she would have to admit that what she did was monstrous and made nearly everyone’s life so much worse.

I guess next week June will either have the baby or run and I don’t see how she can run in her condition. I think rather than bring a newborn to be brought up in Gilead, I’d murder it first. In fact, I’m surprised that there aren’t more masters and mistresses being murdered in their beds. What do these women have to lose?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:33 PM on June 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am sure that these refugees crossed the border in Canada, but since the American official offered to just move Serena Joy to Hawaii there must be some other options. The American The Beautiful thing was what got to me -- why aren't they back in their country (what is left of it)? What is going on internationally exactly?

I enjoy the show but the close focus on Gilead and especially June is not doing it for me.
posted by jeather at 8:24 AM on June 15, 2018

I may just have to suspend my disbelief, but why did the letters have such a strong impact compared to the stories of Moira and Erin and surely many other people who made it out and can attest to the conditions? The emotional pull that the letters are from people who are still trapped?

It was such a weird coincidence that this episode aired after the G7 summit disaster between the U.S. and Canada, and the Singapore summit with the U.S. and North Korea. I guess I'm seeing Gilead as a theocratic and secretive North-Korea-style country. How many handmaids have made it out? Moira never made it to being an actual "Of" handmaid. These were actual confirmed letters from currently serving handmaids and Marthas.

And once refugees made it out of Gilead, would they want to be so far from any still-trapped family in Gilead?

The American The Beautiful thing was what got to me -- why aren't they back in their country (what is left of it)?

Me too! I was embarrassed by how quickly that got to me.
posted by gladly at 9:02 AM on June 15, 2018

I was a little surprised that Gilead allowed Serena and Nick to be left to their own devices in a foreign country, unescorted, though. Even if they can't fathom the risk of defection or collusion with the resistance, surely they would expect that they may be targets for manipulation or attack?
posted by desuetude at 9:27 PM on June 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fred’s casual mention of extradition of illegal immigrants shook me.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:53 PM on June 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Does anyone who watched with captions know - was the line "illegal immigrants" or "illegal emigrants"?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:00 AM on June 17, 2018

Does anyone who watched with captions know - was the line "illegal immigrants" or "illegal emigrants"?

It was emigrants, which means the refugees in Canada I assume, at least in the Norwegian subs.

I am a bit frustrated about the lack of background and worldbuilding. Canada looked very current day, while Gilead looks like a US North Korea equivalent post nuclear war hellscape. I would like a little bit of explanation here. Was/Is there a civil war in the US? What happened in the "Colonies"? Nuclear Power Plant melt down?

I think there is serious rebound gut-punch coming next episode. This episode has been way too uplifting for this series. I suspect Nick is gonna end up on the wall. There has been a bit too much development for his character. His scene with Luke and June after were powerful and I think he relizes how his "love" to June is more grown out of her desperation for intimacy than true feelings. Second, Pryce is gone and I refuse to believe that it was the last we saw of that other Commander who questioned June after the bombing. Third, if Eden gets wind of the letter-leak, she will add 1 and 1 together and rat Nick out or inadvertently tip off the Waterfords. I am worryingly awaiting the last episode this season.

There is a big Damokles Sword hanging over Nick's head. He has been getting away with an awful lot of shit, I feel.
posted by Megustalations at 1:51 AM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Megustalations, I agree about Nick ending up on the wall one way or another. An Eye plus cooperating with the resistance, so he's an enemy of both the Commander AND Gilead. Eden is already suspicious and a true believer and only 15 (e.g. an age where "right and wrong" can be very black and white).

And there is the Chekhov's gun of the paternity of June's child which could make things very complicated for the Waterfords AND for June and Luke. If Nick is found out, and the Waterfords reject June, and Serena is chafing under the regime, and Fred's political missteps damage his political position...well, I assume that Gilead will try to claim ownership of the baby regardless, but that's a big messy failure.
posted by desuetude at 1:24 PM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

For me, Nick is the least interesting character and I'm pretty tired of every scene of his inner conflict being demonstrated by being mopey and I'd be glad to be done with him. But if I was going to make a prediction, I'd look to the prevailing theme over the last few episodes of having to compromise yourself to survive in Gilead and how that broken society forces people to become complicit in its abhorrent system. So my guess is that Eden will discover she is pregnant or have a false pregnancy and this will reel Nick back into his playing his prescribed role within Gilead law. He's not a hero and he can't save anyone, not even himself.
posted by peeedro at 4:44 PM on June 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

The thing that brought me out of this episode a bit was that Nick didn’t claim asylum the minute he was in Canada. There’s no way he would play along for days, unsupervised, and not consider that he could be free from his horror show if he wanted to be. Serena at least, you could see her tension over what to do and understand it, but Nick? Come on man, get out!!!
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:42 AM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

True, but he loves June, so I guess he's going back for her. Which is good I think. Like June needs another man she loves to make it out while she stays.
posted by LizBoBiz at 8:01 AM on June 19, 2018

Really loved this episode. I love that all that Gilead shit isn't flying in Canada. The Canadian talking about his husband and how they don't feel welcome. The woman at the elevator with the girl and not wanting to be in the same elevator as Serena. SO DELIGHTFUL ON SO MANY LEVELS. Just this barely-concealed disgust behind Canadian politeness.

As a Canadian, I loved the hell out of it.

I also thought it interesting that the Canadians followed protocol, so to speak, in terms of providing Serena with an agenda that didn't have written words. This, after she's just done so much work in Fred's name, writing things that June then edited. And now, to be in a free country but have so many restrictions on her... It must have been torturous.

The American who was trying to extract Serena was awesome. "That's not your child." I cheered!

