The Handmaid's Tale: Jezebels
June 1, 2017 4:47 AM - Season 1, Episode 8 - Subscribe

The Commander surprises Offred with a secret adventure in Gilead. Nick's troubled past leads to his recruitment by the Sons of Jacob.
posted by noneuclidean (35 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did they note Jezebels as specifically also fertile women, or are they a mix of handmaid drop-outs and unwomen who are willing to do the sex work? What happens if a Jezebel conceives?
posted by Karmakaze at 6:00 AM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's the episode we've all been waiting for! And the execution was exceptional. I am very much pleased at how well they have translated the book into the show. I don't remember much from the book about the brothel itself and the show really brought that to light.

I also just kept getting angrier and angrier the more the commander talked. "Everyone's still human" (except the women, in your little shitbag mind), June asks who all the people are and he only talks about the men. He literally cannot see women as people, and brags about all the formerly high-power women that are now at the brothel. Like trophies or wild animals that they conquered. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. My BFF and I had quite a long conversation about how creepy and terrible the commander is after this episode.

And then to see the flashback where they discuss where the handmaids came from. I mean, I knew in the back of my head that there probably wasn't a religious motivation and it probably was just scummy dudes wanting to have a sex slave, but to hear it outloud was just Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. And their little, make it religious, "the wives eat that stuff up". Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. (Although did the guy who proposed the idea think it was going to turn out to be the coldest weirdest sex ever, and also you don't have sex with your wife anymore either?)
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:42 AM on June 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

They've really slow-played what a hideous monster Commander Waterford is, and it lets me have the same experience June does as she discovers how much he enjoys having a Handmaid for a toy.

Did they note Jezebels as specifically also fertile women

The Commander seemed to carefully make sure that June's redtag was covered before they went into the club -- he creepily fingered it and then moved her hair over it. I thought that was a signal that he was hiding her fertility.

And now we know, Nick had a choice, still has one. He could inform on Waterford. He chose the Sons of Jacob, and even if he's not a true believer, he's willing to do whatever is asked of him to secure his position in Gilead.
posted by gladly at 6:44 AM on June 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Like LizBoBiz I've been eagerly awaiting this set piece from the book and it did not disappoint. So.. good... I was literally shouting in anger at parts of it.

I think it's interesting they've made Commander Waterford so completely despicable, in the book there's a little bit of sympathy in that his life is clearly miserable too. Here Joseph Fiennes is just acting the hell out of his combination of menace, selfishness, and occasional stupid vulnerability. It's strong. Particularly appalled at how no one even makes the pretense of following the religious rules that are the claimed purpose of Gilead. I mean religious zealot sexual hypocrisy is nothing new, but.. Saying they're about honoring women and making them safe, the lie at the brothel so visible. Waterford basically turned June into his personal whore for the night.

I also thought this episode nicely complemented the previous one, the Luke action-movie one. That episode made me mad for lots of reasons, but one was how male-centered it was. This episode is remarkably male-centered too. We get Nick's backstory, we see lots of the Commander, we see lots of male soldiers, and then the men at leisure in their brothel. Previous episodes have barely had men in them at all, to great effect, particularly the theme about how women do the work of enforcing the patriarchy. I thought it worked to show how the men act in all this, their depravity and brutality. And the directing really centered on June and Moira, the important people.
posted by Nelson at 7:00 AM on June 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't might be because I've read the book upwards of a dozen times, so the scenes where the action sticks closely to the book don't resonate as much with me because they've played out so differently in my imagination for so long. But I missed the shabbiness that I remember of book Jezebels, and thought that the malevolence of the Commander in this episode went too far and resulted in flattening the character for me, casting him as this 1 dimensional villain. And after last episode, I really, really could not give less of a shit about Nick's backstory.
posted by dysh at 7:10 AM on June 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I liked this episode, and much more than the last one. Yes, it was male-centered, but it showed backstory that did a good amount of world-building we didn't see in the Luke episode. As a book reader it was actually really interesting to see how a non-elite guy would end up supporting and enabling this regime, and what's in it for him. Also really calls to mind the recruiting tactics of a lot of religious extremist groups that convince (usually) young men to do their dirty work - you can belong. You can be part of something. You see how the world ought to be. We have a place for you here. You can matter.

The Jezebels scene played out great - Moira's resignation and bleakness in parts of her conversation with June were perfect and so depressing. Also, that scene June saw as she walked by an open hotel room of a commander having sex with a woman dressed as a Handmaid making out with a woman dressed as a Wife.... that was a hilarious and horrifying and probably entirely accurate take on what sorts of weird fetishes come out of this society.

