Welcome to the illicit pleasures portion of our evening. Check your morals at the door, because we're about to take a deep dive into the dark side within the dark side.
"Jezebels," which is a perfect name for this episode (but more on that later), reveals the seedy underbelly of repressive Gilead. Basically, it comes down to sex. As they say, everybody wants some.
We open with June, in bed with Nick, but thinking about Luke. I'm including her monologue in full below, because I've definitely had conversations this past week in which I've defended Offred's affair with Nick as a rebellious act, meant to challenge the oppressive order. This is her response to the viewers. She knows what she's doing, and she's not pretending to be righteous.
"I wish this story were different. I wish it showed me in a better light. In a different story, maybe I wouldn't be such a fucking weakling. So, I've gone back to Nick. Time after time, on my own. I want to know him, memorise him, so I can live on the image later. I should have done that with Luke. Because he's fading, day by day and night by night. He recedes, and I become more faithless. I could say these are acts of rebellion, a fuck you to the patriarchy. Those are excuses. I'm here because it feels good, and because I don't want to be alone."
Their fling is still going strong — it's almost weird to see them engage in the new couple morning snuggle routine. That kind of casual happiness has no place in this world. As June slips out, Nick lies back, and we get our first glimpse into his backstory! Finally! I've been wondering about this from the very beginning. Nick seemed almost too normal — how the hell did he end up with the Waterfords?
Turns out Nick was basically the living embodiment of what liberals think a Trump voter looks like. The steel factory where his family worked has closed, and he's had trouble holding down a job because of his brother, who has lately taken to drowning his sorrows in Jim Beam. (I was almost waiting for someone to jump out and shout "MAGA!"). This leads him to seek help at his local unemployment office, where he gets into a fight, because that's what Nick does. But the counsellor is a nice guy, and offers to buy Nick a cup of coffee. He's part of a group that "wants to set things right, clean up this country," you see, and they could use a man like him. Welcome to the Sons of Jacob, Nick.
June comes back to her room to find the Commander sitting on her bed. Uh oh. ("How's my fair little one this evening?" has got to rank up there among the creepiest come-ons ever. )
He has a surprise for her that requires him to shave her legs and, oh my god make it stop. (We've seen a lot on this show, but this is the worst. THE WORST.) His technique leads Offred to believe that he's done this before — with the previous handmaid, probably. He also hands her a bag of makeup, which is full of products in shades only a man would buy. Is it bad that I like the dress he hands her? It's cute, in a sugar baby hitting the club kind of way, which is the vibe he's going for, I guess.
"Tonight, I'm taking you out," he declares. Out? Is that still a thing?
Apparently, Serena Joy is at her mother's for the night, so they're in the clear. He hands her Serena Joy's cloak as a disguise to cover up her illicit attire, which is BOLD. As they sit in the car, the Commander points out the sights: They took down tenements and put in a park! Everything runs on solar energy! Isn't this all wonderful?
At some point, they cross the Charles River into Boston, and Offred has to hide. No women are allowed past this point — she's contraband.
As Nick drives, we flash back to his early days working for Waterford. His nice employment counsellor, who now goes by Commander Price, is discussing the prospect of handmaids with Waterford and another commander. It's actually refreshing to see how pragmatic it all is — religion is just a convenient way to spin the truth. Once again, it's about power, and control. Our very own Commander Waterford (who you'll remember finds this all "so impersonal") came up with the term "ceremony" rather than "act" — better from a branding perspective. Reaction: "The wives'll eat that shit up."
Back in the present, Nick, Fred and Offred pull up at the back entrance of a building, and sneak up through the freight elevator. This is Nick's stop; he's not welcome on this adventure.
By the way, the music choice here is perfect, if a little on the nose: Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" reminds us that Offred may be Alice, but this place is no Wonderland.
It's a hotel — the sleazy kind. The room is full of commanders with girls sprawled across their laps. Offred is as shocked as the rest of us, and the Commander is thoroughly enjoying her reaction. Tonight, she's his whore.
So, who works here? There's at least one sociology professor, some lawyers, a CEO, and a few journalists. Basically anyone who couldn't assimilate to being a handmaid or a Martha. As the Commander puts is: "I'm told you can have quite a good conversation with some of them if what you feel like is talking."