I also found it interesting that they apparently don't baptize in Gilead. This is not your regular fundamentalist Christian sect.

The episode ended and all I really want to know is what the hell does Gilead control, where's the US in all of this and how has Canada dealt with everything?

That said, loved how June is prepping the people in her life to make sure her kid isn't neglected. Totally agree that Nick isn't long for this world. The letters... a mistake, for sure.

Loved the Moira and Luke and Waterford interactions, too. I felt awkward the way I do when I watch Mr. Bean while watching Nick and Luke talk.

All that said, I'm so glad that Nick was able to tell June about Luke and Moira. She needed some good news.

One thing that has been on my mind for a few episodes now is what the hell does Serena want? She wanted this society, she helped bring it to life, now she's trapped and treated like a second-class citizen. And why? What for? Is her goal simply to have a child to raise with Fred? And learn to care about knitting? I need to know more about Serena's motivations, both pre-Gilead and now. Every time I feel like she's just a little closer to saying "fuck this noise", she rebounds even harder back into Gileadean ways.
posted by juliebug at 8:26 PM on June 19, 2018

Every time I feel like she's just a little closer to saying "fuck this noise", she rebounds even harder back into Gileadean ways

I see that too. I also don't think it's an uncommon reaction when a person has competing interests, and one of those is shameful to them. They'll go 200% in the other direction to prove to themselves that's how they really are and what they really want.
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:52 PM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

"they apparently don't baptize in Gilead. This is not your regular fundamentalist Christian sect."

They don't baptize babies. Doesn't mean they don't baptize older folks who have reached the "age of reason." The fundamentalist church my mom made me go to was like that. No baby baptism, but once you were older you got the full submersion.
posted by litlnemo at 1:23 AM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah I thought it was mostly Catholics who baptized babies and everyone else waited until you were older?
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:10 AM on June 20, 2018

Among protestants, groups like Lutherans and Anglicans baptise infants. it's largely evangelical groups (and Anabaptists) who practice believer's baptism. In the US, evangelicals or evangelical-derived denominations are a majority of protestants, but that's not the case everywhere.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:20 AM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Southern Baptists don't baptize infants, they do believer's baptism -- and they are the largest Protestant denomination in the US. United Methodists are the next-largest denomination, and they baptize infants.
posted by desuetude at 6:36 AM on June 20, 2018

There's something about this show that I just can't quite put my finger on that makes me believe it's probably not the Methodists that created Gilead...
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:25 AM on June 20, 2018 [8 favorites]

> There's something about this show that I just can't quite put my finger on that makes me believe it's probably not the Methodists that created Gilead...

LOL. I grew up Methodist, and while I'm a devout agnostic now, I'm inclined to agree.

The show hasn't delved into the mechanics of the world-building quite as much as this geek would like, but just to be overly picky for a minute: This theocracy is obviously (IMO) borrowing from the Southern Baptist Conference* for inspiration, which would have the money and political power to seize control in a way that nondenominational evangelicals would not, but what did they do with the Catholics in Gilead? We're in Boston, for pete's sake. I could see other Protestant denominations perhaps grudgingly falling in line behind Baptist practices, but there's enough of a history of anti-Catholic distrust (even in the present day!) that I would presume that Catholics would be expected to renounce the veneration of saints and the authority of the Pope. I dunno, playing a speculation game based on what we know, maybe Catholics got a deal that rewards staunch conservatism with some measure of limited, closeted religious freedom. For instance, would someone like former PA Senator and famous homophobe Rick Santorum be a Commander?

* No offense meant to any Southern Baptist MeFites, I'm referring to the Conference itself as a political entity, not assuming that the views of Baptists are monolithic.
posted by desuetude at 10:24 AM on June 20, 2018

In one of the first episodes we see a destroyed Catholic Church in Boston. It was clear the Catholics lost to Gilead
posted by Nelson at 9:57 PM on July 7, 2018

This episode happened to get its first UK showing on the weekend we'd been protesting Trump's visit here. Watching a despot visiting somewhere abroad and having the people there firmly tell him wasn't welcome struck a definite chord for us Brits. There were some handmaids at the real Trump protests in both London and Scotland too, so the similarity worked both ways.

A few other points:

I thought protection of the baby was only one of June's motives for recruiting Aunt Lydia as she did. Aunt Lydia now thinks Commander Waterford might be a threat to that baby, and I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of anyone she thought that about. Clever June!

I really want an episode about Aunt Lydia's past. She's one of the most interesting characters in the show, and I want to know how she got that way.

I also found it hard to swallow that Serena and Nick would be allowed to wonder around on their own while abroad. Also, wouldn't the Waterfords have bugged June's room by now? They've got ample evidence she's a troublemaker, so why on Earth would they allow her to continue having private conversations up there?

Kudos to Amanda Brugel for her portrayal of Rita. She plays her mixture of solidarity with and slight resentment of June to perfection. It's not a big role, but she's made Rita very real for me.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:54 PM on July 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Can't believe this episode came out on the same day the US president left the UK, pursued by howls of derision.

Spare me any sympathy for complicit Serena, though. If she ends the show with bodily integrity, she's coming out ahead of her victims.

Add me to the list of people that would appreciate more lighting.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 6:02 PM on July 15, 2018

I just watched this episode tonight, and the “We believe women” line in light of the Kavanaugh Supreme Court disaster broke me. Thanks for that kick in the gut, fictional fortune-telling Canadians.

My husband and son are Canadian dual-citizens. Since I started watching the show this fall I have been google mapping the border crossings because fuck, I am not getting ripped apart from them at the airport like Emily.

This show... Do the cast and crew all have their escape routes mapped as well?
posted by Maarika at 8:52 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

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