The only thing that's really taking me out of all this is that I lived in Boston for 10 years (I still consider it "home") and every time they mention any sort of geography ("How do we get into the city from here?" "Now we'll cross the river into Boston" etc) it makes me irrationally angry that they didn't even bother trying to use some stock green-screened footage of ACTUAL BOSTON to make any of their dialog match up with where they appear to be going. In the episode that shows Moira's escape, they talk about going to a T station to "go downtown" and asking directions how except the Arlington T station they're at (you can see the name in the sign they're chipping away) is literally smack in downtown Boston. In this episode I thought I had identified one of the checkpoints under that subway overpass as being the one that used to be right by my apartment (Charles/MGH) until they said "and now we'll go over the river to Boston" and Charles Station is on the Boston side of the river just before you cross to Cambridge, so wtf. I know they filmed in Toronto, fine, but to not put ANY realistic landmarks in, or use what Toronto landmarks they have mapped to actual Boston landmarks (like that T station), or even have a shot of the real Charles River - that river they use is not even close to what the Charles looks like - just keeps taking me out of my suspension of disbelief.
posted by olinerd at 7:22 AM on June 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

This show is absolutely annihilating any remains of the little crush I once had on Joseph Fiennes, lordy jeez
posted by palomar at 7:24 AM on June 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

I had forgotten about this part in the book and it took me until he brought out the dress to realise, what a punch to the stomach it was to see that realised on screen. My memories of the book are quite hazy it seems.

The flashbacks to the last handmaiden and the devestated Martha at finding her body, I think that's why she has hardened her heart to June/Offred, to protect her own. Mine broke a little.

That last scene though, with the jewlery box, and the contraband mirror inside (breakable glass, hideable, secret, breakable glass...). The look they exchanged, they both know what they've done.

Two of the most dangerous and insidious phrases in the world in this, "you're not alone" and "do you like that", both made my bile rise.
posted by Iteki at 7:31 AM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's funny, Nick is not a particularly interesting character, reacts to his circumstances rather than making active choices, and evinces no real character growth over the hour other than a 'keep your head down' hardening of the heart - and yet I was totally OK with it even though the exact same scenario with Luke enraged me last episode. Making his story part of the episode but not the entire hour and using him as a lens to see parts of Gilead that June can't is what made the difference. If last episode had been handled this way I would have liked it much better.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:44 AM on June 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh, there's so much here!

- Commander Pryce claiming that a saying (idle hands are the devils workshop) is in the Bible, when it really isn't. Which is the root of how Gilead works -- claiming that what you're saying is divined by god when all you've done is twisted scripture.
- Commander Pryce using tried-and-true methods for radicalizing young people by quickly pegging Nick as a disenfranchised young man who needs an occupation and a purpose.
- What was with the logo on the Worthy Path placement agency? Is that supposed to be a hand with stigmata? And Is Commander Pryce working there primarily so he can recruit more Nicks?
- Commander Waterford referring to the ceremony as "branding" completely squicked me out, not realizing how many squicks there were to come.

As creepy as the whole Jezebels trip was for everyone (and really, I ate the better part of two fingernails when Nick kept glaring at June in the rear-view), it's especially creepy to think about what Waterford must have been intending. Clearly, he'd done this all before (with the Handmaid who'd died?), and he wanted to relive it. Had he seen some romantic movie years ago where the male romantic lead surprised his (willing) girlfriend with a new dress and lovingly watched her get ready and surprised her with a night out somewhere classy and romantic, a fancy restaurant she always wanted to go? And then they'd fall into bed together while the city lights gleamed?

And of course Waterford instead fetishized it into creepy leg-shaving and Jezebels and oh-look-at-the-lights-of-the-city while driving through checkpoints with soldiers with dogs and machine guns. And the whole while, he acts like he's flirting. Oh, a Manhattan, how sophisticated, and traces her arm with his finger. Oh, I thought I'd get us a room. And it can't feel right at all, but he keeps going. And it's not a movie, and it's not the previous handmaid. It's this perverse pantomine.

I shouldn't have been as shocked as I was to see the Handmaid fetish play out at Jezebels. At one point, there's a threesome engaged in a version of the Ceremony for an audience of watching men, and the women are kissing while the men cheer. It's so jarring to think that Emily and her friend were punished so fiercely but at Jezebels it is A-OK.

I was so happy to see Moira.
posted by mochapickle at 8:13 AM on June 1, 2017 [18 favorites]

And I liked how what June carved into the closet wall was as much for herself as it would be for the next person.
posted by mochapickle at 8:21 AM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

The contraband that Nick traded with the Jezebel's Martha included pregnancy tests.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:24 AM on June 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

While it didn't bother me as much as last week, I couldn't get into the Nick parts at all. I mean, they were actually really interesting, but I felt let down that we get the Jezebels episode and the backstory shown is not Moira's. When Moira was talking about how she ended up there, I actually yelled at my tv "Show, don't tell!" I think it was a huge missed opportunity that this episode wasn't about Moira.

