The Handmaid's Tale season 2 episode 11 review: In Gilead, sports arenas make perfect public execution venues

From baseball hangings to swimming pool drownings

Christopher Hooton
Wednesday 04 July 2018 19:29
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Some of the oldest sports in human history were violent, even deathly in the case of Roman gladiators, and there have been echoes of this in The Handmaid's Tale season 2.

*Spoilers ahead*

First, we saw the handmaids lined up for a mass hanging under the floodlights of a baseball field in the season opener, and this week Eden and Isaac were spectacularly executed by being chained to lead balls and thrown off a high diving board into a public pool. These juxtapositions of death and the casual sporting hobbies of the recent past serve the show's narrative beautifully, plus, well, they just look very cinematic. Eden's death was shocking but not especially unsurprising, her character having been infuriatingly naive in a way that not even her age can excuse. The brutal execution was enough to turn Serena from cold-hearted bitch into barely room temperature-hearted bitch, though we know from experience now that it probably won't take long for her heart to freeze over once more.

It was hard not to feel slightly cheated this episode as we opened after a slight jump forward in time, Nick and June's attempted escape and ultimate capture at the empty house where the previous two episodes were set ultimately having essentially zero consequences. Still, that detour did bring a new baby into the world, Holly, who has heightened emotions in the Waterford house. June reluctantly formed an attachment to her child, knowing she would ultimately be taken away from her and soon, while Serena struggled to connect with her, even trying to breastfeed the crying baby in one of the season's most messed up scenes (that would be a very long list).

Nick and June grew closer than ever in 'Postpartum', even allowing themselves to dream of raising their child together in Hawaii (which in the show's world appears to be a separatist paradise). This rush of loving feeling was cut short by Eden's death, however, which left Nick so racked with guilt that not even June could console him.

It was a flashback-free episode this week, though we did briefly jump into Emily's story, who was assigned to a new house and renamed Ofjoseph. The Joseph in question turned out to be a cruel commander with a penchant for violence who invented Gilead's colonies. Ominously, he chatted casually with Emily as though the pair were on a chat show, discussing her homosexuality and forced clitoridectomy without expressing any judgments or opinions. Emily was unnerved, waiting for some sort of malevolent event or twist, which is presumably being held back for the finale. If she does go down next week, I do hope she manages to take her captor with her, having shown a talent for sticking it to esteemed rapists when she kicked one in the nuts last week.

But 'Postpartum's most ambiguous and intriguing scene was between Fred and June, who spoke properly for the first time since he tried to induce June's labour by raping her. We might have expected June to spit venom at him or else admit defeat and just stick to "praise be"s, but instead she was almost mischievous, dismissing his flirtations but suggesting a late night game of Scrabble instead. June's relationship with Fred is a complex one, but I think we can safely say any shred of sexual desire she had for him must now be gone, so perhaps this invitation was offered in order to get him alone in the dead of night, feet away from a roaring hearth and a selection of pointy fire pokers?

The season finale could go a million different ways, and I'll be rapt by every carefully chosen word and composed shot.

The Handmaid's Tale continues on Hulu Wednesdays in the US and is a few weeks behind in the UK on Channel 4.

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