The Handmaid's Tale season 2 episode 4 review: Offred finally indoctrinated?

Christopher Hooton
Wednesday 09 May 2018 15:28
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Last week's Handmaid's Tale unfolded like an episode of Breaking Bad - a tense and fast-paced scramble for survival, so there was a grim sense of inevitability with episode 4 that poor June would be ground to a halt, physically and mentally.

Delivered to the Waterfords' home (after what was a not insignificant 92 days, Serena revealed), Offred's return to captivity was observed with cruel ceremony, Aunt Lydia smoothing out her familiar red dress before forcing her to take part in some weird, almost pagan, celebration of her fertility with other handmaids and the local wives. It says a lot about how fucked up this show is that in spite of this, Aunt Lydia was essentially Offred's guardian this week, protecting her - if just for the baby in her belly - from the increasingly vindictive and exasperated Serena. Serena's become a fascinating character and I'm desperate to know what makes her tick; hopefully we'll get some more flashbacks that flesh out her back-story this season.

Speaking of flashbacks, in previous episodes it's been pleasing that they haven't directly pertained to the modern day story, merely serving as little vignettes that stand in contrast to the bleakness of the reality, but in episode 4 there was direct correlation, revealing that June and Luke's relationship emerged from the ashes of his previous one, Luke's ex, perhaps unfairly, having viewed June as stealing her boyfriend. This flashback gave rise to the episode title 'Other Women', while the pluralisation perhaps referred to the duality of June and Offred, which came to the fore toward the end of the episode.

Aunt Lydia showed Offred that the man who helped her escape last episode was executed and his son rehomed, while another handmaid told June that she had also indirectly caused someone's tongue to be cut out and forced the Mayday operation to stop helping handmaid's. This is the emotional, brutal crux of The Handmaid's Tale: how do you keep rebelling, keep striving for freedom and what you believe, when people just end up getting hurt and those sympathetic to you won't even help? This utterly hopeless situation led June to capitulate to Offred at the close of the episode, conceding to the dull but at least relatively safe life of a handmaid, repeating: "We've been sent good weather. We've been sent good weather. We've been sent good weather." I don't believe this was all a ruse - I think June genuinely had given up at this point - but I believe she'll find her resolve again later in the season (I sure hope so else this could all get a bit maudlin).

Side-note: I'm convinced someone is secretly helping Offred or at least turning in her favour - a sort of Severus Snape-esque move where they treat her badly but ultimately are offering her a chance to escape. My money's on Fred Waterford, who tonight declared his intent to become an envoy for Gilead to Canada, an interesting choice of country...

The Handmaid's Tale airs on Wednesdays in the US on Hulu. A UK release date has still to be set.

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