I really liked Serena Joy in this episode. That seething "What did you THINK was going to happen?" and the jewelry box scene at the end. It was a good reminder that even though she helped orchestrate Gilead, she's still a victim. (And it's obvious now that Handmaidens were NOT part of the Gilead she envisioned.)

I can't really talk about Waterford in this without feeling all twitchy and wanting to punch the patriarchy in the face. That basically sums it up for him.
posted by Ruki at 10:35 AM on June 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

And the song in the music box, Swan Lake. About a woman who is cursed to transform into a swan every night. And the song plays over and over and over.
posted by mochapickle at 10:59 AM on June 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Waterford is so gross. This episode made me so uncomfortable -- which is was meant to do. I think he believe June would actually "enjoy" this experience while he relished how much power he had over her -- she really had no choice. Just all of it was ... ew.

Maybe it's just Max Minghella as an actor, but I find Nick incredibly boring. I liked the parts of his backstory that weren't actually about him -- the recruitment, the decision about the Handmaids -- basically all the world-building stuff he was just witness to but not really a participant in.

How much does Serena Joy know? I kind of assume she has to know basically everything at this point, which is why she both resents and pities June. I think the changes to her character are one the parts I've liked the most between the book and the show.

I wonder what the jewelry box will lead to -- it has a key! It's a place where June can hide things!

I also like that Waterford thinks he has all of this power but it's becoming increasingly clear he really doesn't.

I do think they packed a bit too much here -- I would've liked the Jezebels scenes to have a bit more room to breathe -- but I do feel like they had to move some more pieces in place before the final two episodes of this season. I feel like I have no clue where it's going but I've really enjoyed following it.
posted by darksong at 11:28 AM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Worthy Path logo is a hand behind a candle, presumably to shelter it from the wind.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:55 AM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

The box with the key feels like a setup to me. Those things always come with two keys.
posted by ktkt at 12:00 PM on June 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Before the takeover Commander Pryce says they're going to clean up the US, then later he says they're going to clean up Gilead. Maybe he's not so good at cleaning.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:57 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Woo, some dom/sub dynamics in there hardcore. Too bad the reason for it sucks.

I'm interested in reading sex workers' perspectives on this episode.
posted by divabat at 2:53 AM on June 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

When I watched last night, I first interpreted Serena Joy's "What did you think was going to happen?" to be about that one individual Handmaiden: "What did you think was going to happen when you toyed with her like that?" but now I wonder if it wasn't a much broader statement: "What did you think was going to happen when we locked women up and kept them as breeding slaves?"
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:22 AM on June 2, 2017 [15 favorites]

Also, I still don't know how to interpret the music box: Is it a bizarre attempt at being kind, or is it a convenient way to sneak in a mirror that could be broken and used for wrist-slicing?
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:23 AM on June 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

"What did you think was going to happen when we locked women up and kept them as breeding slaves?"

That was my interpretation. Certainly by the time June arrives as the latest Offred Serena Joy seems over the idea of handmaids as a solution to the fertility problem.

The music box is interesting. It certainly seems dangerous to hand June a mirror and a metal spring in her current fragile state. In the book Serena Joy dangles the possibility of a certain item that would easily fit in that box. June hasn't (as far as we know) fully searched it or even looked in the lower drawer yet.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:29 AM on June 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Checking back in my book (trying to figure out what Flannery Culp is referring to) - Moira tells June that at Jezebel's:

"Nobody in here with viable ovaries either, you can see what kind of problems it would cause." She mentions they sterilize women sent to the Colonies if they're not already infertile, so they must do it at Jezebel's as well.
posted by olinerd at 9:46 AM on June 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Woo, some dom/sub dynamics in there hardcore. Too bad the reason for it sucks.

Yeah, when I read the book last year, as a person with some BDSM community experience it did cross my mind that with a change in tone and style you've got the setting for a BDSM erotica novel. The difference between "power dynamics are sexy" and "power dynamics are oppressive and evil" is important to observe.
posted by dnash at 9:48 AM on June 2, 2017

We've diverged so far from the book I guess there's no real need for spoiler warnings. Book Serena Joy at some point - maybe when she wants June to sleep with Nick? I forgot just how non-linear the book is and can't find it now - drops hints about knowing where her daughter is, and later manages to get a current photograph that she allows June to look at briefly. I was hoping the photograph would be in the jewelry box. Maybe it still is.
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:06 AM on June 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ahhhhh right right right. I thought for some reason you were talking about the lower drawer in her room and I couldn't remember that part. Lower drawer of the jewelry box makes more sense. I doubt the photo is in there though - surely Serena Joy wants to milk that particular power trip for all it's worth.
posted by olinerd at 10:08 AM on June 2, 2017

I binge-watched this so I could catch up with y'all and I guess that was not the healthiest thing to do but I assembled a bunch of odd facts from the past into a pattern that is leading somewhere and now I am almost certain I know who did something awful when I was a kid. I'm talking to people I haven't talked to in years and some of them have been watching this too. Didn't that remind you of this? Oh hell. It did. First thing I thought of. So glad you got in touch.

