While The Handmaid’s Tale is already so bleak its star is tired of hearing about all the doom and gloom, the Hulu drama still managed to outdo itself in the devastatingly dark department with last week’s cliffhanger ending. After seeing a pregnant June Osborn (Elisabeth Moss) literally ripped away from her latest grasp at freedom in “Baggage,” we were left wondering what new horror she would face upon returning to Gilead. Would she suffer the same fate we saw befall another pregnant handmaid in the season 2 premiere, and end up chained like a disobedient dog? Or would she receive a different, more direct form of physical punishment and be tortured with cattle prods and open flames? Would something happen to poor, sweet Hannah (Jordana Blake), June’s daughter and a favourite bargaining chip of the extraordinarily spiteful Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski)?
Although June does end up chained in the bowels of Gilead over her escape, that’s not where her story ends. As Wednesday’s “Other Women” proves, June is ultimately met with, of all things, a baby shower. Of course, it is the most uncomfortable baby shower in the history of television, because absolutely nothing on Handmaid’s Tale is comfortable. And, it was just as hair-raisingly unsettling to film Serena’s delusional, awkward celebration as you would expect — just ask the actress who brings gossipy handmaid-slash-secret spy Alma to life, Nina Kiri.
“We were all like, ‘This is so creepy.’ Yes, that was very, very messed up,” Kiri told Refinery29 over the phone, recalling the startling moment Gilead Wife Serena Joy begins chanting "Bring the little children to me," in what appears to be a Gilead baby shower tradition. “That was definitely chills. 100%.”
Serena's speech is eerie any way you look at it. After all, the mechanics of the scene boil down to Mrs. Waterford, who has abducted June and forcibly held her down while Mr. Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) raped their abductee, calling for a child, who is, in this case, June’s unborn baby. On top of all of that horror, June’s unborn baby isn’t even going to have a single strand of Waterford DNA, since the child’s father is Nick Blaine (Max Minghella), the Waterfords' driver. In just about a minute of television, we see just how far from reality the Wives’ shared psyche is, as they’re all there chanting about little children along with Serena, although we all know whatever babies these women get are the product of sexual assault and literal kidnapping.
But, for Kiri, something else cemented just how bizarre this entire display was: the cords. You know, the pieces of rope all the baby shower attendees, including Alma, are forced to dutifully hold while Serena screams in the middle of a room. When the Handmaid’s production team introduced the cords, the episode's actresses were understandably baffled by the strange new addition of Gilead culture. Remember, the drama’s second season has blown through its eponymous source material, so now everything the series dreams up is completely brand new. Once Kiri, who spent the scene in question quietly standing in the background like the other handmaids, and her fellow stars understood the purpose of the materials, things changed.
“It gave the scene so much more depth,” Kiri explained of the multi-coloured cords, which are meant to signify the symbiosis between handmaid and wife during pregnancy. “I always get so shocked at how details really can effect stories … When things are real it really makes such a huge difference for me because you’re not playing pretend. You’re able to react to the scenario and the environment.”
That's why, when talking to Kiri about “Other Women,” the part of filming the episode that still seems to haunt her the most is the earlier baby shower scene where the wives giggle over gifts and Champagne. Mostly, because it sounds like their laughter felt very real and very spooky, even though it’s all technically acting. “That really, really unsettled me, more so than the setting itself,” she recalled of the imposing Waterford abode, which housed the party. “The setting itself was more of like, ‘We’re at a place, and we’re finally seeing something nice, and we haven’t seen anything nice in so long.’ But then the way they’re talking and laughing and like, ‘Angela! Ha. Ha. Ha!’ That to me was where the creepiness came in.”
While chatting with Kiri, it became evident the cackling might still be ringing in her ears. Although the actress’ rapid-fire, sunny speech is usually punctuated with her own endearing laughter, memories of that scene's near-demonic giggling bring about long, pregnant pauses. “It was just like… Okay… And that’s pretty much the whole point of Gilead: this weird normalcy you find and how evil it is. It’s just masked in this ... laughing and having fun and doing normal things like [having] baby showers,” she explained. “That definitely stayed in my head as the creepiest part of that day for sure.”
There is only one season 2 scene that sounds more harrowing for Kiri, and it’s from the premiere, “June.” Although we would all assume the stressful moment in question would be that gut-punch of a near-hanging cold open, we would be wrong. Rather, Alma’s alter-ego was deeply “shaken” and questioned whether she was having a “panic attack” while filming the rock-holding torture segment in the rain that follows June & Co.’s nightmare trip to Fenway Park. In the scene, the handmaids are forced to kneel in the rain holding rocks in their outstretched arms as punishment for refusing to stone another handmaid to death.
“There’s something about the rain only pouring on you — and you know that you could in a second escape, but you’re not able to. That was where, to me, that panic came from,” she explained, confirming the rain wasn’t natural. Instead, it was an effect that only fell on Kiri and her co-stars, many of whom agreed after filming the scene was “tough.” Kiri added, “I remember coming home and telling my boyfriend, 'Today really took something out of me.’ He was like, ‘Well, you were just being tortured for the entire day. So it makes sense.’”
Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t sound like the wild Handmaid’s ride will slow down for secret Mayday insider Alma anytime soon — or for the rest of the people in June Osborn’s world. When asked to tease what’s next for her character, all Kiri could promise was, “There’s Alma intrigue. It definitely takes a twist that’s really interesting. Like, really interesting.”
In the world of Handmaid’s Tale, it’s all but assured that kind of enthusiasm only means more unimaginable terror.
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