It's all pretty bleak, but then Offred spots someone familiar: it's Moira! I'm simultaneously overjoyed to see her but disappointed she didn't make it out. They do that thing that only really close female friends do with their eyes, and sneak off to meet in the bathroom.
Their reunion is *chef's kiss* Moira's been waiting roughly 3 years to apologise for leaving June on the train platform, so I'm glad she got that out of her system. An aunt reminds Moira that she just peed (clearly this woman has no understanding of the female bladder — I've literally peed three times just writing this sentence), so the two agree to meet later in the dorms.
Down in the kitchen, Nick is doing some black market trading with the head Martha, who used to be a James Beard Award-nominated chef and can cook me pesto anytime. Nick is in a weird mood — he doesn't even want to hook up.
Back at the bar, the Commander got a key — yikes. Also, I am truly amazed at how boldly that other man just walks up to Offred and starts stroking her arm without so much as a how do you do. These women really just are commodities for them.
Nick spots Offred and the Commander going up to the room, and flashes back to Rita screaming bloody murder at the sight of the previous handmaid's hanging body. Nick cut her down. But the most interesting detail here is that when her body is carted off into a black van, Serena Joy hisses to Fred: "What did you think was going to happen?" It's unclear if she's indicating that she knows what he does with these women, or if she's referring to the handmaid situation in general — both are valid.
Up in the room, Waterford's ranting. There have been rumours of Stalinist-like purges in other districts, and he's worried he'll be next. I'm sorry, Fred. Is your life hard? My condolences. Offred pets his ego, tells him he's a powerful man. He likes that — she gets him. As he undresses her, Offred cries.
Later that night, as he sleeps, she sneaks down to meet Moira in her dorm. The hallway is filled with noises of people fucking. In one room, the open door reveals a bunch of guys cheering as one man has sex with a woman dressed as a handmaid. In the elevator, some guy is licking a woman's amputated arm, where her hand used to be. Please. release me from this place.
Down in the dorms, it's almost like old times. Moira tells June about what happened after she got on the train to Boston. Basically, she was almost smuggled out via the Underground FemaleRoad (I love/hate this name), but got caught. It sounds like the Guardians took her to a place much like Ofglen was kept when she got arrested (did Moira receive the same harsh sentence?) and gave her a choice: The colonies or Jezebel's. (Some quick Bible context: In the Old Testament, Jezebel was a queen who tempted her husband Ahab into worshiping deities other than God. For her crimes, she was eventually sentenced to death, thrown out of a window, and her body left to be eaten by wild dogs. Her love for makeup and clothes has been linked with the idea of temptation and false idols, and thus the link to sex, drugs and excess, things Gilead considers dangerous distractions to the faithful.)
But the saddest part here is that Moira's given up. She tells Offred to forget about escaping: "This is Gilead, no one gets out."
As she steps into the car on the way home, June's gaze lingers on Nick's. Through a flashback, we learn that Nick has a history of informing on commanders for sleeping with handmaids outside of the monthly ceremony. As a plainclothes Eye, Commander Price tells him that his primary duty will be reporting on Waterford. Oh, and on that note: "It's a shame what happened to your handmaid," he warns. " I only hope Commander Waterford has better sense when the new one arrives." Shit. They totally know.
The next day, things are back to normal. When Serena comes back, Fred tells her things were "lonely" without her. He deserves everything that's coming to him. In the kitchen, Offred smiles at Nick when he comes in with Mrs. Waterford's bags. He doesn't smile back. It seems he's realized that all this sneaking around could actually be dangerous, and wants to end things. (Like I said all along: Thirst. Trap. Nick.)
"You could end up on a wall," he warns. "At least someone will remember me," she answers. "At least someone will care when I'm gone. That's something."
This seems to soften his resolve and he echoes the scene from episode 6 in which she confronted him in his room. "My name is Nick Blaine. I'm from Michigan," he says.
But Offred is over this hot and cold routine."Well, under his eye, Guardian Blaine."
As she walks out, she runs into Serena Joy, who brought her a present from home. It's one of the ballerina music boxes that every little girl keeps in her childhood bedroom. This woman literally considers her a child. But it also has a lock and key — a place to keep secrets? Is this a kinder gesture than I think it is? Or, is it just another reminder of her position?
We end with June in the closet, using the key to scratch "You are not alone" into the wall. Gilead may have broken Moira and the previous Offred, but June's still going strong.