I think we are going to turn his life upside down. So there's that. When alone I feel unsettled. Pissed at myself for missing the clues. We're going to get that worthless POS.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:36 AM on June 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

whoa Mr Yuck that is really intense...

Commander tells June, as they approach Jezebel's, "you're contraband" as though she doesn't somehow already know that she is chattel. he says it like its naughty and titillating but ew, its just another instance of ownership and domination.

as a former sex worker I will just note here: I draw a line between sex work done of ones own will vs sex slavery, which is definitely what the women at J's are. Moira tries to candy coat it??? "wooo drugs n booze oh yeah" but they are prisoners subject to regular rape just like the handmaidens and also under the eye of Marthas who hold power of life and death over them probably.
posted by supermedusa at 11:41 AM on June 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I draw a line between sex work done of ones own will vs sex slavery, which is definitely what the women at J's are.

Yes, I liked how they brought that home jarringly with that "hey you, get back out on the floor." Like, if you were starting to have any thought that "well, this looks at least more relaxed than handmaid life, I guess" - nope!

Maybe it's just Max Minghella as an actor, but I find Nick incredibly boring.

He does lack charisma to me. But I think the writers have raised interesting possibilities for his character, as we still aren't entirely sure where his true beliefs and loyalties lie. How much of a true believer to the Sons of Jacob was he ever? He says so little in the flashbacks that we don't really know if he was or was just using it to get ahead in life. Between the flashback where he's clearly turned in one of the same bigwigs who had been in the car during the "inventing the Ceremony" conversation, and the looks he gives June during her evening with the Commander, suggest that he knows he could turn in the Commander for this Jezebels escapade.
posted by dnash at 11:55 AM on June 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Particularly appalled at how no one even makes the pretense of following the religious rules that are the claimed purpose of Gilead. I mean religious zealot sexual hypocrisy is nothing new,

I actually found this one of the most interesting and provoking parts of the whole episode! One of the things I love best about this show is when it makes me think about and examine things in the real world, and this is a doozy of one, when paired with the conversation in the car about how the women "eat that stuff up" - what if the women believe, but the men mostly just want to stay in and be in power?

It makes me think a lot about the modern pro-life movement - it's mostly run by women, and the women I've met in it all seem really sincere. They do all the work, they have empathy for the other women, etc. But they're not the ones the religious right sends to be legislators, and when the legislators make the laws, they are often crazily hypocritical anti-woman shit.

I'm wondering if right now, in this episode, the show is talking to the women who are deeply involved in the religious right, the evangelicals, etc - saying essentially, "you may do this work, you may believe, but that doesn't mean they do - they are just as likely as any other man to be a snake, their pretense of honor and respect is disappearing, think about it!"
posted by corb at 4:18 PM on June 2, 2017 [14 favorites]

Anyone think the Manhattan drink was a Mad Men nod? Or was that in the book?
posted by luckynerd at 9:17 PM on June 18, 2017

So Nick's whole backstory amounts to "he needed a job". Gee, I'm glad we had that flashback instead of Moira being generally awesome.

Also Fred is such a shitty little person. All flailing around and needing his wife's help, but as soon as he gets a little bit of power he thinks he's a sexy mastermind. Without women to prop him up he'd be nothing.
posted by harriet vane at 6:52 AM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Anyone think the Manhattan drink was a Mad Men nod? Or was that in the book?

I'm pretty sure she ordered a gin & tonic in the book.
posted by goshling at 10:18 PM on August 9, 2017

Heh, June is way happier to find Moira alive than her husband. Considering she's known Moira longer and Moira has done more to help her, I'm not surprised. Luke may as well not exist. Honestly I was disappointed the episode began with June reprimanding herself for her "affair" with Nick. I don't think she is "guilty".
posted by Monochrome at 10:33 PM on September 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also like that Waterford thinks he has all of this power but it's becoming increasingly clear he really doesn't.

Steve Bannon just learned how true that part is. He thought he was a right-wing mastermind and learned he is about as useful to the Mercers as a golf club is, just a tool to be thrown out when it doesn't do what you want it to any more.

Maybe it's just Max Minghella as an actor, but I find Nick incredibly boring.

I don't know if it's the actor, the screenwriter or the director, but he doesn't DO anything except stare broodingly. You can't have no lines AND no actions and expect to stay interesting. Even June/Offred has more to say and do, and she (the actress) is a genius at communicating silently though expressions and slight gulps &c.
posted by msalt at 11:30 PM on January 9, 2018

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